- By Pete Moore
- 0 Comments
- Last updated: 09/07/2023
Marlin has been producing lever-actions since the 1890s, and in 2008 was bought by Remington. They moved the operation to their Ilion factory and fired a lot of staff. US gun writers started calling them ‘Remlins’, a blend of Remington and Marlin. It took Remington some time to get the recipe right, but they filed for bankruptcy in 2018.
In 2020, Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc. purchased Marlin, and they are represented in the UK by Viking Arms. The new Ruger Marlins have an ‘RM’ pre-fix to denote the model, while Remington-made guns use MR. Last year, I tested a new Model 1895 SBL and it was sweet.
Ruger will also be introducing two more favourites - the 336 in .30-30 Winchester and the 1894 in .357 and .44 Magnum. Not sure when, so give Viking Arms a bell, but I’ve been promised guns to test.
I managed to pick up a Remlin 1894 in .44 Magnum. Brand new, it was a later model, and of good quality throughout. However, the fit and finish did not seem as good as the newer Rugers.
As a hunter, I reckoned the extra power of the .44 Mag would make it a great little woodland deer rifle with expanding ammo. As data indicated, it was easy enough to make the 1000 ft/lbs required for small deer, with the possibility of hitting 1700 ft/lbs to handle Roe. Conversely, I could drop down to lead bullets in pistol loads for some Gallery Rifle etc.
My rifle included some accessories from Wild West Guns (WWG) in the USA. Their ‘Trigger Happy’ kit offers a replacement sear and blade, hi-vis aluminium mag follower, and one-piece ejector. Also, a medium loop lever, which as I discovered, was a great addition. WWG states they should all be ‘gunsmith fitted’, as the rifle needs a total strip down, easy enough, but if you don’t feel confident, leave it alone.
The gun shows a semi-matte blued finish and plain walnut furniture with some less-than-aggressive chequering. The straight-hand butt gives a shortish, 13.38” LOP, with a slim recoil pad and full forend. QD sling studs are fitted. The 20”, 1-38” twist barrel mounts a semi-buckhorn, elevator wedge rear sight with a ramped, brass-tipped blade up front in a steel protector, both, drifted for windage.
Capacity is 10+1 in .44 Mag and loads through a gate on the right side of the action. The standard operating lever is rectangular and a tad snug. The mechanism was acceptable but can be slicked by selective polishing of parts, or just shooting it in.
The all-steel, side-ejecting receiver is closed-topped and drilled and tapped for a scope base. Popular are the long ‘lever rails’ that extend out over the barrel, but, unless you plan to fit an extended eye relief (EER) scope, don’t bother. I chose a Picatinny rail from Rimfire Magic (£55).
The trigger broke at a firm 4-5 lbs, which was not ideal. The WWG unit gave a slightly crisper break, but at the same poundage, as in both cases, you are fighting a strong hammer spring. You can get lighter replacement springs, and they should make a difference, but check for reliable ignition!
Locking is by a single rising lug at the rear. The lever has a sprung detent that locks into the action and also an ‘interlock’ that disengages, only when it’s fully closed. The hammer offers full and half cock positions, along with a cross bolt safety, so several loaded/carry options. At 6 lbs and 37.5” long, the 1894 is a handy and effective package in .44 Mag.
The 1894 is ready to go from the box, as the iron sights, although basic, are good for 100 yards. However, if you want more performance, then we must consider both optics and ammunition.
You can upgrade the irons with a ‘ghost ring’ setup, which is an improvement. Many feel irons are redundant, and for action-type shooting, go for a red dot. These are good from the muzzle out to 100+ yards. Perhaps a better compromise for hunting is an illuminated, low-power variable scope, typically a 1-4x24 or larger, 1.5-6x42.
I contacted Hawke Sport Optics and they supplied a reflex, wide view, 3 MOA red dot, plus an Endurance 30 WA (wide angle) 1.5-6x44. I fitted the Endurance in QD rings, which would allow me to easily swap it with the Reflex, or go back to the irons, as needed.
I fitted the WWG one-piece ejector for more reliability, plus the hi-viz mag follower. Their medium loop lever is an improvement over the original but it does not come fitted with the plunger, spring, and retaining cross pin. No problem, just rob them from the standard unit. I have not done it yet as I need a 1.5mm pin punch to do the job, but in use, the loop will offer more access, with no loss of operation.
Ammunition-wise, I had a box of Prvi Partizan (PPU), 240-grain, flat-point jacketed bullets (FPJ). Henry Krank provided Ramshot Enforcer pistol powder, some Lee dies, and Starline brass. They also sent some 240-grain, GM ‘hard-cast’ lead round-nose flat point bullets, plus some PPU FPJ in the same weight. With these two, I could explore building ammunition of different specifications to see what suited best.
I had no real problems assembling a straight-walled rimmed case, although you must ensure a decent crimp in a tube magazine, and the correct cartridge overall length, for reliability. I picked high and low reloading data, aimed at rifle-length barrels, and the results showed I had a deal of development ahead of me. Also, there was no way I could attach my MagnetoSpeed chronograph, due to the under-barrel magazine. So, I can only quote group sizes.
Lever-actions are simple and easy to operate. To load it, the rounds go in through the gate, which I found was heavily sprung and not as easy as the new RM 1895. A well-known trick is to leave the round halfway in, so the gate doesn’t close, then push it in with the next one. The 4-5lbs trigger did me no favours, and it was easy enough to throw shots. The 1894’s short, light build and low comb didn’t help either.
The action was OK but not as slick as I would like, so a strip down and polish of all the relevant internals is next. I already have a removable ghost ring rear sight and will be adding a bigger front blade. Another addition was a butt bag/comb riser, which allows me to carry spare ammo and also gives a better head position for scope use.
To establish a reference, I dug out the spec for the PPU factory load, which is quoted at 1541 fps |1286 ft/lbs. This is fine for Muntjac with an expanding bullet, but for Roe deer, I’d need 1772 fps to make 1700 ft/lbs. Looking at factory ammo, it’s not impossible, as Hornady’s Lever Evolution, 225-grain FTX quotes 1870 fps and an impressive 1779 ft/lbs.
The group sizes fluctuated, with the low FPJ loads shooting 0.6” at my 50 yard zero, and the high printing 0.8”. The 240 lead load managed 0.75” (low) and 1.5” (high). The PPU factory went to a disappointing 2”.
For range work, I’m going to try some pistol-weight loads, as the .44 Mag does have a reputation for accuracy. My next task is to get some expanding bullets and ammo. But I’d stick my neck out and say given the right fodder, it should group sub-2” at 100 yards easily enough.
For me, the 1894 is a very different rifle, which makes it a challenging and interesting project. Building a small deer load is not a problem, but a large deer version might be a bridge too far. We shall see.
Of all things, the trigger needs sorting, as you really have to put some effort in to avoid pulling the shot. Both Hawke optics worked well, and the 1.5-6x44 gives a good field of view. I consider it an ideal pairing with the Remlin for hunting needs.
There are doubtless a few 1894 Remlins about, but they are no longer a production item, so check out websites and gun shops. There’s also a dedicated Marlin spares website, which I found most helpful. For the latest RM models contact Viking Arms, some of which might be available this year.