GETTING THE MOST FROM YOUR MARLIN LEVER ACTION RIFLE
by D. Orchard
I like Marlins better than Winchesters for a couple of reasons. First, the carrier lift of the cartridge is less abrupt, coming as you start to retract the lever after opening it. Second, the solid top receiver is a natural to mill at the extreme rear for a dovetailed receiver sight.
I wrote Col. Cooper about fitting an old style "L" type M-1 carbine sight on a Marlin some years ago. He must have felt the idea had merit because he mentioned it in despatches, so to speak. However, the "L" type sight has a tendency to get pushed halfway between the long and short range setting as you drag it out of a saddle scabbard and you have to remember to push it to the close range setting before taking a poke at a deer. I put an M1 Carbine front on my 30-30 improved marlin scout. I used an 'L' type with the short leg cut off as a fold down auxiliary sight as this rifle wears a 'scout' scope.
Drill or ream the 'short' range leaf to a larger inside diameter. This will make it easier to use in poor light, and maybe a bit quicker. If your long range leaf is "off" to one side or the other, make your correction on THIS leaf rather than the short range one that you opened up. The long range aperture can be 'siwashed' a little bit to right or left with judicious use of a needle file to get your windage right on. Zero your close range leaf by drifting the sight base left or right. A scale scribed onto the sight base (in moa, if you're really clever) helps this sight-in process a lot. Use a hard aluminum or soft brass drift punch, or a sight clamp.
My eyes have changed some, and I do better with a fixed elevation sight of my own design these days. It makes for a much cleaner stronger installation either way than anything commonly available, and less apt to hang up when being pushed into a saddle scabbard. I want mine sight to be highly useable and tougher than the hubs of hell. I had a scabbard pull the locking tabs through the "footman stands" on my saddle and a subsequent "horse wreck" with NO damage to the sights. (I am aware of the Ashley product and the one from Alaska.)
I used to use Redfield Sourdough front sights exclusively, but past-50, pre-cataract eyes can be bothered by too much light. Particularly when the sun is overhead or behind the shooter. For me this will turn a Sourdough into a gold colored puddle of mercury wobbling about at the muzzle end of my rifle barrel. What works for me now, and should for another decade or two, is a 1/8th inch wide post, sloped slightly towards the muzzle so it is less apt to foul on vines and leaves, or snag when pulled out of a saddle scabbard. It has a white line about one-third the width of the blade, or a little wider. With this pattern of front sight I can shoot well under any light condition that I can still discern the target and my sights.
My dovetailed Marlin rear sight from the side looks like a short fat upside down letter "T". The base is flush with the top of the receiver. It is STRONG. You can have exactly the optimum i.d. to o.d. ratio for YOU, rather than one size fits all. (I need every advantage I can get.)
My front sight is cut in 3 'v' bottom grooves all the way up, then filled with black on the outside pair, and after they have cured, white up the center.
If anyone wants more than approximate dimensions for the sights that work well for a middle-50s guy, or that may work for someone with macular degeneration, just ask, we'll talk specifics.
I have tried a number of scopes on lever rifles. among them Lyman Alaskan (original and Leupold), Kahles 2.5X, Buriss and Leupold333 scout scopes, and lower power fixed Leupolds. The Alaskan is a very durable scope, but the un-coated optics and five decades or so age is a big handicap.
The German and Austrian scopes are great in regard to clarity, definition, and seem durable, BUT, the 'bell' is over-long, a trait shared with most variables. This makes them difficult to mount far enough forward to keep from
whacking yourself on the brow ridge.
Leupolds are great. The factory gave me a new Vari-X 3.5-5x for my 1-4X VX-2 that had problems. I cannot tell any difference optically from the very high priced Swarovski or Kahles.
I really like iron sights, but the scout Leupold has a great deal of merit. It gives enough illumination for legal shooting light, and greater clarity of your target, which may be partially obscured. And it does not interfere with the balance point for carry. For myself I think of them as "improved" iron sights that can extend the range you can hit a partially obscured target, maybe half again as far as a good receiver sight.
I have not had good luck with boughten scope bases for scout scopes. The one I got from the Alaskan outfit had to be extensively re machined to fit right. This may be due to variations from year to year on the Marlin 336. Maybe different barrel contours? Best, I believe, is to have a competent smith make you a base from the Weaver contoured stock sold by Brownell's. Fasten it to the barrel with husky 8x40 screws. (We don't need no steenking 6x48s!)
