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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 was 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 landowner steadied the lever gun forend 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 hunting 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 Firearms nowadays, you get more gunsmithing 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 1,400 fps. The old rifle thusly 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 405-grain ammo at 400 rounds per minute.


Garrett .45-70 ammo (courtesy


Like many of the old black-powder cartridges, things just got better for the .45-70 when smokeless powder and modern actions came along. Nowadays, competent reloading shooters can bring those 400-grain bullets out to 1,700 fps. Garret Ammunition offers a 540-grain hard-cast round moving at an astonishing 1,350 fps out of a 18.5-inch 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-plus-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 480-grain round. 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 Marlin Model 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 and 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 4 pounds. 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 inches. 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 200 fps using the Hornady 325-grain LeveRevolution factory round. That is, however, using a starting velocity book value from Hornady’s unlikely 24-inch test barrel. Who uses a 24-inch barrel on a .45-70?

Powder selection means a lot though. For instance, Garret’s 540-grain Defender round boasts 1,350 fps out of an 18.5-inch barrel. It shot around 1,340 with the 16.5-inch tube. There is also a very obvious muzzle blast, and although recoil is moderate, the noise is not. When using the Garret 540-grain 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 540-graain 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 350-grain FPRN Hornady hand loads, the 325-grain FTX factory Hornady round, and the 540-grain Garret round. As long as my hand moved that fast-handling 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, 7 lbs, the 325-grain 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 [email protected].

Grizzly Custom Brush Hawg Custom Marlin .45-70 Gov‘t SPECIFICATIONS:

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

Trigger job

Bobbed hammer

Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad (other options available)

Custom leather butt-cuff ammunition carrier

Custom padded “Slimline” leather sling

Checkered American Walnut stocks (other buttstock options available)

Cerakote finish in satin black

Complete action dehorning

Satin matte metal prep and bluing (other options available)

Weight: 6.5 lbs

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.


More from The Truth About Guns:

Grizzly Custom Guns 1895 Guide Gun in .45-70 Government

The Cowboy Assault Rifle done right, by Wild West Guns

Evolution of the Winchester Lever-Action Rifle

11 Top Pistol Caliber Carbine Choices

XS Sights Introduces New DXT2 Big Dot Night Sights

Obscure Object of Desire: Grizzly Custom Guns BackPacker Lite “Scout” – Marlin 39A

Gun Review: Marlin 336 Cowboy Assault Rifle

Silenced Lever Action Marlin 1894 C (.38 Special)

Gun Works: How to Mount Scout Scopes on Lever-Action Rifles



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  1. So much want!

    The rail kinda spoils the looks a little but that is picking nits!

    It’s a shame that the price is so high though 🙁

    • A business opportunity, perhaps, for someone to make a smooth cover that fits over the picatinny rail and looks like part of the gun? Rails are nice, but sometimes they are just ugly.

      • They are custom guns, and the rails are optional. If someone didn’t like the rails, they would order the gun w/o them. Not much of a business opportunity, unfortunately.

  2. a marlin 336 is on my bucket list of arms. Now to find a older one that was a quality product…..

    • I inherited a 336 in 35 rem made in 1968 from my grandfather. GREAT rifle. Almost brand new, I think it might have been fired about twice until I got it. My dad never shot it.

      • What an odd coincidence. I too inherited my grandfather’s Marlin 336 Centennial in .35 Rem, made in 1969. He put 25 rounds through it, stored it in oily wax paper, and gave it to me as a high school graduation present in 2011. Such a fun rifle to shoot, too bad the ammo is so expensive.

    • Buy new or buy old. Remlin is starting to get it’s act together. On the other hand, Marlin’s quality was seriously waning before Remington even bought them out.

  3. .444 fell into my lap. not quite as versatile or available as this caliber, but close.
    cycling rewards a deft hand. deliberate is ok, but slow doesn’t work.

  4. Love the look of that rifle. Don’t care if it shoots .45-70, .22, or paintballs…Just a great looking rifle.

    But I agree about the rail.

