Tactical Lever Gun: Marlin 1894 CST By: Steph Martz


Note from the Author: This information was taken from a very reputable shooter and instructor Josh Shaw, Grandmaster in USPSA and Instructor for Green Ops. Every upgrade to the Marlin 1894 CST was installed himself and the build has been shot by his 70-year-old dad while shooting safely and effectively, not to mention with a big smile on his face.

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Take it away Josh…

Why a tactical lever gun?

Well, why not? They are already cool rifles, why not bring them closer to the 21st century with optics, white lights, and suppressors? They are very capable firearms, with the additional benefit of being legal in states where other types of firearms are not. I can bring my Marlin rifle to upstate New York to visit my family without fear of breaking any laws. Unfortunately, I cannot do that with any of my semi-auto rifles.

It’s also something of an insurance policy in the sad case of a federal assault weapons ban, in which nearly every one of my competition and self-defense firearms may become illegal. Manually operated guns such as lever guns are likely the last type of firearms to end up on a banned list, so why not build one that has as much modern capability as possible?

The Build

I started with the Marlin 1894 CST model. The stainless steel rifle comes with a 16” threaded barrel and screws on the receiver for mounting an optic rail, making it a great starting point for a tactical gun. 

The first things I wanted to do were to add a red dot sight, a lighter loading gate, and a white light in order to make the gun easier to shoot, easier to load, and be low light capable. Ranger Point Precision makes a large number of excellent aftermarket accessories for lever guns, so I went with their flyweight loading gate, self-cleaning magazine tube follower, and their Picatinny rail for the top of the receiver. For the M-LOK handguard, I chose Midwest Industries as the Ranger Point Precision handguard was not out yet.

The Marlin 1894 CST has a medium-sized loop that when running the gun fast can bruise hands. To mitigate this I looked up how to wrap 550 cord and installed that on the lever.

Marlin 1894 CST tactical lever gun
Self-installed 550 cord around the lever helps ensure that you aren’t pinching or bruising your hands. “Tactical” can also mean comfortable and easy to manipulate.

For ammo holders, I added a Hoptic USA 6-round quiver to the MLOK handguard. For the stock, I put on a Triad Tactical Stock Pouch which will add 18 more rounds to the gun. All together with these installations, there are 24 rounds on the gun…tactical guns need to eat. The ammo chosen for this gun is Speer Gold Dot 38sp 125gr +P ammo. It shoots great and has an added benefit: I can fit more in the tube than full power .357mag.

To get a higher sight picture for the red dot the Triad Tactical Stock pouch also serves this purpose by providing a cushy cheek rest and extra height on the comb which can be adjusted by adding more wrap on the comb if needed.

Accessory List

  • Vortex Optics Crossfire Red Dot
  • Rugged Obsidian 45 Suppressor with 9mm Endcap
  • Modlite PLHv2 on Arisaka Mount
  • Rail Scales Polymer Handstop
  • G10 Scales Rail Covers
tactical lever gun
The G10 scale rail covers and Rail Scale Handstop make a Marlin CST much more ergonomic. Put a Modlite white light with offset Arisaka Mount and Rugged Obsidian suppressor on there and you have a true tactical lever gun.

Build List w/ Tips for Install

Two companies stand out to me for high-quality, well-designed lever gun accessories. RangerPoint Precision and Hoptic USA. They both have a huge selection of products to customize a lever gun with performance parts. Here’s the list of accessories I chose for this build, and tips for installation.

1. Ranger Point Precision Loading Gate

Marlin 1894 CST tactical lever gun build
The Ranger Point Precision Loading Gate takes about 4 lbs off of the force required to open the gate fully. The redesign also adds clearance for loading. 

How To: This was the scariest part to install as it required a complete disassembly of the receiver and lever mechanism. Very fine flat-head screwdrivers are required, and you have to BE CAREFUL not to slip and scratch the receiver. Luckily there are good instructions online and it wasn’t actually hard to do.

The loading gate itself is one-piece and simple to install. However, the internals of a lever gun are complicated in a way none of my modern designed firearms are, more akin to the inside of a 1911. It was actually pretty impressive seeing the clockwork-like functions of the lever mechanisms. The inside of the Marlin 1894 CST was beautifully machined as well, with some aesthetically pleasing company branding engraved into the metal parts that you would never know about unless you completely stripped the gun.

$40.00 and comes in 4 different colors.

2. Ranger Point Precision Follower

How To:  This was an easy install; it drops right into the disassembled magazine tube. Capturing the spring and feeding that back and securing it in was the challenging part. $32.00

3. Ranger Point Optic Rail

How To: Screws on the top, ’nuff said. $40.00

4. Midwest Industries MI-MARMR Handguard

How To: This was probably the hardest part to install. Doesn’t require a ton of disassembly, but lining up the hand guard with the screw holes on the gun and securing them required lots of patience and creative use of tape to hold stuff in place. 179.95

P.S. If I was doing this build again I would choose Ranger Point Precisions hand guard, which was released after I completed this gun.

5. Hoptic USA Longbow Quiver

How To: Very cool product, easy to install on an MLok slot, holds 6 extra rounds. $70.00 and comes in three colors.

Hoptic USA Longbow quiver on tactical lever rifle
The Hoptic USA Longbow Quiver gives the user 6 extra rounds at an easy-to-grab place on the rail. Very easy to install as well.

6. Triad Tactical Stock Pack

How To: Simple install. Positioning the one wrap straps exactly where I wanted them took the most time. It was a trial and error process to get the stock pouch to both fit the stock neatly and line up my eyes with the optic. You can also add stacks of one wrap on the comb of the stock to raise the height to where you want it. $60.00 comes in 6 patterns/colors.

Triad Tactical Stock Pack on Marlin lever gun
The Triad Tactical Stock Pack is a great addition to the Marlin 1894 CST as it adds storage and achieves higher cheek weld. To get more height on the cheek, one wrap can be added to the pad.