With whitetail season coming up in Texas, I’ve welcomed a slew of lever-action rifles for review. This season, I feel sorry for every lever gun that follows this one. Grizzly Custom Guns once again sets a high bar with the Marlin 1895 Outback Guide gun in the venerable .45-70.
The Grizzly Custom Guns Outback Guide tips the scales at just over eight pounds (unloaded, with scope). Considering the .45-70’s potential punch, it’s not a particularly heavy rifle. As I teed-up 300 rounds for this test, I figured this review could be punishing.
Thankfully, Mr. Bonitz ameliorated most of the anguish by adding a cut and contoured Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad to the original Marlin checkered and laminated stock.
Marlin hasn’t changed their lever gun’s stock’s overall geometry in a long time. Like the shark, it didn’t need to evolve. So it’s just as well Grizzly gun guru Lew Bonitz left well enough alone.
The grey laminated stock looks pretty good on factory stainless steel Marlins. It looks much better on the Outback’s highly polished receiver. Especially as every other metal bit also has a satin sheen. I’m a big fan of blued guns, but the Outback’s stainless steel’s siren song sings sweetly indeed.
With its 18.5″ barrel, the Outback Guide stretches 36 1/2″ from nose to tail. That makes the Guide extremely handy in heavy brush. With it’s generally short length, well-sorted stock geometry and Pachmayr pad, the Guide points like a stick. It flew up to my shoulder, right in line, ready to shoot, regardless of whether I was using the ghost ring iron sights or the Leupold scout scope.
Many 1895s — especially the newer ones — have sharp angles on the lever loop. If you’re firing a few rounds, it’s not an issue. But fast cycling dozens of rounds soon becomes uncomfortable, even bruising. Grizzly has solved that problem by removing all the factory Marlin’s sharp edges and burrs, smoothing out the 1895’s every line.
Cycling the Outback Guide’s action, all you feel is the rifle’s butter smooth function. I didn’t disassemble the receiver, but a flashlight and a magnifying glass revealed that Lew polished all the parts and squared where need be. The end result is a radically improved cycling speed and satisfaction. Not to mention a longer service life and improved overall reliability.
I hate to despoil a lever gun’s cowboy cool with a rail, but there’s no denying the utility of the Outback Guide’s XS Sights rail. For those of you who share my preference for night hunting wild hogs, the rail accommodates night vision or IR pointing devices, making this lever gun a big bore nighttime terror on even the baddest of the piggies.
Alternatively, the Guide’s top rail quickly accommodates a long eye relief scope. Going all iron is easy enough; Grizzly sets the XS Sights’ ghost ring rear sight into the mounted rail. Combined with the XS Sights ramped front sight, complete with high visibility insert, punching huge holes in water jugs or taking game close-in without a scope is a done deal.
I’ve written about the potential of the modern .45-70, as realized by boutique ammo companies like Garret Cartridges. Shooting properly formulated ammunition, this 144-year-old caliber can take down any animal that walks the face of earth. But you don’t have to push supersonic 540 gr. Hog Stompers through the air. You can feed the Outback Guide a commercial 250gr Hornady Monoflex round for a comfortable shooter that will still fell whitetails out to 300 yards.
This version of the 1895 holds six rounds of heavy grain goodness, plus one in the pipe. So, with one fully loaded Outback Guide lever-action, a little luck or a lot of money, I can take the five whitetail and two mule deer my Texas hunting license allows. Or a metric ton of pigs. Or a Cape buffalo. Or maybe have four rounds to save my hide after I miss a charging grizzly with the first three.
The original 1895 attaches the receiver to the stock by squeezing the wooden stock between the receiver’s top tang and bottom metal with a bolt. If the metal-to-stock fit is good and the wood’s hard and remains well sealed, it’s not an issue. In the real world, on a hard-used rifle shooting heavy loads, it’s a potential problem.
Grizzly nixes the problem by installing a bolt from the receiver through the stock. If you’ve taken apart a Remington 870 shotgun, this solution will look familiar. The “fix” certainly shores up any potential issues, and snugs the stock into the receiver. I’d definitely note the tension on the bolt when loosening it for disassembly; over tightening it could have disastrous results.
The Outback Guide’s cross bolt safety fell easily to my firing hand, snapping on and off with surety. It’s especially useful to be able to activate and deactivate the safety while holding the lever gun on target — something a squishy safety doesn’t allow.
Grizzly breathes heavily on the 1895’s trigger, creating one of the best triggers I’ve ever felt on any rifle (save the under one-pound triggers fitted to some long-range precision rifles). It’s infinitely better than any factory rifle trigger I’ve shot — just as good as the Jewell triggers on my Remington 700s.
