The Marlin 1895 lever-action rifle, now offered by Ruger, is a major step forward in lever-action rifle construction and performance. While I know it dates me a great deal, the first rifle I ever owned was a Winchester Model 94 chambered in .25-35 Winchester. This was also the rifle that I used to take my first deer. The point being, I have grown up and lived a long life shooting lever-action rifles. To my way of thinking, the lever gun is a real American tradition to the core in shooting sports.
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I believe it is only fitting, in the later years of my long association with these action types of rifles, I come into my senior period of gun writing to get the honor of addressing the totally new and very well-dressed Ruger-built Marlin 1895 chambered in the heavy-hitting .45-70 Government cartridge. Save for Browning Arms, and very few others, there are not many big bore caliber offerings in the lever-action rifle. Marlin has always been a leader in holding up the lever rifle as a modern go-to fieldpiece.
Because this Marlin rifle, as built by the old company but now owned and operated by Ruger firearms, has released the Model 1895 big bore rifle, it has made major news. This is largely because Remington, the previous owner of the brand, had not made much in the way of changes to the rifle as offered by the original Marlin firearms company.
Ruger, being known for innovation, flexible adaptation of modern manufacturing, and construction methods, offers state-of-the-art products to sport shooters regarding some very high-grade firearms at very reasonable prices. Now, Ruger has elected to put this rifle into shooters’ hands and it has sure been a good decision.
Being a long-range specialist from western South Dakota, the rifle would seem to be out of my league in terms of any level of range extension. The barrel on this new rifle measures a short carbine-length 19 inches, and as such, pushing the .45-70 chambered bullet to any ultra-high velocity is just not a part of the program.
That stated, being an owner, the .45-70 government has been a mainstay here in the wild west. For the past 20 years, I have been living and writing here. I have hunted buffalo and deer with my Sharps .45-70, which mounts a set of ladder sights, and with an understanding of the rainbow trajectory involved in the .45-70 — it is a matter of knowing where to hold when compensating for the bullets obvious drop.
The advantage of the cartridge is its massive downrange retained velocity. The .45-70 can deliver energy — lots of it — on a target. Bear hunters, elk, trophy mule deer, and even southern pig shooters can appreciate the knockdown power associated with this rifle cartridge. Therefore, it is obvious why Ruger elected to offer this new Marlin in this very old school, but effective, lever-action straight-walled cartridge.
Marlin 1895 Features
In terms of what is different about this rifle — when compared to the rifles built by Marlin under its original ownership of the brand — here are the straight facts. Ruger first reviewed the old model in the 1895, after which a series of very basic design changes were made. This new rifle makes use of not only CNC production methods but additional systems that are able to cut very detailed parts to perfection.
The result is a smooth action and fit, completed under the watchful eye of individual tolerance-checking technicians. This rifle retains detail fit when metal parts are installed, as well as the wood-to-metal fit. The stock has been reconfigured for a slimmer forend, and the checkering is also upgraded along with the laminated gray stock.
In terms of sights, the new rifle makes use of a ghost ring rear sight and an HV-type front ramp sight. I would much rather see an all-metal front sight with a white ramp face. However, these sights seem to be the style of the day on many varied new firearms of late.
Rifle muzzles can be slid into saddle scabbards, slung across the back when climbing trees or getting into high elevated artificial stands. These are just a few things that can be rough on the muzzle of a rifle. This rifle is designed for hard field applications — not resting on a target bench.
The ghost ring is also a slight problem in that it stands rather high and will not allow the use of standard, or in some cases high, scope rings. The new rifle makes use of a long, Weaver-stye rail. The use of a scope is an easy install. However, a move to an AR-style base and rings, or a high tactical base ring setup is required.
I first removed the ghost ring sight when trying to install a scope for testing. However, I found it to be an unsightly option and reinstalled the rear sight. After failing with two earlier ring and base sets — due again to the inability of the mounts to clear the Ghost ring sight — I selected a Leupold one-piece base and ring unit as a final option. That seems to have been a workable solution in this case.
After a mess with the base arrangement, the good folks at the sporting goods store took over and mounted, aligned, and laser zeroed the new scope mount setup for me. That was a first in my list of new experiences as I have always just done my own work in this area.
In the scope department, I elected to use one of my old T/C 3×9 power units. I decided it would be a good option, being the scope was designed for use on the T/C Contender. The scope makes for a nice, lightweight, short package as applied to this carbine-length rifle. Installing a massive, large bell and extended tube-length scope on this rifle. To my way of thinking, it is way overcooked.
In terms of the lever action itself, the lever is oversized just enough to handle heavy gloves in cold weather and retains a very nice feel coupled with the rifle’s smooth action.
The rifle retains a tube magazine that carries six rounds of .45-70 Government and makes use of the right-side receiver feed tube design. The stainless-steel bolt on the rifle is barber pole cut and very nice in terms of a polished surface treatment. In fact, everything about this rifle’s stainless-steel action is first-rate in terms of attention to detail.
The action retains a push-button cross-bolt style safety as well as a hammer half-cock position. The service manual supplied with the rifle makes a great deal of effort and time detailing how the action works as well as its safety features. Let’s face it, some of the “black gun” boys have never fired a lever-action rifle. Soon, they could very well be getting into this new hunting rifle offering.
