Marlin 1895 SBL .45-70: The New Ruger-Made Marlin Lever Gun Passes Muster By:

0
13

[[{“value”:”

Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to follow and signup for notifications!

The snow crunched as we slipped through the frozen woods. We had crossed the track of a foot-dragging whitetail buck in full rut mode. The timber was semi-open with some scattered spruce thickets. We trailed along with the wind in our face, hoping to get a glimpse before it spotted us. 

Too late, the doe spooked, and exited stage left — taking the buck along. As they fled, the rifle in my hands instinctively came to shoulder, cheek down on the stock, as the 1x scope gave crisp clarity to the departure but no clear shot.

The rifle was brand new. I’d received it a couple days before, taken a few shots to sight it in and since it was late fall deer season where I live in Montana, I couldn’t wait to take it into my favorite hunting grounds looking for a buck. That’s a bit risky by some standards, taking a new rifle to the woods. 

However, the rifle was one of the first of its kind produced by the manufacturer, and it was, by design, already an old friend — one of the first production Marlin 1895 SBL (Stainless Big Loop) .45-70 rifles produced by Ruger.  

Since I’ve been shooting Marlins and Rugers all my life, this was a marriage made in heaven for me. Sturm, Ruger & Company is one of the largest firearms manufacturers in North America. After purchasing the Marlin Firearms Company through a 2020 bankruptcy sale that liquidated Remington Arms Co. and its various sub-companies, Ruger spent almost a year bringing this first Marlin back to the market.  

Assorted ammo used in testing.

What did it do in that year? Besides relocating the equipment, machines, and some of the best talents from Ilion, New York, to Mayodan, North Carolina, Ruger also went over every detail of the Marlin construction to re-engineer and perfect the manufacturing process. 

Though the Ruger company had produced a couple lever-action rifles (Models 96/44 and 96/22, now discontinued), the manufacturing behemoth is best known for its timeless semi-auto .22 pistols, the 10-22 rifle, single- and double-action revolvers, bolt-action rifles, exquisite No. 1 single shots, some fantastic Old World-quality shotguns, and recently a wide range of polymer injection-molded striker-fired handguns, and more. 

New Ruger “RP” proof mark on the left side of the barrel just forward of the receiver.

Taking on this new line of traditional lever-action rifles would challenge the best engineers and production managers at Ruger, who pledged to not release any Marlins until quality and performance were perfect.

The importance of this detail is in the back story. When the almost 150-year-old Marlin Firearms Corporation was purchased by Remington in 2007, then moved to Ilion, the next several years floundered as quality and function suffered to the point of flat-out rejection by hunters and shooters worldwide. 

About 2010, Remington formed a team to evaluate and repair the damage done to the brand. Team Marlin brought back quality and function to what we remembered, loved, and expected. “Blue” brand loyalty was created inside the “Green Machine,” and slowly but steadily, Marlin began to take its place on the world lever-gun stage again.   

Unfortunately, friction between engineers, production, marketing, and bean counters continued at Remington, and after a brief brush with bankruptcy in 2018, Remington went under in 2020, taking Marlin with it. At the time of the Remington demise, the Marlin portion of the company had come back to life and was turning a good profit, which had not gone unnoticed by Ruger. 

Factory Marlin front sight Tritium-illuminated fiber optic.

In fact, the value of Marlin was worth almost twice as much as the older and larger Remington Arms Co. At auction, Ruger purchased Marlin for $30 million. (Interestingly, the larger Remington Arms Co. sold for about half that at $18 million.) Ruger’s acquisition of Marlin is what we call a “best-case scenario” and heralded by the shooting world as “hope for the future!”

As a sight maker for rifles and owner of Skinner Sights (skinnersights.com), I’ve worked closely with lever-gun manufacturers, establishing close ties and relationships. I was happy to oblige when given a chance to do a hands-on evaluation of the new Marlin SBL.  

The rifle arrived in the first part of November 2021, along with several boxes of assorted ammunition with varying bullet weights. A moment much of the gun world was waiting for with bated breath was here, sitting on my bench.  

The first thing I noticed was how much care had gone into the packaging — no flimsy cardboard inner support to fight with during unboxing. A ridged foam cutout protected the firearm and was durable for re-use. 

The gray laminated stocks fit very well. The buttstock-to-receiver fit wasn’t custom quality, but for a production gun, was excellent. The more I handled the gun, the better the fit looked. Ruger said to be brutal, so I looked with a critical eye. The forend was slimmer than older Marlins, a subtle but welcome change. 

Five-shot 50-yard target shot out the pickup window off the Montana Bench Rest. Although all makes were excellent, Federal 300-grain SP was the most accurate of all ammo tested for this rifle. Right: Five-shot 50-yard target shot with Hornady 325-grain FTX.

The medium line checkering on the grip and forend is crisp, clean, and sharp. The butt has a generous recoil pad that should tame even the heaviest Buffalo Bore loads. A nice Marlin horse and rider logo has been lasered into the grip cap, and the traditional Marlin bull’s-eye was retained with one change. The black center is now red (red and black have been used symbolically by Ruger, which is a tribute to the brand’s new relationship). The length of pull ­— at 13 ½ inches — is industry standard for a lever gun. On a dangerous game gun, slightly shorter is better than slightly long. The sling swivel studs are standard and perform as expected.

Measuring 19 inches long (1/2-inch longer than earlier SBLs), the barrel’s muzzle is threaded 11/16×24 for mounting a suppressor or muzzle brake (a barrel polished matching thread protector is included). 

