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Marlin Model 1894 Classic Lever-Action Rifle in .44 Mag. 

The return of the Marlin Model 1894 Classic lever-action rifle in .44 Mag. brings back a svelte, fasthandling deer and hog rifle.

Marlin Model 1894 Classic Lever-Action Rifle in .44 Mag. 

The 20.3-inch barrel is cold hammer forged. The front sight has a removable hood and a gold-colored bead. The full-length magazine tube holds 10 rounds of .44 Mag.

While the handy little Marlin Model 1894 Classic in .44 Mag. is new, Marlin actually introduced its design close to 130 years ago. At that time the .44-40 Win., first offered by Winchester in the Model 1873 and later in the Model 1892, had become the most popular deer cartridge in America. The action of Marlin’s Model 1893—which eventually evolved into the Model 336 that was also brought back to life this year—was too long for the .44-40 cartridge, so it was shortened and renamed the Model 1894. The .25-20, .32-20 and .38-40 Win. were also available.

Marlin discontinued the 1894 in 1935, and if not for the 1955 introduction of the .44 Mag., the little deer thumper would likely have remained in its grave. Ruger introduced the gas-operated Deerstalker carbine in that caliber in 1961, and shortly thereafter Marlin began producing Model 336 rifles chambered for the cartridge.

Making the long 336 action function reliably with the stubby .44 Mag. proved quite difficult, so Marlin dropped it and resumed production of the Model 1894 in 1969. Other calibers to follow eventually were the .22 WMR, .218 Bee, .25-20 Win., .32-20 Win., .32 H&R Mag., .357 Mag., .41 Mag., .44-40 Win. and .45 Colt.

Marlin Model 1894 Classic Lever-Action Rifle Drilled and Tapped for Mounting Scopes with Scope
To create the Model 1894, Marlin shortened its 1893 action (which later became the 336) to accommodate the .44-40 Win. cartridge. Today’s Model 1894 Classic comes drilled and tapped for mounting scopes or receiver sights.

The stock and fore-end of the new Classic are made at Ruger’s woodshop in Newport, New Hampshire, and with the exception of a few small parts such as screws, springs and sights, everything else is made in the Mayodan, North Carolina, plant—where assembly and test-firing also take place.

To my eyes it is the most handsome standard-production Model 1894 to be built during modern times, and my gun room contains a nice accumulation in various calibers going all the way back to early 1970s production. Like the first 1894 variation built by Marlin back in 1893, the new Classic has a straight grip, and its circumference is five inches.

Comb height is a good compromise for using the open sights, an aperture receiver sight or a small, low-mounted scope. The rear surface texture of a thin rubber pad prevents butt slippage when the rifle is shouldered and is accented with the familiar mounted-rifleman logo.

Measuring four inches around at its centerpoint, the fore-end is large enough to be comfortable in the hand while not being visually out of proportion with the rest of the rifle. The technical staff knew precisely how a Marlin 1894 is supposed to look and feel. The point-pattern 16-line checkering is laser cut on buttstock and fore-end, and it’s perfectly executed.

Marlin Model 1894 Classic Lever-Action Straight-Grip Stock
Unlike Marlin models 1895 and 336, the Model 1894 Classic features a straight-grip stock. The laser-cut checkering on the butt and fore-end is 16 lines per inch and well-executed.

At first glance the finish on the American walnut appears to be hand-rubbed linseed oil, but closer examination reveals all pores in the wood completely filled prior to a flawless application of a durable synthetic that looks good and sheds moisture better than an oil finish. Posts for the attachment of quick-detach sling swivels are there, with the one up front attached to the steel fore-end retention band.

The 1:20 twist in the barrels of the Ruger Blackhawk and Smith & Wesson Model 29 introduced in 1955 became standard for revolvers eventually built by other companies, and it remains so today. Why rifles and carbines in .44 Mag. were given a much slower 1:38 twist remains a mystery, but it may have been because the twist rates of Winchester and Marlin rifles in .44-40 Win. were quite close to that.

At the time, a bullet weight of 240 grains was standard for the .44 Mag., and it was nicely stabilized in flight by the 1:38 twist. But as the years went by, more and more hunters wanted to use bullets weighing 300 grains and heavier, and while they were accurate from revolvers, they were too long to be stabilized by the slower twist of rifles. Ruger eventually responded to customer demand by giving its Model 77/44, Model 96/44 and Deerfield carbines a 1:20 twist rate, so seeing it in the Model 1894 Classic was no surprise to me.

Marlin Model 1894 Classic Lever-Action Cold-Hammer-Forged Barrel
The 20.3-inch barrel is cold hammer forged. The front sight has a removable hood and a gold-colored bead. The full-length magazine tube holds 10 rounds of .44 Mag.

The hammer-forged barrel is of 4140 steel, measures 20.3 inches from bolt face to muzzle and is precisely crowned. When Marlin introduced Micro-Groove rifling in 1953, Model 1894 rifles in .44 Mag. were given 12 lands and grooves, but in 1996 this was changed to six-groove “Ballard-style” rifling, as Marlin called it. Ruger is also using six-groove rifling, with a Lyman Digital Borecam revealing an extremely smooth bore with only a few minor tool marks.

Marlin introduced the crossbolt safety on the receiver in 1984; when engaged it blocks the hammer from making contact with the firing pin. When that big buck suddenly appears only a few steps away, the safety is easily pushed off as quietly as a mouse walking across carpet.

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Other safety features that go back to 1893 remain unchanged. The firing pin is a two-piece design, and the rifle will not fire until its front and rear sections are aligned as the locking bolt rises to fully engage a shoulder in the bottom of the breech bolt.

A spring-loaded trigger-stop pin prevents the trigger from being pulled before the finger lever is in its fully locked position. In addition, the hammer has a half-cock notch.

