The author reviews the reintroduced Marlin 1894 Classic, the return of a lever-gun legend.
In 2008, Remington purchased Marlin. Shooters and hunters were not all that happy with the acquisition, and it took a long time for the new Marlin to start making rifles. When they did, there were a lot of complaints. Then, in 2020, Remington went bankrupt, and Ruger purchased Marlin. Given Ruger’s history of turning out fine firearms, Marlin fans were excited, and it didn’t take long for Ruger to get it together either.
By 2022, they’d reintroduced the 1895 SBL and since then have introduced two other 1895 models and the 336 Classic. In mid-June, Marlin reintroduced the Model 1894 in .44 Magnum, which is one of the Marlin rifles those of us who, at least sometimes, identify as a cowboy have been impatiently waiting for.
The Marlin 1894 lever action rifle has been with us as long as its name suggests, and it has been offered in a variety of configurations to include stainless steel and with 16- and even 24-inch barrels. The 1894 has also been chambered for a dozen different cartridges to include the .22 Magnum. Primarily it’s thought of as a revolver cartridge rifle because of the chamberings that have been the most popular in it like the .32-20 Winchester, .357 Magnum, .44-40 Winchester, .44 Magnum and .45 Colt. Marlin’s newest version is the most traditional version of the 1894, and it’s outfitted with a 20-inch round barrel, straight grip stock and the common barrel mounted semi-buckhorn sight.
The American black walnut stock has a 13.63-inch length of pull and the butt of the stock is fitted with a thin brown recoil pad. Though not really needed for a 6.29-pound .44 Magnum rifle, it looks good, and if you stand the rifle up in the corner, it won’t slide away like those with the hard plastic butt pad. Even though the rifle has a 20-inch barrel, overall, it’s less than 38 inches long. A traditional sling swivel stud is fitted on the belly of the buttstock, and another is attached at the barrel band near the end of the forend.
Some thought the new Marlin company might do away with the crossbolt safety, but they’ve not, and, in reality, it’s not a big deal. If you don’t like it and don’t want to use it, don’t—just leave it on fire. However, it does offer an added bit of safety when unloading because you unload this rifle by cycling the six rounds in the magazine tube through the action. Finally, an extended hammer spur is included with the rifle, and it makes accessing the hammer much easier if you mount a riflescope.
On The Range
I shot this rifle a lot, and I didn’t treat it like fine china—I ran it hard like you’d expect a working rifle like this to get used. Shooting the rifle with the factory sights and the XS sights I ended up installing, I fired about 100 rounds from the bench. Shooting a lever action rifle from the bench is about as much fun as fixing a leaky sink, so once I was done with what you might call “the work,” I stepped away from the bench and began whacking steel from 25 yards out to 100. Standing on my hind legs, I did a lot of snap shooting and fast-action lever work, firing multiple shots at multiple targets and even shooting at a moving target. This is where this rifle shined.
Historically, .44 Magnum lever-action rifles can be a bit finicky with certain loads. This is because .44 Magnum ammunition is designed to be fired in a revolver and in a revolver bullet profile, and to some extent overall cartridge length does not matter. I’ve yet to see a .44 Magnum lever action rifle that would feed every factory load offered.
Some are very ammunition sensitive, but this rifle was not. The only load that gave it any trouble was the 305-grain .44 Magnum Buffalo Bore load with its large flat meplat. SAAMI specifies a maximum overall length for .44 Remington Magnum cartridges at 1.610 inches. This load had an overall length of 1.618 inches. If you ran the lever with force, this load would hang up—but if you worked it gingerly, it fed fine.
The bluing on this rifle was impeccable. It reminds me of the bluing you used to see on early Winchester rifles, where it seemed as dark as the eyes of a sullen Irish maiden. You might like more of a matte finish on a hunting rifle but as good as the bluing on this rifle looks, I expect you might just learn to not mind the shine.
The walnut stock had a nice figure, and the machine checkering on the wrist of the butt stock and the forend was well executed and felt good in my hands. Wood-to-metal fit was also very good, probably a bit better than what you might’ve seen on some of the Marlins produced when Remington was at the helm.
Balance is important with a rifle that you expect to possibly handle during quick action situations and with its 20-inch barrel, this rifle balanced right at the juncture of the action and the forend, meaning the weight is evenly distributed between your hands. Some prefer a shorter 18- or 16-inch barrel on a .44 Magnum lever gun, and they’re a bit handier. However, that handiness makes the rifle a bit butt heavy and harder to hold on target. You might say this rifle has a great “balance of balance” for off-hand shooting.
There were three things about this rifle I didn’t like. Let’s start with the first one since it’s probably not really a valid complaint. Marlin supplies this rifle with a hooded brass bead front sight and a leaf/drift adjustable folding barrel sight. I don’t like either and much prefer the aperture ghost ring sights from XS Sights. They’re faster to get on target and more accurate when you get them there. My groups at 50 yards with the XS sights were half what they were with the factory sights. But since this rifle is the “Classic” model, classic sights probably belong on it. If you like XS Sights, Skinner Sights, or a riflescope, the receiver is drilled and tapped, and you can install what you want.
The trigger was a bit of an issue. It broke crisply, but inconsistently. Sometimes it would trip at about 4 pounds and sometimes at about 4.75 pounds. It’s not the worst trigger I’ve felt on a Marlin lever-action rifle, but the triggers on all the other new Marlin rifles I’ve tested have been better than this one, and I’ve tested all three new 1895s and the new 336.
And finally, with the hottest loads—like the Buffalo Bore 305-grain .44 Magnum load—ejection could be a bit stiff. This seemed to lessen a bit with use and a bit more so after a thorough cleaning. But the 305-grain Buffalo Bore and 270-grain HammerDown loads could slightly stiffen action operation.
I think Marlin has done a great job with the rifles they’ve reintroduced in the last two years. Though not perfect, they did a good job on this rifle too. Even though I’d not rate the trigger as great, it was better than most of the triggers I’ve had the chance to pull on Remington-made Marlins, and the good thing about a trigger is that it’s something you can test in the store. If you get home with a rifle that has a bad trigger, it’s your own damn fault.
The 1894 Classic would make a great rifle for sitting over a feeder waiting for a group of feral hogs, it would be ideal for stalking a brushy ridge for whitetail deer or for sitting at a bait pile waiting on a black bear. It would also make a great saddle or camp gun in grizzly country, and I’d not hesitate to put one behind the kitchen door to deal with anything that came around the house that wasn’t supposed to.
Maybe the most exciting thing about this new Marlin is that it means the 1894 is back. And that means we can soon expect to see 1894s in other configurations and other chamberings like .357 Magnum. Maybe we’ll get lucky and soon see one in .41 Magnum and maybe even .327 Federal Magnum. Part of the appeal of the 1894 is that it allows a revolver and rifle to share the same ammunition and that’s cowboying up at a high level.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the September 2023 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
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