September 25, 2023
The “new” Marlin 336, this time made by Ruger, was unveiled at the 2023 SHOT Show. For me, it was the most exciting new firearm I saw. From the excitement on the firing line during NSSF’s Industry Day at the Range, to the buzz I saw at the booth, everyone agreed.
The bolt-action became the dominant sporting rifle shortly after World War II. This has not changed, but millions of shooters still love lever-actions. Today, many younger folks are considering the all-American levergun. With 6 million made, the Winchester Model 1894 is the world’s most prolific centerfire sporting rifle, which is still in production. The Marlin 336 is the world’s second-most-popular at 3.5 million produced. Thanks to Ruger, it’s in production once again.
I love classic Winchesters, but, at the risk of committing heresy, the Marlin was, and is, a better design. Neither John Marlin, nor John Browning, could have foreseen a time when riflescopes were in almost universal use. Call it an accident of parallel development, but from the beginning (almost), Marlin’s lever-actions featured side-ejection and a solid, flat-top receiver, allowing scope mounting low. The majority of Winchester’s lever-actions were top-eject, preventing conventional scope mounting.
This was fixed in 1983 with the Angle-Eject feature, so recent Model 94s are as scope-able as the Marlins have been. The Marlin shares the M94’s other limitations of rear lockup, and a tubular magazine that, until Hornady’s Flex-Tip bullets, were limited to blunt-nosed projectiles.
However, the Marlin has a stronger and more versatile action. The 336 was chambered to more cartridges than the M94, including the powerful .338 Marlin Express in 2009. With internal modifications, it was readily adapted to .444 Marlin, .45-70 and .450 Marlin, too.
I knew the 336 was returning because I saw its development at the Ruger plant in Mayodan, North Carolina, in fall 2021, just as they were introducing the Model 1895 in .45-70. Externally, the 336 and 1895 receivers are identical, so the two rifles are produced on the same production line. Ruger acquired Marlin in late 2020. Of course, they were going to produce Marlin lever guns, but I assumed the 336 would be first.
“Not so fast, Boddington!” I was told. In latter production, the 1895 in .45-70 outsold the .30-30. Business being business, the 1895 was the first Ruger-Marlin, but the 336 was on its way. Also coming soon is the flat-bolt Model 1894 in handgun cartridges. Now, the 336 is here.
Ruger-Marlin took a traditional approach with its first 336. The Model 336 is blued steel and walnut. The bluing is mirror-finished, the grip has diamond-pattern checkering, and Guns & Ammo’s test rifle sported really nice wood.
Another difference from the Winchester M94: The 336 forend is a larger diameter than the receiver, offering a good, firm grip. Likewise, the pistol-grip stock has a curved lever. This is a classic carbine configuration with 20-inch barrel, a bead-on-ramp front and traditional Buckhorn rear, receiver drilled and tapped for optics. The rifle is complete with a rubber recoil pad and sling swivel studs.
The new Marlin 336 in .30-30 is true to the most common variation, but the 336 was offered in numerous variants and a dozen chamberings. The 336 started production in 1948, pretty much as it is today. Its lineage goes back to the Marlin Model 1893, solid-top receiver, which had a flat bolt sans ejection port. Downstroke of the lever moves the bolt rearward, ejecting the case to the right at the end of the lever’s movement. In 1936, with minimal change, and retaining the flat bolt, the M1893 was renamed “Model 1936,” soon shortened to “Model 36.” The stronger, internal round bolt of the 336 was patented by Marlin engineer Thomas R. Robinson. Other improvements included a milled ejection port, improved extractor, cartridge carrier and coil springs.
Production of the Model 336 began in New Haven, Connecticut, marketed under both the Marlin and Glenfield brands until 1983 when the Glenfield brand name was dropped. The 336 continued in production in New Haven until Marlin Firearms’ acquisition by Remington Arms in 2007. From the 1980s to the end of Marlin production, the 336 was America’s best-selling lever-action.
