Rifle Review: Petzal Tests the Marlin .338 MXLR | Field & Stream

The Gun Nuts

Ranting and Ravings from Phil Bourjaily and David E. Petzal

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Rifle Review: Petzal Tests the Marlin .338 MXLR

With all due respect to the many great Marlins of the past, this rifle bears an uncanny resemblance not to them but to the cult favorite Winchester Model 71. Both rifles are lever guns that deliver Serious Thump--in fact, the ballistics for their respective cartridges are almost identical. The main loading for the 71's cartridge, the .348 WCF, is a 200-grain bullet at 2,530 fps. The sole loading for the .338 Marlin Express (developed and loaded by Hornady) is 200 grains at 2,500 fps.

The rifle I got to try out is ...

... an all-stainless gun with a laminated stock and 24-inch barrel. You can get the same thing with a 22-inch barrel (I would go with this one) or a blue-steel and walnut model with a 22-inch barrel. The new cartridge is based loosely on the breathtakingly obscure .376 Steyr. It's a chubby little rascal with very little taper, a fairly sharp shoulder and, since it has to work through a lever gun, a pronounced rim.

Factory ballistics specify a 200-grain poly-tipped FTX bullet at 2,565 fps from a 24-inch barrel. However, my chronograph said 2,485. I say, who cares? For all its power, the Marlin kicks about like a .30/06 of the same weight; it should not pose a problem to anyone who is not a sissy.

The rifle weighs 8 pounds, 2 ounces with a 3X-9X scope in Weaver mounts. The trigger pulls 5 pounds even. It's clean and consistent, but 5 pounds is too heavy for me; I would take it to a gunsmith and have it lose a pound or so.

The Winchester 71, for all its virtues, was not an accurate rifle by modern standards. You couldn't mount a scope on it, and even with a good peep sight typical groups for the ones I've shot ran in the 2 ½- to 3-inch range. The Marlin test gun will shoot rings around that; the average group size was 1.135-inch, which is bolt-action accuracy, and pretty damn good bolt-action accuracy at that.

For some reason, Marlin continues to use the same old semi-buckhorn rear sight that has blighted its rifles for many decades. About the only good thing you can say about it is that it folds flat and out of the way of a scope. If you'd like iron sights as an option, get a ghost ring sight in the rear, a big bead up front, and a good QD mount.

If you're interested in shooting at long range--which for this cartridge would be beyond 300 yards--find yourself a scope with a range-compensating rifle that is appropriate to its velocity and flatten things at 400. I would not push it beyond there. The .338 Marlin Express has plenty of power, the FTX bullet is good and tough, but 2,500 fps is good only up to a point.

MSRP for this gun is around $800, which is certainly fair. It is a powerful, accurate, versatile firearm that is also drop-dead reliable and fast-firing if you need that. If you want more, you're just plain greedy. Marlinfirearms.com --DEP