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Ruger Gives Marlin Model 1895 SBL Lever-Action Rifle A New Life

Ruger has rescued Marlin, and its first lever action to be brought back is the Model 1895 SBL repeater rifle chambered in .45-70.

Ruger Gives Marlin Model 1895 SBL Lever-Action Rifle A New Life

(Michael Anschuetz photo)

As most Shooting Times readers who are interested in Marlin firearms are likely to know, during late 2020, Sturm, Ruger & Co. Inc. received approval from the United States Bankruptcy Court to purchase all Marlin Firearms assets from Remington Outdoor Co. Inc. for $28.2 million in cash. As Ruger President and CEO Chris Killoy put it, “The value of Marlin and its 150-year legacy was an opportunity too great to pass up. The important thing for consumers, retailers, and distributors to know at this point in time is the Marlin brand and its great products will live on.”

Not long thereafter, the first of over 100 tractor-trailer loads of machinery from three Remington facilities began the move to Ruger’s Mayodan, North Carolina, factory. Stock-making equipment went to the Ruger plant in Newport, New Hampshire. Despite the fact that a great deal of it required maintenance and refurbishing and the best manufacturing process for each component rifle part had to be determined, Killoy confidently predicted shipment of the first Ruger-built Marlin lever-action centerfire rifles during late 2021. The main focus would be on the Model 1895, Model 336, and Model 1894. Just as he promised, the very first variant of the Marlin 1895 off the production line arrived at my house in November 2021. A gun lock and an offset hammer-spur for low scope mounting were included.

Ruger Marlin Model 1895 SBL Action
According to Layne, the Ruger-built Marlin rifle’s action was as smooth as his 1972-vintage, custom-stocked Marlin Model 1895. (Michael Anschuetz photo)

Ruger’s Marlin Model 1895 SBL

Except for its threaded muzzle (with thread protector) and shallow flutes in a spiraled pattern on its bolt, the Model 1895 SBL is the same as when Marlin introduced it back in 2009. The label on the box indicates a barrel length of 18.5 inches, but from boltface to muzzle, my steel tape measured 19 inches. One side of the barrel is marked “Model 1895 .45-70 Govt,” and “Marlin Mayodan, NC USA” is on the other side. Hunting guides will appreciate the fact that the tubular magazine holds six rounds. With a round in the chamber, that’s a heap of bear-stopping firepower. And the big-loop finger lever has plenty of room for thick gloves worn during cold-weather hunts.

The barrel is 410 stainless steel, the receiver is 416 stainless, and the bolt and some of the smaller parts are 4140 steel with a nickel plating. All metal has a brightly polished finish, and while it’s nicely executed, this hunter would prefer a brushed or bead-blast finish.

Ruger Marlin Model 1895 SBL Full Side View
(Michael Anschuetz photo)

When Marlin introduced the New Model 1895 in 1972, the 22-inch barrels of some of the early rifles had 8-groove rifling, but it was soon changed to 12-groove rifling. During the late 1990s, the rifling became Ballard-style with 6 lands and grooves. All had a 1:20 twist rate. Barrels made by Ruger have the 6-groove, 1:20 twist combination. Specified groove diameter is SAAMI 0.456 inch to 0.458 inch and slugging the bore of the rifle I shot revealed a groove diameter of 0.4575 inch.

An 11-inch-long, 23-slot optic rail attached to the receiver and barrel has an adjustable sight with an aperture diameter of 0.220 inch. That combined with a ramped front sight with a 0.120-inch green fiber-optic rod is ideal for getting off close-distance shots quickly while being precise enough for acceptable accuracy at targets farther away. For accuracy testing, I used Talley tactical rings to attach a faithful old Bausch & Lomb 1.5-6X scope.

Mounting the scope low required removing the rear sight. Doing so reduced the number of Torx-head screws securing the rail to three because the fourth screw bottoms out when used without the sight. The firing of close to 150 full-power rounds never budged the rail, so three screws proved to be sufficient. Over the long haul, four are better insurance against Murphy’s Law than three, and buying another screw and shortening it while leaving the other screw intact for rear sight attachment is a good plan.

