For a number of years now, several of us more vocal levergun fanciers have been talking with anyone at Marlin that would listen as to the possibilities that existed with the offering of several versions of the standard Marlin lever action rifles. Marlin has been supplying a great basic levergun for over a century but many of us felt it could be improved by providing other options.
At the Shootist Holiday several years back we enjoyed sharing some custom Marlin leverguns by Bob Baer and Keith DeHart with two Marlin representatives. Options included long barrels, short barrels, octagon barrels, slimmed down forearms and butt stocks, even 'obsolete' chamberings such as .38-55 and .40-65. Every SHOT Show found us doing the same thing. We didn't seem to be convincing anyone.
Then cowboy shooting arrived in a big way coupled with a great demand for quality leverguns. The result was the Marlin 1894 Cowboy, a 24" octagon barreled .45 Colt levergun that is extremely popular with cowboy shooters. It has now been joined by the same levergun in .44 Magnum and .357 Magnum with a .44-40 promised. All of these leverguns are designed specifically for use with cast bullets as they feature cut rifling rather than Marlin's long standard Micro-Groove rifling.
Marlin has gone a few steps further as Marlin's Model 1895 .45-70 now features cut rifling, which by the way also works well with jacketed bullets, as well as a special run of .45-70 leverguns with straight gripped stocks, half round, half octagon barrels, and full magazine tubes. Thank you Marlin!
I've been a fan of Marlin leverguns for four decades. Ever since I bought a pair of Marlin shooters, original Model 1894's chambered in .38-40 and .25-20. In the foolish time of life known as teenager I let both guns slip through my hands. I would love to have them back now!
In the 1960's, Marlin's 336, a long time deer hunter's favorite offered in .30-30 and .35 Remington, was brought forth as a sixgunner's companion in .44 Magnum. I purchased the first one to hit town and it has now served me well for more than 30 years. With its 20" barrel, full magazine tube, and straight gripped stock it is the near perfect woods carbine. However, a real joy found in firearms is taking any one of many 'near-perfect' sixguns or leverguns and making them even more near perfect.
To accomplish this with the Marlin 336 .44 Magnum, it was sent off to gunsmith Keith DeHart to have the barrel cut to 18 1/2" and the overly abundant forearm and butt stock, both made of too much quality walnut, were slimmed down. The result is an even easier and faster handling big bore carbine.
In 1969, the Marlin 1894 was resurrected and offered in .44 Magnum, and then in subsequent years, .357 Magnum ( a truly great levergun), .45 Colt, .41 Magnum, .25-20, and .32-20. The last four chamberings are gone in the standard 1894 with the .41 and .45 commanding premium prices at gun shows. They have been replaced with the 1894 Cowboy, a 24" octagon barreled levergun designed for cowboy shooting, now in .45 Colt, .44 Magnum, .357 Magnum, and hopefully, soon to be in .44-40.
Earlier I said that Marlin had been listening and offering new versions of their fine leverguns. Two of these have been around my place and being thoroughly enjoyed for the past several months. I did not even know that they existed until I found them on my local dealer's rifle rack. As I looked over the offerings, I found two stubby little leverguns almost lost in the many leverguns found there. I had been used to seeing short barreled Winchester Trappers however these Trappers were not Winchesters nor even Rossi's. They were Marlins.
It seems Marlin had earlier this year offered two special runs of Trapper-style carbines in .45 Colt and .44 Magnum with a total of 2600 being manufactured. I hope Marlin realizes that 2600 is not near enough as many more shooters will want these little carbines even if their barrels are not marked "THE MARLIN LIMITED" as the originals are.
The Marlin Limited features a 16 1/2" barrel, full magazine tube that holds seven or eight rounds depending upon the nose length of the bullet, a recoil pad on its straight gripped stock, checkering on forearm and buttstock (I could do without this feature), and excellent sights. The sights consist of a hooded bead front sight mated up with a semi-buckhorn rear sight that is adjustable for elevation by moving the elevation ladder forwards or backwards. Either sight can be adjusted for windage by tapping and moving it in its dovetail. A hammer block cross bolt safety is also provided.
