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Marlin’s Newest .45-70: The Model 1895SBL

by G&A Staff   |  September 23rd, 2010 1

Our technical editor thinks the new Model 1895SBL is the state-of-the-art for a modern .45-70 lever-action carbine.


There are few things on earth more purely American than a lever-action rifle chambered for the .45-70 Government cartridge. It’s a tradition that began when Marlin Firearms Co. introduced the first-ever lever-action chambered for the .45-70: the open-top-receiver Model 1881.

The blackpowder .45-70 was the most powerful cartridge of its time. And while Teddy Roosevelt’s pet Winchester Model 1886 –designed by John Browning–may be the more famous .45-70 lever-action, Marlin was first, five years earlier. Marlin trumped Winchester again when it introduced a solid-top, side-ejecting .45-70 with its Model 1895. It was based on the flat-sided receiver of the smaller-caliber Model 1889 similar to Marlin’s still-produced Model 1894.

In fact, Marlin has long been a leader in the lever-action world. As Marlin points out with pride, the current .22 Long Rifle Marlin Golden 39A rifle represents the oldest shoulder firearm design in continuous production anywhere in the world. The Marlin Model 1891–the 39A’s great-grandfather, as the company history puts it–was the first repeating rifle to be chambered for the .22 LR cartridge.


Marlin’s new Model 1895SBL is a refined version of the 1895GS Guide Gun.

The current Marlin website lists more than two dozen individual centerfire and rimfire lever-action models in a dozen chamberings–from .22 LR to the powerful .450 Marlin and hypermodern .308 Marlin Express and .338 Marlin Express. They’re available in full-length, carbine, or cowboy-action styling; stainless or blued steel; checkered wood or laminated stock and fore-end. And Marlin executives say there are more on the way.

The original Model 1895 .45-70 was offered from 1895 to 1917. After World War I, Marlin turned its attention to higher-pressure, medium-bore, smokeless cartridges like the .30-30 and .35 Remington. It would not be until 1972 that the .45-70 cartridge returned to the Marlin lineup in the form of a redesigned Model 1895–a big-bore version of the popular Marlin Model 336 .30-30 action.

Without going deeply into technical details, it is useful to note that the Marlin Model 336 series and the current Model 1895 series are essentially same-design rifles; the 1895 is heavier-duty. Both series feature solid-receiver side-ejection, which allows scope mounting on top of the drilled and tapped receiver unlike competing top-ejection lever-action designs. Therefore, the modern Model 1895 is much stronger than either the Winchester open-top lever-action design or the original Marlin 1889 and the ’94-style Model 1895.

The 336 and the 1895 series also offer parallel configuration variations: straight-grip stock versions with straight levers or pistol-grip versions with curved levers, barrel-band magazine attachment or forearm-clamp magazine attachment, tapered forearms or semibeavertail forearms, full-length magazine tubes or short tubes, etc.

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| Marlin 1896SBL |

Model: 1896SBL
Purpose: Big-game hunting
Manufacturer: Marlin Firearms Co.
100 Kenna Dr.
North Haven, CT 06473
203.239.5621
Action type: Lever-acion; enlarged lever loop
Magazine type/ capacity: Tubular/ five rounds
Reciever material: Stainless steel
Caliber: .45-70 Gov’t
Barrel length: 18.5 inches
Rifling: Ballard-type, six-grooves, 1:20 RH twist
Sights: Black XS Sight Systems Ghost Ring on black Lever Rail optical mount base; blade front
Safety: Manual crossbolt hammer-block safety, reciever-mounted
Trigger type: Standard
Pull Weight: 4.5 lbs.
Stock Finish: Matte satin
Stock material and type: Two-piece black/gray laminated wood
Drop at heel: 1.75 in
Drop at comb: 1.25 inches
Length of pull: 13.5 inches
Checkering: Cut checkering fore-end and piston grip, diamond pattern
Pistol-grip cap: Black polymer
Recoil Pad: Pachmayr Decelerator
Sling studs/swivels: Fixed swivel studs fore-end and stock
Weight, empty: 7.5 lbs.
Overall length: 36.5 in.
Accessories: Owners manual, safety lock, hard polymer carry case
MSRP: $978


The enlarged lever ring on the Model 1895SBL is practical and stylish, perfectly complementing the diamond-checkered laminated pistol-grip stock. The black polymer buttcap sets off the Model 1895SBL’s pistol-grip stock.