Remington moved Marlin production to Ilion, New York, but quickly learned (as Ruger did) that making lever-actions is different than making bolt guns. It took 3 years for Remington to get the 336 back on line. Production resumed in 2010. Remington did some great things with the 336, such as the Dark Series. That new look, without question, caused a fresh audience to take a serious interest in lever-actions. Sadly, Remington was in trouble. The Ilion plant closed in the fall of 2020 — but Marlin was acquired by Ruger.
Ruger’s leadership didn’t know exactly what they’d purchased. Weeks passed before the courts allowed an exploratory team into the factory. At Ruger’s Mayodan facility, Marlin Product Manager Eric Lundgren talked me through the challenges.
“Ruger moved 150 tractor-trailer loads of ‘Marlin’ from Ilion to Mayodan,” Lundgren said. “Relatively little was useful. I saw mountains of equipment and parts gathering dust in a Mayodan warehouse.”
Much of the equipment was outdated, and they weren’t making guns in Ilion the way Ruger makes them in Mayodan. The lever-action had to be re-engineered to Ruger’s methodology, often using original New Haven drawings and consulting with retired Marlin folks.
I gather Ruger’s Board of Directors was tapping its feet. Understandable, but it was little more than a year from acquisition to production of the Ruger-Marlin 1895 — and they were given just one more year to the release the Marlin 336. In my view, that’s speedy work!
The Great .30-30
“More deer have been taken with the .30-30 than any other cartridge,” many have said. It’s said so often that everybody believes it — though it may not actually be true. When the .30-30 was new, almost all North American big-game animals were at their nadir. Whitetail deer were at a low ebb, estimated at 500,000 in 1900, as opposed to 35 million today. It doesn’t matter; the .30-30 has accounted for millions of deer, and it still sees plenty of use each fall.
The cartridge we call “.30-30 Winchester” was introduced in 1895 in the Winchester Model 94. It was the first sporting cartridge designed for smokeless powder. Winchester first catalogued it as “.30 Winchester Smokeless” and soon called it “.30 Winchester Center Fire” (WCF). It was probably Marlin that dubbed it “.30-30.” There was no way were they going to put “Winchester” on their rifles! The second “30” comes from the blackpowder convention of using the charge weight, as in .45-70, 70 grains of blackpowder. The initial .30-30 load used 30 grains of smokeless. Marlin quickly adopted it in the 1893, calling it “.30-30” and “.30-30 Smokeless.”
Original loads featured 160-grain bullets at 1,900 feet-per-second (fps). Modest by today’s standards, but fast and flat-shooting compared to the blackpowder cartridges that preceded. Today’s common loads feature a 150-grain bullet at 2,390 fps, or 170-grainer at 2,200 fps. Hornady’s LeverEvolution load with FTX bullet returned to the original 160-grain weight with velocity at 2,400 fps. Hornady also has a 140-grain copper-alloy MonoFlex bullet rated at 2,465 fps.
None of these loads are fast or flat-shooting, but hunters found the .30-30 quite adequate for millions of deer. Trust me, it is. Even with the most modern loads, the .30-30 is not a long-range cartridge. You could stretch it to 200 yards or slightly more, but it’s best for short-range use, maybe to 150 yards. For most American deer hunters, that’s all the range that’s needed.
With more than a ton of muzzle energy, the .30-30 is adequate for elk and the largest black bears. However, energy drops off quickly, especially with traditional round-nose and flat-point bullets, so you’d better keep it close. I’ve taken quite a few deer with the .30-30 showing consistent results. In my thick Kansas woods, the .30-30 has all the range needed, and I intend to carry the new 336 this fall.
