December 20, 2021
By J. Scott Rupp
As we reported in October 2020, Ruger acquired Marlin for $30 million when Remington sold off its businesses in a bankruptcy sale. Since then, Marlin fans have been watching and waiting for the first Marlin to roll off the line at Ruger’s manufacturing facilities. Now the wait is over and the first Ruger-made Marlin, the 1895 SBL, is here.
It’s chambered in .45-70 Gov’t and comes with a polished stainless receiver—made from a forging for strength and durability—stainless barrel and a laminated stock. It’s a large-loop design, and the tubular magazine holds six rounds.
The 19-inch barrel is threaded 11/16x24 for installing a suppressor or muzzle brake. The thread cap is nicely fitted, and at first glance you wouldn’t even notice it was a cap except maybe for the two flats machined into it for easy removal or re-installation.
The rifle comes with a HiViz optics rail for scope mounting that features a fully adjustable rear sight. Hunters who prefer iron sights will really appreciate the front sight, which is also from HiViz. It incorporates a green fiber-optic rod and a tritium ring, so it’s easy to pick up in any lighting condition and is particularly handy early and late in the day.
The gray/black laminated stock has come in for attention as well. The fore-end is noticeably slimmer than older Marlins and feels better in the hands, and the checkering is sharper—without being too sharp—for a non-slip grip. The buttstock doesn’t have the black pistol grip cap found on older Marlins but rather a laser-engraved horse-and-rider logo. The famous Marlin “bullseye” on the bottom of the stock is rendered in red and white instead of black and white. A beefy black recoil pad soaks up kick.
Other external features include a knurled hammer spur extension for scope users and, a big deal to me, a finger lever that’s treated to a second manufacturing step to eliminate sharp edges. Repeatedly working the lever on former Marlins can be an almost painful experience, and that’s why so many shooters wrap the lever with rawhide or paracord. That’s not necessary with the new Ruger-made Marlin.
Ruger made a number of important internal changes as well. The barrel is now cold hammer forged instead of broached and button rifled. The timing of the barrel and receiver threads was also improved—as was the barrel torque process—for more precision and consistency.
All this contributes to more consistent accuracy, and based on my limited early test firing, the new 1895 SBL delivers in this regard. While zeroing prior to a Texas mule deer hunt, I got 100-yard groups right at an inch from a rudimentary bench setup—as did my fellow hunters.
Ruger went to a lot of time and expense to refurbish the machines it inherited in the sale, and the result has been a big improvement in manufacturing tolerances. Engineers nickel-plated the bolt and tweaked the bolt’s fluting, and parts on the stainless steel guns are heat treated before machining—again resulting in better-fitting parts and contributing to the 1895 SBL’s super-smooth cycling. And because Marlin stocks could be prone to cracking around the tang, Ruger re-engineered the rear of the receiver to prevent this.
The trigger pull has been improved, too. Ruger now cuts the hammer notches where they engage with the sear via electric discharge machining, a much more precise method than was previously used. This brings a crisper trigger pull in the five- to six-pound range.
I had the opportunity to use one of the first Marlins to come off Ruger’s Mayodan, North Carolina, assembly line in a mule deer hunt in West Texas with Steve Jones’s www.BackCountryHunts.com. I’ve hunted with Steve several times, and it’s always a great experience. Being able to chase game in that beautiful country with the new Marlin was extra special.
I’m a big lever-action fan. It’s what I started hunting with, and I don’t think there’s a more comfortable rifle to carry afield. The shot on my buck came at 50 yards as he trotted out from behind a large cedar tree. I swung with him and fired as the crosshairs swept past the sweet spot behind the shoulder.
I lost him in recoil as I immediately worked the lever to prepare for another shot. But he didn’t reappear, so I eased the hammer down into the safety notch and dialed the Leupold VX-3HD 3.5-10x40mm down to the lowest power before following up. We found the buck just steps from where he’d been when I fired, the Hornady 325-grain LeverEvolution FTX bullet passing completely through.
I’ve been a fan of both Ruger and Marlin rifles for a long time, and when I heard that Ruger had acquired Marlin, I had high hopes. Based on my limited time with the new 1895 SBL, those hopes were well-founded. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on a test sample I can spend some serious range time with. I’ll have a full review in an upcoming issue of RifleShooter.
Weight: 7.35 pounds