NO. JOHN. WAYNE.

A GIP­PER­LESS ODE TO MAR­LIN CUS­TOM SHOP’S MOD­ERN LEVER HUNTER

Recoil - - Contents - BY ROB CUR­TIS

A Gip­per­less Ode to Mar­lin Cus­tom Shop’s Mod­ern Lever Hunter

There’s some­thing in­cred­i­bly grat­i­fy­ing about the sound of 45-70 Gov’t brass hit­ting the deck. The sound is deeper than the tink tink of smaller, bot­tle­necked brass. It’s more of a thud. Just like its big .45-cal­iber bul­lets, even the empty brass of 45-70 hits with au­thor­ity.

That grat­i­fi­ca­tion con­tin­ues when you pick up Mar­lin Cus­tom Shop’s Model 1895SBL Mod­ern Lever Hunter pack­age. The ri­fle is slim for what it is, but it feels stout — dense, even. All that steel in the ac­tion, the heavy bar­rel, and the epoxy-coated com­pos­ite wood stock. It’s tightly fit­ted and well bal­anced. No faint in­te­rior tick­ing sug­gest­ing its me­chan­i­cal pur­pose. Just the feel­ing that we’ve picked up the mean­est man-club ever made.

The bul­let in a 45-70 car­tridge might only be a fr ac­tion of an inch larger than a more fa­mil­iar .30-cal­iber ri­fle bul­let, but that 0.15 inch trans­lates to a 4 6-per­cent in­crease in di­am­e­ter — a b ig dif­fer­ence when re­mind­ing some­thing large and charg­ing that it’s their time to die.

For this re­view, we ran the cus­tom­ized 1895 hard, ex­tremely hard. We took Mar­lin’s Mod­ern Lever Hunter to Gun­site’s in­au­gu­ral Craft of the Lever Gun class taught by se­nior in­struc­tors Lew Gos­nell, Ed Head, and Gary Smith. It was a three-day leverama that put about 400 rounds of 45-70 Gov­ern­ment down the gun. Con­sid­er­ing it’s essen­tially a hunt­ing ri­fle, that’s a ca­reer’s worth of ammo for any lever gun. Not to men­tion, 45-70 re­coil is hell on ev­ery­thing from guns, to op­tics, to mid­dle-aged men. If some­thing were to give on the gun, we’d find out there.

HIS­TORY

We’re not sure how Mar­lin came up with the mod­ern Model 1895’s name. Its in­dus­trial lin­eage flows like a meth head’s fam­ily tree. The gun was re­leased in the early 1970s and named af­ter Mar­lin’s orig­i­nal Model 1895, the year of its in­tro­duc­tion.

Yet the new 1895 is based on the Model 336, which was it­self an up­dated Model 36 re­leased in 1936. The Model 336 im­proved on the Model 36 in a few ways, most no­tably

the change from a squared-off bolt to a round bolt, and the open ejec­tion port. The 36’s steel ac­tion was strong, and the 336 up­dates made it stronger. With the lock­ing bolt in place, it’s sup­ported on three sides, as op­posed to two in other lever de­signs of the time. It was strong enough that Mar­lin cham­bered it for the .444 Mar­lin (3,000 foot-pounds at the muz­zle!) be­fore choos­ing it for the 45-70 cham­bered Model 1895.

45-70 GOV­ERN­MENT

45-70 Gov’t is a straight-walled Mack truck com­pared to Corvette-ish bot­tle­neck ri­fle car­tridges. The name refers to the orig­i­nal, post Civil War-era car­tridge load: a .45-cal­iber bul­let with 70 grains of black pow­der.

Be­cause the car­tridge was de­signed to run in rel­a­tively weak 1870’s Spring­field Trap­door con­ver­sion ac­tions in use by the U.S. Army at the time, the cham­ber pres­sure was lim­ited to 28K psi. That num­ber stuck, and it’s still the SAAMI-stated pres­sure limit listed for the car­tridge more than 100 years later.

