by Scott Crawford - February 14, 2022
This is one of the first Ruger-made Marlins from the Mayodan, NC factory and as reported by others, it is just as nice as could be expected. Excellent wood to metal fit and the finish on the stainless steel is amazing for a production unit. Right out of the box I was very pleased with the overall look of this rifle. The slimed down forearm and cut checkering were a nice update for the fresh new Marlin. And that spiral fluted, nickel platted bolt - just amazingly smooth on cycling. These are my initial thoughts with less than 60 seconds out of the box!
The Ruger-built Marlin Model 1895 SBL
I'll start by admitting that I may be one of the biggest Marlin firearms fans out there. I've spent so many years handling and shooting "JM" Marlins and then later in life living the ups and downs of the Remington made Marlins that anybody may surmise I'm deeply biased towards the "JM's".
So to level set everyone on just where I stand, yes I have always been a fan however I've had some less than favorable experiences with some of those rifles as well. That being said I always felt that up until when Remington bought the Marlin brand, the crew at Marlin were true machinists & craftsman & woman building some of the best lever action rifles made anywhere. It was a sad day when North Haven was closed down and the remains transferred around the country to various Remington production centers.
In the last years of Remington ownership of the Marlin brand they were delivering new, exciting & well-functioning lever guns breathing new life into the brand. It was another huge disappointment when they announced the bankruptcy and closing of the Marlin brand. With repeated closing of Marlin producing factories it was hard to take however I was so very excited when Sturm Ruger announced that they had negotiated the procurement of the Marlin production equipment, materials & design package. They saved Marlin from a terrible demise and have kept the dreams of millions of future customers alive.
1st day of Test & Evaluation at the range
So let’s get down to business. The model 1895 SBL is available today in the venerable 45-70 Government. The cartridge that is one hundred and forty nine years old. A century and a half and this is the first Marlin branded rifle that Sturm Ruger releases? This, in of itself is a statement to the world that lever guns are here to stay and the 45-70 is the premier cartridge period. Stand up world and take note!
The Ruger-built Marlin 1895 SBL Nickel Platted, Spiral Fluted Bolt
The Ruger-built 1895 SBL is indeed a re-release of a previous Marlin design that was hugely popular and made so via several popular movies that included it in their story. It was also hugely popular because it was a great looking product that met many needs of today's big game hunter. Sturm Ruger just elevated the design & functionality to meet even further needs of today's lever action hunters. From the factory threaded barrel in 11/16 x 24 threads that will accommodate several available suppressors & muzzle brakes to the more aggressive checkering and slimmed down forearm, an extended optics rail and even the incorporation of Ruger's hammer-forged rifling, this rifle means business. This particular rifle is in the 3,000 serial number range and represents what we should all expect moving forward that will be coming off their production line.
Beyond functional improvements Ruger has added some design enhancements that just take the looks of the rifle to a new level. These include the updated bullseye in the stock to include the Ruger red color and the inclusion of the laser engraved Marlin logo in the bottom of the pistol grip. There is no mistaking this version of the rifle with any previous versions when one handles it.
Additional changes made by Ruger include the spiral fluted, nickel platted bolt, and Ghost ring rear sight is adjustable for windage/elevation and tritium fiber optic, high visibility day/night front sight. There are however unseen changes inside the Ruger made Marlin such as improved thread timing of the barrel with the receiver, ensuring proper alignment of front and rear sights, better machined hammer notches providing a more consistent engagement with the sear and a crisper, lighter trigger pull. They have also improved the chamber design requiring fewer machining operations. This is a big deal - if you've ever talked with a gunsmith that has worked on "JM" or Remington built Marlin chambers you'd know the that the chambers were sometimes rough to say the very least. Not the case any longer with Ruger's approach!
The Ruger- built Marlin 1895 SBL Nickel Platted Loading Gate
After some discussion with the Marlin Product Manager at Ruger it became clear to me the extent of their engineering investment that the Ruger team is making on all of the Marlin products. Complete reviews of the procured design package revealed many opportunities to improve the designs so as to alleviate tolerance stack up issues (where a part may be built to the design tolerance yet not properly fit into the next assembly). The Ruger team evaluated everything in the design and eliminated these issues strengthening the overall design package and product quality from start to finish. Thus ensuring a higher functioning lever action, and higher customer satisfaction. Every part that interacts with another is tumbled to remove all sharp edges and burrs to include the trigger, lever and loading gate.
