Why The Marlin Model 1895 Will Never Die
After buying Marlin, Ruger decided to bring back the Model 1895 first for a good reason
In 1963, a friend and I took a cross-country drive with the help of a Triptik, which you ordered from AAA. It was a loose-leaf pad with our route traced in yellow Magic Marker, page after page, all the way from Short Hills, New Jersey to Seattle, Washington. Now, we have What3words, an app that divides the world into 57 trillion 10-meter squares, courtesy of GPS, and can take you to any one. Each square comes with its own three-word code and, courtesy of Alexa technology, all you do is say them to your dashboard and away you go. We’ve come a long, long way from Triptik.
Guns have not progressed so much. ARs are 1950s high tech. The concept behind them dates from the STG-44, which appeared in 1944. One of the most useful handguns to take into a fight is still the Model 1911, which debuted three years before the start of World War I. All bolt actions are vastly improved versions of the Dreyse Needle Gun, which was first issued to the Prussian Army in 1848.
A good gun can stick around just about forever, and nowhere is this more true than in the case of what used to be the Marlin Model 1895, but is now the Ruger-made Marlin 1895.
The History of the Marlin 1895
The original Model 1895 was a scaled-up version of an earlier rifle called the Model 1893, the invention of firearms designer Lewis L. Hepburn, who was not only a talented engineer, but a championship-level target shooter. Hepburn intended the 1895 to handle the big black-powder cartridges of the time, and while it was an excellent gun, noted for its accuracy, it had to play second fiddle to the Winchester levers, and in particular to the Winchester Model 1886, which was a masterpiece among firearms. I suspect that it also had its thunder stolen by the Savage Model 99, which was a half-century ahead of its time, and which employed the first high-velocity rifle cartridges, which got all manner of ecstatic press.
But the Model 95 had a couple of edges. Unlike the Model 1886, it ejected from the side rather than the top. Its receiver was solid, with an ejection port, and therefore much stiffer and stronger than that of the Winchester. It was also a simpler mechanism and had a trigger that could be tuned to give a good pull. But this was not enough. The 1895 had an initial life of 22 years, and only 18,000 were sold. Then it became history.
The Model 95 rifle was finished, but the model number was not. It had a date with destiny. In 1948, Marlin had developed a carbine called the Model 336. It was a colossal success, and has sold over 5 million to date. In 1972, some very bright individual at Marlin came up with the idea of reintroducing a big-bore gun like the original 1895, and to do so, they enlarged the Model 336 action and used it as the basis for rifles which were chambered in .444 Marlin and .45/70, and stamped Model 1895.
The .444 Marlin was an elongated .44 magnum. I owned one way back when and was not impressed. It was the ancient .45/70 that struck fire. People began experimenting with it and discovered that the 19th-century cartridge was still highly relevant.
Marlin offered the new 1895 in several configurations, but the one that really caught on was the Guide Gun, vintage of 1998. It had an 18.5-inch barrel, weighed just under 8 pounds, and had a straight-grip walnut stock. The Guide Gun had much of the marvelous handling and pointing qualities of the Model 336. It was reasonably light, very handy to carry and shoot, dead reliable, and accurate. With standard factory ammo, it was a light-kicking deer rifle that spoiled very little meat.
In 2005, Hornady introduced its LeverEvolution ammo, which allowed tubular-magazine rifles to utilize spitzer-pointed bullets, and added another 100 yards to the .45/70’s practical range. Then there were the companies like Garrett and Buffalo Bore who souped-up .45/70 ammo and loaded it with serious powder charges and hard-cast lead bullets that would flatten nearly anything.
The Model 1895 became trendy. Custom gunmakers got hold of it and transformed it in the way that stock car builders transform stock cars. I had a Jim Brockman-modified Model 1895, blued steel and laminated stock, and it was a thing of great mechanical beauty that would shoot minute of angle groups.
All would have remained well except that Marlin, which could no longer sustain itself in North Haven, CT, was sold to Remington, which was already in a condition of near-collapse. The antiquated machines that made Marlins were moved to Ilion, New York, but the people who knew how to operate them were fired. For a couple of years, the new owners tried to make the World-War I-era machinery work, rather than invest in modern CNC equipment, and the result was what you would expect. Then Remington had to declare bankruptcy, and began selling off its assets to pay its creditors.
Ruger Takes Over Marlin and Brings Back The Model 1895
Enter Sturm, Ruger, who, in 2020 bought what was left of Marlin and did something very smart. The first model that Ruger decided to bring back was the most popular incarnation of the Model 1895. Ruger stamps it Model 1895 SBL. It’s an all-stainless .45/70 with a gray laminated-wood stock, an enlarged lever, a Picatinny rail, and probably the first first-rate sights ever put on a lever gun at the factory, a ghost-ring rear and a fiber-optic front.
The new gun is built in Ruger’s new factory in Mayodan, NC, which is where the company’s ARs are produced. I haven’t handled one but I know a couple of people who know their guns and have, and they say these are the best Marlins ever. The fit and finish are far superior to anything that has ever carried the Marlin name.
This is exactly what happened to the Winchester Model 70 when it was finally produced in a modern factory operated by people who actually knew what a good gun should be, and knew how to make one. The current Model 70s are much better than anything that has gone before, including the legendary pre-World-War II Model 70s.
My only regret is that Ruger elected to keep the awful and unnecessary hammer-blocking safety that Marlin came up with years ago. As Jeff Cooper pointed out, if you need to be protected from yourself, perhaps you shouldn’t be carrying a gun in the first place. However, in today’s legal climate dispensing with a safety is potentially ruinous, so we’re stuck with it.
It occurs to me that we have at least a generation of shooters who have been raised on ARs and are not familiar with lever guns. To them, permit me to point out the following: While a Model 1895 will not hold 30 rounds, it will hold 6 rounds, and unless you’re facing the Zombie Horde, this should be plenty. In competent hands, it will spit them out much faster than a bolt action. It will spit them out reliably. (In fact, it was reliability and speed of fire that made America a lever-action nation once upon a time.) When those six rounds arrive, they will arrive with a lot more power than anything an AR can send.
But the most pronounced difference is, while the AR is maintenance-intensive, the 1895 is at the other end of the scale. I have an Army field manual that states the M-16 and M-4 should be cleaned daily. I doubt whether the average Marlin lever gun was cleaned twice in its owner’s lifetime. I have a very well-bred AR with no evil habits, and I also have an armorer’s tool, a spare parts kit, a book on gunsmithing the AR, enough Safariland CLP and LP to float a Coast Guard cutter, and I lie awake nights worrying whether my gas key is still properly staked down.
With an 1895, it’s nice if you clean it every other Bastille Day, but it will keep on working anyway. That’s one of the reasons it refuses to go away. There are others. Discover them.