As with all Marlin leverguns these two are drilled and tapped for scope mounts. I cannot see any reason for scoping these handy little carbines unless it has become virtually impossible to see iron sights. A better option is the drilling and tapping of the left side to accept Williams or Lyman receiver, or peep sights, and this is exactly what I expect to do with both the .45 Colt and .44 Magnum carbines. Receiver sights are not allowed in cowboy shooting but most shooters want higher capacity carbines for cowboy shooting so this is no problem with these little rifles.
Sling swivels are also provided should one wish to sling this little carbine. I would expect that most shooters will like this levergun fine without a sling but it is most handy to be able have a lightweight sling in pocket should the occasion ever rise when both hands are needed. The one major distraction on The Marlin Limited are the words found on the right side of the barrel to the effect "WARNING: MISUSE CAN CAUSE INJURY OR DEATH". I would think this is a matter of common sense. But then common sense is not so easily encountered these days.
Identical externally except for chambering, one in .45 Colt and the other in .44 Magnum, these Model 1894S carbines also carry different barrels with the .45 Colt having a cut rifle barrel while the .44 Magnum was manufactured with the old style Micro Groove rifling. This is reflected in the testing as the .44 Magnum did its best work with jacketed bullets, while the most accurate loads with the .45 Colt were those assembled with RCBS's 300 grain hard cast bullet with a gas check and Hornady's 300 grain XTP jacketed bullet.
All loads were shot at 50 yards with the standard sights with four shots being fired and the best three shots measured for a group. This is usually standard procedure when I test a rifle or sixgun, that is the to allow myself a throw-away round. Having a mulligan relieves the stress of trying to shot a really tight group.
Shooting these little carbines was a pleasant experience with all loads tested. Felt recoil was certainly much less than expected and there were no problems encountered with recoil even when spending several hours at a time at the shooting bench.
Shooting Jacketed bulleted loads in the .44 Magnum resulted in average size groups of one to two inches with Federal's 240 grain JHP, Remington's 240 JHP, Cor-Bon's 260 Bonded Core, and Speer's 270 Gold Dot all coming in right at one inch for three shots. The two former loads, at 1670 and 1730 fps respectively are for broadside shots on deer-sized game. The latter two loads at 1840 and 1515 fps respectively are for situations demanding deeper penetration. Cor-Bon's 260 is one tough bullet designed for deep penetration on big tough game.
For cast bullet loads with the .44 Magnum version of the Marlin Limited, I had the best results with the hard cast 240 grain bullets from Oregon Trail. Using both Universal and Unique in 8.5 and 10.0 grain doses resulted in groups at 50 yards of two inches or less. Ten grains of Universal with this bullet gives a muzzle velocity of 1350 fps and accuracy right at one inch which is quit unusual for cast bullets and Micro Groove rifling.
Switching to the .45 Colt Marlin 1894S saw identical results with both cast and jacketed bullets and with both heavy and standard weight bullets. Versatility such as this is rare to say the least. Using Lyman's Keith designed 260 grain hard cast #454424 bullet over 9.3 grains of Universal gives a most pleasant shooting 1130 fps load that stays right at one-inch for three shots.
I prefer heavyweight bullets for hunting with the .45 Colt and had excellent results with both Hornady's 300 grain XTP over 21.7 grains of WW296 and RCBS's hard cast #45-300 SWC-GC over 21.2 grains of H110. Both loads are in the 1375 to 1400 fps velocity range and will both shoot right at one-inch for three shots at 50 yards. In factory loads for hunting with the .45 Colt, Cor-Bon has a 300 grain Jacketed Soft Point and a 300 grain Bonded Core offering both of which clock out at over 1525 fps and will certainly handle any of the big game likely to be encountered this side of Alaska.
A few years back I had Jim West of Wild West Guns build me a take- down .45-70 Co-Pilot with a 16 1/2" barrel on a Marlin 1895. It is a very popular option in Alaska and Jeff Cooper took his to Africa and was quite taken with its capabilities over there on dangerous game. The Marlin Limited in either .44 Magnum or .45 Colt fills the same niche in the lower 48 when the quarry is black bear or wild boars in deep woods or heavy brush. The short-barrel of the Marlin allows both easy packin' and a quick handlin' while either chambering, with proper loads, will certainly handle anything close up short of the great bears. I hope Marlin realizes what they have with these big bore carbines and offer many more of them. I would even like to see them at least explore the possibility of chambering the 1894S in .454 Casull. Now that would be a real thumper. At both ends.
