The Leveraction Rifles of the Staff.
This is another in a series of articles I've requested from the staff. This kind'a spreads the dreadful task of writing articles around & gives the newer people more practice
(as always, click on the little pictures if you want to see a larger one)
The Marlin 336
My lever rifle is really a lever carbine. It's a Marlin 336-SC, their knockoff of the Winchester 64. The deep pistol grip, capped forearm, and half-magazine are the immediate tip-off on this rifle. Mine's a .30-30, but these were made in .32 Special and the even better .35 Remington. Barrel length is 20", weight 6 1/4 pounds. MSRP in 1955 was $68.95. An upmarket version was the 336SD with sling swivels and checkering, which fetched a steep $20 more.
Marlin serial data is a little variable depending on which source you go to. Mine left the Connecticut factory somewhere in late 1949 to spring of '50. It came around 1955 to the father of the man I bought it from as payment for a grocery debt. In the period between '55 and '90 it was used almost constantly as a homestead rifle, a deer gun, a trunk gun, and reassurance for hiking in feral dog country in some of the most rugged country of the Ozarks. It shows the uncountable scars of the grizzled old veteran it is.
The deep pistol grip buttstock and broad beavertail forearm are touches no one likes but me. I find the old carbine handles like a shotgun. Supposedly Townsend Whelen, originally suggested the original Winchester layout, seen in the Model 64 (and Miles' Model 71, for that token). Anyway, it is fast and lively. An amateur recoil pad installation appears contemporary to the carbine's early days-it's a private label pad from a long extinct dealer in Memphis.
The age of the rifle shows up in the Ballard rifling. John Taffin has about convinced me that Microgroove is A-OK with cast bullets. However, the Ballard configuration was designed around lead bullets, and other than getting the copper fouling out of the barrel, not much other preparation is required.
The rifle is, so far at least, not better than a 2 1/2" gun. Which WILL get the job done. Trigger is fine, crisp and light enough. I've not played much with handloads for this one, but I will soon enough.
At this writing, I've pulled off the horrible original buckhorn rear sight, and replaced it with a Williams 5D. The Williams is the cheapo version, and I don't like it. It'll be getting a Lyman or Williams Foolproof. The front ramp and sight are far too short, so those're on the way out too. I'm also using a ghostring aperture in the 5D, and that's gotta go. I just need less aperture.
In 1950, they didn't tap 'em for scopes. At this point in its life, it has had exactly zero gunsmithing. Parts replacement again is nil.
It may not look like much, but it's definitely not for sale.
THE WINCHESTER 94, .45 LONG COLT
Ladies and Gents, you HAVE to shoot this thing. It is the niftiest thing to hit the market for recreation shooters since the .22 plinker...the pistol-cartridge lever gun. In this case, specifically the Winchester 94 made for my favorite caliber,.45 Long Colt.
Cowboy shooters already know this, and the concept isn't new. "Cowboy Rifles", or lever action long guns chambered in big-bore pistol cartridges, have been around for years. Lately however the configuration has enjoyed a new renaissance of recognition primarily thanks to the CAS guys. I'm here to tell you that they are pure fun. They're also multi purpose...good for both plinking at the range on a Saturday afternoon or, with the proper loads, deer and pig hunting, so they certainly aren't "toys" either.
I'm telling you this because, I will admit to the world, I'm a terrible shot. You're going to hear me trumpet this disclaimer as a "flame guard" throughout the article when I talk about my bench performance, so bear with me. Compared to some of the shooters I hang out with I'm a kindergartener at the old gun school. But the last time I took this beauty to the range with a box of warmed-up .45 LC loads I think I convinced them that I'd finally learned to shoot...or at least demonstrated that the Winchester '94 can actually compensate for an inexperienced marksman. With plain old open sights I shot my best yet. But first, the rifle itself...
