Marlin or Winchester?

A Lever Lover Wrestles With the Eternal Question
10

Regular readers of this column know my first firearm was a .22 rifle — not just any .22 rifle, but a Marlin 39A Mountie. Growing up with Saturday afternoon matinee Westerns, followed by the proliferation of TV Westerns in the mid-’50s, it was only natural my first rifle would be a levergun. This influence carried over with my first handgun, a Ruger .22 Single-Six, which was a natural “Western” companion to the Mountie. Shortly thereafter, I followed with my first centerfire sixgun, a beautiful pre-WWI 4-3/4" Colt Single Action Army chambered in .38 WCF. Now I followed up my .38 WCF Colt with a Marlin Model 1894 chambered in .38-40. The .38-40 and .38 WCF are the same cartridge, however, it’s my understanding Marlin used .38-40 as they didn’t want “Winchester” on their rifles.

Four years later, I had my first Winchester, a pre-64 Model 1894. Notice the setting for confusion here. Marlin’s 1894 was a levergun chambered in sixgun cartridges, while their Model 1893 housed .30-30 cartridges and the like. At about the same time, Winchester’s Model 1892 was for sixgun-length cartridges and their Model 1894 handled the .30-30 and others, which were strictly rifle cartridges.

Dumb teenager I was, I wasn’t smart enough to hold on to the Marlin .38-40 as well as another Marlin in .25-20 chambering I managed to pick up. Both went away in trades. I was no longer a teenager — nor quite as dumb — when I watched the .30-30 Winchester go. I was in college with three young babies who always seemed to be hungry and I had a choice of paying tuition or feeding the kids. I knew if I dropped out of school how tough it would be to get in the mood to go back, so I had to sell some guns for grocery money — one of which was the beautiful old .30-30.

In the mid-1960s, both Winchester and Marlin offered leverguns chambered in .44 Magnum. I ordered a Winchester from my dealer, but when it arrived I was disappointed in the finish so I instead took the .44 Marlin he had. By now I’d learned not to let things go and I still have — and regularly use — the Marlin Model 336 .44 Magnum. Marlin offered the 336 in several special editions including the Texan and the Marauder. The latter was a short-barreled levergun offered in .30-30 and .35 Remington I lusted for. After graduating from college Diamond Dot and I packed up a few belongings (mostly guns) and our three pre-school age kids, hooked a U-Haul to the back of our 1965 Ford station wagon and headed for Idaho.

John cut down the barrel on this Marlin 336 .30-30 and installed a Lyman receiver sight.
It’s light, handy, powerful and will handle most any moderate-range rifl e chore.

A .35 Turns Up

Remembering earlier how much I wanted a Marlin 336 in .35 Remington, I looked for a straight-grip .35 for years. I even had others looking for me, yet we just couldn’t find one at a decent price. Then one Labor Day weekend, Diamond Dot and I were on our way to the Payette National Forest about 100 miles north of us. I always passed a little gun shop outside of Cascade, Idaho on these trips but it was always closed.

This time it was open for the Labor Day weekend crowd so I stopped. They were having a 20-percent-off sale on everything and I immediately spotted a straight-gripped Marlin on the shelves. When I asked about it, the shop owner said, “Oh you probably don’t want that thing. It’s not a .30-30. It’s a .35 Remington.”

I tried to contain myself as I made the sacrifice and settled for “second best.” I always preferred straight-grip stocks until recently, as my abused wrists have started bothering me more and now I find pistol grips to be much more comfortable. In fact I’ve added two pistol-gripped Marlins to my levergun battery — a .30-30 and a .35 Remington.

In 1979 Marlin brought out the 1894C chambered in .357 Magnum. If there’s a better all-around rifle than a .357 levergun I don’t know what it is, so I quickly grabbed one. Then Winchester began offering their Trapper Models and I had to have one of each chambered in .30-30, .45 Colt, .44 Magnum, and most assuredly, .357 Magnum. About the same time Browning was offering their Winchester-replica Model 1892 in both .44 Magnum and .357 Magnum. Naturally, I had to have one of each.

The Winchester (bottom) may win slickest handling title but the
Marlin (top) is easier to scope.

Demand Exceeds Supply

I was so taken with the .357 Magnum Marlin I decided to buy one every time I could find a reasonably priced example to put away for my grandkids. At the time I had three grandsons and five granddaughters. When they started shooting I realized I’d eventually have to have one .357 for each one of them. I now have 14 grandkids to supply with .357 Magnum leverguns.

Marlin was shut down for about 10 years after being purchased by Remington while they learned basically from scratch how to build Marlins. When Marlins were not available, Winchesters were — not “real” Winchesters but Rossi replicas of the Model 1892 and the Miroku-built 1892. I thought I was gaining on the grandkids as I now have 10 rifles put away for them, however they are prolific and we now have six great-grandkids. I’m dancing as fast as I can trying to keep up with them!

I still have my original Marlin 39A and have given several to the grandkids over the years. Winchester has also offered excellent Model 9422 leverguns in both Long Rifle and .22 WMR. I found a couple of used examples of these a few years ago as well. We will never see their likes again! During the nice weather months both of my daughters like to go shooting .22 lever guns.

My oldest daughter prefers the original receiver-sighted Marlin I bought back in 1956 while the other prefers a scoped Winchester. They are both grandmothers now so they are finding their shooting time limited as they often wind up babysitting. I do supply their shooting needs with .30 caliber ammo cans loaded with .22 Long Rifle cartridges I always grab when I find them on sale. A .30 caliber ammo can hold 3,200 .22 cartridges.

Winchester Trappers came in pistol calibers as well as .30-30, and in big loop lever or
standard trim — but they’re all sleek little classics.

DIY Trappers

In addition to the Winchester Trappers, Marlin also offered a very small number — I believe 500 each — of 1894 Trappers in .44 Magnum and .45 Colt. I found both sitting side by side in a grocery store gun shop. What about rifle-cartridge Marlin Trappers to match up with my Winchester .30-30 Trapper? I had to take things in my own hands there, so I cut the pistol-gripped .30-30 Marlin to Trapper length (the same thing is going to happen very quickly to my Marlin in .35 Remington).

So what’s the best choice, Marlin or Winchester? The latter gets points for slickness while the former is easier to scope. I follow the same advice I always give to readers in these situations, which is “Buy ’em both!”

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