The Marlin 336 is legendary. An evolution of the Model 36 and the 1893 before it, the septuagenarian side loader is responsible for over 3.5 million rifles sold. Folks, that’s more rifles than there are soldiers in the entire Chinese military, active and reserves combined.
Throughout the decades, Marlin has released many different versions of the rifle. Probably the biggest change in all of those models came with the XLR line. That line saw stainless steel, a laminate stock, and a 24″ barrel with a slightly faster 1:12 twist rate.
Where the XLR brought longer ranges to the venerable .30-30 Win cartridge, the newest version of the 336, Marlin’s 336 Dark, combines brush-gun ballistics with modern optics and suppressor mounting hardware.
One of the most distinctive features of the Dark series is its furniture. Both the buttstock and fore stock are black, with a textured paint finish applied to them.
When I first saw the stock, I assumed it was composite. Pulling the Pachmayr Decelerator butt pad off, I found it’s actually a solid hardwood stock, simply painted black. The stock is wide, making the already easy recoil of the cartridge even easier. It also pulls quick to the shoulder, and the butt pad keeps it locked in nicely.
Those familiar with the Marlin lever guns may not recognize the look of the classic, but it feels like what we’re used to. There’s a full swell to the palm of the pistol grip, and the fore stock is rounded, but wide. The overall shape, combined with the texture, gives the shooter a solid grip on the gun.
Marlin 336 Dark trigger and loop (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)Another obvious stylistic feature is the paracord-wrapped lever loop and sling. The cord on the lever loop is mostly decorative. I guess the idea is that it protects your hand against slamming into the loop.
In reality, your hand will rest at the back of the loop on the downswing and likely won’t lose contact with the metal in the first place. The lever loop itself is the large model, which works well even if you have full winter gloves on.
The paracord sling is a different story altogether. Yes, it very much adds to the overall style of the gun, but it’s also a pretty darn good sling. (That’s sling, as in carrying strap, not sling, as in a traditional shooter’s sling.)
The loops of the paracord make a soft, wide strap, and I was genuinely surprised at how comfortable the rifle was on the sling. Considering the light weight of the gun, the sling really makes the weight disappear on your shoulder. Quick detach swivel studs are included both fore and aft.
The 16 1/4″ (1:10 twist) barrel sports Marlin’s 12 groove Micro-groove rifling. That’s nothing new, but the distal end is different.
Instead of just shiny steel, this one ends with a 5/8’X24 threaded muzzle. This certainly isn’t the first lever action rifle to have a threaded muzzle, but I can’t think of any that are standard from a major line.
As you might expect, any “standard” .30 caliber suppressor should work just fine. The .30-30 Winchester is not a particularly high pressure round.
The 16 1/4″ barrel has great balance, and is awfully handy in a tight space. It moves fast, stops fast, and is very quick to get on target. In tight spaces, and shorter distances, it’s ideal.
But that ease of movement comes with a heavy price. For most loads, that price will be around 100-150 fps of muzzle velocity lost compared the published loads that use a 22″ or 24″ barrel.
That’s not an insignificant amount. For most 150-180gr commercial rounds, this reduction in velocity would mean that if you wanted to guarantee 1,000 ft/lbs of energy delivered to the target, the shooter would be limited to 170 yards as a maximum distance.
Of course, many quadrupeds need far less for an ethical kill, and plenty of white tail deer have been taken with firearms delivering near half that amount of force, especially in the southern and eastern parts of the US.
Because of the short barrel, you’re limited to five rounds in the magazine tube, and one in the chamber. That mag tube ends with a bright red follower that’s easy to see. Even once you see it, don’t forget the one in the chamber.
The 336 comes with a traditional hammer-block safety. This is a bit redundant on a lever action rifle, but it does make for a very safe gun.
With the safety on, even if you cock the hammer and drop it, the gun will not go bang. You’d have to mess up in a few ways to get the Marlin 336 Dark to fire without intending for it to happen.
That trigger also harkens back to the days when Marlin was getting it right. It’s not light, breaking at 5 1/2lbs. That’s much less than some of the Marlin’s I’ve shot, but still nowhere as good as you’ll get with an aftermarket Happy Trigger.
No, the famous “Marlin Flop” has not been fixed. Cocked or not, it’s easy to move the trigger forward. It does, however, break crisply, something the Marlin’s of 10 years ago were not particularly known for.
The 336 Dark comes stock with a long XS Lever Rail. This a great invention that has had a solid customer base for a while now.
The long rail provides a reliable anchor point for a wide array of optics, lights, and other aiming devices. It’s also low enough to still effectively use iron sights, and somehow still keeps the overall style of the lever action rifle intact.
The 336 Dark sports a large knurled trigger extension off the right side of the hammer. That’s great for sporting a scope, or just getting to the hammer quickly. Sorry lefties, it’s removeable but not reversible. Marlin has no time for the tragedy of your birth.
As far as reliability, the rumors I’ve heard about Marlin are true. They’ve made their way back to the robust, reliable firearms they used to be.
Since I have roughly fiddyleven rounds of reloaded 30-30 Win, finding 500 to put through this gun was no problem. Frankly, some of them were decades old and I just wanted to get them shot. Over the month that I had the rifle, they all went off without a hitch.
I shot 130 grain bullets. I shot 180 grain bullets. I shot everything in between. I shot mostly round nosed bullets, but also a few boxes of Hornady’s Flex tip rounds, and a few 175gr BTSP bullets. Of course, those rounds were shot single shot with an empty tube.