For an additional fee, Grizzly will straighten, dehorn and round the end of the Marlin’s trigger, and then refinish it in black Cerakote (as above). I reckon it’s well worth the $60 upcharge.
The Outback Guide’s trigger breaks at 2.5 lbs, but you’d swear it was less. There’s zero creep, no fuzziness and not a hint of sloppiness. It just barely surprised me every time. The wall of tension is there . . . and then it’s gone. It’s just perfect. After shooting the Outback Guide, I went and shot my 70-year-old Winchester 1894. And hung my head low in sorry disappointment.
The Marlin 1895 is an extremely robust platform. That said, I’ve had issues with the magazine hanging up, and rounds getting out of position during a slow or fumbled cycling. If the Marlin 1895 is built like a tank, the Grizzly Custom Guns’ Marlin 1895 is built like a Swiss tank. I slowly cycled the action, I quickly cycled the action and I stutter-cycled the action without a single feed or extraction hiccup.
The Outback Guide was lubed when it arrived. I didn’t clean or lubricate it until I was done with the review. I put a total of 300 rounds through the gun, including rounds from Federal, Hornady, Garrett, Winchester and my own reloads from cast boolits. I shot multiple types of rounds, from flat-tipped lead round-nosed, to hollow points, to hard cast solids, to the Hornady FTX projectiles, in bullet weights from 250 to 420 grains. Zero issues.
I’d trust this gun with my hunt or my life any day.
I had the Outback Guide gun for a little longer than I was supposed to. There was a two-week gap between accuracy tests. When I looked back at my notes, I thought I’d measured the group size at the wrong distance. My next eight groups of five rounds proved I was not in error.
The worst shooting round out of this gun scored 1.2″ five round groups at 100 yards. That’s good shooting from a lever gun. But wait, there’s more! That wasn’t a commercial round. It was my own reloaded starting load that I use for deer hunting.
The worst commercial round — the Hornady 325gr FTX LeveRevolution cartridge — shot 1.1″ groups, on average. The Winchester Super X 300gr JHP shot .8″, and the Hornady LeveRevolution 250gr Monoflex shot right there with it. I only had five rounds of Garrett 420gr Hammerheads; they printed right at the 1 MOA mark.
Those are average five-round groups shot at 100 yards off bags, untimed, using the Leupold VXR 1.5 – 5X scope provided by Grizzly Custom Guns. If you can account for the windage and drop, the Outback Guide is easily a 300 yard deer rifle. Choose your round carefully and your bullet will arrive at that distance with authority.
The Grizzly Custom Guns Outback Guide lever gun costs $800 more than a new Marlin 1895’s MSRP (and doesn’t include the gun). It’s a full grand more than a new Marlin 1895SBL. I wouldn’t own a new Marlin 1895SBL. Not when I can have Lew Bonitz take a good design and turn it into a great one. Creating a gun that offers truly exceptional accuracy and reliably for generations. If you want uncompromising attention to detail provided by a gunsmith who has a complete understanding of the platform, the Outback Guide Gun is the one.
Base Rifle: Marlin 1895SBL Barrel length 18.5 inches
– Barrel recrowned w/11° target crown
– 6-round, full-length magazine tube
– Laminated stock, grey & black
– Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad, contoured for easier mounting & dismounting
– Extensive action tuning to feed everything up to & including Garrett 540 grain Super Hard Cast loads
– Trigger job on factory components
– Dehorned factory large lever loop
– Complete action dehorning
– XS Sights ghost-ring rear sight
– XS Sights ramped front sight with high visibility insert
– XS Sights Scout scope rail
– Stainless steel, finished in matte or factory style
– Modified loading gate for easier loading
– Extensive action smoothing
– Bed stocks
– Through-bolt stock retention system
– Test fired & sighted-in
MSRP $1,995 ($800 less if you supply your own rifle.)
Fit and finish * * * *
I can’t give the Outback Guide five stars; it’s just a laminated stock. But the finished gun’s wood-to-metal fit is excellent, and the stock itself is well checkered and attractive. The satin polish across all of the metal parts is even throughout, and the melting and blending of the sharp edges is ideal.
Reliability * * * * *
No issues over the entire process with any round of any type.
Accuracy * * * * *
Ridiculous. The worst round printed at 1.2″ on average — and those were my handloads. Every commercial round shot 1.1″, or better.
Overall * * * * *
I always look for something to disqualify a gun from a five-star rating. I couldn’t find a single thing to ding. Lew Bonitz at Grizzly Custom Guns has built an absolutely exceptional rifle. My next three generations could spend their lifetimes hunting with the Outback Guide and it would remain as it is now: a beautiful, robust, supremely capable firearm capable of taking any game, anywhere.