Gun(smith) Review: Wild West Guns “Marlin 1894C Rescue Project”

The much-troubled Marlin 1894C has been my project gun since early May, when the backordered and pricey ‘diamond in the rough’ arrived at my FFL guy’s door. With a misfit stock, mangled screw heads and the world’s worst trigger pull, it was a big disappointment. About the only things ‘right’ about it were its quick handling, beautiful blue finish and surprising accuracy potential. Potential I was determined to explore . . .

When the stars lined up and the trigger broke just right, the Marlin’s 18.5 inch Ballard-cut barrel could deliver the goods as ordered, to the tune of 2 MOA accuracy at 100 yards. The rest of the time, however, its infuriating trigger pull turned every third or fourth shot into a “%$#*, I blew it!” flyer.

The verdict was in on Marlin and its disappointing quality control, and they stand convicted of almost criminal negligence for shipping a brand-new gun in such deplorable condition. Like a kitten abandoned on my doorstep, however, I just couldn’t leave the poor thing in such bad shape, and I couldn’t put it down either.

So I sent the Marlin to Wild West Guns of Anchorage, Alaska for a few modifications to smooth out the action and the trigger, a few rugged replacement parts, and a few cosmetic repairs.

Let’s see how they turned out:

Modification #1: “Happy Trigger”=Trigger Happy

There are many custom shops which cater to crestfallen Marlin owners, but Wild West makes an $89 one-piece replacement trigger, called the “Happy Trigger Kit,”which looked like just the cure for Marlin’s suck-tacular factory trigger.

The “Happy Trigger” lives up to its rather goofy name, and in a good way. Instead of a long and incredibly gritty eight-pound trigger pull, the Marlin is now blessed with a smooth four-pound pull and a clean break with no overtravel. As an added bonus, Wild West’s trigger eliminates the disconcerting ‘Marlin Trigger Flop’ syndrome, where the stock two-piece trigger flops and rattles around in the trigger guard even when the rifle is cocked.

The outstanding trigger lets you Be All You Can Be when it comes to accuracy, because pulling it doesn’t feel like dragging a dumpster across a gravel parking lot with your index finger. Infuriating flyers (at least, the ones you can blame on the gun) are a thing of the past, and accurate offhand shooting is now merely a challenge instead of an impossibility.

40 yard groups like this now depend only on your skill and your choice in ammo, and not on the intercession of St. Gabriel Possenti, the patron saint of marksmen.

Modification #2: The Big Loop Lever

Wild West mills their own ($189 or less) custom-shaped levers for Marlin rifles, giving them an enlarged and radiused finger loop. The loop isn’t ridiculously large (unlike some factory Winchester 1894 Trappers) and it’s not designed for rifle twirlin’ or trick shootin’ tom-foolery: it’s designed to be fast, and to accommodate the gloved fingers of Cowboy Action Shooters.

All the contact surfaces of the action bar are polished bright and smooth to minimize friction, and they also modify the lever retention stud so the lever is easier to get started.  The Marlin used to require several pounds of force to un-stick the lever from the receiver, and this bruised my knuckles after a few boxes of ammo. Never again.

As I hinted at in my preview video, the result is a slick and very quick lever. To work the gun you just flick your hand forward and flick it back; your cheek never leaves the comb and your sights never leave the target.

Notice the shit-eating grin?  You probably noticed the feeding hiccup, which is about the only vice the Marlin still occasionally exhibits. I’m not complaining, because I was shooting 158-grain lead semi-wadcutters, and many lever-action rifles refuse to feed them at all.

I’m no Rooster Cogburn; it’s been 13 years since I sold my last lever gun. I’ve only put about 600 rounds through this one, but this rifle almost makes me look like I know what I’m doing.

Modification #3: A Lever Action Tune?

Anything by Roy Rogers works for me, but Wild West Guns went all industrial on the Marlin with their $75 “Lever Action Tune” package. They polished the contact surfaces of the lever, bolt, receiver, locking lugs, hammer and shell lifter to a fine sheen, and the result is a much smoother and lighter action.

