If you wade into the den of the Dark Lord, bring your guts and a Marlin 1895. The classic lever action rifle has developed a solid following among amateur hunters and professional guides alike. Heck, if someone — anyone — is walking into the field with a big bore lever action rifle, odds are it’s a Marlin 1895.
Sadly, mistakes made after Marlin’s transition to
Freedom Group Remington ownership tarnished the reputation of the once sterling brand. Many lever action fans, myself included, turned their back on the new “Remlins”.
Good people, you can turn your faces back to the light. The big bore beauties have been revived, are as good as they ever were, and the new Marlin 1895CB proves it.
The mid-20th century Marlin is not the original late 19th century Marlin. That’s because the heart of the Marlin lever action center fire rifles changed quite a bit in 1948, with the Marlin 36. The 36 then became the 336 we are all now so familiar with. It’s pretty easy to tell the 19th century Marlins from the later versions. If you see a big oblong cut-out on the right side of the receiver, it’s a post ’48 model.
That open receiver housed a round bolt with a corresponding cut for it to travel through the receiver. As opposed to the old model, this allows the 336 to have a good deal more metal surrounding it, and at the same time allows for single round loading. The new 1895 is simply a Model 336, enlarged for the old .45-70 Government caliber and released in 1972. If you are reading reloading data about the modern lever action Marlin, this action is what they are referring to.
The .45-70 load is about the only government I like. The practically ancient black powder cartridge is really at least two, and more like three different cartridges, depending on the firearm it’s used in.
Most reloading manuals will have a “weak” action section, like the Trapdoor Springfield. At this pressure level, generating 1,600 ft/lbs of muzzle energy, the cartridge is capable of taking any game animal in the western hemisphere.
At the far opposite end of the spectrum, you have the Ruger No. 1, probably the strongest action ever created for a hunting rifle. The No 1 in .45-70 Government has been loaded to produce 4,000 ft/lbs of muzzle energy. I can tell you from personal experience, a lightweight Ruger No 1 (7 lbs naked) loaded and fired at this level takes meat on both ends.
Somewhere not quite to that level are the “strong lever actions.” The example of the “strong lever action” in most manuals is the Marlin 1895, made after the 1948 model 336 changes. In this firearm, like the 1895CB, the old workhorse can launch a 320 gr bullet at 1,900 fps, easily surpassing the 3,000 ft/lbs of energy mark, and quite a bit more. With the right bullet, such as those by Garret Cartridges, the Marlin 1895CB is well capable of ethically taking any animal on Earth.
Although the Marlin 1895 shot a buffalo-killing cartridge, it was never one of the buffalo guns. After all, there were less than 100 American Bison free-ranging by the time the first Marlin 1895 was produced. Nor was it really a cowboy gun. It arrived too late in the game for that as well, and the cartridge the great rifle fired was simply out of date by the time the model 336 came out. The .30-30 grossly outsold it (and justly so.)
No, the popularity of the 1895 didn’t really have anything to do with the western expansion or the cowboy age at all. If anything, it was the shorter barreled “guide gun” versions, either custom or from the factory, that really built the 1895’s legacy.
Alaskan bush hunters and their guides needed a shorter rifle that packed a punch, and so many gravitated to the Marlin. That short barreled (16″-18″) 1895 became synonymous with the Alaskan bush guide’s profession. It also helps that, in the 1970’s and 80’s, there simply weren’t many options for lever action .45-70s to choose from.
By naming this new rifle the 1895CB (for Cowboy), Marlin is borrowing a bit of mythological nostalgia from its own past, and the reputation of the modern repeater, now legendary for heavy loads in hard country.
Although it has the improved action of the Model 336, the current 1895CB shares a lot of features with the original rifle.
Both the 19th century Marlin and the current CB come with a 26″ blued octagonal barrel. The modern 1895CB has a tapered barrel, and by the time it ends, the .458″ tunnel doesn’t leave much metal left. The result is an easy-handling gun that moves quickly and balances very well, for its length. The traditional Ballard cut barrel has a 1:20 twist, enough to stabilize the heavy 400 to 500 grain flat-nosed bullets.
