The 2018 Marlin 1895 TSBL Trapper Review
One cursory look at the new for 2018 Marlin 1895 TSBL Trapper (Check out some of the pictures of this in my Tracking Rifle Gallery) and you immediately know it is as handy a rifle as has ever been made. Then you handle it, and you are further convinced that this might just be the best stock tracking rifle ever made.
Now don’t worry, I’m not going to even try to convince the Remington pump-action faithful to switch over; I’m not that delusional. My point here is this, what strikes you when you hold the gun is how darn easy it is, well…to hold it. Just this weekend as I got home from the Augusta Sportsman Outdoor Show where I gave a seminar on tracking rifles, I became acutely aware of that trait. I asked my daughter Gabi to hold my new Trapper while I slid another rifle into the back of my gun safe. I turned around to take the Marlin from her and found her looking the gun over with real interest. She looked at me and said, “This is my new tracking rifle Dad. It’s so short.” Just like that. The decision was made. Then she turned around before she headed upstairs and said, “But if I’m hunting with it, it needs a small scope on it.” I made a mental note, and moved on with my night.
So what is the key with Marlin lever actions attracting so many new hunters like my daughter to become a part of the lever gun faithful? Let’s face it, thousands of first year hunters start with a Winchester 94 or a Marlin 336 every year. Is it the action? Is it the ease of carrying such a balanced and light rifle? Is it the typical 30/30 light recoiling round that attracts newer hunters? I’d say yes to all of the above. But the Trapper is even more special, and here are the reasons why:
- It’s weather proof. Trackers (and newcomers alike) love a gun they can set in the corner of the hunting tent after a long day in the rain and not worry about it rusting to pieces over the course of a week in hunting camp. With that said, these same hunters are a little reticent to have said rifle in a bright and shiny stainless finish – there’s the feeling that it will spook game. Knowing this, Marlin bead-blasted the stainless steel into a mat grey-dull finish. Weather proof and stealthy, nice. Also, the hardwood buttstock and for end are both painted with a hard coat, but grippy, weatherproof black splatter paint. Unlike the Henry all weather models that feel like they will slip out of your hand at the first sign of any moisture, the splatter painted finish has a nice firm feel to it.
- The buttstock also comes standard with an aftermarket Pacmar Decelerator recoil pad. A nice touch considering the rifle weighs an even 7lbs and has the option of throwing legitimate elephant stopping projectiles. A nice pad on the shoulder is an important feature here.
- On the topic of ammunition, the 45/70 can be down-loaded with rounds for a small framed shooter who is afraid of stiff recoil, (my daughter) while also having the potential being able to stop a rogue grizzly in the Yukon with the maximum loads. The versatility of this gun is actually quite impressive in this regard. As a whitetail gun, it can be loaded mild with a deer killing 300 grain pill that is sure to punch a big hole without being painful on the shoulder.
- It comes stock with skinner peep sights. Skinner makes a quality sight, plain and simple. I unscrew the peep aperture out, and hunt it as a “ghost sight.” Perfect for tracking in blustery conditions.
- It’s short, but balanced, at 35 inches. This makes for one handy rifle in the thick black spruce hell that is typical habitat of the northern mountain buck.
- Its short 16 ½ inch barrel is stiff and thus quite inherently accurate. Plus, because it is so fat, even with its short length, the wide diameter still holds enough steel and weight to swing well. This is something deer hunters in shotgun only zones like about their slug shotguns – they swing and point well, and this is why; a short but bullish barrel contour. A stout gun needn’t be jittery in the swing and this one isn’t.
Of course there are other virtues that all lever actions have such as reliability, good leverage to break open an iced-up action, ease of racking a shell for fast-firing at running bucks or bears, and natural pointing ergonomics.
I was more than pleased to have received my Trapper after having watched them make it at the Ilion plant when I made the tour in early March (I recently wrote a detailed post on my tour that you can check out: An Illuminating Trip to the Marlin Firearms Factory) My confidence in the rifle itself rose when I saw firsthand how exactly each part built, and the care with which the Marlin factory workers put into it. This is not a Connecticut-built gun made on wore out machinery. I watched the CNC machines cut the receivers and bolts. I watched the barrels be made. I watched all the small parts be manufactured and the stocks be fitted. Frankly, it was impressive. The computer generated quality assurance machinery that measured and remeasured each part, makes for one tight and clean rifle.
