Shooting Illustrated | Overview: Marlin Model 1894 Dark
ANDYou might think that lever action carbines were originally designed for pistol caliber, but you would be wrong. It’s an understandable assumption, as we know the first successful lever repeater was the Henry, which was chambered in the .44 Henry Rimfire, and that was a pistol-caliber, right? Well, not at first, as handguns were used on the .44 Rimfire after the rifle was introduced in 1860.
After that, carbines and revolvers came in the same calibers, as it was a really good idea to use both cannons that a cavalryman or cowboy would shoot with the same cartridge. The most popular pistol calibers for lever action today are the mighty .357 Mag. And .44 Mag.
With a 10-inch Picatinny rail on top of the receiver, adding optics is easy, and options from reflex sights to traditional telescopic sights work well.
Henry, followed by Winchester in 1866, got the ball rolling with lever repeaters, and Marlin, founded in 1870, produced its first leverage in 1881. The Model 1881 was made in several calibers and was the first repeater made for the large .45-70 gov’t round. When the model came out in 1894, it was and is a lever action carbine housed in pistol calibers.
Today all three brands are still in operation, the Henry brand is being revived, while Winchester and Marlin have gone through a change of ownership. The Marlin brand is now owned by Remington, and Marlin’s manufacturing has been relocated from North Haven, CT to the Big Green facility in Ilion, NY.
Lever rifles, and especially short-barreled pistol-caliber carbines, are experiencing a kind of revival these days. New generations of shooters, always popular in cowboy shooting, see the usefulness of these carbines for both sport and defense. Gunsite is also fueling demand for lever pistols in various industries and countries Defensive shooting courses (which happen to be taught by me).
While older folks have a more traditional view of leverage – if it’s not made of blued steel and wood, it’s not a good thing – others want leverage updated with features they expect from modern carabiners like durable finishes, better visors , Threaded mouths and the ability to mount a variety of optical sights.
A knurled cap covers the threaded portion of the barrel and offers the option of adding muzzle devices. • A ghost ring visor that can be adjusted for wind and height is combined with a visor with a vertical blade. • A black paracord is included with the rifle. and nylon belt loop.
Marlin’s latest versions of traditional leverage are updated and modernized versions known as the Marlin Dark Series. There is a Model 336 in .30-30 Win., Two Model 1895 in .45-70 Gov’t and .444 Marlin and finally two Model 1894 in .44 Mag./.44 Spl. And the subject of this test,. 357 Mag./38 Spl.
This April we were supposed to be hosting a media event for Remington with the Dark Series carbines on Gunsite. For this purpose, Remington provided us with the first Dark series .357 Mag. Production gun to leave the factory so we can wring it out before the event. As we all know, April 2020 will forever be known as the month we should all stay home. As a result, the Remington / Marlin event was postponed until later in the year. That’s the bad news. The good news is that I had the opportunity to photograph the new marlin during a few range sessions where I practiced social distancing by having a range all to myself.
The trigger felt lighter than the measured draw weight and broke crisp and evenly with no pick-up.
The Dark Series carabiner stands out in its appearance. While it carries the familiar form of traditional leverage, it has a number of features that will grab your attention. It’s black – really black. While you may be mistaking the shaft and front end for a composite material, it is actually a black lacquered wood laminate with a heavy, rough, and grippy texture. The metal is executed in black Parkerizing and the barrel has a thread of 5 / 8×24 tpi. The threaded section of the barrel, which is covered with a knurled cap, protrudes about one centimeter above the magazine tube.
A 10 inch long sits on top of the receiver XS visors Picatinny Scout Rail with a ghost ring visor, while the visor is an XS blade with a white vertical line. The Wild West Guns style big loop lever is wrapped in black paracord and there is a black noose on the front and back rivets with paracord nylon straps and rotating loops. The pull length, measured from the center of the trigger to the center of the comfy recoil cushion, is approximately 13 3/8 inches.
The trigger of our sample is to be mentioned separately. One of the best lever releases I’ve ever seen. It has no intake, breaks crisply and consistently averaging 4 pounds, 11 ounces, and has no overstroke. It feels lighter than it measures.
Before I start testing a gun, I go over it and check that things like screws and rails are secure. Especially with Marlin lever actions, it is my experience that the slotted screws loosen in class and have to be checked from time to time.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the Dark Series Marlin is held together by torx head screws, all 10 in three sizes. You will need T8, T10, and T20 screwdrivers or bits to check and tighten these screws. This has to be a first for a lever carabiner and in extreme cases is not traditional. But the thing is, it works. During two days of long range, none of these screws were loosened or tightened. This shows that even an ancient weapon design can be improved upon with some modern elements.
Although the carabiner is reliably and smoothly fed from the tube magazine, loading can be difficult due to a stiff spring. • Black heel on the lever with a large loop gives the weapon a very tactical aesthetic. • The addition of a silencer makes the rifle handy for both defense and hunting scenarios.
These XS visors use conventional slotted screws in six different bit sizes. The rear ghost ring visor is adjustable for both air resistance and height by loosening two opposing screws that screw the ring in and out to lift and move the visor left and right to adjust the wind . There’s no precision at all – it’s a move, tighten again, shoot, loosen, move and try again. For accuracy tests, however, I mounted a Leupold VX-R 1.5-5 x 33 mm FireDot Scout rifle scope on the optics rail.
The carabiner feeds reliably and smoothly from the tube magazine, but loading the tube is a real problem. The first few laps are easy to load, then over time it becomes more difficult. I only managed to load eight rounds into the tube once before giving up in frustration. Loading five for group shots was bad enough that I would do individual load laps to test for accuracy. This can be easily achieved by throwing it into the ejection opening and closing the action. It is possible for things to loosen up a bit with prolonged use, but be aware that they come from the factory with a really tight mag tube spring.
Shoot this carbine with heavy .357 mag. Ammunition is a breeze as recoil is barely noticeable and .38 spl. Ammunition is pure joy. The carabiner feeds everything effortlessly, but I’ve found it doesn’t feed .38 Spl. Wadcutter ammo and while feeding these target rounds once works, the accuracy I experienced with the wadcutter rounds was terrible – the opposite of what one might expect. Except for the wadcutters, the average group size for all of the groups I fired was 1.08 inches.
Aside from the stiff issue when loading magazines, shooting this carbine is absolute fun. For those who live in countries where freedom is denied and where semi-automatic rifles are frowned upon, the Dark series carbine is a tactical alternative. It is suitable for hunting medium sized game and there is a wide variety of .38 Spl. And .357 Mag. Ammunition to choose from, which makes it very versatile. When you add a suppressor, you enter another dimension of shooting, both for hunting and defense.
While modern alternatives are preferred in defensive carbines, people who take the time to learn leverage in one of our classes come from the experience that the lever pistol works well in a defensive role. There isn’t much that they can’t handle. Is the lever rifle slow to operate and fire?
I heard this review but if you watch a cowboy match you will see amazing quick shots. I’ve seen skilled shooters leverage faster and more accurately than someone shooting a semi-automatic carbine. Leverage reloading is certainly more difficult than any weapon with a detachable box magazine, so this is a legitimate concern.
In the end, it all comes down to what you prefer. No weapon is perfect in every role, so don’t limit yourself. When the spirit of John Wayne grabs your soul, shooting a good leveraged carbine in a pistol caliber gives you all the shooting fun you need.