While the Spring­field Trap­door didn’t sur­vive, the 45-70 lives on. Know­ing the Model 1895/336 ac­tion ran 444 Mar­lin with pres­sures in the 42K psi range, it’s clear the 1895 can han­dle cham­ber pres­sures gen­er­ated by mod­ern pow­ders.

This gave rise to the con­fus­ing bi­fur­ca­tion of the 45-70 car­tridge into stan­dard pres­sure loads and full pres­sure loads. Am­mu­ni­tion mak­ers such as Buf­falo Big Bore Am­mu­ni­tion load 45-70 Gov’t in both SAAMI com­pli­ant, 28K psi loads and in high-pres­sure loads that it calls “45-70 mag­num.” Tim Sun­dles of Buf­falo Big Bore says its 45-70 mag­num loads run from 39,000 to 43,000 psi.

Run­ning 40 rounds of Buf­falo Big Bore’s 45-70 300-grain mag­num-rated loads in one sit­ting was a white-out, ar­rhyth­mia-in­duc­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that had us try­ing to get out of the back seat for the re st of the day. It was ac­cu­rate, and based on the muz­zle en­ergy cal­cu­la­tions it should drop large bears and small build­ings within a c ou­ple hun­dred yards of the muz­zle.

The car­tridge we shot the most, though, was the all-cop­per Barnes 300-grain VOR-TX. Shoot­ing 400 rounds of the stuff over a few days got us used to mid-grade 45-70 re­coil. We set­tled on it as our stan­dard load, and at home the 1895 idles with a full mag of VOR-TX and one in the pipe, as it waits for the world’s most un­lucky coy­ote to ha­rass our dogs.

GUIDE GUN

The Model 1895 with open or re­flex sights, or a low power op­tic, does good work in­side 400 yards, but it does its best work be­tween 150 yards and the muz­zle. For this rea­son hun­ters re­fer to it as an ideal guide gun.

We ran an in­for­mal 6-sec­ond test to suss the guide gun idea out. Fig­ur­ing a pissed-off bear will cover 60 yards in 6 sec­onds to get to the juicy client, we com­pared the num­ber of shots we could get off with our re­flex sighte­quipped Model 1895 to a scoped Rem­ing­ton 700. Stand­ing, un­sup­ported, we aimed in on gen­er­ously sized 12x12-inch steel and emp­tied the 1895’s mag­a­zine in the time it took to get off a pair of shots with the bolt gun’s scope zoomed out to 5x mag­ni­fi­ca­tion. The re­flex sight and the en­hanced er­gonomics of the lever gun are much more of an ad­van­tage at close range than all the quar­ter MOA groups your bolty can pro­duce.

CRAFT

The Mod­ern Lever Hunter be­gins life as a stock Model 1895SBL. To take the 1895SBL from “Hey, nice look­ing gun …” to “TAKE MY MONEY!” the Mar­lin Cus­tom Shop spends 15 to 20 hours on each gun. A gun­smith in Stur­gis, South Dakota, eval­u­ates the fit of the com­po­nents and their func­tion, then ren­ders it into a pile of parts, pins, and screws.

Jeremiah Ran­som, the Mar­lin Cus­tom Shop team leader, says, “We’re look­ing for any fit is­sues, metal on metal con­tact ar­eas that we can im­prove and take the gun to the next level of ap­pear­ance, feel, ac­cu­racy, and re­li­a­bil­ity.”

He de­burrs and pol­ishes ev­ery sin­gle part, and that, he says, does a lot to smooth out the ac­tion. Then he re­crowns the bar­rel, per­forms a de­tailed ac­tion job, and starts re­plac­ing parts.

The stock trig­ger is pitched and re­placed with a Wild West Guns Trig­ger Happy trig­ger. The Happy trig­ger is two pieces like the orig­i­nal part, but in­stead of the shoe flop­ping around un­sup­ported as it does on the stock ver­sion, it has a spring hold­ing the shoe out. We mea­sured the break at a crisp and re­peat­able 2.7 pounds, a far cry from the creepy stock trig­ger.