The Newest Marlin .45-70
While the current big-bore Model 1895 design was successful from its inception, Marlin significantly reenergized this line in 1998 with the introduction of its unexpectedly popular compact Guide Gun .45-70 (Model 1895G). It featured an 18½-inch, ported barrel; short-form, four-shot magazine; deep-cut, six-groove Ballard rifling; and ventilated recoil pad.

In 1999, Marlin introduced the same-format Model 444P Outfitter in .444 Marlin, and it launched Hornady’s .450 Marlin cartridge and accompanying Guide Gun-configured Model 1895M in 2000. These three rifles combined to create a major renaissance for big-bore, lever-action, deep-woods and brush-hunting guns among hard-core hunters from Alaska to Africa and all forests between.

A stainless-steel Model 1895GS .45-70 Guide Gun came along in 2001. All of its major parts were fabricated from stainless steel, including the receiver, barrel, lever, trigger-guard plate, magazine tube, forearm/magazine-tube bands, and loading gate. Nonstainless metal parts like the fore-end cap and sling-swivel studs were plated in satin nickel for a compatible appearance.


The soft Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad greatly cushions the recoil of heavy .45-70 loads. The low-profile XS Systems Ghost Ring rear sight mounts directly on the 1895SBL’s Lever Rail base. The new Model 1895SBL comes with an XS Systems Lever Rail mount base, which allows optics mounting either over the receiver or forward over the barrel.

The newest member of the Marlin .45-70 family, introduced for 2009, is the Model 1895SBL (Stainless Black Laminated). It is essentially a refined version of the stainless 1895GS Guide Gun with several new features. Most notably, it boasts an oversized lever loop reminiscent of that on John Wayne’s rifle in “Stagecoach.” It also has a two-piece black/gray laminated wood stock. Clean-cut diamond-pattern checkering is on the semibeavertail fore-end and polymer-capped pistol grip instead of the straight-grip checkering of the original Guide Gun.

The 1895SBL has the same 18½-inch-long Guide Gun barrel, but unlike the original Guide Guns, it is not ported. Instead of the harder, ventilated recoil pad of the original Guide Gun, the new model features a soft 3/4-inch Pachmayr Decelerator pad to tame the .45-70.

The 1895SBL also comes with XS Systems Ghost Ring sights mounted on a long XS Systems Lever Rail optics platform. The 11¼-inch base is filled with standard Weaver crosscuts for maximum flexibility in ring positioning to accommodate the wide variation in eye-relief among different types of forward-mount optics. It allows an optical sight to be quick-attach installed either over the receiver or in a forward scout-rifle position without removing the ghost-ring sights. The original Guide Guns come with barrel-mounted, folding, semibuckhorn-style sights.

The 1895SBL also features the manual crossbolt hammer-block safety that has been a Marlin standard since 1984, and like all Marlin centerfire lever-action rifles, it also has three additional significant safety features. The first is the diagnostic Marlin two-piece firing pin, which dates from the original Model 1893 design and provides for the rear section of the pin to drop out of alignment with the front until the locking bolt is fully engaged. A trigger block also prevents the trigger from being squeezed until the lever is fully closed, and there is a traditional halfcock hammer-safety position as well.