Some eminent riflemen like 4X scopes. If you are in open country, and want to take advantage of the 30-30 Improved or .307 Winchester's .300 Savage-like ballistics, the higher power glass might be worthy of consideration.
My personal choice, after some experimentation, is that I want iron on my lever rifles. (Bar my ACOG equipped 32-20.) And also some of my bolt rifles (my M-70 featherweight 10-shooter, and my Krag-to-be). My M-70 .257 Roberts will wear a Leupold 2--7x compact. Good iron sights and a lot of meaningful practice -- should have a practical outside range of 200 yards in a full power rifle. A standard .30-30 or .44 probably should not be counted on beyond 150 yards, regardless of sights.
I personally believe that a 1-piece firing pin is the single 'best' modification you can do for reliability. Marlin firing pins are two-piece, with a cut across the longer of the two approximately one-third of the way through the firing pin. Not surprisingly, this is where they will break. My Marlin's now have 1-piece firing pins. (Doubt Brockmann or Wild West Guns are aware of the firing pin, or if they are, will be afraid of liabilities.) If you install a one-piece firing pin, save the little flat spring that pushes the short piece of the 2-piece firing pin out of battery when the bolt is opened. It can be used to replace a broken ejector spring, with a little bit of filing. Don't throw it away!
I have had an older Marlin .44 mag. lose the magazine tube from recoil. The rifle type fore ends with no barrel bands are (cross fingers) immune to this, besides shooting more consistently, as a general rule.
The flat springs of the extractor and ejector can break. I broke one at a match (Thanks, Murphy!) after 5,000 rounds or so. So it will live with that degree of reliability. (I have the only Dillon square deal 32-20 in captivity, which is why I can load enough cartridges to HAVE a break down).
Trigger job on the Marlin: try this first (with a judicious helping of caution) Check that your rifle is empty VISUALLY & TACTILELY (using the end of your finger). If you can see the hammer being slightly raised as you very slowly press back the trigger (like a D.A. revolver to a lesser degree). Then cock the hammer, apply pressure against the sear with your thumb (push the hammer fwd.) and while still applying pressure, press the trigger. You can catch the hammer with out dry snapping the piece (2-piece firing pin will eventually fatigue fast enough). After 1/2 doz. to a doz. of these 'push-offs' you should notice an improvement. I sometimes pry up under the hammer spur with a screwdriver almost hard enough that I can hardly press the trigger till the sear trips. This is a bit extreme and I hesitate to recommend it to everyone. (Marlin parts are relatively cheap and they are obliging, decent folks to deal with.) Keep weighing you trigger pull and stop above your desired weight of pull -- you can always do more push-offs. Clean burrs and chips out of the notch and lightly grease the sears, this alone will lessen your pull weight.
Spares: the flat springs of the extractor and ejector can break. Best to have a spare for each, the whole unit with the spring installed ready to go, is easier to change out in the field.
The only other ''reliability'' tune-ups you might do are LocTite all the action screws, and to rawhide the wrist of the butt stock BEFORE it breaks; taking care not to interfere with the closure of the lever.
My main gripe with the newer Marlins, particularly in the calibers that would make you think that they would be just the ticket for confronting "the largest land carnivore" in the alder thickets of Alaska or B.C., is that (expletive deleted) cross-bolt "safety". Even the Volcanic which preceded the Henry did not have one of these things. We've gotten along very well since approximately 1850 without them. Blame the lawyers. On Marlins there is a trigger block safety that is de-activated when you fully close the lever. This is ample for Winchesters or Brownings. It is amply "safe" for me.
Who is Marlin trying make safe, the bears?!! All the people I know who have had a "clunk" instead of a "bang”, would amount to a fair bunch indeed. None of them have been looking at a grizzly bear's tonsils from a range where his breath would fog their glasses, but the thought of what COULD happen makes what little hair I've got left on my head stand up.
They can be done away with relatively easily, and these (expletive deleted) THINGS are the first thing to go on my personal guns.
I could never advise anyone to get rid of this on their OWN rifle.. If you sell the gun to someone who has a negligent discharge, or screw up yourself (God forbid!) you are 99+% sure of being sued.
Here's how I do mine: unscrew tang screw and remove butt stock (if it doesn't want to slide off, give the comb and heel of the stock alternating 'educated' bumps with the heel of your hand, and pull). This is a good time to see if the wood 'fingers' that extend under the sides of the rear part of the receiver are split, or the butt stock has a vertical split running back between the two panels of wood that compose the grips. If so, fix them. Unscrew the crossbolt detent with a small Allan wrench.