Functioning was 100% reliable before the modification. And now it’s . . . 100% reliable.  But it’s a lot more comfortable. If you can only afford to play a few songs from the Wild West Guns Jukebox, the Lever Action Tune should be second on your playlist. The Happy Trigger should be first.

Modification #4: Bear-Proof Ejector

Stock Marlin lever-actions ship with a delicate two-piece ejector: a larger ejector prong that mounts into the inside wall of the receiver, and a delicate spring which is inserted (precariously) into the prong. When you remove the bolt, the bigger part can fall out of the receiver, and when it hits the floor the spring usually pops out of it and bounces away.  It happened to me twice.

Wild West replaces this with a robust single-piece ejector (pictured) for only $25. It mounts into the receiver the same way, but at least if it falls out you’ve only got one part to search for instead of two. Functionally, the end result is the same as the original ejector: 100% positive ejection, with your empties tossed just a few feet to your right.  Viva handloaders!

Modification #5: Machined Aluminum Magazine Follower

Marlin also goes cheap with its magazine followers. It ships its lever-actions with chintzy plastic plugs. They’re not captive in the magazine tube, so they can shoot out during disassembly if you don’t remove the front-end cap first. Wild West machines their own unbreakable followers in anodized aluminum ($20) and they carefully taper the back end of the magazine tube so they can’t fly out during disassembly.

In addition to being unbreakable, this also allows you to remove the magazine tube assembly as one unit (with the spring and follower still inside) while you clean or work on other parts of the gun. As Ron Weasely would say, “Bloody hell, Harry!  It’s brilliant!”

Repairs

Wild West Guns replaced the front magazine tube band and screw, which Marlin’s assemblers had stripped and gouged with an over-sized screwdriver. They also replaced the magazine end-cap screw, which Marlin mangled so badly that I couldn’t remove it at all. The Marlin’s metal is now in perfect condition, and all the screw-heads are clean and sharp.

Customer Service

Most of us have at some point been ‘back-burnered’ by a gunsmith who promises to repair or customize our pride and joy, and then strings us along for months like that pretty girl at the office who says she’d love to have dinner but always seems to have plans.

Three weeks of “Your gun hasn’t arrived yet” give way to “The parts are back-ordered”, and eventually “It’s almost finished” becomes “It’s ready for UPS to pick up now.” Three or four months later, your rifle finally returns along with a big bill for the work.

I’m kind of used to this, so I didn’t really expect to see the gun before September. I was really only hoping I’d get it back before the snows returned to the high country in October and closed my favorite shooting quarries. With a heavy heart, I dropped off the Marlin at the UPS depot on the afternoon of June 9th, with $69 air freight prepaid to Anchorage, Alaska.

And picked it up again, all work completed, on June 30th.

Shipping to Alaska takes about one week in each direction, so Wild West Guns only had a week to produce my episode of “Extreme Makeover: Marlin Edition.” Two thumbs up. Way up.

Summary

Wild West Guns can work quick miracles on your clunky Marlin lever-action rifle at prices comparable or favorable to those of other custom gunsmiths. The Happy Trigger and the Lever Action Tune can completely transform a stock Marlin’s handling qualities without throwing your house into foreclosure, and for a bit more you can get the custom look and muy rapidoso handling of the Big Loop Lever as well.

Speaking of that, here’s more amateur gun porn. I’ll spare you the porn jokes about shooting too quickly . . .

If the sky’s the limit, Wild West can add a set of their rugged high-visibility sights, port the barrel, and transform your gun into a packable takedown conversion. (I’ve always wanted a takedown rifle, but on my salary it will be a while.)

Note: Wild West is located in Anchorage, Alaska, and the single biggest cost item for most of you will be shipping your guns hither and yon. I’m about as close to Alaska as you can be in the Lower 48, and my UPS charges were almost $70 one-way.

My Marlin is now a fantastic gun with a phenomenal Shit Eating Grin factor. Whether it’s worth the $1,200 it would cost to assemble at retail is an open question.

For a full Wild West Guns custom project, it probably makes more sense to start with a .45-70, .450 Marlin or .450 Alaskan and go from there. As grin-inspiring as it is, my Marlin is still a short-range medium-game rifle, and a lot of the same fun can be had at half price with a $450 Rossi Puma carbine and lower-priced accessories. Not quite as much fun, though.

