Gun Review: Marlin 336 Dark in .30-30 Win

Marlin 336 Dark (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

Marlin 336 Dark (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

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.

Marlin 336 Dark with MRO (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

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.

Marlin 336 Dark scoped (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

Marlin 336 Dark scoped (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

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.

Marlin 336 Dark butt pad (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

Marlin 336 Dark butt pad (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

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)

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.)

Marlin 336 Dark Sling (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

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.

Marling 336 Dark muzzle(image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

Marling 336 Dark muzzle (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

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.

Marlin 336 Dark as is (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

Marlin 336 Dark as is (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

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.

Marlin 336 Dark safety (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

Marlin 336 Dark safety (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

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.

Marlin 336 Dark lever rail(image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com

Marlin 336 Dark’s XS Lever Rail (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

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.

Marlin 336 hammer extension (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

Marlin 336 hammer extension (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

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.

Marlin 336 MRO right (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

Marlin 336 with Trijicon MRO (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

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.

Marlin 336 Dark accuracy testing(image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com

Marlin 336 Dark accuracy testing (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com

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.

Marlin 336 Dark 100 yard groups(image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com

Marlin 336 Dark 100 yard groups (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com

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.

Marlin 336 Dark 50 yard groups(image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com

Marlin 336 Dark 50 yard groups (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com

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.

Marlin 336 Dark rear sight(image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

Marlin 336 Dark rear sight (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

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.)

Marlin 336 Dark MRO mounted (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

Marlin 336 Dark MRO mounted (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

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.

Trogdor the Burninator (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

Trogdor the Burninator (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

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.

Trogdor comes in the night!!(image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

Trogdor comes in the night!! (image courtesy JWT for thetruthaboutguns.com)

 

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)

Also offered in 45-70

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.

comments

  1. avatar Me says:

    My traditional 336 has a paracord sling and matched lever wrap, if I painted it with truck bed liner I’d pretty much have the same damn rifle, but I wrapped the lever and made the sling myself, and traditional wood looks better anyway.

    Btw, the wrap on the lever actually cushions the blow on your fingers when opening the action hard, as well as helps tame the cold, when you are deer hunting in a couple feet of snow.

  2. avatar jwm says:

    Put decent peeps on it and get rid of the glass and electronic doo dads. Light, handy, what’s not to like.

    I’ve always liked the .30-30 and the Marlin is the best of these.

  3. avatar Mister Furious says:

    I see Marlin’s wood to metal fit still sucks; chipped or rounded corners on pistol grip tang.

    1. avatar PROUD chicano says:

      Correction: Remington’s fit/finish sucks.

      1. avatar Mister Furious says:

        I just assumed everyone knew that by now. The Remlins are better than they were, but they don’t compare to a JM stamped Marlin.

        1. avatar Dylan says:

          Ive got a jm stamped 30tk. The wod to metal is great

  4. avatar Ing says:

    There is no better gun than a Marlin 336 for burninating the peasants. And the thatch-roofed cottages. Plus, the thought of one with a threaded barrel makes my heart beat fast. But that black paint…gad, that is hideous.

    1. avatar Nate in CA says:

      Gotta agree – love everything EXCEPT that rattle-can paint job.
      But a 16” lever gun in a rifle caliber?
      YES PLEASE!

      1. avatar Me says:

        So it has 2″ docked off a standard 336, causing a loss of capacity, as well as accuracy? I put 4 rounds in a better group at 100 yards on my deer this year with a 1″ spread outside to outside on the holes, and I probably paid $200 less avoiding the terrible paint. Get a traditional 336 and thread the barrel, that is literally the best difference the “dark” has to offer.

        1. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

          Me, that’s four inches off the muzzle. That’s enough to make a difference. I bought a Marlin Texan 18″ recently. Only $475.. Steel them when you can.

        2. avatar jwtaylor says:

          GF, Dang, that is not a bad deal at all!
          Yeah, 4″ off the standard, 6″ off the XLR (and a slower twist than the XLR)

        3. avatar jwtaylor says:

          A 4 round group, shooting outside to outside on a .30 caliber bullet is phenomenal from any lever action rifle. I’ve never had any that I’ve tested, from any manufacturer, shoot that well.

    2. avatar jwtaylor says:

      The very first thing I’d do is paint it green and cerakote the rest of it grey.

      1. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

        JWT, yeah it was a deal. From your neck of the woods. Collector Firearms out of Houston, if I recall. Good people.

        1. avatar jwtaylor says:

          Thanks

    3. avatar ZKahr says:

      THATCH ROOF COTTAGES!!!

      1. avatar Ing says:

        I’ll improve on your methods…

  5. avatar Jim Lawn says:

    The rear sight is adjustable for elevation. The peep is threaded, once you loosen the windage adjustment screws you can thread the peep up or down. Just an FYI

    1. avatar jwtaylor says:

      Mr. Lawn, you are absolutely correct. I actually picked it back up to double check, and with some work (I really thought it was going to break it was so hard to turn) I verified what you’ve said. Thanks for setting me straight. I’ve edited the article and credited your comment for the fix.

  6. avatar Bitter says:

    JWT-
    have you had any experience with the Mossberg 464 CAR( cowboy assault rifle)
    If so how would that compare to this Marlin?
    Both seems pretty nifty and I have a special place in my heart for lever guns.

    1. avatar jwtaylor says:

      No sir, I have not.