The fore-end is re­placed with a Mid­west In­dus­tries Mar­lin M-LOK Hand­guard, and a house-made ham­mer ex­ten­sion is added. Cer­akote is ap­plied to the metal­lic parts, and the com­pos­ite wood stock gets an epoxy resin treat­ment to match.

The Cus­tom Shop of­fers the op­tion of thread­ing the muz­zle for a brake or si­lencer, but that mod­i­fi­ca­tion comes at the cost of one round be­cause the full-length mag­a­zine has to be cut back to al­low room to thread any­thing on the bar­rel. We chose ca­pac­ity over cans, since that one round rep­re­sents 15 per­cent of the gun’s 6+1 load.

When the gun’s re­assem­bled, any fit de­fi­cien­cies are ad­dressed. For in­stance, the 1895SBL’s com­pos­ite wood stock is com­pletely re­fit­ted to

the ac­tion. The tang slot is filled with Bondo and sanded till it fits as snugly as a prison wal­let. The gun gets its XS Lever Rail and peep sights re­in­stalled. The fin­ish­ing touch is the 550-cord wrap on the big loop han­dle. It’s re­garded as ei­ther an aes­thetic flour­ish or as a func­tional com­fort up­grade, de­pend­ing on the be­holder.

NEVER LEAVE WELL ENOUGH ALONE

It’s an old ar­gu­ment. Putting a scope on a lever gun is like putting a spoiler on a Honda Civic. Lever gun purists com­plain it ru­ins the lines of the gun. We imag­ine slick-backed­haired gen­tle­men say­ing this as they twist waxed mus­taches. The clas­sic buckhorn sights are re­li­able and snag free. We can’t ar­gue too strongly against this aes­thetic at­tack when we too love the bal­anced feel­ing of the gun when grabbed mid-ac­tion, thumb over the top. Fast han­dling is one of the most en­dear­ing qual­i­ties of the lever gun. So, we’re loath to strap a scope on top that makes it more than a hand­ful to hold.

We ended up split­ting the dif­fer­ence with a Le­upold DeltaPoint Pro re­flex op­tic. We shot a lot with it mounted on the XS rail, but de­cided our scope­less setup could be made more el­e­gant with a di­rect mount. No­body made a DPP plate for the Mar­lin, so we asked our lev­er­thu­si­ast friends at Skin­ner Sights for an as­sist. They made us a mount­ing plate for un­der $50. We pulled the rail, filled the bar­rel slot with a dove­tail filler from Ranger Point Pre­ci­sion, and mar­veled at how we kept the clas­sic lines of the gun, mostly, and ac­crued the speed ad­van­tage of a re­flex sight.

As neat as that SBL lever was, we felt we could run the gun a lit­tle more ef­fi­ciently with a smaller loop. We swapped in a Ranger Point Pre­ci­sion lever that com­bines the shape of the glove-friendly big loop with the speed and reach of a smaller lever.

HAN­DLING

One of the things we no­tice when shoot­ing 45-70 all day is the heat it gen­er­ates. It feels like there’s a small gal­axy be­ing born in the cham­ber. Com­pared to other big-bore lever gun fore-ends we han­dled dur­ing the Gun­site class, the Mid­west In­dus­tries Hand­guard was no­tice­ably cooler af­ter strings of fire. In fact, we had no idea how hot the cham­ber end of our bar­rel was un­til we put a thumb over the top when putting the ri­fle in a rack be­tween strings. It felt like a bee sting, but the hand­guard be­low was cool and com­fort­able.

Keep­ing the Mar­lin loaded was tough on the thumb. It didn’t take long to re­al­ize the value of ath­letic tape when load­ing a hun­dred-plus rounds a day through the 1895’s stiff load­ing gate. Af­ter three days of load-one, shoot-one, the reg­i­men paid off in strength and cal­lus. We were load­ing fast enough that we ap­pre­ci­ated the lack of sharp edges on the load­ing gate and the load­ing gate spring.

The lever re­spects au­thor­ity. As long as we worked the lever like we meant it, the ri­fle col­lected hits like a mafia en­forcer. Go soft, and there’s a hitch as the bul­let tip kisses the out­side edge of the breech.