Standard Hunting Loads
LOAD MV GROUP Best 3 of 4 @ 50 yds Black Hills 240 JHP 1577 2 1/8" CCI Blazer 240 JHP 1292 1 3/4" Cor-Bon 240 JHP 1794 1 5/8" Federal 240 H-S 1671 1" Remington 240 JHP 1727 1 1/8"
GROUP Best 3 of 4 @ 50 yds
Black Hills 240 JHP
CCI Blazer 240 JHP
Cor-Bon 240 JHP
Federal 240 H-S
Remington 240 JHP
Heavy Duty Hunting Loads
LOAD MV GROUP Best 3 of 4 @ 50 yds Winchester 250 Partition Gold 1623 1 1/2" Cor-Bon 260 Bonded Core 1843 1" Speer 270 Gold Dot 1515 1 1/8" Cor-Bon 300 JSP* 1551 1 5/8" Cor-Bon 300 XTP 1470 2" Hornady 300 XTP 1317 2 1/2" Garrett 310 KT 1476 3" Black Hills 320 Hard Cast 1379 2 3/8" Cor-Bon 320 Hard Cast 1497 2 3/4"
GROUP Best 3 of 4 @ 50 yds
Winchester 250 Partition Gold
Cor-Bon 260 Bonded Core
Speer 270 Gold Dot
Cor-Bon 300 JSP*
Cor-Bon 300 XTP
Hornady 300 XTP
Garrett 310 KT
Black Hills 320 Hard Cast
Cor-Bon 320 Hard Cast
General Purpose Cast Bullet Loads (Cowboy Shooting, Plinking, etc.)
LOAD MV GROUP Best 3 of 4 @ 50 yds Bull-X 240/8.5 gr. Unique 1197 1 3/4" NEI 260 KT/10.0 gr. Unique* 1325 2 3/8" OT 240/8.5 gr. Unique 1201 1 5/8" OT 240/10.0 gr. Unique 1336 1 3/4" OT 240/8.5 gr. Universal 1203 2" OT 240/10.0 gr. Universal 1348 1 1/4"
GROUP Best 3 of 4 @ 50 yds
Bull-X 240/8.5 gr. Unique
NEI 260 KT/10.0 gr. Unique*
OT 240/8.5 gr. Unique
OT 240/10.0 gr. Unique
OT 240/8.5 gr. Universal
OT 240/10.0 gr. Universal
MARLIN LIMITED MODEL 1984S .45 Colt X 16 1/2"
LOAD MV GROUP Best 3 of 4 @ 50 yds Black Hills 250 Cowboy 946 2 3/4" Winchester 250 Cowboy 783 2 3/4" Bull-X 255/9.0 gr. Unique 1167 2 1/2" Bull-X 250 RNFP/17 gr. 5744 977 1 1/2" Bull-X "Moly" 250/10 gr. Unique 1167 2 1/2" Lyman #454424/9.3 gr. Universal 1131 1 1/8"
GROUP Best 3 of 4 @ 50 yds
Black Hills 250 Cowboy
Winchester 250 Cowboy
Bull-X 255/9.0 gr. Unique
Bull-X 250 RNFP/17 gr. 5744
Bull-X "Moly" 250/10 gr. Unique
Lyman #454424/9.3 gr. Universal
Heavy Weight Bullet Loads
LOAD MV GROUP Best 3 of 4 @ 50 yds Cor-Bon 300 JSP 1526 2 1/2" Cor-Bon 300 Bonded Core 1529 1 3/4" Hornady 300 XTP/21.7 gr. WW296 1498 1 1/8" BRP 300 GC/21.2 gr. H110 1376 1 1/2" NEI 325 KT/21.2 gr. H110* 1410 2" RCBS #45-300/21.2 gr. H110 1393 1 1/8"
GROUP Best 3 of 4 @ 50 yds
Cor-Bon 300 JSP
Cor-Bon 300 Bonded Core
Hornady 300 XTP/21.7 gr. WW296
BRP 300 GC/21.2 gr. H110
NEI 325 KT/21.2 gr. H110*
RCBS #45-300/21.2 gr. H110
*Too long for reliable feeding