Do I have any complaints? Yes, but they are small. The front sight is a white stripe design. If this is a bear-stopper, or a tracking rifle, then the white stripe has to go. A front site that is the same color as snow makes little sense to me, especially for tracking or as a backup grizzly rifle for Alaska or the Yukon where snow can exist for the majority of the year. I replaced mine with an old Remington dovetail front mount and a red fibre optic Williams Firesight. The recoil pad is a nice piece but it tends to catch on my jacket because its edges are so “sharp” (it’s plenty soft though). I’d like a more rounded version of the same manufacturer and compound. I’d also ask Marlin to smooth the interior edges of the lever, especially on the 1895 line. My hands and fingers got a little beat up working the lever in some of the fast-fire exercises and a smoother surface would go a long way in making that kind of shooting more pleasurable. Honestly, that’s it.
The gun is so well thought out, and the details so convincing, that I was unable to find anything more to complain about. I figured I’d find out the unforeseen issues as soon as I hit the range and put the gun through its paces. But let me skip right to what I found – this rifle, like so many other Marlins I’ve owned, is a great shooter, and it never jammed or misfired. Not once. When I test a rifle, I am not kind to it. I’m a tracker and the rifle will need to be reliable and inherently capable. This one is. It’s a true pleasure to shoot. It is accurate with both the peep sights and with a scope.
Rather than get into the details of the various hand loads I’ve created and the finer aspects of load development in this review, I’m going to save that aspect for a warmer month. I love reloading, but it takes more time at the range to document the details of what each load can accomplish, and I just wasn’t willing to spend my time in the freezing cold to do so. However, for the sake of getting the rifle out of the box and onto a firing range I picked 2 factory loads that are extremely popular here in the northeastern mountains: Federal’s 300 grain soft point, and Remington’s 405 grain core lokt ammunition. Both will punch through a deer at pretty much any angle if the shot is taken within 100 yards. Again, I will save the commentary on ballistics, coefficients, and drop for a subsequent article that is geared towards these details. For now, I will assume the average whitetail hunter (or black bear hunter) who buys the Trapper will shoot a few boxes of rounds per year, and these particular brands represent that guy or gal fairly accurately.
So how did it do?
Four 5-round groups shot with the ghost sight at 60 yards gave me an average group of 2.1 inches. The largest group was 2.8 and the smallest was 1.1. This was taken on a Caldwell Lead Sled to take as much of my human error out of the equation as possible. The smallest group was made with the Remington core lokts. After I mounted a Leupold 1x4 vx2 on it, the average group size dropped to 1.8 inches keeping the scope turned up to 4 power. The only group to break into MOA territory was one group that measured .7 inches at the 60 yards – still within MOA if we pushed the equation to 100 yards. This group too, was had with the Remington ammunition. With more time and patience, I’m absolutely sure the gun could do better with either brand. Regardless, these groups are plenty small enough even if extrapolated out to 150 yards (the sensible limit for these soft-shooting rounds) for whitetail and bear.
The Pie Plate Test
It’s simple. Tack a pie plate on a board downrange, walk back a distance, fill the magazine full, stand upright, and shoot as fast as you can accurately at the pie plate. This test is simply to emulate a real world “in the woods” shooting scenario. If you can whack the pie plate every time at a certain range doing this, then you know your range limit as a tracker with that rifle (at a still deer). I was able to hit the pie plate 100% of the time to the limit of my small gun club’s 60 yard range. If the range was longer, I have no doubt my range with this rifle would increase. It points steady and is comfortable to shoot. As a tracker, I now have full confidence to bring this rifle with me this fall, as most every buck I’ve shot in its bed or otherwise in the last ten years was within that 60 yard limit.
The Trapper is a great gun for the following:
- Hand load plinking/range days
- Tree stand hunting (with or without a scope)
- Grizzly medicine (Guide gun)
- Home defense (with light loads – regular loads could travel through a house!)
- “Truck gun”
- Hog Slaying
For me, I look forward to bringing it up north this fall to carry on the track. The only question is whether I will need to pry it from my daughter’s hands when we get to the trailhead!
Be sure to take a look at some of the new pictures of this beauty in the Tracking Rifle Gallery.
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