Generations of Marlin Lever-Action Rifles

Marlin Firearms has been designing and manufacturing lever-action rifles for more than 150 years. While there have been some changes along the way, their souls remain the same. These rifles are the guns many of us think of when someone mentions the term lever-action, but how much do we really know about them? We’re going to take a deep dive into Marlin’s history with levers and check out a few generations along the way, including the newest gun made under the Marlin name by none other than Ruger.

marlin lever action rifle
Three generations of Marlins. (Photo credit: Kat Stevens)

When did Marlin make their first lever-action rifle?

It was John Mahlon Marlin who founded Marlin Firearms sometime around 1863. The first gun he designed wasn’t a lever-action but a derringer, which was the stylish pistol of the time. The first lever action didn’t come along until 1881. That original prototype was created under patents held by John Marlin, Andrew Burgess, H.F. Wheeler, and E.A.F. Toepperwin. It was the first repeating rifle chambered in .45-70 Government. Marlin is responsible for making the 45-70 Government a thing in repeating rifles and levers. The production rifle was titled the Model 1881 and had a ten-round capacity and a 28-inch octagon barrel. It was a side-loading, top-ejecting design, and while it was certainly heavy, it was popular and launched Marlin into the world of lever-action rifles.

How many lever-action rifles have Marlin made?

Over the years, Marlin has manufactured more than 30 million lever-action rifles. Those guns have been in all manner of calibers, including the .45-70 Government, .219 Zipper, .308 Winchester, .444 Marlin, .30-30 Winchester, .35 Remington, and .356 Winchester.

marlin 1895 trapper
The Marlin 1895 Trapper is one of the latest levers available now that Ruger purchased Marlin. (Photo credit: Kat Stevens)

Who owns Marlin Firearms?

Today, Marlin is owned by Ruger, but the manufacturer has changed hands a few times along the way. In 1915, the company was purchased by a syndicate that changed its name to Marlin-Rockwell, with Albert Rockwell in charge from 1915 to 1920. This change included Marlin’s entry into producing machine guns during World War I. During the war, the company produced more than 60,000 machine guns, making it the largest producer of that type of firearm during the war.

Following World War I, the economy went through a rough stretch, and Marlin changed hands a few times. Eventually, it ended up in the hands of Frank Kenna, Sr., who ultimately got the company through the Great Depression and World War II. When Kenna, Sr., passed away, his sons—and eventually, his grandson—took over and remained in charge until Marlin was purchased by Remington in 2007. In 2020, Ruger bought Marlin from Remington, and that company is now designing and manufacturing lever-actions with a sharp eye for quality control.

marlin rifle
The older Remington-made Marlin 1895GBL has a blonde wood stock. (Photo credit: Kat Stevens)

The Modern Marlin Lever-Action

Modern Marlin lever actions benefit from technological advances over time. That means they’re not only backed by centuries of experience on Marlin’s part but also well-made, reliable, and durable. These guns are some of my favorite levers, and there are three in particular worth considering, two of which came about during the Remington era and one from Ruger.

The Marlin Model 1895GBL was manufactured under the Remington banner between 2010 and 2019. It has a brown, laminated wood stock, round satin-blued steel barrel, and satin-blued steel receiver. The gun comes standard with adjustable semi-buckhorn sights and has a large loop lever, making it easier to run with gloves on (or if you just have bigger hands). It has an overall length of 37.25 inches and an empty weight of 7.40 pounds. With its 6 +1 capacity, it doesn’t weigh a lot more loaded, although the .45-70 rounds can get heavy with quantity. Over the years, I have gotten quite a bit of use out of this rifle and have used it on many different animals, including hogs and deer. It remains reliable and accurate and has withstood a lot of hard use. In addition, it’s drilled and tapped so that you can add a rail or optics.

Dark Series

If you prefer a darker look to your levers, there’s always the Dark Series Marlins. Dark Series guns came out around 2018 and were showcased at trade shows in 2019. These guns have blacked-out levers that eliminate the risk of glare. Thanks to their dark finish, they’re easier to hide in blinds or in the darkness of the woods. The original Dark Series includes the 1895 and 336—chambered in .45-70 and .30-30 Win, respectively—and has a lot to offer.

marlin logo on rifle
The latest Marlin 1895 Trapper has the company’s name on the buttstock. (Photo credit: Kat Stevens)

The Dark Series features a hardwood stock with a webbed black finish that gives you extra grip during use. It has a large loop lever wrapped in black paracord for both the aesthetic and cushioning of hands during cycling. It also comes standard with a Picatinny rail, making it easy to add optics. And while I admit lever-action purists don’t exactly favor the Dark Series guns, I personally love mine. It’s not just about looking cool but having a more versatile lever-action that doesn’t require gunsmithing to add a red dot or rifle scope. Then there’s the fact I can use it after dark on hogs, and the stock is nice and dark, so it doesn’t stand out at night. Also, it comes threaded, so you can add a suppressor.

New 1885 Trapper

Now that Ruger has taken over Marlin, we have an updated 1895 Trapper. This is yet another .45-70 Government, making it perfect for hunting (not to mention a classic). It doesn’t have a rail like the Dark Series, but it comes with adjustable Skinner Sights that work better than the semi-buckhorn style. It also has a different look than its predecessors. This latest 1895 has a black laminate stock. It has a dark gray appearance with black swirls. It’s shorter than the blonde-stock 1895, with an overall length of 34.25 inches and a weight of 7.1 pounds. The forend and stock are checkered to facilitate a sure grip during use, and they come with attachment points for a sling. This rifle is also drilled and tapped, making adding a rail easy. It’s a beautifully made lever-action and designed to be the kind of rifle you pass down to future generations.

Should you get a Marlin lever-action rifle?

Marlin’s levers are awesome guns. My collection is fairly varied and spans a few generations of their guns, and they’re fantastic. All the guns cycle reliably and perform accurately on target, whether it’s paper, steel, a game animal, or a predator. .45-70 Government does produce a fair bit of felt recoil, but it’s not enough to be an issue. The results on target are well worth the recoil as well when you’re hunting larger game or predators.

So, which of these three more recent generations works best? Although the classic light look of the Marlin 1895GBL is beautiful, the gun shows wear and tear more than the Dark Series or the 1895 Trapper. Thanks to several enhancements on the latest Model 1895 Trapper, it is likely the ideal choice for adding to your collection. It’s impressively well-made according to strict specifications, cycles reliably, and is comfortable and fun to shoot (plus it’s quite accurate).

What’s your favorite Marlin lever-action? Tell us in the comments.

Kat Ainsworth Stevens is a long-time outdoor writer, official OGC (Original Gun Cognoscenti), and author of Handgun Hunting: a Comprehensive Guide to Choosing and Using the Right Firearms for Big and Small Game. Der Teufel Katze has written for a number of industry publications (print and online) and edited some of the others, so chances are you've seen or read her work before, somewhere. A woman of eclectic background and habits, Kat has been carrying concealed for over two decades, used to be a farrier, and worked for a long time in emergency veterinary medicine. She prefers big bores, enjoys K9 Search & Rescue, and has a Master's Degree in Pitiless Snarkastic Delivery.

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