About an eon ago, I was hunting with a friend in East Texas for wild pigs, carrying a Ruger Blackhawk in .357 Magnum on my hip. As we headed out, the landowner pulled a Marlin 1895 from the back of his truck and chambered three of the big .45-70 Government rounds. Three is all he had, and he did not seem concerned.
It was still early, and there was a heavy fog on the ground when we started to climb a barbed wire fence to get to the aptly named “Hog Creek” and the Dewberry thickets that were sure to hold the pigs. But before we got a foot up on the wire, we saw dark shapes scuttling in the fog. Moments later we could see the pigs clearly disappearing away from us.
The land owner steadied the lever gun on a fencepost and pulled the trigger. No small report later, a trotting pig was pinned to the ground. There was no blood trail, there was only a pool under a still hog. I took a few pigs in the thickets with that Ruger, but his .45-70 fired three times, for three pigs. I paid too much for it, but I went home with that rifle.
By the end of this review, I was wondering how high I was going to go on my offer to buy RF’s Grizzly Custom Guns .45-70. It’s an outstanding rifle, clearly built in the tradition of doing things right. Mr. Lew Bonitz of Columbia Falls, Montana doesn’t build them fast, and they aren’t cheap. But quality never is. Unlike most of what I see from Marlin nowadays, you get more than what you pay for from Grizzly Custom.
The .45-70 Government has been used to take every big game animal in the world, including the African Big Six. Designed in 1873 for the Springfield trapdoor rifle, the cartridge launched a .458 diameter, 405 grain lead round with 70 grains of black powder at almost 1,400fps. The old rifle thus chambered was accurate enough to hit a man at 300+ yards, and had plenty of energy to do the job when it connected. It was one of the major cartridges chambered in the famous Gatling gun, firing the 405gr round at 400 rounds per minute.
Like many of the old black powder cartiages, things just got better for the .45-70 when smokeless powder and modern actions came along. Nowadays, competent reloaders can bring those 400 grain bullets out to 1,700fps. Garret Ammunition offers a 540gr hard cast round moving at an astonishing 1,350fps out of a 18.5″ barrel.
There are many theoretical benefits of the heavy, solid bullets, but there is one that is clearly observable. The bullet is a long range punch press. It cores a tunnel through the target at any angle. That means a complete wound channel all the way through your target, no matter what you hit. Hide, heavy bone, big masses of muscle? Not a problem, a 400+ grain round at those velocities is just going to keep on going. It will shatter anything in it’s path, and keeps on trucking.
That makes shots possible that just weren’t with lighter, faster rounds. I once hit a big pig running away in the tail with a 480gr ground. The round plowed through the spinal column, exiting the throat of the pig. No deflection, ultimate penetration, instant death. There is even evidence of the Garret round mentioned above traveling completely through a charging Cape Buffalo, at 60 yards, lengthways (documented above).
That’s why it’s such a good choice in pig country, and in big bear country. It’s pretty clear that’s what Grizzly Custom had in mind when they put together the Brush Hawg package. it starts with Marlin lever action rifle. For those of you that haven’t been keeping up, the quality of Marlin lever action guns has significantly, shamefully, declined over the last few years. I have personally witnessed a brand new 336 that would not chamber a .30-30 round through the loading gate. No worries, Grizzly will fix what the bad men did to the rifle. According to Grizzly, that includes, but is not limited to:
– Smooth all ports, inside and out
– Modify loading gate for easier loading & unloading
– Extensive action smoothing
– Stainless steel follower
– Trigger job
– Complete action dehorning- bobbed hammer
As far as that “extensive action smoothing”, I could not agree more. Especially for a Marlin, which I’ve always found more “catchy” than the Henrys, this action is vastly improved. No lever gun does well when cycled slowly, but this thing absolutely flies. The action eagerly opens with no resistance, and cycles down and back before you know it. Like all lever guns, you need to close it firmly, but there are no sharp catches to make you think it’s closed before it really is. This is the slickest cycle of any .45-70 I’ve put my hands on. The trigger is crisp, with little to no take up, breaking about 4lbs. It’s a surprise every time it goes off, as it should be.
For the Brush Hawg package, Lew shortens and re-crowns the Marlin’s barrel at 16.5″. Some rounds lose velocity with barrel length more than others and the .45-70 loses quite a bit. According to the chrono, I lost a solid 200fps using the Hornady 325gr LeveRevolution factory round. That is, however, using a starting velocity book value from Hornady’s unlikely 24″ test barrel. Who uses a 24″ barrel on a .45-70?
Powder selection means a lot though. For instance, Garret’s 540gr Defender round boasts 1,350fps out of an 18.5″ barrel. It shot around 1,340 with the 16.5″ tube. There is also a very obvious muzzle blast, and although recoil is moderate, the noise is not. When using the Garret 540gr Defender round, the phrase “louder than God” comes to mind.