When operating the button safety, the firing pin is blocked even though the hammer will still go to half or full cock. When the safety is pushed to the on (safe red indicator) position, the firing pin block is deactivated. I was trained on the old Model 94 action as offered by Winchester many years ago, but I like this button safety that adds an additional dimension of safe handling characteristics to the rifle. Also added to this rifle is the use of the muzzle cap and threaded muzzle to allow the use of suppressors or other muzzle devices on the rifle. This Marlin 1895 lever gun would sure seem to be a traditional rifle, but with added space-age touches.
Going Down Range
Going hot with the Marlin Model 1895 was in general a slow start-up operation. Getting the test rifle from Ruger in mid-February, I was met by a South Dakota winter that was mild for these parts, but still somewhat of a challenge in terms of staying out in the cold air and high winds that blew straight out of the northwest as it drove its icy core over the Big Horn Mountains.
The first day with live ammunition proved to be nothing but a quick function check of the total package, as the weather crashed in around me early in the day. The second day, however, was also not very nice, but workable as I set up a portable benchrest behind a wind wall on our club range, and also used my truck to redirect the strong 25 to 30 mph gusting winds that retained a full value against the line of my test bullets to the 100-yard target.
Shooting Hornady’s 325-grain LEVERevolution at a muzzle velocity of 2,050 fps, even with the stiff crosswind, I splashed bullets on 12×18-inch steel plate with ease. In terms of an accuracy group check, the test was omitted due to the obvious field conditions. What I did come away with over two days with that rifle was that she liked the Hornady fodder, functioned as smooth a glass regarding the rifle action, and at least for the time being, or until better weather could be utilized, it seemed accurate enough as well.
The trigger on the rifle cracked off at about three pounds, and it was rock solid and very crisp. Control of the rifle was easy, and I could see good groups coming down the line just by the way this open hammer firing control system performed.
Balance, even when scoped, was dead on at the midpoint just ahead of the trigger guard. The recoil pad, which is generous, allowed me to fire my test rounds one-handed (300-grain Federal jacketed) with the left arm resting across the rear of the bench under the rifle’s pistol grip style stock. I can say that the rifle is much easier and more forgiving to shoot than my Sharps .45-70. According to several friends who shoot the .45-70, the recoil must be much less than what is reported regarding other rifle brands chambered in this cartridge.
In terms of total weight with the scope, sling, and one-piece AR style mounts empty, the 1895 comes in at 8.75 pounds, but feels a whole lot less when brought up to the firing position.
Shooting on the second week as nicer weather came in produced some accurate groups just inside 100 yards. Open range winds were still rough, so, I elected to shoot on a heavily wooded shorter shotgun patterning range that had been extended just a bit. When shooting 300-grain bullets (Federal Fusion), I was able to “walk” my bullet within ½-inch per adjusted shot anyplace on the target. I wanted to zero for 200 yards and as such, make some corrections in terms of what had been achieved, when laser zeroing had been applied.
Not being a long-range cartridge at least as applied to this carbine setup I was interested in keeping my shooting ranges on game inside 300 yards. When shooting for zero, my rounds were impacting bullets 2.5 inches high, which put my impact point on the 200-yard target at a bit low at 3.5 inches.
With the move to 300 yards — my max range — I was required to hold over a full 28 inches using Hornady LEVERevolution Bullet drop data. With an 18 to 20-inch-high hold, a bullet would find lungs and heart using a side body shot, and straight head-on shot at a mule deer using the same hold would drop in via a head or chest shot while holding on the animal’s nose. Hunting buffalo and trophy timber whitetail for years by way of my Sharps, I had a good feel for the performance base of this cartridge and paired rifle.
Now, by way of hog and buffalo targets at 200 yards, the results were effective, to say the least. With a sight picture hold at the upper edge of the picture target’s shoulder, the Federal Fusion 300-grain bullets being tested were dropping 11 inches low but would as previously noted take out lungs and heart. Pushing the shot to 300 yards, using Hornady’s published drop table, was difficult. I was able to make general hits on steel, but accuracy group shooting with the sustained winter high winds made that event completely out of the question.
Shooting for basic groups at 100 yards, Hornady 350-grain bullets shot a best three-round print putting two bullets in the same hole, and the third exactly .966 inch alongside the previous pair. What was also special about this group was that the high winds had pushed the bullet group a full 3.5 inches to the left of center.
The wind was a full value (right to left in this case) and save for its rainbow trajectory the performance profile of the .45-70 is very predictable in the area of wind drift. About all I can say is Indian fighters and buffalo hunters of old had to know their stuff when pushing the range limits of the .45-70 Government round.
In real life, when hunting whitetail in the timber of the Black Hills or buffalo on the Triple U, the control of the cartridge for longer-range shots (200 yards) at times is more difficult than you can imagine. In my opinion, based on the history I have with the Sharps 45-70 and now the new Marlin 1895, which is a rifle that is not going anyplace except my truck, hunters can expect great performance to 200 yards, but things will get a bit dicey beyond that indicated range limit lacking extensive practice.
Average groups at 100 yards measure about 1.75 inches at 200 yards. Under real-world hunter-encountered weather, the groups opened to 3.75 inches. With dead air, warm weather, and a benchrest setup using sandbags, the longer-range groups could, without question, be improved upon. However, this being a hunting rifle and not a benchrest tool, I was very pleased with the performance results generated by the new Ruger engineered Marlin 1895.
Ruger’s Marlin 1895 Lever Action Government has received more than just a minor facelift in terms of manufacturing and fit. And the .45-70 provides plenty of wallop! for hunting medium to big game. What’s your opinion of the .45-70 cartridge? How about the Marlin 1895? Share your answers in the comment section.