Marlin Model 94 CSBL

The Upscale Short-Throw .357 Thumper

With premium 140-, 158- or 180-gr. .357 loads, Marlin’s M-94 CSBL classifies as a “real” rifle.

I’ve been using rifle-caliber Marlin lever guns — .30-30, .35 Remington, .45-70 — most of my life and I confess to being a little late to the pistol-caliber party. Truth be told, my interest in the M94 was sparked by John Taffin’s enthusiasm. I figured if John liked it, there had to be something to it.

The Marlin Model 1894 was originally built to accept the most popular late 19th Century handgun cartridges — .44-40, .32-20 .38-40 and the like. By the 1970s the menu had grown to include our two powerful, preeminent pistol-caliber offerings — the .44 and .357 Magnum.

The company’s latest iteration of this short-action levergun classic is the Model 94 CSBL, a 16.5″ barreled, stainless/laminate stocked little gem which goes a long way toward demonstrating the .357 Magnum’s versatility.

Short, handy, accurate and powerful, the M94 CSBL can handle everything from
plinking to small game and even deer within reasonable ranges.

Pretty And Practical

The Model 94 CSBL in .357 Magnum weighs about a half-pound less and is 3.5″ shorter than the Marlin Model 336 in .35 Remington. Pickup truck advantage — something Chuck Connors never had to worry about in The Rifleman — goes to the M94.

I had a bit of initial trepidation over the “big loop” designation of the CSBL but my fears of some monster Chuck Connors “spin-cycle ring” were groundless. It’s slightly oversize but sensibly so, enough to allow you to stick a gloved hand into the loop easily.

Fifty yards, using the XS receiver sight and SIG 125-gr. .357 Elite V-Crown.
Coulda’ been better? Yep. Payton pulled the third shot!

Pick Your Power

There’s one undeniable fact here — it’s pretty tough to beat a .357 in terms of versatility. Using factory ammo, our 1894 CSBL seriously expanded the power envelope of both .38 Special and .357 Magnum ammo.

Let’s start with our fave Walmart “bulk pack” .38 Special plinker — Remington UMC .38 Special 130-gr. FMJ at 1,059 fps. It’s a pretty good small game load and grouped around 1.5″ at 50 yards using the iron sights. Hornady’s standby standard-pressure .38 Special 158-gr. XTP grouped just as well, while getting pushed well into “Super Plus P” territory at 980 fps.

Going up the .357 ladder to Buffalo Bore’s Hard-Cast LFNGC, the 180-gr. hit 1,871 fps, Hornady’s 140-gr. FTX LeverEvolution clocked 1,772 fps and Speer’s GDHP 158-gr. averaged 1,785 fps. All three of these grouped well under 2″ at 50 yards whether we used the scope or the irons. We did try a 125-gr. “lightweight,” SIG’s 125-gr. V-Crown Elite which delivered 1″ groups at 50. The 16.5″ tube of the Marlin is remarkably efficient, meaning you’re gonna get pretty much everything the .38/.357 family has to give.

The trigger? Pretty nice for a levergun — about 4.5 lbs. and just a bit of creep. No deal breaker. The action cycled with no hitches; what else would you expect from a time-proven Marlin platform? One caveat: Don’t be coy about working the lever. Be forceful, or you may just spin those short cases around without ejecting them

The Case For The CSBL

The combination of stainless steel and gray/black laminate is pretty easy on the eyes. With an MSRP of $1,214, the CSBL is undeniably pricey compared to other Marlin leverguns, but as a movie critic once said of a big-budget epic, “All that money is right up there on the screen.”

A .357 carbine stoked with .38s can also be a most valuable — and pocketbook-friendly — tool in transitioning younger shooters up to a centerfire. They get an exciting whack-and-thump with relatively zilch in the way of recoil.

This little Marlin’s considerable appeal is pretty simple to understand. I noticed every time I handed it to someone, nobody seemed overly eager to hand it back.

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