The Marlin 336

A Classic Reborn
94
; .

Males have been warned for millennia about the dangers of chasing the female of the species to the exclusion of other things. It doesn’t matter if the pursuit is on two or four legs, history has shown single-minded focus on lasciviousness invariably leads to trouble. I know of one big deer that would certainly agree, but he can’t, because he didn’t see the pudgy fence post armed with the “new” Marlin 336 by Ruger.

;
.

Back Story

Marlin rifles were one of the biggest names in the U.S. firearms industry since its founding in 1870 by John Mahlon Marlin. The company didn’t necessarily produce game-changing new designs but enjoyed a good reputation for the quality and affordability of their lever-guns and .22 rifles. Their roster did include some wildly popular models such as the Marlin model 60, a semi-auto .22 LR, which sold approximately a gazillion units, and at one time they also owned both L.C. Smith shotguns and Harrington & Richardson. Financially and reputation-wise, things were solid, even though Marlin always played second-fiddle to Winchester in lever guns.

As the 21st century dawned, Marlin floundered. Lever-guns lost their cachet and in 2007, Remington Arms (under the ownership of Freedom Group Inc.) purchased Marlin. Production was moved to Kentucky and New York from New Haven, Connecticut, and quality went downhill, along with marketing efforts. Marlin had become the illegitimate stepchild of the family.

Remington declared bankruptcy — once again — in 2008 but came out of insolvency two months later. On July 28, 2020, Remington once again entered the familiar, homey confines of bankruptcy court and was broken up for good. A few months later, in September 2020, Sturm, Ruger & Co. bought Marlin Firearms. The deal included everything: intellectual property, inventory, physical assets and the languishing trajectory of a storied brand.

Most firearms enthusiasts instinctively knew good things were in store when Ruger took control. The company doesn’t make the flashiest firearms but everything they stamp their name upon is well-built and reliable. What could they do for Marlin?

;
.

Marlin 336 Gear List
Scope: Leupold VH-3 HD 2.5-8x36
Binos: Leupold BX-5 Santium HD 10x42
Ammo: Buffalo Bore 150-grain JFN
Knife: White River Knives Model 1 Pro

Marlin Mess

We were in hunting camp somewhere in West Texas where a couple of gun writers had been summoned to test out this newest incarnation of the Marlin 336. Our group also included a couple of engineers from Ruger. Sitting around during the mid-day siesta, we were testing and polishing lies when I cornered one of the slide-rule guys to ask straight up: “So, when Ruger bought Marlin, how much of their production equipment did you end up using?”

“I was part of the team that looked at the Marlin facilities when we took them over,” my new friend admitted. He paused a moment. “The stuff (machinery) was pretty ‘experienced,’” he noted, said with the non-committal aplomb of a seasoned politician.

“And, how much of it did you keep?” I pressed.

“I believe we are currently using one of their machines,” he finally admitted.

Let me distill this down — the production equipment at the old Marlin was apparently clapped-out and ready for the scrap heap. This admission from someone with firsthand knowledge helps explain why Marlin went down the tubes. But not anymore.

;
.

The proof of the pudding — Brent with his trophy West Texas
axis deer buck. The Marlin 336 was the perfect choice for stalking
in hill country brush. It also held up nicely during the UTV Death Race!

The Hunt

I love a good hunt and for my sins, I found myself hanging on for dear/deer life in a utility vehicle bouncing through the West Texas scrub in pursuit of axis deer.

In case you aren’t up to speed on exotic game, the axis is a whitetail-sized deer native to India. They sport a showy fawn-like spotted coat and the males wear outlandish elk-like antlers. The species is widespread in the Texas hunting-ranch scene where axis bucks also become amorous in springtime, unlike the fall rut of most North American species. I also think they offer the best-tasting red meat this side of filet mignon.

When I say “bouncing through,” it’s not hyperbole. We had spotted the buck as he attempted to corral the group of does for a romantic interlude. Unfortunately, something spooked the girls during our initial stalk and they took off at top speed, ears back while sprinting through trees with the Alpha male in hot pursuit. Following a quarter-mile behind was our group in a wildly bucking four-wheeler, driven by our guide Steve. I thought he was a normal guy until this moment, when I realized he would have been kicked out of any respectable demolition derby for being a homicidal maniac.

We followed the herd literally for miles in our thrashing UTV, bruising countless internal organs in the process until the deer finally holed up on a thick ridgetop. The does were tired from the run but Our Boy was hot and ready to party. Through binoculars, we could see his studly simpering as he tried to entice someone to mate with him. It reminded me of my college freshman mixer in 1981.

Parking in the next valley over, Steve, Colin (my co-hunter) and I began our stalk. After a half-mile of tiptoeing under oak and mesquite trees, we came upon the backside of the ridge where an old burn was split in two by a ramshackle farm fence. We eased across the clearing.

