Marlin Rifle’s Quality Control 2018 – Making Sure the Receivers are in Spec

Marlin Rifle’s Quality Control 2018 – Making Sure the Receivers are in Spec

I previously wrote an article titled An Illuminating Trip to the Marlin Firearms Factory. In my article talked about the much improved quality control standards put in place by Marlin Firearms in recent years. In the videos featured in Big Woods Bucks Video Gallery chronicling the construction of my Marlin 45/70 SBL Trapper at the Ilion, NY Marlin Rifles factory, one of the most interesting stations was the computer that makes sure all the internal and external measurements and surfaces of the CNC’d receivers are within spec. (shown in detail in the video at the end of this article) as the computer runs its “feelers” across each machined surface to ensure uniformity. It’s this level of minute measurement of tolerances that make the new Marlins have that crisp and clean feel in the hand. Every line and surface of a new generation Marlin is checked and re-checked on this computer run system. It was very interesting to watch. If it finds a discrepancy or measurement out of spec, it goes in the scrap heap. But with all the receivers now made on new CNC machines, very little makes it to the melting pot.

Improved Quality Control

What is interesting about this process is the result. On a few of the Marlin forums you sometimes hear people complain that the new Marlin’s receivers are too angular and “sharp.” In actuality, the dimensions are exactly the same as the older rifles previously made in Connecticut, but without the worn out tolerances of the old factory methods. If you compare the newest Ilion made receivers like the one on my 2018 Trapper, with a late run JM stamped Marlin made in Connecticut, you can see the distinct increase in quality on the newer CNC machined and computer measured receivers made in Ilion. People became so accustomed to the older receivers that were made in Connecticut, that the new ones created in Ilion feel extremely tight and “different.” That difference is the tighter tolerances made today. through rigorous quality control measures. When you received a late run Connecticut made Marlin, it felt “worn in” from the factory. In reality, this is not good. Instead, you want the tolerances tight, and then in time all the parts glean together. That is accomplished by making every part on computer aided machinery. While the transition years from JM to Ilion stamped rifles was a painful learning curve for the new factory, it was the investment in these measuring tools that helped make the newest Marlins some of the best ever made.

Take a look at the Video below by Big Woods Bucks that was shot with Hal Blood and I at the Marlin Firearms Factory in Illion, NY.

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Can the 45/70 Marlin TSBL Trapper be made into a Suitable Youth Deer Rifle?

Can the 45/70 Marlin TSBL Trapper be made into a Suitable Youth Deer Rifle?

As some of you might know, when I got my new 2018 Marlin Trapper home and took it out of the box, my daughter Gabi took one look at it and wanted to hold it. She was instantly intrigued by its compact size. The barrel dimension at 16 ½ inches, the overall length at less than a yard long (35 inches) and weighing in at 7lbs, her appeal to it seemed reasonable. It really is a tidy, solid little rifle. But then you realize the other half of the equation; the 45/70 half, and you instantly mentally wince at the thought of pulling the trigger and watching the flames belt out of that short barrel as a large .458 caliber bullet peels out and into space. While this is a natural reaction when you think of the grand old 45/70 round’s typically heavy recoil, it is not entirely justified. There are ways to make the cartridge quite civilized for recoil sensitive shooters.

Gabi had decided that this was going to be the rifle she borrows on the days when she and I are going to hit the tracking mountains this fall, and so I needed to do my homework and see how I could make the rifle perform at a more tolerable level of recoil while still maintaining its accuracy and its effectiveness on a whitetail or an occasional Adirondack black bear should one present itself. In short – can the Marlin Trapper be made into a youth rifle? Let’s see…

I wrote in a previous article, that next to the 35 Whelen, I felt the 45/70 could double up as a one gun solution for all things hunting in the US. I stand by that statement – but with one limiting caveat that my 35 Whelen’s do not share – the 45/70 has inherent limits to its range. That is not to say that a 45/70 with proper heavy loads and large projectiles can’t be an effective long-range proposition – it most certainly can. Many have shot it accurately out past 1000 yards. But for the average guy or gal, running bullets past anything like 200 yards and you have to begin becoming a ballistician to understand how to shoot it accurately due to the arc of the heavy flat bullet. And frankly, most hunters/shooters just are not that interested or invested in shooting the 45/70 long range for this very reason. But if we take the argument for the 45/70 to be a one gun solution for hunting within a reasonable maximum range of say 200 yards, any north American game can be effectively dispatched within that window, and that includes moose, brown bear, elk and anything smaller that walks the North American continent if proper load development supports these goals.

