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.

Conclusions….

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.

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About Ryan Finn

Ryan Finn is the Director of Operations and an Associate Instructor for Montana Tactical Firearms Instruction as well as a contractor for Vanguard Security Consultants when he isn't writing for TTAG. In his free time he is a volunteer firefighter and enjoys spending time in the mountains with his family.

62 Responses to Gun Review: Marlin 336 Cowboy Assault Rifle

  1. avatarMartin Albright says:

    Very nice writeup, Ryan. I have a 336 in my gun safe and you’ve given me some interesting ideas. Out where I hunt antelope (Wyoming) the 336 isn’t really suitable but it’s probably one of the most common guns you see on Western gun racks. The lever action “thutty-thutty” is iconic but it has two flaws when compared to modern guns: The .30-30 caliber is, at best a 150 yard cartridge (from a good shot) and the tubular magazine prevents the shooter from using more ballistically friendly loads (pointed bullets are a no-no as the point of one bullet rests squarely against the primer of the one in front of it.)

    Yes, I know there is the LeverRevolution ammo from Hornady with it’s rubber pointed bullet, but that’s a band-aid on a sucking chest wound.

    BTW, I dimly recall back in the mid-90′s one of the gun magazines (I think it was Guns and Ammo) did a writeup on someone who “assault-rifle-ized” a couple of lever guns. The stocks were painted black and stippled to look like plastic, the metal parts were bead blasted smooth and painted black, and ghost ring sights were fitted.

    Final note about the iron sights on the Marlin: Of course they’re completely useless but then again, the whole reason people buy a Marlin instead of a Winchester 94 is that the Marlin ejects cleanly out the side and is even drilled and tapped for scope mounts. From my observations, nobody (or at least nobody out West) shoots a 336 with iron sights, they all fit some kind of scope. Mine has a 4x cheapy but I may upgrade soon.

    • avatarRyan Finn says:

      I agree with you on the limitations of the caliber Martin. I have a box of the Leverevolution ammo that I want to test out if I can get to a range with more than 100 yds worth of length. I have read that people get accurate 300 yd hits with that stuff, but I can definitely see where that would take some skill and some quality glass.

      You’re dead on about the sights. I should’ve mentioned that factoid in the first review. All of the hunters I’ve seen out here have optics on the 336, but my issue is; if you’re marketing an affordable hunting rifle, why not make the iron sights more usable? Scopes can get damaged and fail no matter what price range they fall into and with crappy back up sights you could be seriously SOL in the field if there is a failure.

  2. avatarmiforest says:

    these are wonderful rifles. and the cartridge is an ideal for this type of use. and it sounds like lots of fun. If you get a chance , you should try hornaday’s leverevolution ammo. it is a true premium ammo.

  3. Stop it! You’re just egging me on, aren’t you? Now I want the damned thing even more.

  4. avatarZealot says:

    What about making a CAR using the 1894 model in .357 or (even better?) .44 magnum but otherwise following the same set of add ons? I’m thinking a hot .44 will have plenty of oomph out to about the same 100-150 yards and could likely harvest the same sort of game at those distances as the .30-30, but the tube will hold 10 and your side arm can match.

    Thoughts?

    • avatarRyan Finn says:

      You’re right on all counts Zealot and I have definitely given thought to all of that. I’ve read that ballistics on .357 out of a rifle barrel are very hot. Going that way, or with a .44, and a revolver in the same caliber would be ideal. I would love to be able to grab ammo from the loops and put it in either my long arm or side arm. If I had it my way, I would have picked up a .357 lever instead, but people tend to hang on to those apparently. Maybe I’ll save up some dough and do a review on a complete modern “wild west” set up.

  5. avatarRalph says:

    “Maybe I’ll save up some dough and do a review on a complete modern “wild west” set up.”

    Ryan, if you do that my GF will hunt you down and smack you so hard upside the head that you will be hearing chickadees tweeting for a month. My gun safe overfloweth, my bank account underfloweth and if you keep this up I may have to go back to work.

    • avatarRyan Finn says:

      HA. Well now I have to do it Ralph, just give me fair warning when the GF starts out after me. I want a head start.

  6. avatarKW says:

    SAWEEET! Love it.