Directly underneath that barrel is a full-length magazine. That tube holds nine rounds of dinosaur-stomping authority. Folks, if you need more than two, something has gone awry. Consider retreat.
The stocks on the CB are a straight grained American black walnut. Most of the post ’48 models of the 1895s I’ve seen, and the majority of the ones currently offered by Marlin, sport the fuller pistol grip style buttstock. Neither grip is more traditional than the other, at least not on the 1895s. Plenty of examples of both styles exist on the 19th century models.
Lever gun aficionados are familiar with the “Marlin red” finish of the wood on the older guns as well as many custom Marlins. The CB’s stocks are a natural shade of light brown.
The original 1895’s finish came color case hardened, but a blued receiver was available from the factory as well at no additional cost. This is a firearm that looks especially beautiful with a case hardened receiver, but no such option is currently available from the factory. There are a few folks now that can color case harden these guns. This refinishing is not particularly cheap, but worth every penny.
If you chose to scope your 1895, I would hope that you would not do so for the CB model. However, if you absolutely must, the Marlin comes drilled and tapped for a rail atop the receiver.
There is no rubber butt pad, but instead a hard plastic checkered plate with the Marlin logo. The originals were metal and more curved like the rifle buttstocks of their time. Although the robustness of the metal is appreciated, the flatter plastic butt plate is far more forgiving in recoil. I would have appreciated a rubber butt pad even more, both for comfort in long strings of shooting as well as the additional length of pull.
The lever is a standard narrow style, and it’s blued. Sharp edges on the lever is one of the things I noticed on the Marlin guns immediately after Remington purchased them. No such failing exists on the new 1895CB. Yes, all Marlin levers are more narrow, and therefore a little sharper than some other manufacturers’ guns, but this lever has rounded and polished edges, as it should.
Unlike the early Marlins, the current generation of 1895s (and 1894s) include a cross bolt safety. It works perfectly, but does spoil a bit of the aesthetic of the receiver. If you should choose, a filler block for the safety is inexpensive and simple to install.
The sights are also similar to the old models, although several options on the originals were available from the factory. The 1895CB includes a simple drift-adjustable front sight with a brass bead. Like every other modern production rifle with a brass bead front sight, this one works much better with a little bit of hand polishing.
After Marlin fell under the Remington umbrella, a misaligned front sight was one of the most common complaints against the Marlin guns. There was no such issue here. I also had the opportunity to check out quite a few newer Marlin lever action rifles over the last few months at various Cowboy Action Shooting matches. Although most of the guns had significant work done on them to increase their cycle speed, none had any issues with sight alignment.
The rear sight is a traditional ramp-mounted buckhorn version, with a white diamond insert. This design works well for more precise shooting over longer ranges, as well as using the wider portion between the top of the ears for fast shooting at close-in and moving targets.
Because of the wide variation of loads and uses, the stair-stepped ramp on the rear sight is particularly vital for rifles firing the .45-70 cartridge. For example, a duplicate of the Trapdoor Springfield cartridge requires the rear sight at the highest setting to hit point-of-aim to point-of-impact at 100 yards. The modern 325 grain Hornady LeverEvolution requires the next-to-lowest setting.
Right out of the box, the Marlin has a darn good trigger. There’s very, very little creep or mush. You really have to try to feel for it. The trigger breaks at 4 lbs, 8 oz as the average of five pulls with a Lyman digital trigger scale. Curiously, although the trigger breaks cleanly, there was a 4 oz difference between the highest and lowest weight of those five pulls. I have Marlins with a Happy Trigger kit installed, and some of those guns needed it. This gun does not.
There’s no such thing as a buttery smooth Marlin factory action. The 1895 requires a solid tug to get the action open, followed by a strong pull to get it back started home again, and there are a couple of little hitches along the way. I’ve felt this with every factory Marlin of the modern age, no matter who owned the company. A Marlin action can be smoothed out, but it takes someone who really knows what they are doing to make a big difference.
For this review, I paid particular attention to the action. Problems loading and cycling are the issues I have personally witnessed on several of the new generation Marlin rifles. I’ve purchased a Marlin 336 that, right out of the box, would not load and cycle any commercial round I put into it.
