Marlin 1895 MXLR
Risking life and limb as ever for his beloved readership, Pete Moore pits himself against the mighty 450 Marlin in a rather fancy looking lever-action of the same name
If you live in the wilds of Alaska and need a rifle the recommended shooting iron is a Marlin 1895 lever-action chambered in 45-70 Government. Introduced in 1874 as a blackpowder military load the 45-70 has never gone out of favour and today in strong weapons running on smokeless loads and with modern bullets it’s a devastating, short range performer. Like I said in Alaska it’s ‘big medicine’ on big bears…
I’ve had a love affair with the 45-70 since 1975 and in that time owned various BPCRs and lever-actions; including a Marlin 1895. Today I do not have a 45-70, but reckon some form of repeater would make an awesome, driven wild boar and dangerous game rifle.
Silver & grey
What I have here is Marlin’s latest take on the 1895 and a design that would seem to fill that bill – the MXLR chambered in 450 Marlin, which certainly offers a bit more than the old 45-70!
The XLR series, as it’s available in other calibres too is distinctive by the fact it’s all-stainless with grey laminate furniture. Apart from that it’s the standard 1895, though all models have a 24” barrel as opposed to the maximum 22” of the 1895 family. This as I discovered is to get the best out of a new range of ammunition that Hornady have designed in conjunction with Marlin. Called Leverevolution it allows the use of a more ballistically efficient, pointed bullet in a tube magazine.
Up until now the problem of stacking pointed bullets tip to primer in a tube mag were insurmountable as recoil could induce a chain detonation; I have seen this happen and it’s impressive but not pretty. So you could only use a flat-nosed design, which was fine up close but not amazing further out. Hornady got around this with their Flex Tip technology, which uses a flexible/Elastomer pointed tip that compresses under recoil and eradicates the possibility of a chain detonation. The end result is a projectile that gives improved ballistics and down range performance, as I was to discover.
Although new to the UK, the Flex Tip ammo and rifles have been out for some time in the rest of the world, but getting them over here has not been that easy. I have had 450 Marlin ammo for a year now and with Edgars taking up the Marlin agency recently finally saw a Marlin 1895 MXLR arrive. More of the ammo later – now let’s look at the rifle.
Better by design
Though Winchester has the rep for lever-actions; there’s little doubt in my mind the Marlin is the better design. The receiver is a closed top build with side ejection as standard; this not only makes for greater strength but also offers an easy place to mount a scope. The bolt is tubular and fluted, doubtless to improve reliability in adverse conditions. It locks at the rear by a rising lug and the operating lever assembly feels solid and secure. Loading is by a gate on the right side of the action and fills to a capacity of 4+1 in 450 Marlin.
The hammer is external and offers two positions - half and full cock; the first allowing a carry with no pressure on the firing pin but fast to thumb back for the shot. Marlin also include a detachable, 90º spur, which can be fitted when you use a scope as it protrudes to the side making hammer manipulation easier. Along with this is a cross-bolt safety at the rear of the action this pushes right to left to FIRE and reverses for SAFE. This is purely a hammer block device and has no affect on trigger operation.
Sights consist of a ramped blade up front with a removable hood, with a fold-down, elevator-wedge, semi buckhorn U-notch at the rear. The top of the receiver is drilled and tapped for scope mounting. Best here is a one-piece base with U-channel and QD rings so you can take off the scope and still use the irons.
The furniture is nice as the grey laminate is attractive, the butt features a full pistol grip and thick, rubber recoil pad and the forend is quite rounded. Both these areas are aggressively chequered and there are QD sling studs front and rear. Overall this is a good looking gun and handy too, as it weighs 7lbs (un-scoped) and measures 42 ½”. However, I was a little concerned about recoil as the 450 Marlin is more powerful than the 45-70 and I can recall testing an 1895 using Federal’s 350-grain loads many years before and that was not nice…
Over the years Hornady has been responsible for a lot of new calibres, often launching them in conjunction with a rifle manufacturer. They have done a bit with Ruger – 204, 300/338 RCM, 375 and 416 and also Marlin; with the 308 and 338 Express and the 450. The latter shows a tapered/straight wall design with a belted head that provides the head space and it looks not unlike a slightly larger 45-70.