Pictured above you can see the Cross Bolt Safety in the safe and firing position.
Lever action rifles were designed with a hammer safety or otherwise known as at rest, halfcocked and fully cocked positions. These three positions are noted below as in the Marlin safety manual that is published on their website. This is what a true lever action fanatic grew up with back in the day and what so many buyers still want today. The “add on” safety such as the Cross Bolt Safety (CBS) satisfies corporate lawyers but make many lever action lovers crazy. I'll note that the Cross Bolt Safety has been part of the Marlin rifle design since introduction back in 1984, not a new design by Ruger!
These three hammer safety positions should be practiced without a live round in the chamber until you are very practiced in the use of the firearm.
On with the details. The Marlin 1895 SBL holds six rounds of 45-70 Govt. in the magazine tube which should get about anything you need done. The side loading gate is very easy to depress (burr free) to load the rounds. I found this loading gate to be more user friendly than any other factory gate I've ever loaded / unloaded. Kudos to the Ruger engineering team on this detail!
The lever when worked with deliberate forceful action is as smooth as any lever gun I’ve operated out of the box. As in several brands of lever actions, if you baby the lever stroke you tend to feel snags even though nothing is actually hanging up. Be deliberate and you will love how the action handles & sounds! After feeding 200 rounds of mixed brands to include my Starline brass hand loads into the side loading gate and ejecting the empty cases I didn’t have one loading or extraction issue, none!
These pictures show the main parts of a Marlin® Model 1895 rifle.
The factory sights on this model consist of an adjustable rear ghost ring for elevation/windage and a bright, easily identifiable tritium fiber optic, high visibility day/night front sight. This design is very functional and right out of the box I was on paper at twenty-five yards and later at fifty. Although this sight configuration would work very well on deer sized game at close ranges I found that personally I prefer a scope for more accurate sighting, especially at distance.
For the second trip to the range with this rifle I added a Bushnell Banner 1.5 x 4.5 scope to work on accuracy testing. I had to remove the ghost ring to accomplish the traditional scope mounting. If I had installed a "scout scope" the removal of the ghost ring would not have been required. A nice option with the elongated Picatinny rail.
The stock and forearm are constructed of durable, laminate wood which is finished to a beautiful color. Improved finish on the stock and forend and sharp checkered grip panels provide superior grip in all weather conditions. Something I’d be proud to tote through the woods on a deer hunt or backpacking trip. The red & white Marlin Bullseye in the stock is a nice continuation of the Marlin history with an updated color change.
The metal fit and finish on this particular model is very crisp, clean and well done. The buffing on this stainless rifle was done extremely well and the blending of the threaded barrel end-cap to the barrel was almost perfect! After watching miss-steps from other lever gun manufacturers over the last dozen or so years this was something I was looking for. The sights sit plumb on the barrel, not canted to one side, the hardware isn’t scratched or mangled from assembly as on some rifles that have been released of late and the wood to metal fit is very nice.
The rifling twist on this model is 1:20 Right Hand which works well for a heavy .45-70 load. I found the accuracy, repeatability quite good for a short barreled open sighted rifle. Although I was using various factory rounds and my hand loads which I didn’t tune specifically for this rifle I felt the rifling and new hammer-forged barrel worked well with a variety of bullet types and diameters. I used .458 - .460 diameter, off the shelf 300, 325, 350, & 405 and some custom cast 535 grain bullets. These consisted of jacketed, solid & cast bullets from Federal, Hornady, Remington, Steinel and various others from MidwayUSA.