I think where the .30-30 really shines is when hunting hogs. Ranges are usually close and, with light recoil and mild muzzleblast, the .30-30 is deadly. It’s one of those cartridges that seems to perform on game far beyond what its paper ballistics suggest. To some extent, this is because of the blunt-nosed bullets endemic to tubular magazines. Aerodynamics and downrange ballistics suck, but blunt-nosed bullets hit harder, delivering more energy upon impact. They also initiate expansion more rapidly than sharp-pointed bullets. If you want to wring maximum yardage out of your .30-30, Hornady’s flex-tip spitzers are the only option. They perform well on game and, because they retain velocity better, carry more energy farther downrange. However, if you want more instant gratification and can keep your shots close, stick with the old-fashioned flat-points and round-noses that made the .30-30’s reputation. For hitting hard, the blunter the better!
The .30-30 case has spawned quite a family of cartridges. Going way back, these include .22 Savage High Power, .219 Zipper, .25-35 and .32 Winchester Special. More recently, 7-30 Waters and, in 2023, Remington’s .360 Buckhammer.
Proud Lineage, New Stewardship
The .30-30 was the most popular 336 chambering, and it’s versatile, so it’s the logical first chambering for the new 336. Marlin chambered to most .30-30 derivatives, and more. Unlike many lever-actions, it was adapted to rimless cartridges. The great .35 Remington was the second-most popular 336 chambering, and the Remington-built Marlin 336 was the world’s last .35 Remington production rifle. I’m confident we will soon see other variations, and probably a more modern version. I’d love to see the .338 Marlin Express have another chance, the most versatile cartridge ever chambered in a classic lever-action. I’d also like to see one of the .35s. The .35 Rem. would be the traditional choice, but the .360 Buckhammer is straight-wall compliant, and that matters in important markets.
We now have the 336 in .30-30, and it’s a true and faithful Model 336. Ruger retained Marlin’s traditional gold trigger, and also the small bullseye inletted in the stock just behind the pistol grip. However, the Marlin bullseye was black; the new bullseye is Ruger red.
On the test rifle, fit and finish were superb. The action is tight, but smooth and not stiff. The receiver is forged, and the polish of the blued steel is perfect. Ruger did not retain Marlin’s Micro-Groove rifling; they are using hammer-forged barrels with a 1-in-12-inch twist. The hammer has the traditional safety notch, but also has the crossbolt safety of latter production.
In 2021, I was delighted with the Model 1895 in stainless and laminate, but I’m equally delighted with the new 336. Ruger is fully aware of the loyalty of Marlin fans. They’re determined to honor Marlin’s heritage; thus far, these lever-actions show it.
Still A Hammer ...
I picked up the rifle at my Kansas dealer, had a day at the range, and then planned to take it to Texas to shoot some hogs. Figuring this rifle deserved the best, I ordered Talley mounts, but I goofed. With the rings I had, neither of the two 1-inch-tube scopes I brought would clear the Buckhorn rear sight. I didn’t count on that, so I went hunting with irons.
Out of the box, elevation was a bit low and to the right. The notched slide on the rear sight brought the elevation up easily, but windage is trial and error, done by drifting the sight. In just four shots I got it centered perfectly, more easily than I anticipated. Once on, the rifle put shots on top of each other at 50 yards.
I had several .30-30 loads on hand: Fiocchi’s 170-grain flat-point; Remington’s 170-grain Core-Lokt; Hornady’s 150-grain American Whitetail; and Hornady LeverEvolution with 160-grain FTX. All were a bit slower than factory spec, but that’s as it should be; velocities are stated for a 24-inch barrel. What surprised me was the consistency. Extreme Spreads (ES) were minimal; the Hornady 160 FTX was the highest, 26 fps between fastest and slowest. Standard Deviations (SD) were extremely low, too. Again, the Hornady 160 FTX was the highest at 12, and that’s excellent. The others were single-digit, with the 150-grain American Whitetail just 7.3 SD with ES of 19.
For hog hunting, I knew I’d be close, especially with needing to use iron sights, so I followed my own advice and chose the bluntest bullet, Fiocchi’s 170-grainer, both for the weight and the shape. I drove down to friend Clay Johnson’s 5J Ranch southwest of Fort Worth. Noted Ruger collector Lee Newton joined me, and I was pleased that Lee was equally impressed with the Ruger-Marlin 336.