Hornady offers two loads for the 450 Marlin – a 325-grain Leverevolution and a 350-grain flat-nose, I had the former and they quote these figures:
Bullet (grains) 325 FTX / 350 flat-nose
Velocity (fps) 2225 / 2100
Energy (ft/lbs) 3572 / 3427
By comparison their 325-grain FTX 45-70 load is doing this:
Bullet (grains) 325 FTX
Velocity (fps) 2050
Energy (ft/lbs) 3032
Of the two 450 loads the 325 FTX shows the best figures and also shoots flattest out to 300-yards and retains more energy. Without doubt it’s an improvement on the 45-70 version of the same weight. However, how does it do in real life?
I teamed up the MXLR with the latest Leupold scope, the VX-7, in this case a 1.5-6x24 in Warne, QD mounts. An excellent choice for closer range use, but as I was to discover this rifle/ammo combo shot a lot better than I expected and could be used at medium ranges. So something more conventional in terms of spec like a 3-9x50 would be of equal if not more use!
Down, test & grit your teeth
I own a number of what I would term the heavier calibres – 270 & 300 WSM and 300 Win Mag, 8.5x63mm, 375 Ruger and 12-gauge slug and you tend to get used to big recoil. However, I was a little concerned about the 450 Marlin. On the range I showed the round to my friends and suffice to say their comments were not printable, but the gist was; gosh they are quite big, I would not want to flipping shoot them… So number one was standing just to get a feel.
Big yes, but far better than I expected and in fact not too bad at all, though the gun does recoil quite high; which is hardly surprising. The next step; does Flex tip technology work? Glad to say it does, but the thought of even those soft rubber points banging into the primer of the round above is a bit ‘butt clenching’ for the first few shots.
With all that out of the way it was time to zero and check group. Shooting prone off a range bag the MXLR/450 Marlin really impressed as it was printing an inch at 100-yards. Here recoil was a bit snappier due to position… But the gun’s ability to shoot tight for what is a big bore was impressive, so taking the generic lever-action well out of the short range, brush buster category it has always had!
However, one aspect came to light and that was primary extraction. The test day was quite warm and after I’d put about 10-shots through it, lever-operation became very hard. Obviously the round generates a lot of heat, which causes expansion and stiff extraction. Doubtless you’d not be firing 10-shots at anything, but a point worth consideration given your geographic location and season. After all if you can’t kill it with five then it’s time to re-think your game plan, or run…
With accuracy proved and the gun’s shootability established it was time to crunch some numbers. Over the chrono it averaged of 2125 fps/3225 ft/lbs, so a bit less than the factory quote. This is not surprising as it’s rare with any make of ammo and rifle that real time results match what is achieved in controlled and ideal conditions. However, with this in mind it still aces the 45-70 by a good bit and as I recall is a bit better behaved too.
Overall Marlin’s XLR series is doubtless improved by the use of Hornady’s Leverevolution ammo, hardly surprising as they were literally made for each other! For me I’ve never had a full bore lever-action shoot so well. I’d like to try their 308 & 338 Marlin Express FTX in an XLR as that could be very good and a whole lot more useful…
The downside as with all things is the price of the rifle; at well over a grand it’s not cheap and for that money you could get a decent bolt-gun and scope.
My thanks to Hornady for the ammo, Warne for the mounts and Leupold for the loan of the scope.
• Best traditional lever-action design looks even better
• Hornady Leverevolution ammo really improves performance
• A bit specialised for the UK, but a surprisingly good shooter
|Name||Marlin 1895 MXLR|
|Capacity||4 + 1 (tube mag)|
|Drilled and tapped for bases||Y|
Ammo £200 per 100
All Prices Are Guides Due to the Changes in US & European Exchange Rates