A New Marlin for Tracking Big Woods Whitetails – and Yes, Marlin Quality is Back!
As 2018 rolled in, I waited in anticipation of what Marlin would be releasing for the new year. Let me just say that I’ve always been a Marlin fan. The first rifle I ever bought for myself with my own hard-earned money was a Marlin 336 LTS in 30/30 in 1988. That rifle went everywhere with me for a few hunting seasons, and I distinctly remember shooting a nice seven point buck with it as well as some other smaller deer through the years. Not long after this, life got harder as I was making my way as a young adult, and the need for cash outweighed my need for that little carbine, and so it went for sale. I wish I still had that gun today. I’ve since owned a slew of Marlins, and when I saw the new models presented at the 2018 Shot Show, I immediately knew it was time to buy again. I’d been searching for my next “tracking rifle” and I wanted it to be of John Marlin’s design. When I saw how many new rifles were being released for the new model year I knew Marlin was indeed dedicated to the heritage and the brand so many of us love.
I’ve known that the Marlin team has been working feverishly on creating better quality control into their lever rifles for some time now, and when I bought a new 1895G 45/70 Guide Gun in mid-2017 I saw the wonderful results of this effort. I was pleasantly surprised with the outstanding quality of the gun and how it shot. This particular rifle really rekindled my favor for lever guns. I had been having a ten year affair with the Remington 760/7600 pump action rifle during Marlin’s transition years to Remington ownership and I was looking forward to the day when I could go back to my lever action roots with complete confidence. While I did buy a few Marlins over the past ten years, it was much less than in the era prior. But my last purchase, the 2017 Guide Gun, gave me that sense of confidence I’d been seeking to know that Remington was indeed dedicated to the brand.
I’ve always found the Marlins to fit me like a glove with little to no modifications needed, unlike the many other rifles in my collection that demand a certain amount of customization. It is the only rifle engineered in a way that I do not have to heavily modify for use as a tracking or still-hunting gun; it simply works for me in nearly stock form – a testament to the original design. This particular Remington built Guide Gun, like the many Connecticut built models I’ve owned previously, was incredibly accurate out of the box, had a smooth action, was well built with beautiful wood to metal fit, and never missed a beat cycling in or out. I would dare say that it has been more reliable than just about any other Marlin I’d owned up to that point. That is saying a lot because I’ve owned many, many Marlins through the years. Was I impressed with what the factory in Ilion had created? Heck yeah I was. It’s rare that your expectations for something your dearly enjoy is exceeded. But maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. When you build an entirely new CNC machine factory from the ground up as Remington did to rebuild the Marlin brand, it should be no surprise that the new guns would end up quality pieces eventually.
Unlike many out there, I’d stayed faithful to the Marlin brand during the transition years as Remington (the new parent company of Marlin since 2008) learned to build the lever actions made famous for more than a century. I knew after a few years after the Remington acquisition that if Big Green hadn’t jetisoned the brand by that point, that they were determined to wrestle the quality issues into submission and rebuild the brand even if it meant to do so from the ground up. My experience proved this correct, as each purchase I made over the past few years was a big improvement over the previous, until this past year where like I said, the engineers and machinists on the line in Ilion, NY obviously got it right.
The New Marlin 2018 Models
I was very excited by what I saw at the Shot Show. The newest models from Marlin are outstanding examples of what the market craves. 2018 sees Marlin producing in mass what the aftermarket custom lever action builders have been building for the Marlin market for many years. You see XS ghost sights, Skinner peep sights, threaded barrels, custom finishes, polymer coated stocks; all as options on the new rifles straight from the Ilion factory. Essentially no need to get your Marlins customized anymore – and you receive the vast savings of the economy of scale Remington can produce in the new Marlin factory; a very smart marketing move on Marlin’s part. In the past these were the kinds of options that you’d have to buy and put on your guns yourself, or have a custom builder do it for you at a much higher cost. Now it all comes stock on many of the newer models. Of course the traditional walnut and blued models remain in the lineup as well. All of these new models and their attention to customer requests caught my eye. But there was one model in particular I liked best – the 1895 45/70 Trapper.
The Trapper has “tracker’s rifle” written all over it. As many of you might know, I conduct seminars on the Outdoor Show circuit under the Big Woods Bucks Team banner on “The Tracker’s Rifle.” So when I looked at the Trapper, and immediately saw the virtues of a nearly perfect “poor weather” tracking rifle coming straight off the assembly line, I knew I needed one and the order was made. Here is why it is a grand design for the long and difficult treks when tracking in the wet, nasty mountains of Upstate NY and elsewhere:
The Marlin Trapper sports a 16 ½ inch .45 caliber barrel, it has a bead blasted stainless steel matt finish, has polymer coated stocks with grip webbing, and comes stock with a high class Skinner Peep sight. This design is purpose built to take a tracker’s abuse. At 7 pounds it is the perfect close quarter’s big woods tracking rifle. I thoroughly enjoy the inherent balance of a marlin lever gun, especially the carbine 45/70’s. The thick but short barrels create a tidy gun with just enough forward weight to swing natural and point solidly without the need for a long barrel. These short bull style barrels are also typically quite accurate. Marlins also carry cradled in one hand with ease – something every tracker knows is vital when covering miles of tough mountainous terrain. I shoot most of my tracked bucks between 10 and 80 yards. A perfect range for a hot 45/70 load (I hand load the Barnes 250 grain flat nose hollow point bullet at 2000 fps, and the Hornady Interlock FP in 300 Grains at 1900 fps– absolute whitetail and black bear hammers). Because I have small hands, I prefer the pistol grip that comes on the Trapper more than the straight grip I have on my current Guide Gun, making an already comfortable design even more so. On the other hand, I’m not too sure about the oversized loop lever, as the regular levers fit my smaller hands perfectly. But, I am willing to see if this design will work better once I get some experience with it and get a better idea of its advantages or downsides. Time will tell on that one. The skinner sight is a wonderfully robust design and very aesthetically pleasing as well, especially in the matching stainless steel. The black accents throughout the rifle are a nice touch and demonstrate that Remington is thinking about the details, something that gives me confidence.
Over the next twelve months I will provide reports on the fit, function and experience I have with my new “Trapper tracker.” I am excited to get the gun in my hands and begin my journey towards a beautiful downed wilderness buck by means of a shiny copper Barnes in .458 caliber!
– Mark Scheeren
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