Anytime I see a lever-action rifle I start to daydream. My thoughts turn to Wild West shootouts. Bison hunts from horseback. Saloons full of loose women getting tight on whiskey. I start planning out hand-tooled saddle scabbards that match the obligatory chaps, hat and cowboy boots. Needless to say, in Casa de Finn this plan goes over like a Milli Vanilli Grammy Award. Apparently no one wants dad wandering around dressed like the Duke. Undeterred, I began my quest for a lever-action rifle. In the great tradition of Ernest Hemingway, I traded my chaps for Marlin fishing . . .
At the risk of offending purists, I narrowed my search to a lever-action gun with a semi-pistol grip, flat top receiver and side eject. The Winchester 94 or anything made by Henry was out. I eventually settled on a Marlin Model 336. And then I encountered an interesting concept: the Cowboy Assault Rifle (CAR). Uh-huh. A lever action with modern “tacticool” accessories. A potent combat weapon that maintains its “ladies and gentlemen of the jury, does this look like an assault rifle to you?” non-street cred. So I traded a dust-collecting shotgun for a Marlin 336 in .30-30.
A Little History
Marlin Firearms has been manufacturing the 336 since 1948. In all-time sales of high-powered rifles in the United States, the 336 is second only to the Winchester Model 94. Chambered in .30-30, Marlin’s potent Brady to Welker-esque hunting rifle combo has put venison on many a table across the country. It did so via a wide variety of handgun and rifle calibers, including .219 Zipper, .32 Special and .44 Magnum. These days you can buy a Marlin lever-action rifle in any caliber you like — as long as it’s in a .30-30 Winchester or .35 Remington chambering. Current models include the Marlin 336C (curly maple hardwood stock), Model 336SS (stainless steel), Model 336TDL Texan Deluxe (black walnut hardwood stock with Marlin horse and rider inlaid in gold), Model 336W (walnut-finished hardwood stock), Model 336W w/scope (factory-mounted 3-9x32mm riflescope), Model 336XLR (black and gray laminated hardwood stock), and Model 336Y (Youth). All have swivels, cut fore-end checkering, and side ejection.
In the 1950s, Marlin built its 336 lever guns with its proprietary “Micro-Groove” barrels. The technique ditches a small number of deep rifling grooves (a.k.a. Ballard rifling) for a larger number of shallow rifling grooves. The idea: Modern jacketed bullets would get into the micro-groove rifling better than they would with Ballard rifling (designed for non-jacketed lead bullets).
The Marlin 336W boasts classic smooth lines with just enough aggressive overtones to let you know it means business. Classic and deadly. Like Ben, I’m a major-league tree hugger (re: his Weatherby PA-08 review). The warm tones of the Marlin’s walnut-finished hardwood stock had me in full embrace mode. It’s a no frills, all-smooth stock and forearm weapon, with just enough sheen to let you know this lady’s got class.
I’m not a fan of the action’s blued finish. Fingerprints on the bluing drive me crazy. I have to resist the urge to wipe the gun off after every time I reload it. Thanks to my OCD, I avoid blued firearms like a Red Sox fan avoids Yankee Stadium. On the aesthetic level, the Marlin’s bluing is beauteous. The receiver shines like a freshly Windex-ed mirror; the barrel bluing is deep, rich and flawless.
The Marlin is surprisingly light and nimble. It weighs considerably less than my old shotgun or Mosin and only a tenth of a pound more than your typical fully loaded “m4gery.” It snaps to the shoulder naturally; the 20-inch barrel gives this Marlin rifle near-perfect balance. A proper cheek weld is no sweat. It has a hardwood, not walnut stock.
Once you get this baby lined up on target, you notice that the Marlin’s sights, for lack of a better word, suck. The front post is all black and hooded; seeing it through the elevation adjustable semi-buckhorn folding rear sight is a challenge equal to spotting a bear in thick brush. The rear sight notch is also all black, of course. Aiming the lever gun at anything darker than my pasty Irish skin (not that I recommend violating Rule 1), you’re hard pressed to even see the Marlin’s front sight.
