by Scott Crawford - January 5, 2024
The Model 1894 was originally patented on August 1, 1893, by L.L. Hepburn, the tech Data Package has been substantially updated about four years ago by Ruger. They have introduced new, modern and updated machining practices that elevate the 1894 rifle to a new standard while maintaining the original look and feel.
The lever gun community has been waiting patiently for Ruger to release their first 1894 in .357 caliber. While I don't expect to see some of the original 1894 cartridges available in earlier years, I'm really hoping for a .45 Colt sometime down the road. The deep, laser cut checkering in the stock & forearm adds to the beauty of the walnut furniture blending in with the satin bluing of the metal surfaces. The "Classic" Marlin look is back, and we are liking it.
While it hasn't been all that long since I opened the box of a new Marlin 1894. This one is special to me; I haven't held a .357 mag 1894 in probably 25 years. They weren't often made by JM Marlin in their later years, and I was too leery of the initial quality control problems experienced with the Remington made models.
The New Ruger-built Marlin 1894 .38 Caliber
I've owned several Marlin 1894's in both .44 & .45 calibers. This is the first Marlin .357 caliber lever action rifle I've had the pleasure of shooting in some time. As part of my testing, I shot .38 Special jacketed and cast as well as .357 Magnum in varying loads & bullet types. I wanted to give this the full review to answer a lot of questions that I and many of my readers have already asked about.
The Marlin 1894 Classic is everything we expected!
Initially the new Classic was only available in .44 caliber however this new release will make so many Marlin fans very happy. I'm sure there will be more models released eventually.
This rifle comes with a rear adjustable semi-buckhorn sight and a brass bead, hooded front sight. Although I eventually installed a scope on it, I wanted to do initial testing just as it came from the factory. Besides, nothing screams "Classic" more than an iron sighted, straight stocked lever gun.
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.
Wood to metal fit is well done on these Walnut Stocks
On with the details. The Classic holds 10, .38 Special and 9, .357 Magnum rounds 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.
The lever is a comfortable fit for non-gloved hands and worked very smoothly. The bolt slid easily which if you understand machining tolerances means they have really done a great overhaul of the entire design package. I've worked many earlier JM model 1894 levers and some of them were pretty stiff. The care in machining and deburring is evident when you work the action on this rifle.
The Recoil pad on the butt of the rifle stock easily cushioned the factory & hand loads I used making this rifle comfortable to shoot standing or seated at the bench. I never really felt like the model 1894's had that much kick anyway.
The Front & Rear Sights on the Classic model 1894
The stock and forearm are constructed of American black walnut with deep cut checkering. The wood to metal fit was good for a "production line" rifle and the fore stock seems to be slimed down from previous manufacturer's versions making for a comfortable grip.
As with their previous model releases, all parts that come in contact with fingers and palms are smooth with zero burs, tumbled prior to final processing steps such as bluing.
The rifling twist on this model is 1:16 Right Hand which works well for a .357 caliber projectile. I found the rifle to be very accurate, when sighting in on paper I was able to maintain a .950" grouping at fifty yards with a front only rest from the bench.
The muzzle on this rifle is a typical non-threaded, with a Cold Hammer-Forged Alloy Steel round 18.63" long barrel. While many shooters prefer the ability to readily add a can or muzzle brake this rifle lacks that ability without modification. Ruger indicated that there will be future 1894 releases that will carry the threaded barrel.
For accuracy testing I mounted my favorite Lever gun scope, the Bushnell Banner 1.5 X 4.0 30mm. I used the Weaver base and medium height Quad-Lock rings. I have found this setup to be perfect for short to medium range timber hunting. The scope, base & rings are relatively inexpensive yet have held up for real world testing on each of our many lever guns. The reason for picking this setup is just how well it fits keeping the optics as low as possible (scope just clears the rear factory sight) and the fact that I've never lost zero on any of these.
Now let’s talk ammo. Initially I shot .357 factory rounds with 158-grain hollow points from MagTech, however I quickly moved to my own hand loads. This new rifle loves 158-grain jacketed bullets from Hornady. It also liked my loads with 125-grain Hornady XTP's & Remington 125-grain jhp's. I also loaded up some 125-grain cast in .38 special to test groupings from this hammer forged barrel. I loaded the 158-grain XTP's over 15.0 grains of Hodgdon H110 powder in Starline brass with Winchester Small Pistol primers. That said, these were not overly warm loads, however I didn't want to exceed the bullet velocity recommended by Hornady. The rifle sure liked them.
The range results listed above were developed shooting the rifle from the bench on a foam front rest and no other device so better results could probably be obtained. I was shooting with the scope set at 4.0 power and about a ten-mph cross wind. A lighter trigger pull would also help. This factory trigger was pulling right at 4.8 lbs. consistently.
The Square Bolt Worked Flawlessly out of the box.
At 6.20 lbs., naked, this model is about average for a lever action. At 36.00" overall length, this rifle is about the perfect size for deep woods, tight brush or tree stands. In my case it will make an outstanding truck gun!
The price is on par for most new lever action rifles of good quality, and I found the rifle to be worth every cent. The MSRP for this rifle is $1,239.00
I was extremely pleased with the performance of the rifle at multiple range trips. I was very happy when I was able to shoot my cast 125-grain hand loads in this new rifle. I did not slug the barrel so I cannot attest to the diameter however the rifling from Ruger really kept a tight grouping in both cast & jacketed. While the Point of Impact (POI) varied between the .38 specials and the .357 magnums it liked everything I fed it. No fail to feed, fail to fire or fail to eject, period!
I wanted to summarize what I thought of the overall package compared to my older JM built 1894's which I absolutely love. Number one on my list is functionality. This meets that requirement and looks good doing so. I found this .357 caliber 1894 even smoother running than the .44 caliber I tested a few months back. The easy to load side gate & medium trigger pull were very welcome findings and I prefer nice checkering which both, the stock and forearm have. I was easily on target with the factory sights, no adjustment required and no jams period after several hundred rounds fired. The wood to metal fit is also genuinely nice.
Overall I'd say this new Ruger-built Marlin rifle handles well (with great balance), provides very good grouping and ranks on the top of my list of "must have" lever actions.
Would I buy one? Yes, indeed I intend to buy this one. I have always wanted one and now I can say finally, finally I have my dream lever action rifle. Easy on the shoulder yet enough for medium & small game.
IN THIS ARTICLE
Marlin Firearms Ruger Firearms Bushnell Rifle Scopes Starline Brass Hodgdon Powder Hornady MagTech Ammunition Remington Reloading