Ruger Marlin Model 1895 SBL Rear and Front Sights
The Model 1895 SBL comes with an 11-inch-long, 23-slot XS Sights Lever Rail that incorporates an adjustable ghost-ring rear sight and a green fiber-optic front sight. (Michael Anschuetz photo)

The top of the receiver is also drilled and tapped for conventional scope-mounting bases. Unlike my early Marlin-built rifles, but like those of later production, the sides of the receivers of Ruger-built rifles are not drilled and tapped for the Lyman and Williams aperture sights worn by several of my rifles. A gunsmith can fix that, but my solution would be to use the existing holes to top-attach an aperture sight from Skinner Sights. From a practical point of view, neither is actually needed for hunting because the aperture sight that comes with the rifle is ideal for that. Another sight would be needed only if a hunter decides to remove the rail.

The buttstock and forearm are laminated hardwood with a black-gray coloration. Good coverage of 16-line, laser-cut checkering in a point pattern offers a secure grip on rainy days. A cushiony 0.75-inch-thick pad does a good job of soaking up recoil, and posts for quick-detach sling swivels are in the stock and on the forearm cap. Marlin’s famous mounted rifleman laser-engraved on the butt of the curved grip is a very nice touch. And the familiar “bullseye” in the bottom of the stock is a red dot bordered by white rather than black in white as on the stocks of rifles built by Marlin and Remington. That’s one way a quick glance will tell which company built the rifle. Another way is the RM (Ruger Marlin) serial number prefix. Serial numbers began with RM0001000.

Ruger Marlin Model 1895 SBL Buttstock
The rifle wears black-gray laminated buttstock, complete with a cushiony 0.75-inch-thick recoil pad and sling-swivel studs. Layne says the fit and finish are excellent. (Michael Anschuetz photo)

Ruger long ago perfected the investment casting process for producing receivers and other major parts of various firearms. With that in mind, I had assumed the bolt, receiver, and finger lever of the Marlin rifle would be made in the same manner. Not so. Those parts begin as forgings produced by refurbished machinery once used by Marlin. The forgings are then precision-machined to their dimensions.

Curious to see how Ruger quality compares with Marlin quality of many years ago, I compared the 2021 rifle with a couple of Model 1895s that have been in my battery for a very long time. One is a first-year-production gun (1972), and while it was later fitted with a custom forearm and stock, its barreled action is still factory-original. The other is the Cowboy version I have had since 2001, the year of its introduction. With the exception of a Lyman folding aperture sight attached to the tang of its receiver, it remains as it came from the New Haven, Connecticut, factory.

First up were slow tours of the early rifles with a Lyman Digital Borecam. From just forward of their chambers all the way out to their muzzles, tops of lands and bottoms of grooves have deep toolmarks running across them. This causes bullet jacket fouling to build up rather quickly, although when it is kept under control, both rifles are quite accurate because bore and groove diameters are consistent from breech to muzzle. Turning to the hammer-forged bore of the Ruger-built Model 1895, in addition to being virtually free of toolmarks, it is noticeably smoother overall than the barrels of my rifles. I checked it again immediately after concluding my accuracy and functioning tests, and there were only minimal traces of metal fouling.


Ruger Marlin Model 1895 SBL Forearm
The rifle wears black-gray laminated forearm, complete with a cushiony 0.75-inch-thick recoil pad and sling-swivel studs. Layne says the fit and finish are excellent. (Michael Anschuetz photo)

My 1895 Cowboy has not been shot a lot. Compared to it, the action of the Ruger-built rifle feels like it has been smoothed by a gunsmith who is really good at his craft. Even more impressive is the fact that its action is as smooth as my custom-stocked 1895 that has been hunted with and shot a lot during the past 50 years. As lever actions used for hunting deer and other game go, trigger quality of the three rifles is good enough, with neither having creep or overtravel. On a Lyman digital scale, respective average pull weights were 6 pounds, 5 ounces for the Ruger-Marlin, 5 pounds, 9 ounces for the 1895 Cowboy, and 4 pounds, 2 ounces for my first-year rifle.