Short hunt, weather finicky, hogs around, but none cooperated well. I shot a small pig in the morning, down in its tracks at 80 yards. That afternoon, I sat for a couple hours over bait, but nothing happening. With iron sights and old eyes, I couldn’t wait until last light, so I started moving and glassing. Things weren’t looking good until I spotted some dark objects across a valley. Yep, maybe a dozen hogs rooting around, wind in my face. Perfect.
I hustled to them, got to a hundred yards, and then slowed down, creeping bush to bush. At about 55 yards, I set my pack down and laid behind it. No big boars were in the group, but there were several good-sized hogs. Biggest and ugliest was sort of a yellowish-gold hog, a big dry sow. I waited until she was clear, quartering to me. Bead low on the front shoulder, I pressed the trigger. Naturally, the hog went down in its tracks. The .30-30 still thumps ’em.
... And It Shoots!
Mission accomplished. I hot footed it back to Kansas so I could get a scope on it. I took a Leupold VX-Freedom off another rifle because it had clearance — barely — so I was in business.
Lever-actions typically don’t have bolt-action trigger pulls, but we deal with it. This one didn’t either, but it was crisp and consistent at just more than 4 pounds; fine. Weighing 8 pounds with scope, the rifle was pleasant off the bench. Now, traditional lever-actions also don’t group like good bolt guns. We deal with that, too. The lever-action is a fast-handling and fast-operating hunting rifle, intended for use at close range in close cover.
There are exceptions though. The Model 1895 I reviewed for the February 2022 issue wasn’t just an exception, it was magic. Groups hovered close to 1 MOA. This Marlin 336 wasn’t magic, but it shot well for this platform.
I wish I could have grouped that wonderfully consistent American Whitetail load, but I didn’t have 25 left, so I shot the Fiocchi, Remington and Hornady’s 160-gr. FTX for record. Of 15 five-shot groups, a total for three loads, the single best group measured 1.58 inches. It was Hornady’s 160-grain FTX. That’s awesome for a tubular-magazine lever-action. Flukes can be good as well as bad. This load also had the best average at 1.96 inches, but no other group came close to 11/2 MOA. Instead, as the chart shows, this rifle was amazingly consistent with all three loads. Like many of the better traditional lever-actions, it’s a 2 MOA rifle; plenty good enough for its intended purposes. And, man, it sure was fun to shoot and hunt with!
Marlin Model 336
- Type: Lever action, side eject
- Overall Length: 38.6 in.
- Cartridges: .30-30 Winchester
- Capacity: 6+1 rds.
- Stock: Walnut, checkered texture, diamond pattern
- Finish: Blue (steel)
- Trigger: 4 lbs., 1 oz. (tested)
- Barrel: 20 in., 1:12-in. twist rate
- Weight: 7 lbs. (tested)
- Sights: Buckhorn, elevation adj. (rear); bead on ramp (front); drilled and tapped for optic mounts
- MSRP: $950
- Contact: Marlin Firearms, 336-949-5200, marlinfirearms.com
Extra: XS Sights Marlin Optic Mount Set
For Marlin lever-actions with round barrels, XS Sights offers a durable and adjustable optic-mounting solution. The Marlin Optics Mounts & Ghost Ring Sight Sets pair an all-steel Ghost Ring and White Stripe (WS) front with a lightweight anodized-aluminum rail, an upgrade for the Marlin Model 1894, 1895 and 336 series.
The rail is machined to Picatinny specifications, allowing mounts to secure a scope at the proper eye relief. The rail is long enough to accommodate a red dot and magnifier, as well. The rear sight is the XS Ghost Ring WS, which is adjustable for windage and elevation. It includes two apertures for preferred lighting. The WS front replaces the standard blade. Learn more at xssights.com.
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