Anytime I see a lever action rifle I start to daydream. My thoughts turn to Wild West shootouts. Bison hunts from horseback. Saloons full of loose women getting tight on whiskey. I start planning out hand-tooled saddle scabbards that match the obligatory chaps, hat and cowboy boots. Needless to say, in casa de Finn this plan goes over like a Milli Vanilli Grammy Award. Apparently no one wants dad wandering around dressed like the Duke. Undeterred, I began my quest for a lever action rifle. In the great tradition of Ernest Hemingway, I traded my chaps for Marlin fishing . . .
At the risk of offending purists, I narrowed my search to a lever-action gun with a semi pistol grip, flat top receiver and side eject. The Winchester 1894 or anything made by Henry were out. I eventually settled on a Marlin 336. And then I encountered an interesting concept: the Cowboy Assault Rifle (CAR). Uh-huh. A lever action with modern “tacticool” accessories. A potent combat weapon that maintains it’s “ladies and gentlemen of the jury, does this look like an ‘assault rifle to you?’ non-street cred. So I traded a dust-collecting shotgun for a Marlin 336 in 30-30.
A Little History….
Marlin’s been manufacturing the 336 since 1948. In all time U.S. sales of high-powered rifles, the 336 is second only to the Winchester ’94. Chambered in 30-30, Marlin’s potent Brady to Welker-esque combo has put venison on many a table across the country. It did so via a wide variety of calibers, including 219 Zipper, .32 Special and .44 Magnum. These days you can buy a Marlin lever-action rifle in any caliber you like—as long as it’s 30-30 Winchester or .35 Remington.
In the 1950’s, Marlin built its 336 lever guns with their proprietary “Micro-Groove” barrels. The technique ditches a small number of deep rifling grooves (a.k.a. Ballard rifling) for a larger number shallow rifling grooves. The idea: modern jacketed bullets would perform get into the micro-grooves better than they would with Ballard rifling (designed for non-jacketed lead bullets).
The Marlin 336 boasts classic smooth lines with just enough aggressive overtones to let you know it means business. Classic and deadly. Like Ben. I’m a major league tree hugger (re: his Weatherby PA-08 review). The warm tones of the Marlin’s walnut stock had me in full embrace mode. It’s a no frills, all smooth stock and forearm weapon, with just enough sheen to let you know this lady’s got class.
I’m not a fan of the action’s blued finish. fingerprints on the bluing drive me crazy. I have to resist the urge to wipe the gun off after every time I reload it. Thanks to my OCD, I avoid blued firearms like a Red Sox fan avoids Yankee Stadium. On the aesthetic level, the Marlin’s bluing is beauteous. The receiver shines like a freshly Windexed mirror; the barrel bluing is deep, rich and flawless.
The Marlin is surprisingly light and nimble. It weighs considerably less than my old shotgun or Mosin and only a tenth of a pound more than your typical fully loaded “m4gery.” It snaps to the shoulder naturally; the 20-inch barrel gives the piece near-perfect balance. A proper cheek weld is no sweat.
Once you get this baby lined up on target, you notice that the Marlin’s sights, for lack of a better word, suck. The front post is all black and hooded; seeing it through the elevation adjustable rear notch sight is a challenge equal to spotting a bear in thick brush. The rear notch is also all black, of course. Aiming the lever gun at anything darker than my pasty Irish skin (not that I recommend violating Rule 1), you’re hard pressed to even see the Marlin’s front sight.
Tacticool that. And you know I will. But first . . .
At the range
Fellow TTAG writer Ben Shotzberger and I headed to the range on a fine snowy Saturday to see if the Marlin could shoot as well as she looks. We got to Clarks Brothers, our favorite little range in the boonies, and picked up some Winchester 170 gr and Remington 150 gr semi jacketed soft points. For initial testing, we’d be firing at 50 yards (saving 100-yard shooting for the CAR conversion). Besides, neither of us felt like trudging through the snow to check a target at 100 yards.
Like any “proper” lever action gun, you load the shells through a gate on the side of the receiver. You press in and forward, forcing the shells into the tubular magazine that is located under the barrel. One of the major upsides of this system: you can top off your rounds without having to take the rifle out of battery. After loading the Marlin with six rounds you’re ready to boogie.
We took our time with the first shots, trying to get a feel for the rifle and how it liked the ammo. Felt recoil was pretty mild, but that muzzle has some jump (I’ll tell you what). Accuracy with the Winchester 170 gr was acceptable, but nothing spectacular. As you can see in the photo, the 170 gr bullets were kind of all over the place and mostly to the left, much like our friend “hizzoner” Michael Bloomber.
The Remington 150 gr ammo was a different story. Despite the always evident flyers, the Marlin loved this round. With stock sights, this particular load produced some decent groups. With good optics I’m sure they would only get tighter.
Next we tried out some “rapid” fire with both load outs. We fired a total of 13 rounds at the target with all but one getting on paper. Not the fastest or most impressive shooting, but everything was definitely minute of bad guy. Getting back on target in between shots was the biggest detriment to speed. Muzzle jump wasn’t the main issue. The stock sights were to target acquisition what Christine Aguilera is to lyric memorization. Perhaps something like this would be more attractive [Note to Mrs. Finn: both the previous sentence and the following video were inserted by TTAG's editor-in-chief.]
Unlike the young lady’s trigger finger in the video above, my Marlin functioned flawlessly, with one hiccup. At one point it seemed that the final round just wouldn’t go into the magazine. Upon closer inspection one of us (i.e. not me) was a tad too delicate with the loading procedure. When the appropriate (i.e. not Ben) level of force was applied, the round went in just fine.
After that, every round chambered, fired and extracted. The Marlin’s lever action was ergonomically superb, as smooth as Bruce Willis’ head. The trigger was absolutely phenomenal. Stock triggers on all the high end AR’s and bolt actions I’ve shot don’t even come close . The Marlin’s got absolutely no trigger slack. It breaks so cleanly it could be the spokesperson for Clorox.
The Marlin 336 is popular and iconic— and for good reason. Its maneuvaerability, light weight and ease of use has earned it a place near and dear to hunters’ hearts for over half a century. The rifle’s elegant simplicity and reliability, coupled with hard hitting 30-30 cartridges, make it a very potent threat to both wild game or anyone bearing you ill will.
Accurcy with open sights is better than par and while 6 rounds isn’t 30, if you need more than that then you should probably consider moving out of Kandahar. This rifle is Marlin’s bread ‘n butter and my new favorite gun. Now it’s time to accessorize.
Barrel Length: 20”
Overall Length: 38.5”
Weight: 7 lbs
Price: Between $300 to $400 new depending on where you buy
RATINGS (out of five)
Style * * * *
This rifle oozes classic style that would make any cowboy (or girl) ready to saddle up.
Ergonomics * * *
Lightweight, comfortable and quick to the shoulder making it a real pleasure to shoot. The sights are horrible.
Reliability * * * * *
Ate everything we fed it with un-failing dependability and ease.
Customizable * * * * *
Stocks, sights and scopes are readily available. Start adding picatinny railed scout mounts and then you enter into a whole new level of tactical accessories.
Overall Rating * * * *
The stars say it all. This is a great weapon.