  7. Great write-up. I’ve been thinking for years about putting a red dot sight on my 336. I’m glad to see how you did it and that it worked out so well.

    BTW, the zombies respect the Marlin 336. I’ve had mine for more than two decades, and the flesh eaters haven’t bothered me once.

  8. avatarRoy Hill says:

    I have the .44 Mag Marlin. It holds 10 rounds.

    It does evil, hideous things to gallon jugs full of water, and pumpkins, and just about anything else I set before it.

    I’ve long had evil plans to get some Leverevolution ammo and see how far I can stretch its legs out.

    Hmmmmm……..

  9. avatarRoger Doyle says:

    I set-up a 1894C in .357 for a recoil sensitive relative with red dot, laser & flashlight combo from BSA. The laser lets them rock & roll with very quick shots , from the hip if necessary.

  10. avatarCharlie Foxtrot says:

    Then there’s the mighty Marlin 1895CB (Cowboy) in .45/70. 9+1 fun pills.

    Yee-Freakin’-Haw!

    Back to reality: The 1894C and CB are excellent levers for not too much money. My wife use a .38/.357 C in CAS. Every time she lets me fire it, a rarity, I’m always impressed with the easy accuracy of that little carbine. I’m tempted to by a .44 Mag or .45LC variant just because.

  11. avatarfknipfer1 says:

    Having eyes that cannot use iron sights anymore, I put a scout scope on my (Burris) Marlin 336 1980 Texan with 18.5″ barrel. This is an outstanding rifle for up to 100yds for what I want to use it for and I can load it as I shoot it so the capacity is what? 18.5″ barrel makes it swing easy and pick up targets quick. I have the same mounting for the scout scope as the Red Dot has but I prefer cross hairs.

    fknipfer1

  12. avatarChristopher says:

    As far as that whole 150 yd. stuff… I can hit a human torso target regularly at 200+ yrds with the “worthless factory sights”. The only thing I have done differently to mine now is adding a camo used Bushnell 1.5-4x turkey scope. The small circle reticle comes up quick and for more precision you can use the crosshair. The .30-30 has been putting down deer since its beginning and loses only capacity to the .357 or .44 levers.

  13. avatarGary F. Stowell says:

    Outstanding article! How can I contact Ryan Finn by email or phone? I just bought the 336 SS and I want to use my red dot (eventually an EO Tech XPS-3, ouch on the price). I want to use the Fire Sight used in the article and still be able to slap on my current Red Dot. When the Red Dot is not mounted does the rail interfere with the line for the FireSight? Please help.

  14. avatarJohn J. says:

    Ryan, just curious, where did you get your Citadel sweatshirt?

    Appears to match a 336w pretty well.

  15. avatarCUJO THE DOG OF WAR says:

    I know I love my .45-70 Marlin lever. I put a lace on extra recoil pad, my shoulder was dislocated once in a bike wreck, and it recoils like a 410 ga. now.

  16. avatarRandall says:

    No one ever talks about the .35REM version of this gun. I’m starting to think that I am one of the few that have one…

    • avatarForrest G Adams says:

      I just traded for a 336 in .35 Remington and 110 rounds. I like it very well, but ammunition availability could become a problem Post SHTF. IMO.

  17. avatarWolf457 says:

    don’t get me wrong I have a marlin 45-70 and I FN love it BUT NOT for home deffence dude. Don’t shoot your neighbors whenthe cat spills the milk, I wouldnt trik it out with any lame shit because I can shoot it just fine at 200 yds. For hunting use a focking scope, Cool idea but its kinda like a rampd up handa those mexicans drive.

  18. avatarPete says:

    Nice set up. A Bushnell TRS-25 would look real nice as it is smaller both physically and on the red dot itself.

  19. avatarMumblz says:

    Liked the article – which peep sight was that? The williams website isn’t very image friendly…

  20. avatarKyle says:

    Just had a real quick question on the gun. Is the barrel a 20″ or 18.5″? Looks nice.

  21. avatarbill says:

    Is that the Williams 70018 sight?

  22. avatargunfighter 2012 says:

    BEE YOU TEE FUL.

