Listen to this article.
Photos by Michael Anschuetz
Beginning life as the Model 1893 then transitioning through the Model 93, the Model 1936, the Model 36, and eventually settling on the Model 336, Marlin’s enduring lever action is now 125 years strong. One reason for the venerable Marlin lever action’s longevity is that it is one of the all-time great deer-hunting rifles.
1893 to 1947
The Marlin Model 1893, which was introduced in 1893, was essentially the company’s previous side-ejecting Model 1889 with improvements and a longer action. The Model 1893’s first chamberings were .32-40 and .38-55 Winchester, and a factory-mounted telescopic sight was among its options. The .25-35 and .30-30 chamberings were added in 1895, and the .32 Winchester Special chambering followed in 1902.
The Lewis Hepburn-designed Model 1893 breech-locking system has remained the same to this day, and while it’s quite simple, not all current Model 336 owners understand its operation. As the finger lever is swung to its closed position, it elevates a vertical steel locking bolt at the rear of the receiver into engagement with a deep slot on the underside of the breechbolt. That prevents movement of the breechbolt when the rifle fires.
To make sure the rifle will not fire until the action is fully locked up, the rifle has a “Safety Firing Pin.” As Marlin described it, it is a two-piece firing pin with a strong spring pivoting the forward end of the rear section downward and out of alignment with the front section when the action is open. Its nose extends into the locking slot of the breechbolt. As the locking bolt moves into full engagement with the breechbolt, its top end pushes the rear section of the firing pin into alignment with the front section, and the rifle will fire when the trigger is squeezed.
Why the Model 1893 became the Model 93 in 1905 remains a mystery. My guess is it was a marketing move because it rolled off the tongue a bit easier. No mechanical change was made to the rifle. During about four decades of production, the forearms of Marlin rifles had been quite thin and when the “Sure-grip” forearm, with its fish-belly shape, became standard in 1936, the name was changed to Model 1936. About a year later, the same rifle became the Model 36, again with no change in basic design.
1948 to 2005
In 1948 the name was changed a final time to Model 336, and with it came a trigger stop pin that prevents the trigger from being squeezed until the lever is completely closed. The old flat mainspring was replaced by a coil mainspring, and the shape of the bolt was changed from rectangular to round.
At that point only the .30-30 and .32 Special remained. Sales increased in 1953 with the addition of the .35 Remington. Many hunters were switching to telescopic sights, so beginning in 1956 receivers were drilled and tapped for scope mounting, and an offset hammerspur was included.
Micro-Groove rifling, which has 12 shallow lands and grooves, was introduced in Marlin .22 rimfire rifles in 1953, and by 1956 all centerfire barrels had it as well. It had taken an hour to cut the old Ballard-style rifling with the scrape-cutter method, but a barrel could be rifled in only a few seconds with the button method.
A huge advantage the Model 336 has over other lever actions is that its design allows easy removal of the bolt and ejector for cleaning the bore of the barrel from the chamber end rather than from the muzzle. A screwdriver for removing the threaded pivot pin of the finger lever is the only tool required.
The first large-bore cartridge developed for the Model 336 was the .444 Marlin, which was introduced in 1965. It has long been one of my favorites, and several of my friends used it for all of their deer, black bear, and hog hunting. Marlin rifles chambered for the fine .444 were named the Model 444. Soon after Marlin discovered in 1972 that the Model 336 action would handle the .45-70, .444 Marlin sales began a gradual decline.
Just as Marlin created a bit of confusion when renaming the Model 1893 four times, so it went when the company decided to call the Model 336 in .45-70 the “New Model 1895” in about 1972. The original Model 1895 was introduced in 1893, and its design is basically the same as the Model 1893, but the Model 1895 action was made much larger so it could handle the .45-70 and other thumb-size cartridges. Considering that the Model 1893 action was sized for the .30-30 and other cartridges of that length and diameter, Marlin engineers did an excellent job of modifying the Model 336 to handle the .45-70. While the New Model 1895 has proven to be strong enough to handle Category 2 .45-70 loads published in various reloading manuals, those loads generate higher chamber pressures than the original Model 1895 should be subjected to.
Marlin began using a rather unusual method of obtaining a close fit between the receiver and the buttstock in 1974. Stock inletting was intentionally left a bit undersized and immediately after the rear of the receiver and its tangs were induction-heated to a very high temperature, pressing the receiver and the stock firmly together caused metal to burn its way into the wood for an extremely close fit.