Having established its credentials as a versatile round in the upper limits of its capabilities, conversely we need to research and set up a 45/70 with loads that will inspire confidence in a 16 year old girl’s smaller stature. At the lower end of its capabilities, I did some research; specifically on the history of it as a black powder round in trapdoor rifles of the past. At the turn of the twentieth century, steel wasn’t what it is today, and neither were rifle designs. Guns were weaker and came apart if the cartridge was overloaded for the designs of those times. Smokeless powder was still relatively new, and the 45/70 was a cartridge that remained a slow proposition in relatively weak trap door single shot rifles. Today we have some loads that mimic those black powder era ballistics with reduced smokeless powder loads. My favorite powder for the 45/70 is IMR 4198, and here are my two recipes that will be used with lighter 300 grain bullets for Gabi. They copy trapdoor loads of the past:

21.5 grains of IMR 4198, 300 grain Meister bullets (cheap) in a 16.5 Inch Barrel = 801 FPS

This is the practice load with less than 9 lbs of recoil energy (this is 3 lbs less recoil force than standard 30/30 150 grain loads for comparison).

28.5 grains of IMR 4198, 300 grain Hornady Interlock SP Bullet in a 16.5 Inch Barrel = 1,185 FPS

This will be her hunting load with 12.1 lbs of recoil energy (this is the same recoil force as a 30/30 150 grain factory load for comparison).

These loads are mild and accurate. But many might look at that hunting load as being too slow, with too little punch to ethically kill a deer or bear. It would be if we attempt shots farther than 100 yards. But keep in mind, my farthest shot on a whitetail buck while tracking has been 65 yards, and Gabi’s farthest shot was her first buck at 75 yards. Almost all the deer I’ve shot are in the less-than-fifty-yards category. A 300 grain pill at, or above 1000 fps, will blow clean through a buck broadside, and will certainly cruise past the heart and lungs in a frontal shot. The point being, the above hunting load has little recoil and will be effective for this kind of close range hunting with standard cup and core flat nose Hornady bullets. Bullet arc (trajectory) is totally inconsequential at any game standing or lying down within this self-imposed 100 yard limit as well.

I’ve begun the process of hand loading both the plinkers and the hunting cartridges specified above. I really look forward to watching Gabi practice with the Marlin. I’ve shot some of these rounds in the past out of my guide gun and they almost sound “38 specialish”, more like a pop than a boom. The hunting loads are not all that much more, a solid thump but by no means difficult to handle, so they will be perfect rounds for her. In contrast, I will be using Barnes TTSX 250 grain hand loads on the days I will be carrying the little beast. While a smaller grain bullet, they will be traveling much faster and flatter at around 2,100 FPS. They are very well balanced cartridges in this rifle, and I’ve gotten some amazingly small groups in the 1 inch MOA range with them. These Barnes bullets and the Remington 405 grain factory cartridges were a bit more accurate than the 300 grainers I was shooting last month.

While Gabi wanted a scope on the Trapper when she borrows it, she has a Marlin 30AS in 30/30 with a new Leupold 2x7 on it to handle the clearer weather days. I’m keeping the Trapper sans scope, as the whole point of the Trapper is up close and personal peep-sighted action. This gun will be my poor weather companion, especially those heavy snow laden days. I’d imagine it will grace Gabi on those types of days as well, and she will see the value of simplicity when the conditions get downright nasty. After all, the Marlin Trapper was literally built with this situation in mind – the perfect tracker’s grey days!

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The 2018 Marlin 1895 TSBL Trapper Review

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:

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.

1895-Marlin-Trapper-Tracking-Rifle-whitetail-trackers

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.

Range Time

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.