This 1895CB has a lifter that lifts just fine and a finger lever that pivots smoothly and without catch. These were some of the previous areas of concern, but the many folks who coaxed me back to Marlin seem to be right. For all of the things that went wrong, Marlin seems to have gotten back to building guns right, and the quality control to keep it consistent.
With the right bullet, the 1895CB is capable of more precision than most would expect. Recreating the original Trapdoor Springfield load, a 405 grain lead bullet traveling at just about 1,400 fps, the 1895CB produced an average of 2-inch five-shot groups over four-shot strings from a Caldwell Stinger shooting rest at 100 yards.
The standard deviation of these rounds varied widely, as a percentage. The smallest groups measured just over 1.4″, with a cloverleaf pattern. I got lucky with that one, but mild pressures, gooey bullet lube, a bore-sealing lead bullet, and long sight radius is always a great combination for rifle accuracy.
Stepping up to a more modern loading, the commercial Hornady 325gr FTX LeverEvolution round shot 2.7-inch average groups. In the Marlin, the Hornady round is carrying 1,000 ft/lbs of energy at three hundred yards. Many hunters consider it the new standard for store-bought lever gun performance, and for good reason.
I ran the 1895CB at a local black powder cartridge long-range match, shooting 8″, 12″, and 15″ targets out to 400 yards. For this match, I used 70 grains of GOEX FFg powder under a well lubed 405 grain bullet, and took first place in my division (barrel mounted sights). I guess I should note that I was the only person shooting in my division.
For the match and the practice leading up to it, I shot 80 rounds of this load, cleaning the bore fully and blasting the action with Birchwood Casey Gun Scrubber spray after rounds 40 and 80. I also shot multiple Hornady commercial cartridges, to include 40 rounds of their 250 grain Monoflex and 60 rounds of the 325 grain FTX cartridges. In addition to these, I fired 20 rounds of Winchester’s 300gr Super-X commercial cartridge. I also shot 100 405 grain Rim Rock bullets with various smokeless loadings at low to moderate velocities.
Other than the black powder loads, I never cleaned the gun at all during the review and I never had any issues loading, firing, or ejecting a round. I shot all of the jacketed rounds after I shot the lead rounds. Out of the box, this is a gun I’d stake my life on.
Considering the feeling of betrayal I experienced with some previous Marlins, I was hard-pressed to pick up another one in earnest. Too many people who know their lever guns convinced me otherwise, and I’m glad they did. The new production Marlin 1895CB is just as good as any Marlins produced in decades.
Accurate, dependable, and supremely powerful, it also looks pretty good to boot.
For me, this rifle was just too good to turn back in. I bought the gun and I can’t wait to get a Soule sight set for it and get back to the range as well as bear hunting this Fall and Spring.
Specifications: Marlin 1895CB
Caliber: 45-70 Gov’t.
Capacity: 9-shot tubular magazine
Action: Lever action, side ejection, solid-top receiver
Finish: Blued metal surfaces
Safety: Hammer block safety
Stock: American black walnut straight-grip stock
Barrel: 26″ tapered octagon barrel, Ballard-type rifling (6 grooves)
Barrel twist rate: 1:20″
Sights: Adjustable Marbles Arms semi-buckhorn rear sight and Marbles front sight post
Length: 44 1/2″
Length of Pull: 13 3/8”
Weight: 7 lbs.
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style and Appearance * * * *
The blued finish is even and well done for a working gun. The straight-grained walnut stocks are well executed with an even fitment around the metal.
Reliability * * * * *
With any round, commercial or homemade, from 250 grain Hornady Monoflex to 405 grain pure lead and hard cast, from myriad smokeless powders to old-school black, this faithful lever gun ran and ran and ran.
Accuracy * * * * *
As good as anyone can expect with traditional barrel-mounted iron sights and a long sight radius.
Overall * * * * 1/2
I’ll take half a star off for standard wood and a good, but nothing special finish. The truth of it is that this is a great gun, supremely capable anywhere on Earth. Whatever Remington got wrong on Marlin before, they have indeed fixed the production issues with these guns. With the 1895CB, Marlin has reminded us all why these fantastic lever actions gained such a deserved following. Now that Marlin is for sale again, let’s all hope the new owners take those lessons to heart.