Marlin really bungled my rifle, but their Epic Fail was (eventually) my Epic Score. Wild West Guns can make a Marlin what it should have been to begin with and a lot more, and that makes a pretty damned good rifle.

RATINGS (out of five)

Accuracy * * * *

The Happy Trigger will let you shoot this gun to the limit of its ability, which is surprisingly good within 125 yards.

Ergonomics * * * * *

The handling was already excellent.  Now it’s excellenter.

Customize This *

Already done.  The only thing I’m still looking for is a sling.

Overall Rating * * * *

Light, quick, accurate, cheap to shoot, and packs enough power for anything under 300 pounds and 125 yards.

Gunsmith Customer Service * * * * *

To Alaska and back, with excellent work, in exactly three weeks.

22 Responses to Gun(smith) Review: Wild West Guns “Marlin 1894C Rescue Project”

  1. avatarCUJO THE DOG OF WAR says:

    Well done Brother. Very nice post. I was at one of three gun shops I visited yesterday, looking at the used and interesting. After having to avert my greed from a WWII production Ithaca 1911A1, all original except the grip panels, at $800, I saw two Marlins on the wall. The older was just above the new lever action. The older was perfectly fit stock and excellent finish-despite being many years old. The new one which was properly beneath the other had a bulbous ill fitting stock, looking more like a high school wood shop class effort. It looked, literally, as if someone had a stock for some other rifle, and tried to make it fit.

    • avatarRyan Finn says:

      The older ones are definitely better made. The one I reviewed was made pre 1983 (no cross bolt safety) and I got it completely stock. It is easily the most beautiful rifle I own.

      • avatarCUJO THE DOG OF WAR says:

        I would say that about my Marlin 1895G in .45-70, but Painless, my RPK would get upset! She’s already pissed about Black Beauty, my Ruger SR556. I have a complicated armoury…

  2. I have a Marlin 1895 that recieved some Wild West Guns love. It is my favorite rifle!

  3. I weep for Marlin. My Model 336 (~25 years old) was this good out of the box. In fact, of the changes you paid Wild West to make, the only one that tempts me in the least would be the purchase of a new ejector spring – not because the one I have is defective in any way, and it’s one-piece – but just to have as a backup because, as you point out, it tends to fall out when you remove the bolt.

    I would recommend anyone who is interested in buying a Marlin buy used until the Remington/Freedom Group/Cerberus cabal can figure out how to restore Marlin to its longstanding place as a quality firearms manufacturer.

    • avatarCharles says:

      I’ve heard good things about Cimarron, they have a beautiful .357 1892 big loop carbine with a MSRP of $1160. Opinions?
      I ask because I have been wanting a .357 lever gun for a while, but the marlin QC situation troubles me.

  4. avatarChris Dumm says:

    I have never more deeply regretted selling my early ’90s Marlin Glenfield Model 30 carbine. It had a terrible trigger but was otherwise mechanically and cosmetically flawlless. It only cost $200 in like-new condition at a pawn shop. Selling it seemed like a good idea at the time…

    I know I’ve taken a pretty ruthless stance toward Marlin’s current problems, and it’s because I want them to survive and succeed. They’re a mess right now, and they won’t improve unless and until we demand it.

    A few years from now, nothing about Marlin could make me happier than hearing from satisfied new owners and maybe getting my hands on a few well-made guns.

  5. It isn’t “Marlin” anymore, folks. Their plant is closed.

    “Marlin” is just a brand that Cerberus puts on substandard crap. Avoid the new guns, and buy the used stuff.

  6. avatarGage says:

    While I would love a bigger loop lever there is not a part I would modify on my 336 – the older ones really do kick a##. I wish there was a way to post pictures to show you – Ryan Finn, its all your fault! (I mean it in the best of ways).

  7. avatarChris Dumm says:

    In my first-take review of this rifle, I compared it side by side to a to a 50 year old Marlin Model 39. The old gun had finer metalwork AND woodwork, even after decades of wear and wood shrinkage.

