February 08, 2021
Chances are, when somebody’s talking about a traditional full-length tubular magazine lever gun, your mental picture of it will be a top-ejecting Winchester Model 94 or a side-ejecting Marlin 336. Both pretty much define “.30-30 carbine.” But in the case of Marlin’s 336 platform, it may not be a .30-30. Or a carbine. Or, for that matter, sporting a full-length magazine.
One choice example fell into my hands recently. It belongs to a friend and Marlin fanatic Doug Fee, whose incurable auction addiction occasionally pays big dividends. This time it certainly did at an obscenely reasonable “gavel price.” Made in 1950, it’s a two-third-length magazine, 24-inch- barreled Model 336A in .35 Rem.
Since the 336 was introduced in 1948 as an updated descendent of the legendary Model 1893, it’s been offered in an array of colorfully named variations—Marauder, Texan, Trapper—usually centered around barrel/magazine tube lengths and pistol-grip configurations. There were many calibers as well, many, such as the .219 Zipper or .307 Win., since discontinued.
According to the Blue Book of Gun Values, the 336A was made from 1948 to 1962 and reintroduced from 1973 to 1980. This 336A features the very cool “waffle top” receiver, which was a feature of the 336 from its introduction until 1952. It’s a term used by Marlin collectors and shooters and instantly establishes a 336’s vintage bona fides. The wavy pattern embellishing the top of the receiver was thought to reduce glare while using the original open sights.
Later, as owners started employing receiver sights—and taking advantage of the model’s side ejection for scope mounting—the company kept the top of the receiver smooth, probably figuring the distinctive cosmetic touch was more trouble than it was worth. Another touch sure to find favor with vintage Marlin lovers is the rifle’s beefy perch-belly fore-end.
The appeal of a 24-inch-barreled lever gun with a short magazine and pistol grip stock owes a lot to its balance and feel. This I found was certainly the case with the 336A.
Incidentally, there’s another notable vintage Marlin with the two-thirds magazine. It’s the 336SC (Sporting Carbine), which features a 20-inch barrel and was made from 1948 to 1963. It was offered in .30-30, .35 Rem. and .32 Win. Spl. The only 336 variant in the current Marlin catalog I’m aware of that still carries the two-thirds magazine with a 24-inch barrel is the gray/black laminate-stocked .30-30 XLR.
But back to the subject at hand. Shooting the 336A was a delight. The trigger broke at a crisp 3.5 pounds, and you certainly won’t catch me adding in the “mighty nice for a lever gun” qualifier. It’s an excellent big game trigger.
Part of the charm of this vintage 336A lies in its chambering. You could make a good case for the fact that were it not for Marlin’s 336 series, the .35 Rem. would’ve followed the .32 Win. Spl. and .38-55 into commercial oblivion decades ago.
With very few exceptions, the only remaining currently produced platform to house that old whitetail favorite is a Marlin lever-action product. The .35 Rem. is the last surviving member of a quartet of proprietary loads introduced in 1906 for the Model 8 autoloader. Although not all that different ballistically from a 170-grain .30-30 (.308), the 200-grain bullet of the .35 (.356) offers a bit more weight and frontal area.
How much of an advantage is that? Enough to fuel hot-stove arguments and enough to keep it in the production lines of Remington, Winchester, Federal, DoubleTap, Hornady and Buffalo Bore
From the 24-inch barrel of our 336A, 200-grain Remington Core-Lokts averaged 2,110 fps. You want a bit more? Try Hornady 200-grain LeverEvolution or Buffalo Bore’s 220-grain Heavy. You’re not going to turn the .35 Rem. into a .358 Win. or .35 Whelen, but you can bump things up a bit.
Whatever perceived power edge the .35 Rem. has over the .30-30 Win., however, isn’t quite enough to overcome the Winchester round’s overwhelming popularity and ease of availability.
The two types of ammo I had on hand included variations on the traditional 200-grain theme: Remington Core-Lokt and DoubleTap Hard Cast. I was only able to shoot the gun at 75 yards, which is still challenging for those of us with old eyes trying to shoot open sights.
But sometimes you can surprise yourself. Both loads showed real promise. The best with the Core-Lokt stuff was just under 1.35 inches, while the DoubleTap was just a hair under two. If I was the owner of this rifle, the first thing I’d do would be to install a Lyman or Williams receiver sight, seeing as how this particular specimen is a bit too elderly to have been drilled and tapped for scope mounts.
Old Marlins are golden these days. Although they’re a bit tough to find in used racks, they’re worth looking for. And this 336A in .35 Rem. may be the sleeper of all variations to the 336 theme.