PER­FOR­MANCE

Older guys read­ing this ar­ti­cle have prob­a­bly been brac­ing for some John Wayne ref­er­ence, and we’d love to oblige. But the clos­est we’ve come to sit­ting through a John Wayne west­ern was watch­ing Old Yeller pro­jected on a base­ball di­a­mond back­stop dur­ing a home­town com­mu­nity movie night. So, we can’t say the gun ran Gip­per­ri­ficly, but we can say we watched Wind River and im­me­di­ately con­sid­ered ac­ces­soriz­ing the 1895 with a fixed 2.5x Le­upold and a snow­mo­bile.

With a 50-yard zero, we could es­ti­mate bul­let drop on the fly, ring­ing 12-inch steel at 200 yards from

un­sup­ported prone, and drop­ping 100-yard pop­pers while on the clock, stand­ing, kneel­ing, and run­ning the Gun­site Scram­bler.

We poured one out for the Le­upold Mark 8 3.5-25 we feared might die mounted to the 1895 dur­ing ac­cu­racy test­ing. We shot our stan­dard lay­out of five, five-round groups with a hand­ful of ammo types, plus ran a few reload drills. The ri­fle’s best groups were un­der an MOA, which is damned good for a big-bore ri­fle. Those big, heavy .45-cal­iber bul­lets drop slow and shed en­ergy a lot faster than a .30-cal bul­let, which is why we think of it as a 200-yard fist with 1x sights or a low power op­tic. Oh, and the scope with­stood more than 200 rounds on that day with­out is­sue.

WRAP UP

There’s some wear where the Cer­akote wore off the load­ing gate, but that’s all there is to com­plain about. This isn’t your grandpa’s Mar­lin, and even though Mar­lin’s qual­ity was an is­sue as a re­sult of Rem­ing­ton mov­ing the fac­tory from New Haven, Con­necti­cut to Ilion, New York, in 2010, this gun bears none of that me­chan­i­cal malaise.

The 18.5-inch bar­reled MLH is the mod­ern in­car­na­tion of a cen­tury-old de­sign. Com­pared to its long­time ri­val, the Winch­ester 94, the Mar­lin 1895/336 is sim­pler and a bit more el­e­gant. When run­ning the lever on a 94, you watch the bot­tom of the gun come apart, the top slide back, and the re­ceiver open up. The me­chan­ics of the 336/1895 ac­tion feels sim­ple and sturdy. In com­par­i­son, the in­ter­nal click­ing and whirring of the 94 re­minds us of the clock­work in­side a Vic­to­rian board­walk ar­cade game.

The gun comes with a P ic r ail that hoisted our M RDS to chin-weld heights. We used a Bradley A djustable Cheek Rest to tamethe setup.

The hall­marks of the Model 1895/336 ac­tion are its sim­plic­ity and dura­bilit y. There’s only a hand­ful of mov­ing par ts in the ac­tion ... and none of them are dainty.

Barnes 300gr 45-70, lef t, is a fly­ing tank com­pared to other pop­u­lar lever gun car tridges, such as 30-30 and 44 Mag­num. The bul­let ex­pands to 3/4 of an inch in ord­nance gelatin.

We swapped out the fac­tor y SBL lever for Ranger Point Pre­ci­sion’s Mar­lin lever for a small in­crease in ef­fi­ciency. BelowSkin­ner Sights’ new mount­ing plate for the Delta Point Pro of­fers re­duced height over bore and lighter weight than run­ning a Pic rail and adapter.

While we didn’t get cut by the wellde­burred load­ing gate on the MCS 1895, af­ter 150 rounds we did get a blis­ter that called for some ath­letic tape.

Lever guns are hun­gry. Keep ammo on tap on the gun or on your per­son … or both. Ver­sacarr y sup­plied us withtheir new dual po­si­tion Ammo Caddy in 45-70 Gov’t. It’s an ef­fi­cient and ver­sa­tile way to carr y a reload. The Vel­cro-backed car­rier at­taches to a leather belt loop and/or anad­he­sive-backed loop field placed onthe ri­fle butt.

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