  23. avatarDavid Carr says:

    Great writing. I love your turn of phrase. This article was a real tour de force of the subject matter. I just recieved a 336 this morning. I can’t wait to get to the range. Can you believe there isn’t a range open on Christmas day? It’s a travesty.

    • avatarRyan Finn says:

      Thanks David and sorry to hear there isn’t a range open. Lucky for me I live in Montana now and the range is always open at the family “ranch”

  24. avatarSteve says:

    That is so cool it would be justifiable to slap someone who said otherwise. Another one for the “List”.

  25. avatarShawn says:

    Ryan, awesome article. I was looking for information on a brush gun an I read both 336 articles and I’m going to snatch me one up. Unfortunate for me I’m moving to communist state of NY so I can’t do my pistol thing but I enjoyed the articles too. Keep it up you have a new reader on your hands.

  26. avatarNelson Loffredo says:

    Thanks for the article. I am cleaning up an older Marlin 336 currently that I aquired from someone who did not appreciate it’s worth. I’ve shot it a few times so far and am very happy with it. I love your CAR setup and can’t wait to set mine up with something similar.

  27. avatarJohn says:

    I just bought a Rossi 3030 and I love the gun I hunt in the brush all the time hogs and coyotes mainly I just ordered a nc star mark 3 scope for it. I went to my local gunsmith and talked about modifying it and when I tried to explain to him wat I was wanting to he just laughed at me . I want a 3 sided picitany rail about 4 inches long right were the end of the forward stock is but on the stock not the barrel I found a pretty nice “tactical ” lever action on goolge images and I want something similar but no one seems to have and parts what so ever and I’m chomping at the bits . Do you know of any supplier for that sort of thing?

  28. avatarBeau says:

    Great article, I have a Marlin in .357mag that I did up with the XS mount and a 2.5 power IER scope as well as back-up XS sights. She is light and fast with follow up shots. I took a big Doe with it this season at about 53yards. One shot straight through the throat severing the spine and recovered the bullet from behind the shoulder blades. I’ve been thinking about a big brother for it using the Marlin 336 Y (Spikehorn) it has a shorter stock and 16.25″ barrel. I think Wild West guns in Anchorage Alaska makes a rail that goe’s on the mag tube for lights.

  29. avatarPhil B says:

    Hey Ryan,enjoyed the article. Have looking at “what next”. New to firearms and got the bug. Bought a.22 Henry for my kids and love it, great rifle. Need something with a little more impact and looks like ive found it Marlin 336. Walmart $379. Anybody have any issues buying a firearm from Walmart? Thanks

    • avatarRyan Finn says:

      I’ve never had an issue and they have good prices on new rifles. That being said, Marlin isn’t really know for good quality control as of late, so buyer beware with their new stuff. However, used ones are pretty plentiful so you may be able to find one out there in good shape that looks better than a new one. Good luck with whatever you choose.

  30. avatarmalcolm S says:

    Nice setup I have 3 336 no Remlin crap 1stright grip336RC30-30 1955 2 pistol grip
    336 C 30-30 and 35 Rem

  31. avatarMichael says:

    I did something similar to a Marlin 45/70. Lopped the barrel to 16.25, added a Williams peep and XS rail with Leupold Scout scope 2.5 magnification. Took the stock off and added a cheap Ramline butt stock. I then baked the plastic for end in a slow oven turning (and checking) regularly until it was flexible enough to fit over the magazine tube. Epoxy resin between the for end and magazine keeps it together. I then pulled it down, smoothed a few things and the painted the lot with GunKotes bake on Teflon/molybdenum coating.

    I got a shock when I shot it at 100 yards off the bench. Under 1″ with just about any load, cast or jacketed and a very slick action, run dry so as not to collect Australian outback bulldust. A great little rifle for pigs and buff.

  32. avatarKiwi Mossberg Fan says:

    Mossberg 464 SPX check it out!

  33. avatarBilly G says:

    Being a shift worker, I spend alot of nights ‘surfin’…and thru a GOOGLE search, came across the TTAG site, this article in the headline. I’ve been wanting a 30-30 just for carrying in my Teryx….(hogs, ‘yotes, Sasquatch(s), etc.), but was leary of a scope. I just bought the Marlin new, and You’ve stirred my dander with this….have the sights and mount up on Midway’s order list…just dont know ANYTHING about red dots. Guess I have my reading planned for tonight.

