For more than half a century, the Marlin Model 336 has stood as a model of what a modern lever-action rifle should be.
What Has Made The Model 336 A Sterling Lever-Action 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.
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.
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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What's Ruger Doing With Marlin?
The big wrinkle to the Marlin 336 story presently is what its future holds since Ruger bought its remains in the autumn of 2020. It’s hard to argue the acquisition isn’t a best-case scenario for the company and its prospects in the future. Bill Ruger was an absolute sucker for classic gun designs, essentially founding the company and moving it to the forefront of the market with well-priced reboots of iconic guns. Heck, the cornerstone of the gunmaker’s empire—the Standard—is a tweaked Japanese Nambu pistol that looked to most folks like a Luger.
It’s certain, Marlin as a whole should be in good hands. As to if Ruger will continue to make the Marlin 336 in particular, good news! The rifle is slated for release sometime this year. Though, little word on if Ruger plans on any modifications to the original design and what models will be available. Time will tell.
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.
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 Marlin 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. (We'll see if Micro-Groove continues with Ruger's Marlins.) 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.
Marlin 336 Models
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.
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.
Before becoming a Ruger brand, the Model 336 line was 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. Depending on variation, this gave the rifle a capacity of five or six rounds.
While the Model 336 had always been cherished as a hunting-season staple, the Marlin Dark Series opened the rifle's utility somewhat. Oldtimers might find it difficult to conceive, but the line ushered in the Marlin 336 as a tactical tool. Not that it couldn't hold its own chasing whitetail. But it's been upgraded to make it a legitimate SHTF option.
In particular, the 336 Dark is suppressor-ready with a 5/8×42-tpi threaded muzzle. It sports XS Lever Rail, complete with a fully adjustable ghost ring and an easy way to mount an optic. The company replaced slotted screws with Torx. And, for an extra dash of the tactical, it oversize loop is wrapped in paracord, and it comes with a sling made of the same stuff.
Over the years, the Marlin 336 more than proved itself among the acme of lever-action rifles. Its production number alone tells this tale, as it was among the most produced rifles in history. There is a certain amount of solace it will soldier on under Ruger.
Outside of a few small points, the 336 is a solid rifle, among the best lever-action rifles of the past 80 years. It’s kept the age-old design raking in backstraps during hunting season. And proven itself adaptable to the times as a tactical tool. In all likelihood, it will continue to do so into the future.
For more information on the Marlin Model 336, please visit marlinfirearms.com.