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.