Gun Review: Marlin 336 Cowboy Assault Rifle

My review of the Marlin 336 was not the end of the story for that fantastical firearm. Even before the electronic ink was dry, I was hard at work building a Cowboy Assault Rifle (CAR). I dove into the world of lever action accessories like Charlie Sheen’s nose into a bowl of coke. With the exception of quad rails, Marlin lever action rifle accessories are go. A aspiring CAR tack driver can choose from mods ranging from ghost ring sights all the way to a lever action bayonet. Yes, if Bambi doesn’t go down after six shots, you can give the order to “charge!” and re-enact the 20th Maine’s famous run down Little Round Top. So much tacti-cool, so little real estate . . .

To keep things credible, I applied the K.I.S.S. principle to this project (Not to be confused with principles involving makeup and pyrotechnics.) The goal: to build a Cowboy Assault Rifle that can serve as an effective offensive, defensive, SHTF or hunting weapon. I decided that the simplest set up would consist of replacement ghost ring sights, a forward mounted rail and a dependable yet cost effective red dot sight.

Let’s accessorize!

As I mentioned in my first review of the Marlin 336, the stock sights suck. As much as I love the gun, and I love the lever action rifle as much as any man should love any gun, the 336’s blacked-out front post and rear “pronghorn” sight are only usable in the sense that Rosie O’Donnell is funny. When it comes to rapidly acquiring targets, a prerequisite for anything remotely resembling armed conflict, the Marlin ain’t got game.

Marlin-compatible ghost ring sights run the gamut, from expensive hand-tooled bits to mass-produced tritium filled add-ons. I went with the well-known Williams Fire Sights with fiber optic front sight. The set-up consisted of a receiver-mounted peep sight with removable aperture and a front post sight with a bright red fiber optic insert. Peering through the rear aperture at the fiber optic, you’d think you were looking a red dot mounted on your front post. They’re easy to use and rival a Camaro SS. in the badass looks department.

A CAR guy needs forward-mounted scout scope mounts. Unfortunately, I could only track down two options for the 336. One was well known and widely used. The other caused more sticker shock than an Armani suit. I went with the more frugal option; the XS Lever Scout Mount.

The XS mount is by far the most popular accessory for this type of project. So popular, in fact, that XS can’t keep up with demand; they didn’t have any in stock. Undeterred, I struck out on an epic electronic quest to find this lever-action Holy Grail. Many days and cancelled backorders later, I saw those most magical of words: “in stock.” Within, two days I was in XS.

The XS Lever Scout Mount’s finished in the ever-popular “evil matte black.” The rail allows for forward mounting of scout scopes or red dots and requires no gunsmithing for installation—if you know how to drift sights and file them to fit.

Depending on your optic choice, you have a lot of unused rai for the usual tactical excess: lights, lasers, cupholders. etc. It’s lightweight and well made, the craftsmanship is great, not a blemish to be found on it. It sits very low, negating the need to change your cheek weld when using optics.

The last piece of the puzzle: optics. The Missus vetoed an EoTech (apparently money like that is better spent on something called “rent”). So I secured a Barska red dot sight. It’s a relatively compact 5 MOA dot, 25mm optic with 11 levels of brightness; up to and including a sunglasses-compatible setting. The Barska’s parallax-free; you can rapidly acquire a target with both eyes open. I was hoping the optic would mount low enough to co-witness with my ghost rings, but it was just about a centimeter too high.

At the Range….

Over the weekend, my partner in crime and I headed off to the Clarks Brothers range in Warrenton, VA to test out the new set up at 50 and 100 yards. We used the same Remington 150 gr Core Lokt ammunition that had produced such excellent results during the initial review.

First, we zeroed the CAR’s scope at 50 yards. After walking it in with about five shots, we consistently hit the 10 with slow-aimed fire. When firing as fast as the target could be reacquired, we kept our shots well within the 9 ring. We couldn’t reacquire the target at modern home defense sporting rifle speed, but we were markedly faster with the modded Marlin than were were with the stock set up.

The result was more than adequate for any self-defense situation that doesn’t include large numbers of well-trained, well-armed hostiles. The biggest spread was 3” and the smallest was a 1” two-shot group that Ben put up while working the CAR’s lever like Rooster Cogburn. Confident that the firearm was accurate and ready to rock ‘n roll at 50 yards, we moved the targets to 100 yards.

As most encounters with this rifle would probably fall within the 50-100 yard range, we kept the 50-yard zero. In theory, a half inch to an inch holdover would get us where we wanted to be at the end of the proverbial football field. Unfortunately, the 5 MOA dot completely obscured the bullseye. Accuracy at 100 yards was acceptable for this application; a fast five-shot group came in at approximately five inches, with one flyer off target completely. Target reacquisition was challenging but do-able. I could get rounds on target at about two second intervals.

The add-on functioned flawlessly. The optic retained zero and showed no signs of loosening from the mount after the firing session. The mount gripped the rifle like Kirstie Alley holding her morning donut. Time and ammo constraints kept us from removing the optic and testing the red dot sights, but judging by the quality, I’m sure they would perform impeccably.


After loosing our last few rounds of ammo Ben looked at me and said, “I have to get one of these!” The CAR experiment was a success. This rifle can make consistent center of mass hits at distances of 100 yards, provides for rapid target acquisition, uses a hard hitting cartridge, puts rounds downrange in a relatively rapid manner and gets my BFF’s blood boiling.

The CAR concept retained the “Ladies and gentleman of the jury, despite what the prosecution would have you believe, this is nothing more than a common hunting rifle” look. Using three parts, I was able to effectively change the rifle into a weapon I would be comfortable using in the field, the home or repelling the zombie hordes. I’m sure Woody Harrelson would approve.