Summary

The Trapper is a great gun for the following:

  • Tracking
  • Hand load plinking/range days
  • Still-hunting
  • 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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An Illuminating Trip to the Marlin Firearms Factory

An Illuminating Trip to the Marlin Firearms Factory

On the morning of Friday March 2, 2018, Hal Blood and I took a trip through the blizzard to Ilion, New York to tour the Marlin Firearms plant. As some of you might know, Hal is on the Quality Assurance Counsel for Remington so he was more familiar with the factory and the staff there than I was. We also met Charlie Conger, another member of the QAC. (I heard from a few present that Charlie is a hell of a marksman as well. He absolutely loves his Model 700s. I can tell you this; he’s also a nice guy and a wealth of information on various guns and shotguns.) Me, I’m just a hardcore Marlin rifle enthusiast and a tracker that loves carrying those storied rifles through the big woods. As such, I’ve been watching carefully the Marlin brand be rebuilt from the ground up over the past 7 years since Remington’s acquisition of the historical rifle maker. I have seen the quality of what’s been coming out of the plant improve dramatically in that span, and I felt it was time to get an inside look into how that was accomplished. I also explained to Remington brass specifically, that I wanted to do an inside story on how a 2018 Marlin Trapper is created, as that is the rifle I’ve decided to use for my 2018 tracking season in the Adirondacks.

Let me jump ahead a bit, and say that what I came away with after the tour was a new respect for what it takes to build a lever action rifle, and the massive investment Remington has put in place in manufacturing equipment, resources, both monetarily and personnel, and mostly by the people on the floor that make them. I left the plant impressed and encouraged by what I saw. The whole event of walking through those factory halls seemed distinctly, well…American.

Now, before I go into depth into the tour, it needs to be stated that Mr. Jim Baron, the Rifle Operations Manager for Marlin who provided the tour, was an open book. This attitude was gutsy. He was comfortable to let me videotape the entire manufacturing process, and explained how each process has been improved over the years. As someone who has seen the turnaround – from the transport of Marlin’s Connecticut factory assets to the Ilion plant in New York to the 9 million dollar investment in new CNC machinery – Jim was a wealth of information and knowledge. He is young, energetic, smart, and obviously loves the Marlin brand.

As a business owner myself, I pride myself on how open I am with a potential guest at one of my Freedom Model Retreats. Unlike my competitors, I allow a potential guest to tour either of my retreats and speak with the guests that are already enrolled, and spend time with the staff before they put their money down if they need that reassurance. No one in the drug and alcohol help field allows what I allow in this sense. But the reason I am able to do so, is because I have complete confidence in the Freedom Model System we’ve developed, my staff, the facilities, etc. With that said, I did not expect that kind of confidence in the management at Marlin when we pulled up to the gate that snow laden morning. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. The Marlin brand took quite a beating when Remington took over in 2009. The internet can be a fierce and negative place when you’ve taken a well known brand that was in deep trouble to begin with, and then you take the risks to rebuild it. With the overall gun industry in a slump currently, and the recent events in Florida, I half expected a siege mentality. But we got the opposite. No stone was left unturned by Mr. Baron. He was confident enough to discuss openly the challenges in the earlier days, and the ways they overcame many of those obstacles. Times like that make men tired or confident; there’s not much middle ground there. Jim is the latter and obviously the stronger for it.

To further my point here, some managers might be uncomfortable to give an inside look into their operation with a perfect stranger who is going to “write a series of articles about it.” But to then pile on the added pressure of giving said tour in front of two Quality Assurance personal, I cannot say I would have been as comfortable as Mr. Baron was.

When we sat in Jim’s office initially I explained that as a Marlin enthusiast I was tired of trying to get answers about how Marlin was improving their quality by searching the web. Some of the internet trolls say Marlin hasn’t invested in the brand at all. Others say they have spent millions on new line equipment. There seemed to be no middle ground that smelled of the facts or the truth. But based on what I’d been seeing on store shelves personally, and some recent purchases, I knew that quality was certainly there – but I wanted to know how that happened first hand. Also, as an outdoor writer, and as the speaker at The Tracker’s Rifle seminars on the outdoor show circuit, I was constantly getting asked – “Is Marlin back, Mark?” I decided after the Essex, Vermont show that if I wanted to answer that question honestly, I needed to see it with my own eyes. I wanted to look at the equipment, the new CNC machines building the receivers and carriers. I wanted to look at the stocks being worked by hand by 5th generation Ilion workers. I wanted to watch the barrels be cut. I wanted to see how a defective part might be identified on the line and then replaced before the gun left the plant. I wanted to feel reassured of what I was seeing as a consumer was in fact real, and I know a lot of others want that reassurance as well.

