Marlin’s 1894C .357 Magnum

Lever-action addicts rejoice!

This Marlin 1894CS was made in 2018 but the design predates the Ford Model
T by about 30 years. The scabbard is by Triple K.

Pistol-caliber rifles and carbines have been around as long as metallic cartridges have existed. Notable examples include the Henry (1860), Winchester 1866 and 1873 and Marlin 1889. In the 1890s lightning struck twice with two brilliant designs — the Winchester 1892 and the Marlin 1894. Both would prove so useful they’re still being made to this day, a century and a quarter later.

Initially both were chambered for .25-20, .32-20, .38-40 and .44-40. Winchester made around a million Model 1892s. Marlin production numbers are hard to nail down, though I’ve seen estimates of around 250,000 units. According to Philip Sharpe’s The Rifle in America, Marlin sold “large quantities” of 1894 muskets with 30" barrels and bayonets to the Chinese Army.
The 1892 and 1894 were light and compact, easy to carry and store. They were popular with farmers and ranchers for predator control, as well as with explorers, miners, trappers, hikers, campers and anglers. No doubt many a rural peace officer liked the idea of a handy long gun, especially if it used the same cartridges as his service revolver.

The Winchester was discontinued in 1941, the Marlin in 1934 (Sharpe says 1936). Originals became increasingly valuable collectibles. In 1969 Marlin reintroduced the 1894 and a few years later several modern reproductions of the 1892 appeared. The growth of Cowboy Action shooting and a renewed appreciation for the utility of these carbines led to model variations and added chamberings.

The Marlin was nicely fitted and finished, with the action cycling smoothly and reliably.

Irresistible Appeal

My interest in these neat little lever guns is relatively recent. Increasingly I find myself drawn to light rifles, mild recoil and inexpensive ammunition. With thousands of .38 Special cases on hand from my competitive handgun shooting days, the .357 Magnum versions were especially appealing. Marlin 1894s in this chambering have been hard to find in recent years, so I was pleased when they once again started appearing.

Marlin fans — although happy with the 1969 reintroduction of the Model 1894 — were less pleased when a manual cross-bolt safety was added in 1984. I’m not crazy about it myself, since I carry my rifles magazine loaded/chamber empty. Chambering a cartridge as the rifle is being raised to the shoulder is about as quick as releasing a safety.

Nonetheless, such features are here to stay. A more serious issue was a decline in quality control after Marlin was acquired by the Freedom Group in 2008. Replacing worn and outdated production facilities was no doubt necessary but moving to a new location meant the loss of experienced workers. Word quickly spread about poor fit and finish, canted sights, rough and unreliable operation.

The stock shows very good fit to both upper and lower receiver tangs.

Rep Reestablished

A reputation for quality takes decades to earn yet can be quickly tarnished — and once tarnished, hard to regain. As workers gained experience, Marlin quality control has improved steadily. Even though I wanted an 1894 in .357 and was hearing good things about current production Marlins, I’ll admit to a certain amount of trepidation.

The rifle shown here is one I purchased from a local dealer at full retail price. According to the date code on the barrel it was made in May 2018. The fit and finish is very good. The action cycles smoothly, reliability with both .38 Special and .357 Magnum rounds has been flawless and accuracy excellent.

My rifle is marked as model 1894CS. Overall length is 38-1/2" with an 18-1/2" barrel (1:16 twist). Weight is 6 lbs., 7 oz. The stock and forearm are American black walnut with machine-cut checkering. Length of pull is 13-3/8". The magazine holds nine cartridges. The trigger? It’s crisp and consistent but heavier than I like at 5-1/2 lbs.

The solid top receiver makes the Marlin well suited to optical sights but when first introduced in 1894, optics were hardly a consideration — Marlin didn’t even start drilling and tapping receivers for sight bases for another 60 years! The perceived advantage of the enclosed receiver was better protection in the event of case failure.

A Marlin 1894 in a leather scabbard would have carried nicely on a horse in 1895 —
it still does on Dave’s Polaris today.

Sweet Shooter

For accuracy testing I used a Weaver base and rings to fit a veteran Leupold M8 3X scope. I had on hand a variety of .38/.357 ammunition from Black Hills, CCI, HPR and Winchester, in bullet weights of 125 and 158 grains. Just about everything would group five shots into 2" or less at 100 yards (temperatures hovered around 20 degrees F).

I got the best and most consistent results with Black Hills 158-grain .357s, averaging around 1-1/2". I think a higher power scope, warmer trigger finger and lighter trigger would reduce group size.

I’m absolutely delighted with my new rifle. If quality is typical of current production, which I think it is, Marlin fans can once again rejoice.

Purchase A PDF Download Of The GUNS Magazine August 2019 Issue Now!