Hornady's high-tech LEVERevolution ammo, a custom oversize lever loop, and custom ghost ring sights help to make this Marlin Guide Gun a lever gun for the 21st century.
Marlin's Guide Gun started a revolution that sent lever gun popularity through the roof. Part of it was a timing issue; cowboy action shooting was on the rise, and lever guns were becoming increasingly popular. But the short, stubby Guide Gun's combination of good looks and power caught the eyes of a whole new set of shooters. I was one of them.
I used my Guide Gun as it was intended, for following up wounded game in the thick Texas brush for my clients. I needed a rifle trim enough to carry all day and powerful enough to shoot through hogs and nilgai from stem to stern. The compact .45-70 was just the ticket.
I carried that rifle for the better part of three seasons. It was surprisingly accurate, a joy to carry, and absolutely devastating on even the biggest pigs. It was pretty good in factory form, but a set of ghost ring sights from XS Sights made the little rifle even faster to bring into action in close quarters and more precise at long range. My only complaints were the trigger, which was a bit heavy for my taste, and the barrel porting, which was downright obnoxious. Every time I touched off one of those blunt, 405-grain slugs, it would leave my ears ringing for days.
A chance encounter with a friend and his tricked-out custom Guide Gun led me to Lew Bonitz of Grizzly Custom Guns. My friend's rifle was the Brush Hawg, Bonitz's version of Marlin's 1895G that addresses the Guide Gun's shortcomings.
One Fine Custom Job
Bonitz started out by lopping off my rifle's barrel to 16.5 inches and adding a recessed crown. I thought the original Guide Gun was plenty handy, but this custom version is unbeatable as a packing gun. Shortening the barrel also eliminated the barrel porting, which suits me just fine because I'd like to keep what little hearing I have left. It does kick a bit more, but a new Pachmayr Decelerator pad takes out a bit of the bite.
Bonitz also mounted a set of LPA's rugged ghost ring sights. The rear's large aperture is adjustable for windage and elevation, and it is protected by a set of sturdy ears. The front is a serrated post. Since he removed the factory rear sight, Bonitz also filled in the dovetail slot. He did it so perfectly you can't even tell where the original sight was mounted.
Other work included installing of an oversize lever, breaking off the sharp edges, smoothing the action, bobbing the hammer, modifying the loading gate for easier feeding, installing a steel follower, and tuning the trigger to a crisp 3 pounds even. Bonitz finished the rifle in an attractive matte blue and rounded out the package with a beautiful leather sling and butt ammo cuff from Galco.
I couldn't have been more pleased with the overall package. It's compact size and lack of sharp edges made my custom Guide Gun an absolute joy to carry. I was also pleased with the ghost ring sights because they are easy to acquire and very rugged; they've maintained their zero despite a few years spent bouncing around rocky ranch roads in the cab of my truck.
On the range, the ghost ring sights and crisp trigger combine to help me place three Hornady LEVERevolution rounds in a tight 2-inch cluster on demand. I am sure the rifle will do even better, but that's as good as it gets for me with ghost ring sights. In the field, running game inside 100 yards doesn't stand a chance.
My Brush Hawg really opened my eyes to what you can do with a good lever gun. At $1,295 built on your rifle, the Bonitz package is not for everyone, but fortunately, with a little help from your friends at Brownells and Hornady, you can bring your lever gun into the 21st century without breaking the bank.
D-I-Y: Sights & Scope Mounts
The fastest way to make your lever gun more accurate is to install a set of ghost ring sights and/or a scope. Several options are available.
XS's current lever gun ghost ring sight is as good as it gets. It is rugged, simple, lightweight, and easily adjustable. It's also very affordable. The company's Lever Rail is a versatile platform that includes a ghost ring rear sight and a scope mounting rail that extends about halfway down the forearm. That extended rail allows you to use any optic, including a conventional scope or a forward-mounted, scout-type scope. XS's Lever Scout Mount is a dedicated, Scout-type mount intended to work in concert with a ghost ring sight.
You could also choose the LPA ghost ring sight Bonitz used on my rifle. Or, if you prefer a more traditional peep sight, Williams offers a very nice, affordable unit. Marble Arms also offers a traditional tang-mounted peep sight for Marlin's 336, the Savage 99, and the Winchester Model 94. Of course, all the usual suspects make traditional scope mounts for most modern lever guns if a conventionally mounted scope is more your speed.
Lever Loops & Triggers
For a fast-handling rifle, an oversize lever loop is a must. I'm not talking about the gigantic, Chuck Connors-as-the-Rifleman-esque loop. It just needs to be big enough to allow a gloved hand to slide right in. I am particularly fond of the DRC loop, but Wild West Guns makes a good one, too. And, of course, as of earlier this year, you can get a Guide Gun directly from the Marlin factory with an oversize loop already installed. (See the March 2009 issue for more information.)
A good trigger is another essential part of any accurate rifle, and lever guns are no exception. The trigger on my gun is the Happy Trigger by Wild West Guns. I love it, but I've noticed that Bonitz has switched to the DRC trigger. Knowing David Clay, the DRC in DRC, as I do, I am not surprised. Everything he puts his name on is well thought out and built to last.
AmmunitionSwitching from old school, department-store fodder can drastically improve your lever gun's accuracy and on-game performance. Want to shoot big, tough critters like Cape buffalo? Garrett Cartridge makes hot loads pushing heavy, hard-cast bullets aimed squarely at the Dark Continent's most dangerous game. Barnes's new Buster bullet over a stout powder charge would be equally deadly.
If you want to squeeze the last bit of accuracy from your lever gun or stretch its legs, Hornady's LEVERevolution line is just what the doctor ordered. A high-tec
h, soft polymer point allows the pointed bullets to be safely stuffed in tubular magazines. And the pointed projectiles have better ballistic coefficients. Also, since they are lighter, they can be safely driven to faster velocities with less recoil than heavier, conventional projectiles.
There's no doubt the new design flies better at long range, but it's their enhanced accuracy and terminal performance that float my boat. Sure, the LEVERevolution gives up a bit in the penetration department compared to the 405-grain load I used to use, but its deadly accuracy and devastating on-game performance make it a trade-off I can certainly live with.
If you can autograph a check for a full-blown custom job from Lew Bonitz, I say do it in a New York minute. But don't sweat it if your budget doesn't have enough flex. Start with sights or a good scope mount and new ammunition to improve your lever gun's accuracy. You can do the rest as your budget allows. With a little patience, you can drag your old lever gun into the 21st century one step at a time.