As the tour started Jim made it known that he knows improvements can still be made and that the search for those higher standards should never end. That is why the brand has come so far in the last 7 years. Unlike many managers I’ve met in the business world, he is open to criticism and adjusts to those realities. So while the brand isn’t exactly where he wants it to be, we are now getting into what I like to call the “nitpicky category.” The guns that in the past might have ended up in a gun store with obvious defects, are pulled off the line today and fixed. What makes it out of the doors is solid and well made, and here is why…

Eighty Percent

My number one request when we began the tour was, show me the oldest equipment still in use, and then show me the newest. Jim said, “No problem,” and he brought us to the barrel cutters – giant monstrosities bathed in oil vats; both from pre-WWI. Yup, that old. But as I watched the behemoths cut thorough the bore like butter, cutting the lands and grooves in a single pass, I now knew why my Marlins always shot like they did – especially my new 1895 Guide Gun I’ve appropriately nicknamed “Cloverleaf.” If it works don’t fix it. Marlins have great barrels. Always have. I’ve owned dozens of JM stamped rifles. Some shoot better than others, but always accurate enough to slay the deer and bear I chased through the mountains. That holds true today with the Remington made Marlins I’ve owned. While the giant barrel press might be more than a century old, the cutter passing through the barrel blank isn’t. They are changed regularly, and that precision shows in how they shoot.

Immediately after seeing the barrels be made, we came to a single room where 80% of the equipment to make a Marlin rifle sits. None of that machinery existed 4 years ago, and none of it came from Connecticut. This was what I came to the factory to see. The failing Connecticut machinery was replaced with what I was looking at. The new CNC machines are a wonder to witness as they churn out receivers, bolts, carriers, fasteners; all the goodies that make a modern Marlin such a clean design. Take a 2018 made Marlin. Set it next to a pre-2006 JM stamped rifle. You will notice how sharp and clean the lines are on all the metal work of the new gun. That’s a result of computer CNC machining. Ironically, if you were to listen to the internet trolls, you’d think these new cleaner lines were somehow a bad sign of the times. Nope, old equipment makes receivers that look nostalgic yes, but are out of spec by modern standards from a tolerance perspective. The investment in this room was made so every receiver, bolt, carrier or fastener is identical to the specs for a perfect fit. Are there anomalies? Yup, as with any manufacturing process there are the bad ones. But with a computer measuring the units being made, those bad apples are easily identified. I watched it happen as the computer did its measuring and when a field on the screen turned from green to red, the adjustments were made on the spot, and the next receiver was again made to spec. The other went into the filings bin.

What I came away with from this visit was a sense of the smashing together of old and new. Sorting through what works and does not work was the great challenge here. I was able to witness the result of that intense weeding out process and also meet the people on the floor who really knew what they were doing as they made that all happen. They were happy to have their jobs, and they were proud to show me exactly what they were doing. So while the brand certainly went through a difficult time, and the new workforce needed to learn an entire new line of guns – they are Marlin workers now. I became acutely aware of this blending of old and new when Jim pointed out an older gentlemen diligently working on a Marlin stock. Jim looked at us and said, “He is the longest running Remington employee, coming up on 50 years with the company.” I sat there in amazement as I watched him carefully sanding a Marlin stock oblivious to our presence. So my answer to everyone out there thinking about buying a Marlin and asking about quality, my answer is yes, Marlin is back. But it’s not because of one single decision, or a certain process being handled differently. It’s because they figured out how to sort through thousands of variables over seven years, with 20% old and 80% new being the correct mix. Based on what I saw with these ingredients, I think Marlin’s best years are still ahead.

To see a video of the CNC Machining Room for Marlin Rifles click below: Please be aware that while I am an accomplished writer, professional videographer I am not. However, even with my amateur video recording skills, you too can witness the actual investment made by Marlin in new manufacturing equipment at the Ilion, NY plant.

Marlin Factory Tour Video

 

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Copyright © Mark Scheeren, all rights reserved 2018

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A New Marlin for Tracking Big Woods Whitetails – and Yes, Marlin Quality is Back!

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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