I have lost count of the number of rifles built by Marlin I have owned and hunted with since the late 1950s and don’t recall a single one that fell short in wood-to-metal fit. An unusual method adopted in 1974 was used to accomplish that. First, inletting of the buttstock was purposely left slightly undersized. Then the rear of the receiver and its tangs were induction-heated to a very high temperature, and when the stock and receiver were pressed together, smoke filled the air with a wonderful aroma as branding iron-hot metal burned its way to a precise fit. I am sure Ruger uses a more modern method of stock fitting, but the fit on the rifle I have is every bit as good as was accomplished by Marlin craftsmen of yesteryear. The same goes for the forearm.

As measured on my sample Model 1895, the length of pull is 13.5 inches, the drop at comb is 1.5 inches, and the drop at heel is 2.5 inches.

Smooth & Easy Shooting

During my day at the range, I found loading the magazine to full capacity to be smooth and easy. Accuracy was quite good with both jacketed and cast bullets. Nose profiles included pointed (Hornady FTX and MonoFlex), sharp-edged (Black Hills HoneyBadger), and the extremely wide flat on the nose of the 430-grain Rim Rock. Regardless of whether the lever was cycled slowly or quickly, the rifle fed all rounds and ejected spent cases without a single hitch. The results are listed in the accompanying accuracy and velocity chart.

After concluding my accuracy tests, I strapped on a PAST shoulder protector, loaded the rifle with seven rounds and rapid-fired at a 25-yard target from the offhand position. This was repeated with five of the eight factory loads fired for accuracy. The barrel became too hot to touch, but the rifle never missed a lick.

Ruger Marlin Model 1895 SBL Accuracy and Velocity Chart

I am told that other familiar Model 1895 variants will depart the Mayodan, North Carolina, factory during 2022, with the selection order determined by those that have traditionally been popular with Marlin fans. Moving to the Model 336, the .30-30 will return during 2022, and while the .444 Marlin is farther down the road, please be patient as it too will eventually be back with us. The .35 Remington was not mentioned, but if Ruger receives enough requests, it may arise from its ashes as well. I am sure the .32 Winchester Special and .25-35 Winchester are very long shots, but considering Ruger’s history of chambering rifles for forgotten cartridges, their appearance would not surprise me.

On the subject of a more compact classic, the present plan is to begin shipment of Model 1894s during early 2022, and I won’t be shocked to see the .44 Magnum or the .357 Magnum be first to head out the door. In the past, it was chambered for a dozen different cartridges, and I would like to eventually see several of those brought back and the .327 Federal Magnum added. In the meantime, I will hang onto my 94 in .218 Bee.

No firm promises were made, but management is taking a serious look at exactly how the Marlin Model 60 autoloader in .22 Long Rifle would fit into the overall market, and in Ruger’s own rimfire line. The Model 39A lever action was not mentioned, but I have my fingers crossed for it as well.

Based on my experience with the current-production Model 1895, the old saying “no longer made like they used to be” does not apply to Marlin rifles being built by Ruger. In some ways they are better.

Marlin Model 1895 SBL Specifications

  • Manufacturer: Sturm, Ruger & Co. Inc.;
  • Type: Lever-action repeater
  • Caliber: .45-70 Gov’t.
  • Magazine Capacity: 6 rounds
  • Barrel: 19 in. (as measured)
  • Overall Length: 37.13 in.
  • Weight, Empty: 7.38 lbs. (as weighed)
  • Stock: Laminated hardwood
  • Length of Pull: 13.5 in.
  • Finish: Polished stainless steel
  • Sights: XS Lever Rail with ghost-ring rear sight and green fiber-optic front sight
  • Trigger: 6.3-lb. pull (as tested)
  • Safety: Two-position hammerblock on receiver
  • MSRP: $1,399

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