(Save the detent ball for your or a friend's Savage extractor. He'll need it eventually. It's just a matter of time. Another field expedient for the Savage detent ball is steel shot from the currently legal wild fowling loads.)
Remove the cross-bolt. Chuck the right, non-detented end in a drill chuck, if you don't have a lathe, and spin it against your spinning grinder wheel till you have got it to where it just barely protrudes from the left side of the receiver, maybe a matchbook covers thickness. Blue it or coat it with vinegar and let it lightly rust and rub the rust off, a couple of times till it is 'brown'. When I re-install mine, I first make sure everything works O.K., then I drop a in lead shot in place of the detent and spring, and screw the set screw down HARD. I also run a little super glue into the crevices to make sure NOTHING migrates.
Then, I put the butt stock back on and rawhide the sucker. To remove a rawhided stock, you don't have to cut the rawhide off of it. Just do like I explained above, alternate bumps, and it will take you a bit longer. You can get rawhide by soaking till floppy a large 'doggy-chew' toy, if more traditional sources are inconvenient.
Mk 1: I've inlet to 1/2 of cartridge depth grooves that fit the cart. lying rim down with a groove to hold the rim. A strip of leather cut from a boot tongue is about the right thickness for the 'loops'. The leather strip is held on and the tension varied with the smallest stainless steel sheet metal screws you can find.
Mk 2 is the ticket if you want "hang your butt from a tree limb". Also really handy when I fall off my caballo dragging my saddle rifle with me. It's real easy to get a secure grasp on the comb area of a 'skeleton-ized stock. If I had to wedge my hand into the scabbard to get a grasp around the wrist of the rifle, it takes a lot longer.
(Pretend it's narrated by Alistair Cooke)
During the days of flintlock ignition, the firearms used by the 'lower classes' in dubiously legal pursuit of game were generally worn so thin at the muzzle that you could cut yourself pushing the wads into the bore. A lot of these split or blew 1/2 a foot or so of the muzzle. Some were shortened deliberately for convenience of carry and to carry more surreptitiously while after milord's pheasants. (Sea service muskets and those of the colonial (place sneer here) Rogers Rangers during the late unpleasantries with the odious French were regularly 'cut back'). The cut-back fowlers balanced 'butt heavy'. Definitely unsuited for 'shooting flying', and clumsy even for ground sluicing birds running in a row between plantings. So a triangular piece was cut out of the middle of the butt stock to pitch the balance fwd. This modification became known for obvious reasons as a "poacher's stock". (this is before "tactical" became a buzzword.")
Thank you Mr. Cooke for the historical perspective.
This can still be handy today, and I shoot better offhand with a slightly muzzle heavy rifle.
Unfortunately, I haven't figured out how to put the cart. loops on a 'poacher stock', and the added weight would defeat some of the virtue of lightening the butt.
If you are using your Marlin as a saddle rifle, slim the fore end down flush with the metal of the receiver and fore end cap. It will be much more comfortable under your leg in it's scabbard as the hours crawl by if it doesn't feel like it's the circumference of a power pole.
A "Jenny Craig" plan for the 'circumferentially challenged' fore end: Slim the sides down but not too thin at the top where the wood contacts the barrel. I would leave the underside of the fore end a little thicker as I have see several fore ends 'stove in' in this area. (Maybe by being dropped, maybe flopping the rifle over the top of a log or a window sill to rest the fore end for shot in a little too much of a hurry. It happens.)
Glass bedding the end grain of the right and left wrist panels could not do anything but help strength and accuracy. This area corresponds to the recoil lug area of a bolt rifle. DON"T glass the back end of the tang area. You will make a glass 'wedge' to split your stock. Check that you have a matchbook cover's thickness clearance between wood and metal back off the tangs.
The pistol grip can have a little trimmed off the bottom and look the better for it. See how far down your hand covers the grip at the extreme in shooting position, and lose whatever is just hanging out in the wind, or not, just make it look good to you.
Over the years we have all heard statements regarding the speed that a particular action can be manipulated for a second and third shot. I have lately come to the bolt-action. (Sure, I "shot" some bolt guns, even "made meat" with a few, but lever actions were what I grew up with, and shot lots and (relatively) well. This stacks the deck. The two rifles that I used for my 'comparison' my marlin 32-20 with MY sights, that I have shot thousands of rounds through some at game most at practice or competition, where it has won me an arm load of meat in the off-hand segments of our little local rifle matches.
