April 30, 2020
Despite being the opposite of modern technology, lever-action rifles continue to be popular with gun buyers, and they sell steadily. Take the Marlin 336, for example. It was introduced in 1948 and is a direct descendant of the Marlin 1893, so it’s hardly a new design. While the Model 336 is, and has been, a popular hunting rifle because it’s handy and reliable, that doesn’t mean a company as astute as Marlin isn’t going to come up with new versions that can attract the interest of young and old alike.
Case in point: the Marlin 336 Dark. Consider the 336 Dark a modernized version of this .30-30-chambered lever action—still suitable for whitetail deer hunting but now sporting some upgraded features for today’s discerning consumer.
You’ll quickly see where the rifle gets its name. The metal has a matte Parkerized finish, and the hardwood stock has a black, webbed finish painted on. You can have it in any color you want…as long as it’s black.
The barrel on the Dark has been shortened from the original’s 20 inches to 16.25 inches, with a five-round magazine tube. The muzzle has been threaded 5/8x24, so you can attach a suppressor if you’d like.
The overall length of the rifle is just 34.5 inches. You’ll see a crossbolt safety on the receiver (push to the left for Fire), and of course, with all lever-action rifles of this type, if the hammer is down or on half-cock it will not fire.
You get an excellent set of XS ghost ring rifle sights. The front is a tall post with a white line up the center, and the rear is a large aperture adjustable for elevation. Sight radius is 18 inches. In addition, you get XS Sights’ Lever Rail, an 11-inch Picatinny rail that runs from the receiver halfway down the barrel so you can install a standard scope, a forward-mounted scout scope or a red dot.
The hammer comes standard with a knurled knob that extends to the right side so you can work the hammer under a rear-mounted scope. The knob is removable if you don’t like it. Trigger pull was a crisp four pounds.
A paracord sling is included. I thought that was a neat idea, but it seemed to get in the way more than it was useful, but then again, I wasn’t carrying the rifle around the woods for hours. More paracord was wrapped around the big lever loop, and that was definitely welcomed.
Anyone who has spent time vigorously working the lever on a rifle like this knows you can bruise the back of your fingers quickly, and the paracord on the 336 Dark’s lever isn’t a styling cue, it’s functional. Well, maybe it’s both.
The black two-piece stock looks like it’s made out of polymer, but as I mentioned, it is traditional wood with a black crinkle-type finish. The rear of the stock features a nice rubber buttpad to help absorb some of the kick.
When I was carrying the rifle, I wished Marlin had gone with a polymer stock because it would be lighter than the provided wood one, but after shooting the rifle, I realized I didn’t want it any lighter. While no magnum thunderstick, the .30-30 is still a decently powerful round, with noticeable kick in the lever-action platform.
When it comes to firearms, everything is a compromise. Compared to a standard 20-inch-barreled lever action, the 336 Dark is shorter, lighter and handier. But that shorter barrel does reduce your velocity. Thankfully, the velocity loss is not too bad.
For example, out of my personal Winchester ’94 with its 20-inch barrel, the average 150-grain .30-30 Win. load will do just over 2,350 fps. Out of the 336 Dark’s 16-inch tube those loads averaged 2,250 fps, only a 100 fps loss.
Shooting the rifle was a lot of fun—not just for me but also my nearly grown kids—and it proved nicely accurate. In fact, this was the first lever-action rifle my 17-year-old son had ever fired, and it was a nice father/son moment teaching him how to fire the gun and work the lever without taking the rifle off his shoulder or his eyes off the sights.
Marlin advertises this as a rifle “tricked out for the modern hunter,” but pretty much all of the changes done to the 336 for this model are what the tactical types suggest should be done to make a lever-action rifle more suitable as a defensive arm. None other than Jeff Cooper saw the value in a lever action with ghost-ring sights and a forward-mounted scope or red dot as an “urban scout rifle” for those people who live in jurisdictions that frown on AR-15s.
Whether you want a very old-school tactical rifle or a very new-school hunting rifle, the Marlin 336 Dark fits the bill.
Marlin 336 Dark SpecsType:
16.25 in., threaded 5/8x24Overall Length:
7 lb., 10 oz.Stocks:
Hardwood with black web finishSights:
XS ghost ringTrigger:
4 lb. pull (measured)Sights:
None; Picatinny rail attachedSafety:
Marlin 336 Dark Accuracy Results