I lubed the gun with some CLP before I shot it, but never cleaned it. I never had any problems with any round. The lever never stuck. The safety never failed to go on or off easily. I cycled the gun both slowly and quickly. It never had a single hiccup.
I also cycled the bolt 900 times. That’s not a round number. I watched each episode of The Mandalorian three times and cycled the bolt 100 times per episode.
Not only did I have zero issues with any loading, firing, or ejecting, but I also ended up with a nice smooth cycle. The next reviewer who gets this gun had better remark on how smooth the action is.
Off a bench, the 336 Dark received acceptable marks for precision. Shooting from a Caldwell Stinger shooting rest at 100 yards, most of the five-shot groups from the 336 Dark averaged around 2″ center to center.
The best shooting commercial round was the now-discontinued Hornady Custom Lite. That round scored 1.8″ on average for the one box of it I had. My own home-rolled round — an absolute Hill Country white-tail murder machine — pushes a 150gr Speer Hot Cor bullet just a teeny bit faster, and scored 1.6″ for an average, with spectacular consistency.
All precision shooting was done with an Atibal Apex scope on Atibal rings at 14X.
That’s how precise the rifle can be, in one specific set-up. But the beauty of the Dark series (and lord know it’s not an aesthetic beauty) is that it can be set up with multiple sight options. That long XS Lever Rail gives the shooter plenty of space to try different things.
The stock irons are set up with a very wide ghost ring rear and a tall front sight post. That front post is tall enough to clear most suppressors and it sports a wide white vertical bar.
The benefit of this set up is that it’s very fast to obtain a sight picture. The downside is that rear ring is so large that no precise fire is likely, maybe not even possible.
Using the same set-up as before, the best I could possibly wring out of the stock sight configuration was a 3 1/2″ group at 50 yards, and 9″ at 100. For that group, I shot the ballistically impressive Hornady 165gr LeveRevolution factory round.
That rear ghost ring may be the only real misstep for the Dark series. Not only is it too large to make precision firing possible, but it’s also black, meaning it can’t be seen in low light. In a dark hallway, or in the last twilight minutes, it disappears.
The rear sight is windage-adjustable by drifting it left or right. Adjusting it for elevation is a bit harder, as you’ll need to loosen the sight and then screw the peep sight up or down. Mine took a lot more force to turn than I would have thought, and I incorrectly assumed it wasn’t elevation adjustable. (Thanks to Jim Lawn in the comments for setting me straight.)
Of course, the user could also go with a red dot sight, like the Trijicon MRO. This may be the best of both worlds, keeping the ability to acquire targets quickly in low light, and from any angle, as well as shoot accurately enough to reliably take deer sized game out to 200 yards.
With this particular set up, the irons co-witness with the MRO, and can still be seen below the mount. That’s handy in the very unlikely event something was to go wrong with the optic.
Now, to use the 336 Dark to its full potential, you’re going to have to go full Trogdor. Throw on an ancient AN/PAQ-4C, a spare AN/PVS-14, and any .30 caliber can you have laying around, and get to work.
I’m not gonna lie, I thought this was just goofy. It IS goofy. It’s $5,000 worth of gear on a rifle you can find on the shelves for under $800. I’m pretty sure this is what suburban prepper dreams of made of.
And it’s friggin’ awesome. None of the video I took worked at all, but let me tell you, ringing steel at 100 yards with a lever gun at night, when no one else could even see the target at all was pretty cool.
It’s darkness and silence, followed by the muffled report, and then the slap of the bullet on the steel. Darkness follows, and the silence is broken by sound of the action, setting another round in place.
It’s not cheap. To get a blacked out rifle with a short carbine barrel, a Parkerized finish and no pretty wood, you have an MSRP $240 more than 20″, 6-shot, wood and blued steel 336C. I”m not sure how the economics of that worked out.
The 336 Dark isn’t a gun I thought I’d like. I’m a lever gun fanatic, and this just didn’t look like a lever gun.
But get away from what you thought a lever action rifle was supposed to look like, and you’ll see this performs as one should. It handles well, shoots well, and is powerful and accurate enough for most applications. The 336 Dark just broadens what those applications might be.
SPECIFICATIONS: Marlin Model 336 Dark Series Rifle
Capacity: 5-shot magazine
Action: Lever action; side ejection; solid-top receiver; Safety: hammer block safety
Barrel: 16.25” threaded barrel with Micro-Groove® rifling (12 grooves)- 1:10” twist rate
Caliber: 30-30 Win.
Muzzle: Threaded – 5/8″x24
Finish: Parkerized finish on metal
Sling: Paracord sling
Optic Mount: XS Lever Rail with Ghost Ring
Stock: Black stock painted with black webbing
Overall Length: 34.5″
Approximate Weight: 7.65 lbs
MSRP: $949 (about $780 retail)
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style and Appearance * * *
A post apocalyptic lever gun. But from the factory. To each his own.
Customization * * * * *
Add whatever you want to that rail, or don’t. Add a can. Or don’t. This has got to be the most METT-TC adjustable lever action platform on the market today.
Reliability * * * * *
Runs like a Marlin used to.
Accuracy * * and * * *
Precision will largely depend on the optic used. The base irons allow for fast pickup of the target, but shooting it like that is minute-of-ish, at best.
Overall * * * *
I groaned, audibly, when I picked this gun up. I did not want to review this abomination. I groaned again when I had to give it back. I’m still not exactly sure what the target market is for this gun. It’s not pretty, but it’s handy, it’s light, it’s easy to carry and super easy to shoot. It also gives the user a wide range of capabilities not found on traditional lever action rifles. When all is said and done, it’s just a fun rifle, and it’s even more fun in the dark.