On a Lyman digital scale, trigger pull weight ranged from 4.25 pounds to 5.5 pounds for an average of 4.6 pounds. I could detect no creep, but as is typical for most lever action rifles, there was some overtravel, although I doubt if it has ever caused anyone to miss a deer.

The open sights consist of a semi-buckhorn style at the rear and a ramped, hooded blade with gold-colored bead up front. The rear sight is elevator-adjusted for elevation and drifted in its dovetail slot in the barrel for windage.

Marlin Model 1894 Classic Lever-Action Rifle Walnut Stock
The American walnut stock is treated to a synthetic finish to keep out moisture. The red rubber recoil pad sports the Marlin horse-and-rider logo.

For those who choose to mount a scope on the receiver, an offset hammer spur is included. The receivers of 1894s used to be drilled and tapped for side-mounting of aperture sights, but that feature was eventually discontinued. With the Model 1894 Classic, we have holes drilled and tapped in the top of the receiver at the factory for scope or aperture sight mounting. XS Sights sells receiver-top, ghost-ring aperture sights for the 1894, as does Skinner Sights.

Taking down the 1894 for cleaning the barrel from its breech end is easy. After making sure the magazine and chamber are empty, retract the bolt about halfway, use a small screwdriver to remove the finger lever pivot pin and pull the lever downward and out of the receiver.

Then, with the rifle positioned right-side up, grasp the breech bolt by its rear end and slowly pull it from the receiver. The ejector, now exposed in the left-hand wall of the receiver, can be removed.

Prior to installing the bolt during reassembly, place the ejector in position with its alignment pin in a small hole through the receiver. Begin pushing the bolt and once its nose is at about the middle of the ejection port, insert the finger lever back into engagement and install its pivot screw.

When testing for accuracy I decided to use a scope, but at a time when hunting rifles hanging beneath humongous scopes are all the rage, you won’t walk into just any gun shop and find an array of scopes sized for a diminutive rifle such as the Marlin 1894 Classic.

I still have several candidates and among them, a Bushnell Scopechief in 1.5-4.5X held in place by Weaver rings and one-piece base was perfect. That took the weight of the rifle to 7.25 pounds, still plenty light for carrying over hill and dale for days on end.

Marlin Model 1894 Classic Lever-Action Accuracy Results

The Marlin 1894 in .44 Mag. has never been as accurate as the Marlin 336 in .30-30 Win. for a reason known far and wide by those of us who have shot both extensively. Fed good ammunition, the Model 336 will consistently shoot three bullets inside two inches at 100 yards. By comparison, around four inches at 100 yards is typical for Model 1894s built by Marlin and Remington (Marlin’s previous owner), and the same will apply to those built by Ruger.

The reason for this has nothing to do with which company built the gun, but rather the fact that SAAMI barrel groove diameter for revolvers in .44 Mag. was set at 0.429 inch—but for rifles it was increased to 0.431 inch (plus or minus 0.001 for both).

In other words, barrel groove diameter in rifles can be 0.430, 0.431 or 0.432 inch and still be in compliance with SAAMI specifications. The specification used by Ruger is 0.430 (plus or minus 0.001) and when slugging the barrel of the Model 1894 classic, I got a groove diameter of 0.429.

For best accuracy, jacketed bullet and barrel groove diameters should be the same, but for the most part they are not since bullets from various sources measure 0.429 to 0.430 inch. This is why Model 1894 rifles in .44 Mag. built by Marlin and Remington are often more accurate with cast bullets that are 0.001 to 0.002 inch larger than barrel groove diameter than with jacketed bullets.

That also proved to be the case with the Model 1894 Classic, as it preferred Buffalo Bore ammo loaded with a cast bullet. Almost as accurate was my handload with Starline case, Remington 21/2 primer, 21.0 grains of Alliant 2400 and a 245-grain bullet of scrap wheel weight metal dropped from a Lyman No. 429667 mold measuring 0.431 inch.

While you are not likely to see a Model 1894 chasing gold at a registered benchrest match, accuracy of all the loads I shot is good enough for taking deer and other game in wooded country where the compact and quick-handling little beauty shines its brightest.

Except when reducing numbers in a sounder of feral pigs, I seldom load the magazine of an 1894 with 10 rounds, but I found doing so in the Classic smooth and easy. The action was quite smooth and when cycled smartly, it reliably fed ammunition loaded with bullets having drastically different nose profiles—ranging from the pointy Hornady 225-grain FTX to the Buffalo Bore 305-grain hard cast with an extremely wide flat on its nose. As any Cowboy Action competitor will be eager to tell you, the magazine holds eleven .44 Specials, and the little rifle feeds them equally well.

What cartridge will follow the .44 Mag. in the Model 1894 Classic? The .357 Mag. used to be second in sales, so my money is on that. I would not be surprised to see that followed by the .45 Colt. I love my Marlin-built 1894 in .218 Bee, but doubt if we will see the little cartridge buzzing over the varmint fields of Mayodan, North Carolina, in the near future.

MARLIN 1894 CLASSIC SPECIFICATIONS

  • TYPE: Lever-action centerfire
  • CALIBER: .44 Mag.
  • CAPACITY: 10-round tubular magazine
  • BARREL: 20.3 in. cold-hammerforged 4140 alloy steel; 1:20 twist
  • OVERALL LENGTH: 37.5 in.
  • WEIGHT: 6.5 lb.
  • FINISH: Blue
  • STOCK: Walnut, laser-cut checkering
  • SIGHTS: Fully adjustable rear, gold bead front
  • TRIGGER: 4.6 lb. (measured); Safeties: crossbolt, trigger block, firing pin connector
  • PRICE: $1,239
  • MANUFACTURER: Marlin, MarlinFirearms.com



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