Tacticool that. And you know I will. But first …
At the range
Fellow TTAG writer Ben Shotzberger and I headed to the range on a fine snowy Saturday to see if the Marlin could shoot as well as she looks. We got to Clarks Brothers, our favorite little range in the boonies, and picked up some Winchester 170gr and Remington 150gr Core-Lokt semi-jacketed soft points. For initial testing, we’d be firing at 50 yards (saving 100-yard shooting for the CAR conversion). Besides, neither of us felt like trudging through the snow to check a target at 100 yards.
Like any “proper” lever-action carbine, you load the shells through a gate on the side of the receiver. You press in and forward, forcing the shells into the tubular magazine that is located under the barrel. One of the major upsides of this system: You can top off your rounds without having to take the rifle out of battery. After loading the Marlin with six centerfire rifle rounds in the magazine tube, you’re ready to boogie.
We took our time with the first shots, trying to get a feel for the rifle and how it liked the ammo. Felt recoil was pretty mild, but that muzzle has some jump (I’ll tell you what). Accuracy with the Winchester 170gr was acceptable, but nothing spectacular. As you can see in the photo, the 170gr bullets were kind of all over the place and mostly to the left, much like our friend “hizzoner” Michael Bloomberg.
The Remington 150gr ammo was a different story. Despite the always evident flyers, the Marlin loved this round. With stock sights, this particular load produced some decent groups. With good optics or a red dot, I’m sure they would only get tighter. Using polymer-pointed Hornady LeveRevolution rounds might work, too.
Next we tried out some “rapid” fire with both load outs. Reloading as fast as practical, we fired a total of 13 rounds at the target with all but one getting on paper. Not the fastest or most impressive shooting, but everything was definitely minute of bad guy. Getting back on target in between shots was the biggest detriment to speed. Muzzle jump wasn’t the main issue. The stock sights were to target acquisition what Christina Aguilera is to lyric memorization. Perhaps something like this would be more attractive [Note to Mrs. Finn: both the previous sentence and the following video were inserted by TTAG’s editor-in-chief.]
Unlike the young lady’s trigger finger in the video above, my Marlin functioned flawlessly, with one hiccup. At one point it seemed that the final round just wouldn’t go into the magazine. Upon closer inspection one of us (i.e. not me) was a tad too delicate with the loading procedure. When the appropriate (i.e. not Ben) level of force was applied, the round went in just fine.
After that, every round chambered, fired and extracted. The Marlin’s lever action (a regular loop not a big loop) was ergonomically superb, as smooth as Bruce Willis’ head. With the hammer spur cocked, the trigger was absolutely phenomenal. Stock triggers on all the high-end ARs and bolt-action rifles I’ve shot don’t even come close. The Marlin’s got absolutely no trigger pull slack. It breaks so cleanly it could be the spokesperson for Clorox. No gunsmith work needed.
The Marlin 336 is popular and iconic — and for good reason. Its maneuverability, light weight and ease of use has earned the deer rifle a place near and dear to hunters’ hearts for over half a century. The rifle’s elegant simplicity and reliability, coupled with hard hitting .30-30 cartridges, make it a very potent threat to both black bear and whitetails or anyone bearing you ill will.
Accuracy with open sights is better than par and while six rounds isn’t 30, if you need more than that then you should probably consider moving out of Kandahar. This rifle is Marlin’s bread ’n butter and my new favorite gun. Now it’s time to accessorize.
Caliber: .30-30 Winchester
Barrel length: 20″, with barrel band
Overall Length: 38.5”
Weight: 7 lbs.
Price: Between $300 to $400 new depending on where you buy
RATINGS (out of five)
Style * * * * *
This rifle oozes classic style that would make any cowboy (or girl) ready to saddle up.
Ergonomics * * *
Lightweight, comfortable and quick to the shoulder making it a real pleasure to shoot. No recoil pad. The sights are horrible. A ghost ring or riflescope, such as a Leupold low magnification glass, would be nice.
Reliability * * * * *
Ate everything we fed it with unfailing dependability and ease.
Customizable * * * * *
Stocks, sights and scopes are readily available. Start adding Picatinny-railed scout mounts and then you enter into a whole new level of tactical accessories.
Overall Rating * * * * *
The stars say it all. This is a great weapon. For deer hunting and otherwise.
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