The second rifle was a beautifully made Rem. 720 in -06' . The stock on this weapon fits like it was made for me. The action is the acme of the P-17 Enfield, with anti-bind rib on the bolt, a good trigger, short comfortable bolt handle (compared to the P-14 & P-17). I had only fired a few rounds through it. The 32-20 is similar to .30 Carbine ballistically and in recoil. The 720 was fired with full powered loads. (This further stacks the deck in favor of the lever rifle.)
Test was as follows: Close range, quick reaction type shooting (10 to 20 yd.). Timed to 1st, 2nd and 3rd shots. The results were interesting. Every first shot and HIT was faster with the bolt rifle. Shots 2 & 3, when I did not fumble the bolt, were faster times than with my well-worn 1894 Marlin. When I pushed the envelope for speed with the Marlin ("This CAN"T be right! I've just got to try harder with my lever rifle.") I started to get some very marked vertical stringing. With the bolt rifle, the rapid forward push on the bolt as it stripped a cartridge from the magazine and fed it "up the spout," shoved the muzzle back down out of recoil and onto the target.
Some Marlins shoot very well without tinkering. My 336 30-30, with barrel bands, shot into 2'' high by 3'' wide at 220 yards. Generally, the rifle type fore end cap, and two-thirds magazine Marlins are the most consistent.
I have tried silver brazing a threaded collar on the end of the magazine tube and threading it into the receiver with the tube resting in a 'slip-fit' in the forward barrel hanger, so as to relieve barrel tension as much as possible. This helped accuracy a little.
The 30-30 improved can come real close to a .300 Savage (150gr. at 2,450fps, well within reasonable pressure). Ken Waters mentions that top-end loads in 30-30 have mediocre accuracy, and theorizes that the tapered case and sloped shoulder may be the cause. I've found that 30-30 Improved and 'K' Hornet do seem to shoot better with hotter, but still within reason, loads than standard chambers. Your brass lasts WAY longer too.
Older Marlins, some of the new ones and Winchesters, have conventionally rifled barrels that shoot lead bullets or"piff-whacker" loads quite well. If you 'improve' the chamber of these, it is well to leave the neck full length (the better for lead bullets), by not running the chamber reamer full depth. If you have a 'micro-groove' Marlin, run the improved reamer in full depth, because you are better off forgetting lead or cast bullets.
You can use a .30 carbine type bullet for your light loads. They will be equivalent to a .32acp in power, but much quieter, due to the long barrel and burning up the powder charge in the first few inches of barrel. A load that makes no more noise than a broken stick can get you small game without alarming everything else in the vicinity. As for larger game, if it goes through the skull and does a three cushion bank shot off the inside of the cranial vault, traversing a lot of gray matter in transit, it is going to be effective on just about anything we could conceive of, at close range.
Light loads are worth investigating. Just make sure that while you are in the R&D mode, you do not have one fail to exit the barrel and pile the next one into it. A ring-bulge will result.
Regarding the older .35 Remington Marlin: There is one caveat about the .35; once in a while you will get minimum length (to the shoulder) new brass. If your rifle has a max. permissible 'field length' chamber, you may have mis-fires or 'light strikes' on the primer. I believe that this technically an excess head-space condition, but I've never heard of a case separation, and once they've been fired they are 'right' for YOUR rifle. If you full length re-size, try to set the die to stop just before it even 'kisses' the shoulder. The .35 doesn't have much of a shoulder, but is enough.
The choice of the .35 has some feed-back from those who have gone before that you might be interested in. My once-bayoneted amigo used 10rd. "semi-auto,mod.8 and 81 Remington, in cal. .35 Rem." (modified by armorers for the OLD BORDER PATROL ( that would not have let any amount of Mexican. army or 'freelance' chase them around without extracting a VERY heavy toll), and the Texas Rangers. Frank Hamer got the first two rounds of the sleet of lead into Bonnie and Clyde. Hamer shot twice, I believe. Clyde's dead foot slipped off the clutch, the car rolled fwd., and everybody else shot, A LOT. Hamer didn't see any need for shooting anymore. He knew what his .35 was capable of. My old amigo got interested in the 'path' I was taking with the Marlins, and because the .35 was just enough 'more' than a 30-30 to be worthwhile, he went down the same trail you are contemplating, with an 'L' type M-1 carbine rear sight in a dovetailed receiver a decent wide front blade that can be picked up quick in poor light, and very little else. (This is the gray old badger that once 'duked it out' with SWAPO, bolts against AK's. So kind of like that ad for the stock brokerage outfit, when the badger speaks, I listen.) He is real fond of his .35. When a South African friend visited him recently, who had done similar counter-terrorist work. They talked and my amigo showed his friend his rifles, the .35 last of all. He explained the power level, showed him a cart. and let him fondle the Marlin. The South African ex- counter-terr was fascinated with the sights, how fast it could be operated from the shoulder, that you could shoot 2-load 2, shoot 3- load 3 and keep your mag. topped up in the midst of the 'festivities'. His comment to my amigo was, "When we were doing our work in the bush, this would have been just the thing! Couldn't have wished for better!" His enthusiasm was not at all to my friend's surprise. (Remember, these men are 'well-salted' by anyone's' definition.)