  5. This may not be 100% current info, but a couple of years back Canada would not allow you to bring in a rifle that had a barrel shortened to less than 18 inches. But a factory made barrel less than that was OK. This carbine could not be brought into Canada, eh! But a factory built 1895 STP, of which they made just 500, with it’s 16 inch barrel, can be. Maybe that is why the STP price has risen to well over US$2500. That’s what I sold mine for, to a guy relocating to Toronto…. John Davies, Spokane WA

    • Dixon’s autobiography should be required reading for every Texan. For his famed thousand yard shot, he didn’t use a .45-70 or his .45-90, but a borrowed .50-90. At least that’s according to his autobiography

    • I don’t. I have a pre Freedom group 1895CB with 26 inch barrel. Beautiful gun and a great shooter. I’ve never shot one with a shorter barrel, but the extra weight has to help with recoil, especially with the +p loads. The full length tube under the 26 inch barrel holds 9 rounds. Sometimes I think I can notice a difference in recoil when the tube is not full, but that may just be some sensitivity setting in after shooting 9 rounds.

  6. To all the people who discount the prompt lethality of large and heavy bullets impacting at only 1400 fps: I hope this article sets you straight.

    I know it is easy to think of a bullet impacting at 1400 fps as nothing more than a somewhat hot handgun round … and we all know that handgun rounds are weak-ish. To clarify: those weak-ish handgun rounds are typically light, hollow-point bullets. Well, a 350+ grain .45 caliber hardcast lead bullet is a whole different matter. They make HUGE wound channels that are MUCH larger than the bullet … something like 1 inch in diameter. And because the bullets are so heavy, they do not slow down appreciably as they plow through the animal. That means they create that huge 1 inch diameter wound channel “stem to stern” no matter which way the animal is facing when you shoot it.

    I think of heavy .43 and especially .45 caliber hardcast lead bullets as 1 inch coring tools that eliminate the material in a 1 inch diameter cylinder the entire length of the animal. Needless to say, that tends to drop animals in their tracks if that cylinder goes anywhere near their heart, lungs, spinal cord, or brain.

    • A lot like a 12ga. shotgun slug. Still, I once shot a medium-plus sized doe with a 3″ slug, quartering away, that managed to take out a lung and break the shoulder on the way out (after at least a couple feet of penetration) and the doe still bolted like a bat out of hell. Ran over the hill and bedded down to die though. Anyway, more than one way to skin a cat.

  7. Wow that “Safari Grade” Kodiak is a real work of art. Holy cow.

    …and RE the Pic rail aesthetics, is it removable? It obviously has some screws in it based on the photo. JWT, does it come off and, if so, what’s left behind? BTW I really like the look of the top of it. It ain’t your 90* angles everywhere flat top quad rail style, but has curves and swoops and visual appeal to it. I think if they sculpted the front of the rail down so it angled and blended back down towards the barrel rather than leaving the front of it perfectly squared off that it would look better — more like an integral part of the gun that was designed in from the get-go than bolted on top. For me, it’s just that leading front edge that makes it jump out as a bit incongruous. I could probably survive with more of a shotgun-length rail, too, which would then be easier to “hide” aesthetically.

    • Yep, it’s screws right off with nothing but two screw holes left that can be flush fit. Take a look at the website to see several examples without the rail.

  8. Wow, the drool quickly got wiped away when i saw the price. Sure would love to have one of these, but i would have to be a rich man to justify the spend.

  9. My experience with the old school rounds that started as black powder and graduated to smokeless is that the recoil feels different.

    More of a push instead of a kick.

  10. ‘…the quality of Marlin lever action guns has significantly, shamefully, declined over the last few years…’

    Just one man’s experience, but I bought a 336BL this spring and I’ve been pretty happy with it. I did install a Wild West trigger as the original was a bit heavy and flopped around enough to creep me out a bit, but for a ~$600 investment I think I got a pretty good lever gun for the money. No complaints on fit or finish. I’ve got no delusions about how it compares to a $3200 custom gun, but I think the Remlins are of reasonable quality these days. That said, you couldn’t pay me to take a 5 year old model off your hands.

  11. My recently made 1895 SBL came out fine. There is some rough tooling marks inside the receiver, but it cycles smooth and has no trouble ringing steel targets at 100 yards. Love handloading 45/70 too. My pet load is 15gr Unique under a 405gr cast lead bullet. It roughly matches the black powder loads ballistics at 1,400fps and kicks less than a .308.

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