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Shootng The New Marlin 1895SBL .45-70

Factory load Velocity (fps) Standard Deviation (fps) 100-Yard
Accuracy (in)
Federal 300-gr. Speer HCSP 1702 31 2.50
Winchester 300-gr. JHP 1665 36 2.00
Winchester 300-gr. Partition Gold 1799 15 1.68
Hornady 325-gr. FTX 1817 31 1.38
Black Hills 405-gr. FPL 1184 10 2.45
Remington 405-gr. SP 1219 58 2.50
Garrett 420-gr. SHC/HH 1738 12 2.25
Buffalo Bore 430-gr. LFN/GC 1834 7 2.38
Garrett 540-gr. SHC/HH 1492 8 1.88
NOTEs: Accuracy is the average of five, five-shot groups fired from a sandbag benchrest at 100 yards. Groups were measured center to center. A Nikon 2.5-8X 28mm Encore scope set at 8X magnification was used for the accuracy shooting.Velocity is the average of five rounds measured 10 feet from the gun’s muzzle.


The crossbolt safety blocks the hammer when engaged. The new Marlin 1895SBL features a stainless-finish beavertail fore-end cap and sling-swivel stud. The solid receiver and internal bolt design of the Model 1895SBL are sufficiently strong for the heaviest .45-70 loads. Note the longitudinal flutes on the bolt body.

The Accuracy Issue
Back when the new version of the Model 1895 was introduced in 1972, something of an outcry erupted among traditional .45-70 fans who claimed that the new version was not accurate with cast-lead bullets. The reason was claimed to be the shallow Marlin Micro-Groove rifling, designed primarily for shooting jacketed bullets.

There was some truth in these claims. When it comes to cast bullets, Micro-Groove rifling is finicky, and there are many types and designs of cast bullets that do not obturate fully with shallow rifling, particularly if not correctly hardened or precisely sized for the specific bore dimensions. Correctly chosen cast bullets–properly sized, and driven to appropriate velocities–shoot every bit as accurately through a Micro-Groove barrel as through any other type of bore.

But the rifling controversy did have a negative impact on Marlin’s Model 1895 sales. So while the popularity of cowboy action shooting began to erupt in the late 1990s–increasing demand for traditional lever-actions–Marlin was in the process of developing the Guide Gun series. The company took the opportunity to quiet the issue by abandoning Micro-Groove rifling for its big-bore lever-actions and returning to a traditional, deeper Ballard-type cut rifling for its Model 1895 and Model 1894 rifles. No Marlin Model 1895 made since 1998 is finicky about its cast-bullet diet, and the guns are also very accurate with jacketed bullets.

How accurate? I had the opportunity to review one of the original Model 1895GS stainless Guide Guns back in 2001, and I was extremely impressed with its performance. So when Shooting Times received a review sample of the new Model 1895SBL, I wasted no time setting it up for hunting and checking its performance with several varieties of ammo.

The 1895SBL was a beautiful gun right out of the box, exhibiting Marlin’s typically clean-cut checkering, a soft satiny luster to the natural stainless metal, and the great quick-handling balance in the 18½-inch-barrel design that made the Guide Gun format such an instant hit in the first place. Traditionalists may grumble about the whole idea of a stainless-steel lever-action rifle in the first place, but I was really struck by the complementary appearance of the matte metal finish and the black/gray laminated stock.

While the solid-receiver optics-mounting feature of Marlin’s lever-action guns is one of their stronger selling points to most hunters, I have always preferred barrel-location scout-type mounts for optics on heavy-caliber brush rifles, so I set up the 1895SBL with a Nikon 2.5-8X 28mm EER Encore pistol scope mounted all the way forward on the XS Lever Rail base.

I selected nine different varieties of .45-70 factory ammunition to review, ranging from Winchester’s lightweight and fast 300-grain Supreme Partition Gold to Garrett’s rhino-busting 540-grain +P SuperHardCast HammerHead. The latter was designed to be used only in Marlin lever-action guns. I also used Hornady’s LEVERevolution 325-grain load with the pointed FlexTip bullet that has revolutionized lever-action ammunition during the past several years in terms of accuracy, velocity, and downrange energy retention. The results are listed in the accompanying chart.

