May 24, 2013
Gun Fight Friday: Battle of the Lever Actions
By Phil Bourjaily
Two American icons square off in this week’s Gunfight Friday: Dave Hurteau’s Winchester Model 94 vs. T. Edward Nickens’s Marlin 336. Both are chambered for the classic (or “obsolete,” depending on how you see these things) .30-30 Winchester, so caliber isn’t at issue here—just this: Which of these two great lever actions do you prefer?
The 94, invented by John Browning, is perhaps the most instantly recognizable and famous deer rifle of all time. If the recognition factor and “millions sold” are the sole criteria, it wins here in a walk.
However, although the 336 debuted in 1948, you could argue that it is really a Marlin 1893 3.0 and every bit as venerable as the Model 94. The Marlin is a side-ejecting design that makes it a much simpler rifle to scope than the top-ejecting 94. Newer models, like Eddie’s, come in rust-resistant stainless steel.
Dave Hurteau’s Pre-64 Model 94
I’m sure I don’t have to pull out all that stuff about the 94’s reputation as the American deer rifle and all the millions sold and the “taken-more-deer-than-any-other-rifle-in-history” bit. While I do like the 336 (I owned one in .35 Rem for many years), the 94 is the far lovelier gun, and there's none nimbler in the deer woods. Where the Winchester is waifish and graceful and leaps to your shoulder, the Marlin is, well, what my Aunt would call a "sturdy looking girl." She ain't bad-looking, as I've said before, but she has man hands. Yes, the 336 takes a scope easily, but I'm okay with the fact that my pre-64 was designed for iron sights (with none of the apologies that came later) for men who stalk close.
But you can forget all that. Because today's fight, alas, comes down to one glaring, gaudy, avert-your-eyes thing: Stainless steel.
Now, I don't want to be accused of hitting too fat a pitch here, so I'm just going to say this last thing and leave it at that: A classic lever is for killing deer while basking in an aura of old-timey mystique. And stainless steel, much as it pains me to say so, naturally repels old-timey mystique. There. --DH
Eddie Nickens’s Marlin 336
This is a go-anywhere gun. At a hair over 38 inches, I can toss it in a canoe, strap it to a pop-up blind, and shoulder the whole rig and thread it through greenbrier vines. Nothing beats it for treestand portability—not to mention pointability. It’s no beanfield rifle, but I don’t take it to beanfields. I hunt it in some pretty thick country. The glass is Bushnell’s Elite 3200 with the Firefly reticle. That scope seems to suck every available photon out of the twilight air, and I very much appreciate the fat crosshair posts—very handy in the thick Southern swamps I often hunt.
As far as Hurteau’s Model 94—length, weight, calibers are all pretty similar. One major difference: The Marlin is hundreds of dollars cheaper, and no less reliable. And another: I don’t like a straight-grip stock. But that’s just me, and I’m always right. --TEN
While I am glad to give Hurteau another chance to compete after the drubbing I gave him in last week’s 20-gauge turkey gun matchup, Gunfight Friday is not supposed to be about our guns—it’s supposed to belong to your guns. We have gotten a few photo submissions but would love more. Send a brief paragraph and a profile picture of your gun against a plain background (couches, tabletops, and beds all count as “plain”) to FSGunNuts@gmail.com.