- By Pete Moore
- 14 Comments
- Last updated: 09/02/2017
Since Edgar Brothers took over the UK distribution of Chiappa firearms, I’ve seen some diverse and interesting guns come across my desk; from a folding survival rifle, to a beautiful reproduction of a classic American lever-action shotgun. This month, it’s the turn of another leveraction but this time in .22 Long Rifle (LR) the 322, which is another reproduction but on this occasion of the Marlin 39A, a design whose claim to fame is it was the first American rimfire lever-action and introduced in 1891. The 91 used a side-loading receiver, which proved a bit awkward for the diminutive ammunition and in 1892 the design was changed with a forward loading system, with a removable brass tube with rounds going into a cut-out on the underside of the tube magazine. The brass tube contains a pre-packaged feed spring and follower plug, all very clever and neat!
In 1897, Marlin introduced the take-down version and that’s how it has stayed ever since, with the rifle being called the Model 39, 39-A and then The Golden Mountie 39A, which was introduced in 1954 and produced until 1983. In truth, the changes were so minimal that the 1983 version was standardised on and called the 39A Golden, which is still in production 125-years from the original 1891; not bad.
I do like lever-action rifles and have owned a few from the classic Winchester 1873 up to the hi-tech Browning BLR (Browning Leveraction Rifle) with a good few in between. However, I admit to never having owned a 39A; tested a few but somehow never go around to it. Pity, as the combination of the 22 LR calibre as to ease of use and economy, combined with a rifle that offers a true, self-contained feed system makes for some good and fun shooting with a deal of small game potential too. Oh yes and its take-down ability, which is a bit different and perhaps not so useful in the UK, apart from one factor, as we shall see!
The Chiappa’s similarity to the Marlin is obvious; my tester was the basic version with a straight-hand beech stock and blued/ black finish. The 322 is also offered in another four options, all identical in mechanism, feed and dimensions with just differences in finish and furniture. For example, the Deluxe shows a colour casehardened receiver, pistol grip butt with chequering. The standard is the same but with a straight-hand butt and no chequering.
There are also two all-weather versions, both with black, rubber-covered stocks. The Kodiak Cub has a stainless/ nickled-type finish and the other a black chrome skin, unsurprisingly called the Black Chrome.
The 322 is small and might feel a tad cramped if you are of the longer armed persuasion. Barrel length is 18.5” with a full-length magazine tube underneath. It’s only chambered in .22LR; however, due to its in-line feed system, it will also accept and reliably feed the older .22 Short and .22 Long ammo. Though I have to admit I have seen neither of these rimfire options in shops for a few years, but they do have their advantages to a degree. First they will up the capacity from Chiappa’s quoted 15 in .22LR and where lesser power is required for close range work, they will do the business and are a tad quieter too.
Like all Chiappa rimfires, the 322 makes use of Mazak for the action and small fittings like barrel bands etc. This is a zinc alloy and capable of being cold extruded, so well suited to manufacture of this type of complex shape, as it requires no machining. Though heavier than aluminium it’s not as strong as steel and is probably chosen more for its economy and ease of use. Having seen the colour case-hardened version I was intrigued how well this finish was applied, given it cannot be done in the traditional heating and quenching manner as with steel.
The layout goes for barrel and forend bands in the time-honoured manner, with traditional sights; the front is a blade on a ramp with removable protecter and the rear a semi-buckhorn, elevator wedge, which is also driftable for windage. As opposed to the tapping and screwing the receiver for scope mounts, there’s an 11mm integral dovetail on top. On the rear right of the action is the take-down screw, which I will come to in a bit.
There’s no safety catch, with the hammer showing full and half cock facilities. Here I must apologise, as the ½-cock position is just off the firing pin and barely noticeable. In my recent video on the 322 I said there was no ½-cock facility, which was wrong!
Loading is easy as you just need a pocket full of ammo. Turn the rifle over so that the magazine tube is facing you and you will see the cartridge-shaped filling cutout in its underside. The front of the removable follower has a knurled end piece and just below it a locating pin, which engages in an J-shaped cut out in the end of the fixed section of the mag tube. Rotate the end piece about 1/6th turn, which unlocks the follower assembly and pull it out until the filling port is exposed.
Rounds are now dropped into the mag tube base-first, to a quoted capacity of 15. Slide the follower back in and relocate it and you’re ready to go. For the test, I used Fiocchi, 40-grain, round-nosed standard velocity ammo, which suited the rifle well. Though I like iron sights, I elected to fit a scope, as I wanted to see what the gun was capable of. The short receiver length and rear sight posed some problems and I eventually dug out an old Luger, 1” body fixed x6 power, which did the job. It shot between 1 – 1.5” at 50 yards; acceptable but a tad disappointing!
In use, a number of aspects of the design came to light. Filling to capacity (15-rounds) occasionally would not allow the inner follower tube to go down all the way and lock in place. Dropping the payload by one or two seemed to help, but occasionally there was still stiffness in the last inch or so of seating the tube.
Operation was 100%, with the action cycling easily with commensurate feed and ejection.
Breaking the rifle down is also easy, unscrew the body screw on the rear right of the action all the way, cock the hammer and hinge the butt section to the right, as there’s a tongue & groove at the front that locates the two components. The two parts of the receiver are L-shaped, with the left side and top being attached to the barrel and the right wall and base being on the butt. The good thing is that this allows easier cleaning than standard, fixed build, which has to be done from the front only, or use a bore snake. Here you can remove the breech block and push your cleaning rod in from the chamber end. Typically the bore uses 6-groove rifling with a 1:16” twist. One caveat here though; too much tension on the cross screw will slow down or bind the action stroke so adjusts it properly! Price-wise you’ll get good change out of £500.
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Bought one a week ago and it does not cycle Aguilla 22LR Super Colibri let alone 22 Short. Any chance you could take a picture of the internal action so I can see what I am missing in my version?
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