Loads: Try the Remington 180gr. .357 Core-Lokt HP, or some of the lighter .357 projectiles for 'varmints'. You can get A LOT of 'splash' with bullets that react kind of ho-hum when you drive them 1000 FPS faster than the were designed for.
Or more properly, shooting slings, have not worked at all well on lever rifles for me. I once decided that a two-point sling had a good chance of success. WRONG! (I tied the rear most swivel down by threading into the receiver just aft of the fore end) A tensioned sling used as a support, will shift impact up to 4 minutes of angle - really depressing!
I shot the FAL in Canada and know how much that limber-as-a-licorice-stick but ergonomically wonderful rifle is sensitive to variations in hold. For example, in prone, with your teeth together, but not clenched like a pit bull, the FAL will shoot to noticeably different point of impact than with your jaw relaxed and teeth slightly apart. The Winchester and Marlin are way worse in this regard. So you need to practice really solid sitting and prone UNSUPPORTED. You can shoot very well from unsupported sitting.
With a long 7-30 cal. Winchester, from sitting , I broke a buck's spine at 250+ yards; far enough away that I could not see his antlers in a 2.5X Kahles rifle scope, but had to ask my buddy, "Is the buck still FOLLOWING the doe?" With my dud "shooting sling" I would have been lucky to have hit my pick-up truck. So, carrying strap, yes. Shooting sling, an emphatic NO! (for me, anyway)
This collection of experience/experiments is laid out here on the list to maybe spare some one else the waste of time, dollars and aggravation that the "way of the Marlin" is fraught with. If some of what I've had to say seems worthwhile, try it but I am NOT dictating what someone else ought do. After a fair try, decide what works for YOU. I Hope whoever reads this doesn't tangle their feet in their bootlaces as many times as I have while stumbling down the "path".
One further observation We should NOT choose our "stick" with some arbitrary socially acceptable yardstick. (we know the 'Bolsheviks' want them ALL anyway.) But a lever action even with a scout scope and cartridge loops on the butt stock, does not scream "Aryan-would-be-superman" or "Hard-core-meth-lab-mechanic." It might say to closed minds, "Snuff-dipping tree-killer" or "Redneck cowboy," but the reaction is not as extreme as to effectiveness.
I highly recommend my gunsmith, John Lamb, (1-509-775-3036) who takes my rather 'rough-hewn' prototype, and makes them look as good as they work.
BlackHelicopter, first let me welcome you to my forum, glad to have you on here with us. smiley-welcome-sign
I only own one lever action right now, a Marlin 1895SS in 45-70 caliber. The only thing I have had done to it was send it back to the factory and had them to install a Ballard cut rifling barrel as I didn't want the micro groove barrel on mine. The reason for that was, the cut rifling barrel is better if you shoot both jacketed bullets and hardcast handloaded bullets. I load both the jacketed and hardcast bullets, so that helped me by having the new barrel. I then installed a rubber grommet and c-clamp in the groove of the cross bolt safety so my rifle is ready to fire when I cock the hammer back, just like the older lever actions were before the lawyer proof cross bolt safties came out. If I want to sell the rifle, it only takes about 2 seconds to remove the grommet and c-clamp. I then had a Williams FP receiver peep sight that I bought and installed myself, which helped a lot as the receiver peep sights are fast to get on a moving target. I installed a leather sling and that's all I have done to my Marlin. I plan on installing a "Limbsaver" recoil pad on it though as I can't stand the recoil of the heavy 45-70 handloads. My old shoulder just ain't what it used to be, so the Limbsaver should help out with that.
I don't know much about the calibers you mentioned, sorry I can't help you there.