It all combined for a very satisfying session on the range. The .45-70 is a renowned heavy kicker, particularly with heavy loads like Garrett’s. Usually, a day locked down at the benchrest with a .45-70 is about as much fun as hitting your thumb with a hammer. But the minimal drop of the comb of the Model 1895SBL’s pistol-grip stock made for a very comfortable cheek alignment with the low-profile barrel-mounted scope, and the Pachmayr Decelerator pad really worked. I didn’t even notice the absence of porting compared to the standard 1895GS Guide Gun. Yes, I did use a lead sled for the heaviest cast-bullet loads, but you can shoot the lighter 300-grain ammo for as long as you want without really thinking about it.


With the right loads, 1.5-inch, 100-yard groups were normal for
the Model 1895SBL carbine. The 1895SBL’s stock and Lever Rail allow instant alignment with either low-profile optics or the ghost-ring metallic sight.

Performance was excellent. The Hornady 325-grain FTX load took top accuracy honors, averaging smaller than 1.50 inches at 100 yards for all five-shot groups; the smallest measured just larger than an inch. That is exceptional in a lever gun. The combined average for all 45 groups fired–a total of 225 rounds–was just 2.11 inches.

I was particularly impressed by the accuracy and consistently low standard deviation of the heavy-bullet Garrett load; those figures are remarkable for a 540-grain flat lead slug and would be a real confidence-builder if you were facing a Cape buffalo. I should acknowledge that Marlin’s decision to return to Ballard-cut rifling for its .45-70 barrels was a smart move.

One final note of interest: All ammunition manufacturers’ catalog ballistic figures for the .45-70 are based on 24-inch test barrels. The 18½-inch barrel of the Model 1895SBL–and other Marlin Guide Guns–represents only 77 percent of that length. How much velocity–and consequent energy–loss does that represent if you choose the improved handling characteristics of the Guide Gun format over a more traditional long-barreled .45-70?


.45-70 Ammo Manufacturers: Nominal Velocities
Factory Load Velocity (fps)
Federal 300-gr. Speer HCSP 1850
Winchester 300-gr. JHP 1880
Winchester 300-gr. Partition Gold 1880
Hornady 325-gr. FTX 2050
Black Hills 405-gr. FPL 1250
Remington 405-gr. SP 1330
Garrett 420-gr. SHC/HH 1850
Buffalo Bore 430-gr. LFN/GC 1925
Garrett 540-gr. SHC/HH 1550
Overall average nominal velocity: 1729
Overall average Marlin 1895SBL velocity: 1606
Marlin 1895SBL percentage of nominal velocity: 92.9

Not all that much. The nominal test-barrel velocities for the nine loads I reviewed averaged 1,729 fps. Actual velocities through the Model 1895SBL averaged 1,606 fps. That’s only a 6-percent loss. Interestingly, the heavier-bullet loads overall showed less individual velocity loss compared to the test-barrel figures than the lighter, faster bullets, indicating that propellants behind the heavier bullets need less bore to reach their optimum push. I consider that having only 94 percent of ballistic test-barrel optimum average velocity a very small and inconsequential price to pay for the other practical performance benefits of the Guide Gun configuration.

I really like the new Model 1895SBL. I liked the standard Model 1895GS before it so much that I kept the one I reviewed. I’ll buy this one too. It has all the features I might have added to the original as accessories. I like the improved pointability of the pistol-grip stock, the improved recoil pad, the full-length XS Lever Rail mount and Ghost Ring sights, and the cool-looking and easy-handling big-loop lever.

The Model 1895SBL really is the state-of-the-art for a modern .45-70 lever-action carbine.

  • jer

    I just ordered one (3 weeks)…my first rifle…just had 12 gauges…..So can you tell me if the kick of this girl is as much as a 12 gauge with 3" slugs.

    I was told this one is more like a 20 gauge….guess I will find out. I live in the Yukon and I wanted it for horseback hunting. I generally use my recurve and longbow and carry the 12 gauge for a camp gun. I figured this would give me something I can take a buffalo with too.

    They won't currently lets us use a bow to take them and you need a 30 caliber rifle with a min of 180 grain bullet and 2800 ft/lbs at the barrel. I should be over than :)

    I can get close – last ones were at 65 and 50 yards and they are wild ones….so I am thinking open ghost sights should work fine.

    Thanks for this article..Jer

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