I slithered up to a wooden fence post, propped my Marlin across the top and began to scout our next move. It turns out we stalked too well — a pair of does stepped out of the brush and immediately laser-locked onto our group. Tension hung as thick as Florida humidity as they looked from 60 yards away, poised on the verge of a deer conniption. At the same time, I could see the male’s rack bobbing above the vegetation just behind the does.

The frozen tableau seemed to last for days as I prayed the does wouldn’t notice one old fence post had suddenly gained 250 lbs. Unexpectedly, the Big Guy stepped from cover.

He walked in front of the females as if to say, “Hey ladies, how about it? Wanna be in my harem?” As he stood broadside waiting for a nod, the 4 ½-lb. trigger of the 336 crept rearward.

“C’mon — shoot! Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!” said the growing chorus. Family, Friends, Romans, Countrymen, high school classmates, fellow gun writers and random strangers were all screeching for me to pull the trigger.

At least it seemed this way in my head. Buck fever can be a powerful thing.

The sear broke cleanly to launch a 150-grain Winchester soft point. The audible “Thwack” of the strike sounded like an overripe cantaloupe hitting pavement as the bullet entered the bull’s shoulder. He gave a short, surprised jump then melted away into the brush. I felt good about the bullet placement — it was a 76-yard chip-shot for the Marlin — but there is always the hunter’s fear of something going wrong.
“Great Shot!” Steve said. I wasn’t so sure. Sometimes I underestimate my own abilities.

We entered the scrub and fanned out. Immediately Collin said “Um, guys, he’s right here.” It’s amazing how difficult it can be to find a dead 300-lb. spotted deer wearing a coat rack on its head.

After the obligatory round of high-fives, low-fives, fist bumps, whoops, hollers and general chest thumping, we got down to the business of photos and examining the massive animal. The bullet had hit exactly where intended, passing through the shoulder to devastate the lungs and stop just past the far ribs. I love it when a plan comes together, especially when it involves a Marlin lever gun in the Texas Hills.

;
.

One sign of good things happening at the “new” Marlin
is the tight wood-to-metal fit, the clean checkering and
flawless finish on the tight-grain walnut stock.

The basic front sight comes from the factory wearing a
stamped-steel hood. It protects the front sight if using
irons but is easily removable when mounting a scope.

The Gun Review Stuff

The Marlin 336 lever-action was first offered in 1948 and has been manufactured continually since then. It was a direct descendant of the Marlin Model 1893, which led to the Marlin Model 1936, eventually becoming the Model 36 and finally morphing into the 336. The Marlin 1893/1936/36 are visually similar to the Winchester Model 94 apart from the right-side ejection via a solid breech block. During the evolution of Model 36, the side-ejection port became an opening rather than the slab-sided receiver.

The 336 has been offered with a staggering array of options. The Marlin/Ruger 336 currently sports a 24″ barrel in .30-30 Winchester. Older models came in all sorts of variations and flavors including chamberings ranging from the .22 Zipper to .338 Marlin Express. We’ll see where Ruger takes it from here.

The design is claimed to be simpler and more robust than the gold-standard Winchester Model 94 but one thing is clear — the solid-top receiver offers prime territory to mount a scope instead of the kludged-up rig needed for the top-eject ’94. This is one prime reason there are over 4 million model 336s gracing the gun racks of America.

Probably the biggest eye-opener of the new Ruger/Marlin 336 was the accuracy. In preparation for the hunt, I mounted a Leupold VX-3HD 2.5-8×36 CDS-ZL Duplex scope and hit the range. To my surprise, groups generally measured under one inch at 100 yards, the proverbial “sub-MOA” standard — something generally unheard-of for lever-guns. I chalked it off to luck and packed my gear.

A week later on the first afternoon in camp, the assembled group went out behind the lodge to verify zero. I was pleasantly surprised to find my gun remained spot-on and repeatedly threw nickel-sized three-shot groups. Again, “sub-MOA.” Wow. Okay, I got a good one. But then the other guys did the same thing. Whoaa. A lever-action sniper rifle? Maybe an overstatement, but not much.

Because of those pesky product liability concerns, Marlin will never claim this level of accuracy for the new 336 but I’m telling you, I’ve seen five of them do it — repeatedly. I’m a believer.

Otherwise, the guns performed solid, as in Texas-brushpopper-bouncing-through-the-sage-in-a-UTV-solid. Compared to the bad old days, the new Ruger/Marlin Model 336 appears a bit tighter, the finishes smoother and the action silkier.

In the end, Marlin and Ruger are a match made in heaven and I predict a long, successful marriage.

Unless you happen to be a deer.

Subscribe To GUNS Magazine

Purchase A PDF Download Of The GUNS Magazine March 2024 Issue Now!

;
.