    Maybe WordPress has a way to allow photos in the comments. You can always link to your flickr gallery, though.

  8. avatarTotenglocke says:

    Does Wild West Guns work on models that aren’t Marlin’s?

    I bought a Puma Bounty Hunter (mare’s leg version of a 1892 Winchester) made by Chiappa and it’s a gorgeous gun and fun to shoot – but after a whole 18 rounds through it the lever jammed shut inexplicably and after disassembling it and reassembling it, it jammed again while oiling the lever. They sent me a replacement which I haven’t had a chance to try out yet, but if the same thing happens to this one I’d be interested in sending it to a shop to get the necessary fixes made.

  9. avatarDavid says:

    I’m am not an expert but I believe Col. Cooper recommends keeping your hand that works the lever on the same side of the stock instead of crossing it over the stock. Allows you to work the lever faster w/out the thumb and bolt doing the tango. Same with a bolt gun. In the Art of the Rifle pgs. 172-175.

  10. Chris:
    Thanks for your kind words and I am glad we could help you with your Marlin project.

    Sorry about the shipping cost, that is what we call the Alaska bite. On the other hand, with our new branch in Las Vegas opening this Fall, we will hopefully be able to really cut the shipping costs down for you folks in the lower 48!

    Thanks for your business!

  11. avatarTSgt B says:

    I must have gotten lucky. Just bought a Marlin 1894 Cowboy in .45 Colt. Well made, well fit rifle, no feeding problems. Haven’t gotten serious about accuracy as I want to run several hundred rounds through it, but I’ve hit everything I’ve aimed at well past 100 yds.

    • avatarChris Dumm says:

      You’re not the only person who seems to have gotten a good, new Marlin. I was at a deep-discount retailer the other day and inspected a new Model 336. It was put together really well, as well as any affordable rifle should be, and it was *worlds* better than Farago’s and my 1894s.

      I hope these good Marlins aren’t a fluke; putting my hands on a solid Marlin was something of a relief after our experiences here.

    • avataroldpink says:

      I’m sure hoping your experience with getting a good Marlin extends to me.
      Tomorrow, I am heading on a long road trip to the only retailer in my area that still is selling new Marlin 1894s in .45 Colt, Cabela’s, to pick up my reserved gun in that caliber.
      This is not the Cowboy version, though.
      It’s the plain jane 20″ round barrel version with no flashy accoutrements.
      Will report back my findings on it right here once I have it in my hands, cosmetically, mechanically, and from an accuracy standpoint.
      Will be doing range testing with my full power (for Ruger/TC and Marlin only) handloads using the 225 grain Hornady FTX bullets, backed by a maximum charge of H110.
      Sure hoping mine is one of the somewhat older manufacture with the pros being the only hands on it.

  12. avatarHoward Barr says:

    I recetently purchased an 1894c from marlin. I had serious difficulty locating one and spent two years looking.when my rifle arrived in marcoate walnut it was a big dissapointment the wood to metal fit was pittifull my buttstock was never even fitted to the receiver you can still see the x&y of the cnc machinery and I can fit three buisiness cards between the stock and receiver. There are multiple loose srews and a chip out of the forestock. my Grandpa gifted me a 336 twenty years ago that was spotless and I bought a 9410 winchester that had better wood and imaculate fit and finish.This is Americas gun company? I’ll buy the Japanese 94 trapper I,m tempted to take a torch to this beater.

  13. avatarIra Paine says:

    Guys,
    Be very careful of Wild West Guns, they cant know a lot about guns when they are selling an old Remington Rolling Block chambered in .308 Win,. someone is going to get hurt shooting something like that, or even worse, they could get killed. These guys are NOT experts in the gun field and selling something un-safe is not the kind of guys I would care to deal with.
    I P

    • avatarDave Dakman says:

      I had my 2008 model 336A ( last of the good ones) ready for shipment to Wild West Guns when I seen their T V show….. I never sent it! The T V show makes them look like &*^%$#@!@*&#@ actors! I’m looking for a gunsmith I can Trust to do good work.

  14. avatarpete606 says:

    Im selling a 45. colt rifle for 300

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