The barrel and magazine finish is brushed, non-reflective stainless, while the forged/machined receiver is polished bright. The barrel markings are crisp and clear. At first, I was a little surprised that the Ruger brand name is not found on the gun. Thinking about it, this is a good choice on Ruger’s part. These are Marlin rifles carrying forward John Marlin’s 150-year legacy in the shooting and sporting world. In place of the famous JM proof stamp on the barrel, look for a crisp Ruger proof mark to identify manufacturing approval.

Due to the clean, precision machining throughout, the action cycles smoothly. I’ve worked on Marlin lever guns for over 40 years, and the machine work on this rifle is the best I’ve ever seen. Spiral flats on the bolt are a nice touch which, along with looking “cool,” should be somewhat self-cleaning and make cycling the action smoother. 

The author harvested a Montana whitetail with the new Marlin SBL and a Remington 300-grain HP load.

The ejector looks good, and the ejector raceway in the bolt is smooth, another contributor to the reliable and easy functioning of the action. Timing on the carrier/lifter is very good, with the radius on the lever that contacts the lifter slightly redesigned to maintain tolerances longer and prevent the occasional “Marlin jam.” The surface and radius on the bottom of the lifter seem to be a bit more robust and function well.

The sighting system is an 11-inch Picatinny rail with a Ruger-built ghost ring sight in the rear.

 The non-threaded inner hole of the ring is .222 inch, and the sight has approximately 20 MOA windage and 16 MOA elevation adjustment. The front sight is a .155-inch-wide blade featuring a green fiber optic enclosed in a .125-inch white ring powered by tritium for nighttime illumination. Under the rail is a standard 3/8-inch dovetail should you wish to remove the rail and use a traditional notch/buckhorn-type sight. 

The receiver mounting holes are like prior Marlins dating back to the mid-1950s, allowing you to mount any sights or optics you desire. For example, I prefer a non-rail lever gun fit with the Skinner Express peep sight. This rifle accommodates everyone’s sight preferences.

I mounted a Skinner Sights Optic 1-6X24 LPVO on the factory rail for testing. Using medium height rings, the rear sight needed to be removed to clear the scope. An offset hammer spur was included with the rifle, making cocking and de-cocking safer and easier. Ruger retained the crossbolt safety and a hammer half-cock notch traditional safety. I understand the issues with the crossbolt but must admit I found it helpful when cycling loaded rounds out of the gun back at the vehicle or cabin. The crossbolt safety is here to stay, so we learn to adapt, appreciate its benefits and deal with its shortcomings.  

This rifle performed flawlessly at the range (in my case, the local gravel pit shooting off the Montana Bench Rest, aka my pickup). I shot four different factory loadings with impressive results. Shooting at the 50-yard maximum distance, the five-shot group size varied from .387 to .622 inch center-to-center with an average of .507 inch, essentially 1 MOA. That’s pretty impressive for any rifle shooting a variety of factory ammo — let alone a lever-action big-bore throwing 300 to 400 grains of copper and lead at various velocities. The barrel twist rate is 1:20 with six right-hand Ballard-type hammer-forged grooves. This twist rate should handle any standard .45-70 bullet weights and even some of the more uncommon. I have been shooting these guns all my life, and this rifle surpassed my expectations.

One of the secrets to accuracy is a crisp, clean trigger break. Breaking at about 4 1/2 pounds,  I could detect a slight amount of creep when addressed like a benchrest trigger; however, as a hunting trigger, it was nearly perfect.

This article is but an excerpt from a single chapter in the Lever-Actions: A Tribute to the All-American Rifle.

I am not a fan of the big loop as it’s slower to cycle the action requiring more movement. Standard loops work fine with gloves, but there’s a perception that they’re needed in the cold country. They look good and sell well, so big loops work from a marketing perspective, and the customer is happy. Eventually, I will want to swap the lever out for a standard loop if they become available. Loop style is a personal preference with no reflection on the quality of the build of this rifle. Besides, then it wouldn’t be an SBL.

Overall, Ruger has knocked it out of the park. The time and attention the Ruger Team put into fine-tuning the manufacturing process and every minute detail has paid off.

I’m sure these rifles and subsequent models will only improve as Ruger becomes more familiar with the Marlin design. Hats off for keeping Marlin as Marlin. Let the legacy continue!

A few days later, back in the woods, I found that buck again. It came home with me and my old friend — the new Ruger-made Marlin. 

  • Model 70478
  • Caliber:  .45-70 Govt.
  • Capacity: 6+1
  • Stock: Gray laminate
  • Material: Stainless steel
  • Finish: Polished stainless
  • Front Sight: High visibility tritium 
  • fiber optic
  • Rear Sight: Adjustable ghost ring
  • Weight: 7.3 pounds
  • Overall Length: 37.25 inches
  • Length of Pull: 13.38 inches
  • Barrel Length: 19 inches
  • Thread Pattern: 11/16 x 24
  • Thread Cap: Match-polished
  • Barrel: Cold hammer-forged 
  • stainless steel
  • Twist: 1:20 RH
  • Grooves: 6
  • Suggested Retail: $1,399

Explore RECOILweb:

Enter Your E-Mail to Receieve a Free 50-Target Pack from RECOIL!

NEXT STEP: Download Your Free Target Pack from RECOIL

For years, RECOIL magazine has treated its readers to a full-size (sometimes full color!) shooting target tucked into each big issue. Now we’ve compiled over 50 of our most popular targets into this one digital PDF download. From handgun drills to AR-15 practice, these 50+ targets have you covered. Print off as many as you like (ammo not included).

Get your pack of 50 Print-at-Home targets when you subscribe to the RECOIL email newsletter. We’ll send you weekly updates on guns, gear, industry news, and special offers from leading manufacturers – your guide to the firearms lifestyle.

You want this. Trust Us.

image

“}]]