Marlin Model 336: Still A Hunting-Season Classic

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Marlin 336
Photo: Rock Island Auction

For more than half a century, the Marlin Model 336 has stood as a model of what a modern lever-action hunting rifle should be.

What Has Made The Model 336 A Sterling Hunting Rifle:

  • Solid receiver made for an overall stronger rifle.
  • Round bolt smoothed out operation of the lever-action, making it faster.
  • Count its cousin, the Model 1895, it's been chambered for everything from small- to big-bore cartridges.
  • Shooting the .35 Remington it proved an all-time classic North American hunting rifle.

Men in red, woolen coats. Remember them? They slew deer by the step-side truck full with a smattering of the gear we use today, a great many armed with what quite a few would currently consider an anachronism. By that, I point to the lever-action.

Yes, I can hear it now … “But, but, the lever-action isn’t as accurate as a bolt-gun and you certainly can’t deliver your payload as far out.” There is truth in this view. For the time being, the lever-action isn’t the first gun off the rack for a precision rifle match or your personal attempt to connect at a mile. To counter that, is that what you really need in the field or for a majority of other applications?

Technologically advanced as hunting has become, most deer (safe guess elk, too, and maybe antelope) are taken 200-yards in. It’s the veritable cannon to kill a mosquito applying a chassis rig for this job. If that’s how you roll, more power to you. But, when practically and soberly assessed, the appropriately chambered lever-action is most likely a better bet. They’re plenty accurate for the job, faster than a wink when operated properly and just plum cool guns to put meat on the table.

Especially when you talk the Marlin Model 336.

Brief Model 336 History

In some respects, Marlin's lever-actions—at least since the Model 1889—have sat at the crux of tradition and progress. At one end, the gunmaker dedicated itself, though not exclusively, to an age-old design. At the other, they’ve advanced it, creating arguably a more resilient and reliable rifle, better suited to modern shooting.

The 336's predecessor, the Model 36--an evolution of the 1893--still boasted the square bolt.
The 336's predecessor, the Model 36—an evolution of the 1893—still boasted the square bolt. Photo: icollector.com

In particular, starting with the 1889, Marlin lever-actions’ side-ejection (to the right) have proven better suited to modern hunting methods (read: with a scope). Their solid top receiver and locking lug have also made for a stronger design, particularly when accommodating modern rifle cartridges. And the guns’ two-piece firing pin, which can’t fire until the action is close, has created a safer overall firearm.

In 1948, the advent of the Model 336 took this a step further. An advancement of the Model 36, Marlin improved the design considerably by breaking from its traditional design, in particular the square bolt. Not that there’s anything wrong with the iconic bolt; it’s still found on the Model 1894 and remains a milestone in the progress of the lever-action. But the rounded bolt of the Model 336 offered up a little something more.

Aside from the metallurgical advancements of the time, the design proved much stouter in many shooters' eyes. It’s hard to argue against that, given its solid receiver is inherently stronger than Marlin’s older ones with a raceway milled out of the upper quarter. Additionally, the operation of the Model 336 feels smoother and faster, in part thanks to a redesigned carrier, enhancing not only its speed but potentially its accuracy—at least shot to shot. An improved extractor stamped out of spring steel also did its part in improving the rifle’s overall function, clearing spent brass with authority. What it added up to was one of the finest hunting rifles ever made—more so given the cartridges for which it was chambered.


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Feeding The Marlin Model 336

Like all self-respecting lever-actions, the Model 336 initially came chambered in .30-30 WCF (as well as .32 Special). Absolutely explosive deer medicine, it was only natural Marlin turn to the standby rimmed centerfire cartridge to christen the new rifle. However, a year after its introduction, the 336 found a match nearly made in heaven—.35 Remington.

Originally developed in conjunction with the Remington Model 8 semi-automatic rifle, the long bottle-necked cartridge was a natural in the Model 336. Its round and flat-nosed bullets played nicely with the 336’s tubular magazine, and, boy, could it deliver a wallop close in. All of a sudden, the Marlin rifle became a legit coast-to-coast North American game-getter, capable of dropping an elk as easily as it could a whitetail. Sure, it thumped more than the .30-30, but not prohibitively so. In fact, the Model 336 in .35 Remington remains a favorite of hunters who need to deliver a succession of fast shots on tough critters—such as hogs.