In the old days, it was not uncommon to see a Model 336 in a saddle scabbard out West, but more were carried by easterners for woods hunting, and they were quite happy with the .30-30 and other close-range cartridges. However, on several occasions, Marlin has chambered the Model 336 for faster cartridges for use in open country. In the early 1970s, the .250 Savage was announced, and though several Model 336s were chambered for it, I am aware of only one that managed to escape the factory. Another attempt was made in 1983 with the .307 Winchester and .356 Winchester, and while rifles in .356 Win. went into production, the .307 Win. did not. In addition, the Model 336 has been chambered in .219 Zipper (1955–1960), .375 Winchester (1980–1983), and .450 Marlin (2000–2009).
In 2005, the Model 336 hit a milestone. An engraved, gold-inlaid, color-case-hardened Model 336 bearing serial number 4,000,000 was auctioned, fetching $17,626. The proceeds were donated to the Hunting & Shooting Sports Heritage Fund.
2006 to the Present
The .308 Marlin Express and the .338 Marlin Express cartridges arrived in 2006, and for those chamberings, the Model 336XLR was given a laminated stock and a longer barrel.
The purchase of Marlin Firearms Co. by Remington Arms Co. was finalized in January 2008, and in 2010 Remington relocated Model 336 production from the old Marlin plant in New Haven to Remington’s New York factory. Unfortunately, longtime Marlin employees were not included in the move, and the quality of the Model 336 hit rock bottom. (Remington officials later acknowledged the move was a disaster.) For the first time in 117 years, what had been a totally reliable rifle became almost totally unreliable. The scramble was on to find Marlin-built rifles, and as the sales of “Remlins” plummeted, various models were discontinued.
Determined to keep the Model 336 (and other Marlin models) alive, Remington invested in new CNC machinery and the training of employees. It was money well spent. For example, my wife’s nephew purchased a new Model 336 a while back, and when I installed a scope on it for him, my examination of the gun revealed that the blued finish on the receiver was a bit shy of what it had been in the past, but everything else about the rifle was quite satisfactory. Wood-to-metal fit was good. The rifle functioned without a hitch. And the trigger pull was actually lighter and a bit smoother than on some of my old Marlins.
The action was quite smooth, and the gun’s accuracy was very good. Several loads shot inside 2.0 inches at 100 yards, and Hornady’s Full Boar ammo loaded with the 140-grain MonoFlex bullet averaged 1.42 inches at 100 yards at an average velocity of 2,527 fps, which was 61 fps faster than its billing. Zeroed 3.0 inches high at 100 yards, it was dead-on at 200 yards. The reticle in his scope is duplex-style, and when the top of the wide section in the lower quadrant was used for aiming at a 300-yard target, the rifle was dead-on there as well. All bullets fired at that distance were inside 6.0 inches. Everything considered, his rifle is as good as the Model 336 has ever been.
Several current variations of the 336 are available. The Model 336W with a 20-inch barrel and the Model 336Y with a 16.25-inch barrel in .30-30 and a walnut-finished hardwood stock are the least expensive (MSRP: $548). The Model 336C (MSRP: $635) in .30-30 or .35 Remington is the most popular in the line. It has a 20-inch barrel, and its walnut stock and forearm have generous checkering coverage. Give the Model 336C a stainless-steel barreled action and it becomes the Model 336SS (MSRP: $779). Moving up another notch in price is the Model 336XLR (MSRP: $996) with a laminated wood stock, a stainless-steel barreled action, and a 24-inch barrel in .30-30. My second Model 336 was the Texan with a straight-grip stock, which was the standard version. The deluxe version of the Texan has a fancy walnut stock, machine-cut engraving, and a gold-colored trigger. It was reintroduced in 2018 and has an MSRP of $999.
The New Model 1895 is also back in full production, and quite a few variations are offered—all in .45-70. They include the Standard rifle with a checkered walnut stock and 22-inch barrel; the Trapper with a synthetic stock, 16.5-inch barrel, and Skinner aperture sight; the Cowboy with an 18.5- or a 26-inch tapered octagon barrel; the 1895G with a walnut stock and an 18.5-inch barrel; the same gun with a laminated wood stock and a big-loop finger lever called the Model 1895GBL; the Model 1895GS with a straight-grip walnut stock and an 18.5-inch barrel; and the 1895SBL in stainless steel and laminated wood with an 18.5-inch barrel and a Picatinny rail with a Skinner aperture sight.
I’m happy that Remington has kept the Model 336 alive. The fact that it is selling quite well indicates there are still plenty of hunters, young and old, who appreciate steel and walnut. It is one of the all-time great deer rifles, and anyone should be proud to own one.