Outside of the gun there are a few changes as well. This model has a large aperture custom LPA ghost ring sight with a single post front sight. The front sight of this particular gun is black, with no inserts or coloration. That’s one thing I’d like different on this gun, but as it is a custom shop, Grizzly Custom offers any sight you could want.
The rifle also includes a long picantinny rail on the top to mount an optic onto. An optic would certainly alter the otherwise classic lines, but there’s nothing faster to the target than a zero magnification “red dot” optic. Especially for low light, something like the Trijicon MRO would be a handy addition to the top rail of this gun.
As it is, the rear aperture is quite large. Snapping the gun to my shoulder, the sights align quickly and easily. That large ring puts the front blade in the general middle with ease, and there’s plenty of space to see your target inside the sights. That speed comes at a price. Although your eye will naturally align the front sight blade to the center of the rear aperture, it’s more like center-ish. A tighter rear sight would solve this, but you would lose the low light capability and speed of this set up.
Given the point of the rifle, the set up works just fine, although I’d probably add a gold bead insert to the front sight. With these iron sights, I was printing 3 1/4″ five shot groups using Garret’s 540gr Defender ammunition off a front bag at 100 yards. Very much in the realm of “good enough for .45-70 Government work. (See what I did there?)
The modifications are complete with:
The Brush Hawg’s fit and finish of the rifle are excellent. Although several finishes are offered, this rifle came with a satin black that would be hard to beat, especially on a working gun. There are no blemishes or tool marks apparent on the rifle, inside or out. I was actually surprised to find that all of the screws were not set to the same position, but then I found that this is an option available.
As a bit of a leatherworker myself, I know enough to recognize a quality product when I see one. The Levergun Leather Works shell holder on the stock is exactly that. The wood on this package is good, but not incredible. Depending on your priorities, other options are available as well. To see what can be done as far as the fit and finish of fine wood from Grizzly Custom take a look at the “Kodiak – a “Safari Grade” Custom Lever Action Rifle Package” and good luck sleeping through the night after that.
Not surprisingly, given the quality of the workmanship, there were no reliability issues. Some lever guns can be a little picky about loading, this one is not. I only fired 100 rounds total for this review, using the 350grain FPRN Hornady hand loads, the 325gr FTX factory Hornady round, and the 540gr Garret round. As long as my hand moved that lighting fast lever, I had absolutely no difficulty loading, firing, or unloading at any time.
The safety is the familiar cross bolt style, and I found it easy to get to, easy on and easy off. Despite it’s downrange ballistics, I didn’t find the recoil unbearable at all. As light as it is, 7lbs, the 325gr loads are moderate at their worst; .45-70 isn’t the recoil monster many would have you believe. Perhaps the Decelerator recoil pad is doing it’s job, but after two days and 100 rounds of firing, I had no bruise and no significant soreness. That said, wear quality ear protection, the rifle is not quiet.
This is a custom rifle. Yes, there are several “packages” that Grizzly Custom offers, but everything is doable. From SBRs to tactical tri-rail fore stocks, to every sight and optic imaginable, from the quality of wood to finish of the rifle, Grizzly Custom can build whatever you want on a Marlin frame. It’s impressive.
At the end of the day, this is what most of us think a .45-70 should be. Fast to the shoulder, fast to maneuver and deadly on anything it touches. Grizzly Custom has gone the extra mile and made it look great and last for generations as well. The downside: smart people recognize quality, and there are more than a few smart folks left. The issue isn’t the price, considering the amount and quality of the work done, it’s the wait. Lew is no longer taking orders. If you would like to get on the waiting list, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grizzly Custom Brush Hawg Custom Marlin .45-70
Barrel length: 16.5″ (other options available)
Shorten magazine tube (4 round magazine, 5 total capacity)
Custom LPA ghost ring sight system with single post front sight (other options available)
Premium dovetail fill to replace factory rear sight
Custom enlarged lever loop
Smooth all ports, inside and out
Modify loading gate for easier loading & unloading
Extensive action smoothing
Stainless steel follower
Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad (other options available)
Custom leather butt-cuff ammunition carrier
Custom padded “Slimline” leather sling
Checkered American Walnut stocks (other options available)
Complete action dehorning
Satin matte metal prep and bluing (other options available)
Price $3215 (including the price of gun)
Style * * * * 1/2
Exactly what it was supposed to be. This is what a working gun looked like back when every working man expected something to not just work well, but look good for his money as well. I’d prefer better wood, and you can certainly buy it from Grizzly Custom.
Accuracy * * * (*)
As is, the gun is set up for fast fire in low light at close ranges with rugged sights. It does that perfectly, but you sacrifice some accuracy for that. With an optic mounted on the supplied rail, or a smaller rear aperature, those groups would shrink significantly and likely add another star.
Reliability * * * * *
Perfect with any round. Easy to load, fire, and unload using multiple loads with multiple types of bullets.
Overall * * * * 1/2
This is the Marlin Guide gun the way it was supposed to be made, probably the way you dreamed it was made. Worth every penny.