A cut away of the 336's action shows the locking lug lower, which fits into the notch at the back of the bolt when closed.
A cutaway of the 336's action shows the locking lug lowered, which fits into the notch at the back of the bolt when closed. Photo: merzantiques.com

Certainly, the successful marriage of the 336 and .35 Remington—one which, along with the .30-30, endures today—must have gotten the Marlin heavy heads thinking. If the Model 336 action is wildly popular with the relatively large medium-bore .35, how would it fare with something bigger? Fairly well, as it turns out.

Today, the Marlin Model 1895 continues to define big-bore lever-action rifles, available in behemoth .45-70 Government and, under the guise of the Model 444 Marlin, in .444 Marlin. The large rifles have especially taken off with the loosening of deer hunting regulations in some areas of the country, which now allow straight-walled rifle cartridges, in addition to pistol caliber long guns. But despite its designations, the 1895 and 444 are pretty much the Model 336, at least where it counts—the action. Logically, they’re quite a bit beefier.

Along with these current chamberings, the Model 336 strictly has provided a launching pad for a host of other cartridges, including .307 Winchester, .32-40 WCF, .32 Special, .219 Zipper, .356 Winchester, .375 Winchester, .38-55 Winchester, .410 bore and .44 Magnum. Each has had its fans, except perhaps the .44 Magnum, which never quite got along with the 336. On the bright side, this incompatibility led Marlin to dust off its classic Model 1894 design and chamber it for modern magnum pistol cartridges, which few will complain over.

A Note On Micro-Groove

Marlin is famous for its Micro-Groove rifling, a forward-looking concept that appeared soon after the Model 336, in 1953. The idea behind it goes like the following. Many shallow grooves tend to better index the bullet down the centerline of the bore and cause less deformity. Originally, the Model 336 boasted Marlin’s traditional “Ballard” rifling. However, over the course of its history, most of the rifles have included Micro-Groove rifling. Though, some of the offshoots of the line have gone away from it in more recent decades.

Debate rages over the actual downrange results of Micro-Groove rifling, particularly with cast bullets. Whatever the truth of the matter, Marlin bent to customer demands and did away with the boring system for a number of models—including the 1894 and the 336’s cousin, the 1895. Both reverted to Marlin’s more traditional Ballard style. Though, the core Model 336 line—both .30-30 and .35 Remington—continue to use the Micro-Groove system and, as its always been, say as much on the barrel.

Model 336 Variations

Marlin has turned out a slew of riffs on the original Model 336, with 16.5-inch barreled carbines up to 24-inch barreled rifles among their ranks. The gun has been outfitted—and still is—with both round and octagon barrels, as well as straight and pistol-grip stocks—depending on the model.

With a tactical flare, the 336 Dark Series shows Marlin's dedication to advancing the design.
With a tactical flare, the 336 Dark Series shows Marlin's dedication to advancing the design.

Rocky Mountain rear sights and a bead front were the order of the day to start, but now every model, save one, boasts semi-buckhorn rear sights, generally with a ramp front—hooded and unhooded. The odd one out is the Marlin 336 Dark Series, which has a more tactical bent and comes with an XS Ghost Ring peep rear (post front) dovetailed into a Picatinny rail.

Today, the Model 336 line is composed of eight variations, including 336C (Compact), 336 Dark Series, 336C Curly Maple (stock), 336TDL (Texan Deluxe), 336XLR (Long Range), 336SS (Stainless Steel), 336BL (Big Loop Lever) and 336C with a 3-9x32mm scope. Every model is available in .30-30, but only the 336C comes in .35 Remington. Universal to every Model 336—as it has been from the start of the line—is a tubular magazine, which, depending on variation, holds five or six rounds.

Parting Shot

Certainly, as hunters, choices abound for how we chase down game. None of them are technically wrong, as long as we fill our tags and put meat on the table. Yet, there is something right about following the footsteps of our wildly successful forebears and toting a lever-action into the woods. With the Model 336 still rolling off Marlin’s assembly line, we can be certain we’re doing so with the most modern variation of the traditional firearm.

For more information on the Marlin Model 336, please visit marlinfirearms.com.


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