The muzzle on this rifle is a non-typical threaded, round barrel for a suppressor or brake. This is something that more and more shooters prefer in today’s market. Well no worries folks, Ruger / Marlin has you covered on their first rifle out of the factory. I understand the trend for suppressors and it isn’t just recent either. Teddy Roosevelt suppressed at least three of his rifles back in the day, one was a model 1894 Winchester. That being said, if I do anything with a threaded barrel it would be to add a muzzle brake. All of my other Marlin Big Bore rifles are already factory ported so for a heavy 45-70 load a muzzle brake might be something I'm interested in.
Now let’s talk ammo. While I report on the results of different factory ammo below, I also shot multiple types of my own hand loads. I'm not reporting on my hand loads other than to say I experienced similar accuracy across the full spectrum of what I sent down the tube! Very impressed with the overall accuracy of the hammer-forged, six groove rifling on this big bore rifle.
While the Point of Impact varied significantly between all types of ammo shot (as expected due to differences in weights & muzzle velocity), the shot grouping experienced with this rifle was impressive. Regardless of what rounds I fired in the rifle from 300-grain up to 535-grain they all grouped extremely well while using a 4.5 power scope at 75 yards. The best factory ammo grouping was from the Hornady FTX rounds while the best overall grouping was from my hand loads utilizing the Steinel Ammo 325-grain brass solids. They were built with Starline Brass, H4198 powder & Winchester large rifle primers!
At 7.3 lbs., naked, this model is about average for a big bore Marlin rifle sporting a shorter barrel than standard rifle length of 24". At 37.25" overall length this rifle is short enough to be utilized comfortably in a ground blind or in a tree stand. The stainless steel barrel & receiver coupled with the laminated stock & forearm make this package perfect for hunts in wet weather.
As alluded to before, this rifle managed very good accuracy during its formal testing; I’ve shot several lever actions that didn’t live up to the accuracy that this rifle offered.
While some may balk at the Marlin $1,399.00 MSRP price tag, I’m willing to wager that most of those individuals haven’t spent much time pricing the competition’s available rifles. With the pricy Winchesters built offshore, the very expensive Big Horn Armory rifles and the pricing of the Henry All Weather just below the Marlin pricing for lesser magazine capacity I find the value of this rifle about perfect! Any lever action centerfire rifle of this caliber to be sub $1,500 at this time is a welcomed price.
If I were designing my own ideal medium length barreled lever action rifle, from the soup to the nuts, it would bear a remarkable resemblance to this rifle. A strong lever action, capable of higher pressures, clean composite pistol grip stock, stainless steel with open sights in my favorite caliber. Check, check, check and check.
Do yourself a favor and look into a Ruger-built Marlin if you’re looking at lever action rifles. I was extremely happy at the quality of build, the level of performance and handling of the rifle.
Finally, here is a video showing just how smooth this loading gate is on the new rifle. A well-tuned lever action should have a loading gate just like this. Some of my earlier "JM" Marlins are capable of this while others aren't unless I add an aftermarket gate and spring.
I wanted to summarize what I thought of the overall package compared to my "JM" built Guide Guns which I absolutely love. This rifle is 3/4" longer than my Guide Guns, .3 lbs. heavier, carry two additional rounds and offer new, innovative sight mounting options with the Picatinny rail. The wood to metal fit is every bit as good if not better than my Guide Guns built between 1998 and 2002 and the action is better out of the box now (I do wish they offered the factory porting option that was available those years). I would also add that the trigger pull is now lighter and crisper and today's loading gate is a dream to load and unload.
Overall I'd say the newly released Ruger-built Marlin 1895 handles better, provides slightly better grouping and ranks now as a favorite model 1895 of mine. Marlin is back in a big way and I'd like to give credit to the entire team but especially the engineers, machinists and assembly workers at the Ruger Mayodan, NC plant for their dedication and efforts. That barrel mark "Marlin-Mayodan, NC-USA" means quality!
The above graphic credit American Rifleman and Art Director David Labrozzi
Link to their article here
1895Gunner shooting the Ruger built Marlin 1895 SBL
IN THIS ARTICLE
Marlin Firearms 1895 SBL Owners Manual Ruger Firearms Starline Brass Hodgdon Powder Winchester Ammunition Steinel Ammo Federal Ammunition Remington Ammunition Hornady Ammunition Bushnell Scopes MidwayUSA