    Also looking for a scabbard to hang on the Teryx….bring a little of “John Wayne” to the deer lease.

    Thanks for the article!!!

  34. avatarsteven cooney says:

    Ryan is right about current quality control of Marlin firearms.
    It isn’t the same company.
    Safe bet is to purchase a 336 made in 2008 or earlier.
    I put xs rings on my marlin and they are great to 50-60 yds.
    If you can find a stainless model the durability and finish is even better and real easy to maintain .

  35. avatarDavid says:

    What is that on the buttstock of your fine rifle?

  36. avatarMark says:

    What is the item # of the sights, can’t seem to get the exact ones you have on your Marlin.

  37. avatarRyan says:

    This article would be half the length without all of the crappy allusions. Reminds me of a bad Family Guy episode. That said, subtracting out the fluff, the remaining content was great.

  38. avatarNate says:

    Why hasn’t anyone made a rail system that allows a peep/skinner/williams type sight to be used in conjunction with a scope ? I mean geez… it doesn’t seem to be that big a deal ( on paper anyway ) one would think they would sell like the proverbial hotcake…

  39. avatarGeof says:

    1968 Marlin 336RC (20″ barrel) … fitted Williams peep and firesight optic rear ghost ring with red dot optic front … brilliant rifle to 150 yards if you can shoot well, even 200 yards is doable if properly sighted in and a good shooter operating it. Your impressions are spot on. Will be fitting XS rail and “pine ridge” scout scope from Cabellas. While the Leverevolution ballistic tipped ammo is brilliant, those who want almost identical ballistic performance when they can’t fin that ammo might consider Federal “Fusion” 150 grain flat points … they perform within 5-10% of the brilliant Hornady rounds. Both these rounds will give a skilled shooter 250 yards range without a lot of difficulty.

  40. avatarAndrew Ritchie says:

    Great article. I have been pondering purchase of 336 for a while but apprehensive due to negative comments regarding the quality since Remington takeover. What’s your opinion on the fit and finish of the 336. I looked at one at Cabelas, Maine with the laminated stock which looked good. I mean there wasn’t any apparent glaring faults with it.I am not a big fan of laminated stocks but just saying what I saw.I think it’s the 336BL model.

    • avatarNate says:

      The BL is a cool gun. As with ANY firearms purchase it is up to you to check and see if it meets your specs. The BL is capable of meeting or exceeding the accuracy of any of the Marlin lines. Even naysayers of the newer Marlins are strangely quiet when it comes to the inherent accuracy of this weapon. My son who is in his 40′s loves the look of the new stocks. Must be a generational thing…

  41. avatarTimmy says:

    Great article. Would like to do the same to my 1974 Marlin 336 in 35 Remington that was sold under the JC Higgens name. I’m trying to find those Williams sights and wondering if these are the same ones:

    http://www.midwayusa.com/product/945296/williams-wgrs-336-guide-receiver-peep-sight-set-marlin-lever-actions-with-fire-sight-front-sight-aluminum-black?cm_vc=subv1813573

    Also, my gun does NOT have a front ramp. The factory sight is just dovedtailed into barrel. Will I need to install a front ramp prior to using this Williams setup?

    THANKS!

    • avatarMatthew says:

      After I lot of searching I found the rear sight in the article. It’s product number 962-000-019MB on Brownells website. This is the one with the elevation adjustment screw on the side of the sight vs. the top of the sight to allow easier elevation adjustments. No more unscrewing the aperture to reach the adjustment screw. Pairing this up with a .450M Fire Sight this gun season on my 336CS.

      • avatarTimmy says:

        Cool! Appreciate that Matthew. In your opinion, would i need to put a ramp on my Marlin to properly sight this in with the available adjustment range on that front sight? I’m thinking I wouldn’t be able to adjust that rear sight low enough with my sight just dovetailed into the barrel with no ramp right now.

  42. avatarMatthew says:

    Try adding WGRS-336 to the end of it. Sorry. That might work.

  43. avatarBrett says:

    What stock ammo holder is that

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