  7. avatar Shire-man says:

    I spent all summer trying to get my hands on one of these to no avail. Wanting to get out suppressed this deer season I went ahead and got a 464 SPX. Maybe next year the Marlins won’t be out of stock everywhere.

  8. avatar Nanook says:

    I have the black painted wood on a SS 45/70 Marlin ‘Trapper’. The black kind of grows on you, and after you seal the inside exposed hardwood, the wood is weather proofed. I don’t understand why the rear sight is not adjustable for elevation? The Trapper has an adjustable rear peep. I’d check with skinnersights.com

    1. avatar jwtaylor says:

      It is. Text amended.

    2. avatar RidgeRunner says:

      Same. Kicks like a beast but puts a hurtin’ on whitetail, as of this morning.

  9. avatar Geoff "I'm getting too old for this shit" PR says:

    Painted wood doesn’t seem to make sense for a knockabout lever action that isn’t meant to be babied. The one to grab when it’s cold and wet.

    A composite stock would seem to make better sense, especially in regards to weight, but is the point of the wood over the plastic to provide a better balanced ‘feel’ when shooting?

    1. avatar strych9 says:

      Almost certainly. Having just hefted a 336 because of this article, I can say that going composite would make the rifle far less balanced.

      By itself that kind of stock would make it front heavy. With a muffler on the front it would be very front heavy which would make the gun far, far less wieldy and thereby kill a lot of the gun’s “brush gun” allure.

  10. avatar MyName says:

    Ok, weird. My Marlin has peep sights, walnut furniture and a shiny blue finish. I like mine better. That said, to each his own.

  11. avatar strych9 says:

    A IR laser equipped lever gun. Hilariously awesome. Git some… pilgrim!

    Good review. I kinda want one now. If nothing else so it can sit next to my 336W as some sort of conversation piece.

    1. avatar jwtaylor says:

      Your comment is the more concise version of my feelings toward the rifle.

  12. avatar NORFNEG says:

    I’ve got a marlin in 450, good gun, it don’t get shot enough to my liking, but that’s what happens when you have a collection. I had a Eotec laying around, so I put it on this Marlin, the kick hasn’t bothered it at all, gotta say though, it doesn’t get used that much, .

  13. avatar Redacted says:

    Handled a couple of Marlins over the years. I was very unimpressed with fit and finish / overall quality. Even owned a 45-70. Shot it once and sold it. Loading and ejecting was extremely stiff and gritty. Did I just get a lemon?

  14. avatar Ark says:

    LOL, Freedom Group, painting their stuff black and calling it premium when in reality they do it because their fit and finish is so awful they’re resorting to covering it up with paint.

    JM stamp or GTFO.

  15. avatar Paul C says:

    Gallery of Guns email: the item your interested in is back in stock (Marlin Dark 45-70)
    Me: clicks link
    Gallery of Guns site: this item is not in stock

  16. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

    You might be a bit surprised at the velocities you’d get out of that 16-1/4″ barrel. I’ve seen several reviews with chrono results that seem to indicate Marlin’s micro-groove rifling nets superior ballistics.

    Love my BL (with the Happy Trigger). If there was one thing I’d change on it though, it would be a nice walnut stock, although the brown laminate looks about as good as a laminate could look. Definitely don’t need one that’s been painted black. I keep Federal 125gr hps in it for self defense. Supposed to be for varmints, but they’ve got to be devastating on bad guys.

    Good review, JWT.

    1. avatar jwtaylor says:

      Thank you sir. By the way, I am running the 125 grain SST in my Black Collar Arms Pork Sword .308Win pistol. It’s been great on the deer out to 200 yards or so.

      1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

        Sounds logical for a .308 pistol. I’m guessing they generate some serious recoil.

        The .30-30 HPs are basic SJHPs like a revolver round, but at ~2500fps. You do have to remember to lower the rear sight though, they hit about 8″ higher than the 150gr. Out to 125-150 yards I figure they’d be perfect for ill tempered bipeds.

        1. avatar jwtaylor says:

          Recoil is not all that bad at all, but the muzzle blast is Louder Than God. I’ll do a full review on it eventually. Neat gun.

        2. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

          Well in that case a heavier bullet might help since it stays in the barrel longer. Of course that might be like saying that if you crash your car into a concrete retaining wall at 120mph it will make less noise than crashing into it at 130mph.

          Look forward to the review.

  17. avatar Specialist38 says:

    Except for the opened lever, I will pass.

    Glad to hear the quality of Marlins is improvimg.

    I’m still looking for a 336 LTS from years ago or at least a TK 30.

    I like the straight grip but wouldn’t mind a slightly opened lever.

  18. avatar Minuteman says:

    Take a junk stock and paint it. Get rid of useless wood. Charge a premium for the service. Marketing genius. What a ugly gun.

  19. avatar Ralph says:

    Q: WWJWD?

    (What Would John Wayne Do?)

    A: Not this.

    1. avatar Chazbo says:

      Maybe what John Wayne should have carried in “The Green Berets”.

  20. avatar Sam Hill says:

    Liked the style, information, and photos very much. But don’t think I’d be buying a rifle that looks like a victim of a Calipornia wild fire.

  21. I like the concept and can see use for hogs, Whitetails or stopping bad guys and I still like the ole 30/30 ammo & reload it. I don’t like paying $900. For a $400 gun with modern sex appeal. I like 30/30 low tech performance, like carbines for home protection, in the field and as a truck gun, if your a skilled shooter you don’t need add-ons, I’ve always wanted the marlin 336 but owned a trusty 94 Win.first and didn’t need 2 30/30 carbines.

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