You can't help but be stirred by thoughts of yesteryear when you look at the beautiful lines of this thing. Well, maybe without the modern sling swivels and such. Pretend you don't see those. Okay...where was I? Oh yeah...beautiful lines. Holding this gun makes you wish you were hearing trail stories from John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. While the cut of the stock is unmistakably modern in shape, not to mention the checkering, the rifle is still a delight for any CAS shooter. You are possessed with an irrational urge to go rent a Western at your favorite video store.
Which brings me to my next point: the wonderful walnut stock on this thing. Now granted, I don't actually have a great deal of gun knowledge at my disposal, I just "know what I like" (I was an NRA member long before I ever actually *owned* a firearm) but most folks will agree with me that the stock on this rifle is some fine work.
A.K. has told me that this is often a luck-of-the-draw process at the factory level. One's original rifle stocks can be of fine wood, mediocre wood, or below-average grade depending on which stick the assembler or craftsman happened to take off the top of the pile that morning. I think this gun was one of those lucky ones.
I have never run across texturing like this before. The finish is glossy and the checkering uniform and comfortable. And with the type of cartridge the rifle is designed to fire, shooting even the hottest .45 Colt rounds should never loosen or damage it. (How many old guns have you seen in your uncle's attic or at the pawn shop that have...argh...duct tape wrapped around the neck of the gun stock? Such a travesty I could not imagine.) To enhance the "dress up" look even further, it's even been suggested that I get the barrel bands brass-plated. That would definitely look neato but I'm not sure if I'm prepared to try that yet. Feedback on this one is welcome.
But enough of the cosmetics...can it shoot, you ask? Well, the answer is YES. Remember that I said I have more enthusiasm than experience. But with the open sights that it came with from the factory, the following groups resulted
This was at approximately 35 yards--no great distance--but adequate, if you're a tenderfoot dude greenhorn beginner. An experienced shooter might be embarrassed to admit that range but I was pretty proud of it. Load data was as follows: Nosler 250 gr. JHPs with 20 grains of H4227 powder in a Winchester Western case. Primers were CCI-350s. This was fired in February with a light breeze blowing that afternoon, perhaps 0-3 mph. I shamelessly blame that one off-kilter shot in the upper-right of the group on the wind. Yeah, right, that's it.
This is a different load. Same distance; one "good hit" as you can see and then the other shots started climbing on me. Odd, since I was using a lighter powder charge. But then again I had only recently gotten myself a good set of spectacles at the eye doctor. But we've talked about that "beginning shooter" thing already. Load data: Speer 225 gr. JHP, 9 grains of Unique, same W-W brass. Primers were CCI-300.
My point is that for a versatile gun that fills all sorts of roles, from plinking to hunting, from CAS shooting to even home defense, this gun can do it all with the appropriate load for each purpose. Recoil is negligible. And it's FUN. No tin can is safe from me. Further, if I happen to be out in the woods packing my Ruger Vaquero as well as the trusty Winchester, I only have to carry one sort of ammo, unless I'm toting different bullet loads. This is old hat for you cowboys but new shooters should heed my advice: shoot one of these sometime. The timeless sixgun shouldn't be without its big brother--a lever gun chambered in the same big-bore pistol cartridges. I'll see you in the Western aisle at the video store.
The Browning 1886
I've had a hard time deciding which levergun I wanted to write about. I have three, a Winchester 94 BB in .375 & both of the Browning repros; a 71 carbine & my newest acquisition, the 1886 rifle.
The 71 is on the front burner as a spring rebarreling project so, I'll save it for later. (and I did! read about it HERE) Paco has done several articles on the .375 & has expressed lustful desire for mine if I ever grow tired of it. (FAT CHANCE!). So, we come to the 1886.
I should've gotten one of these when they were introduced 14 years ago & at about 1/2 the going price. I got this one in early February at Auction Arms. The current Cowboy Action Shooting format has sidematches that these rifles are perfect for & since Browning made only a few thousand, the demand has shot prices for New In the Box specimens WELL over the $1200 mark. The newer Winchester '86s made in the last few years have had a few changes from the original design. Nothing great, but some purists detest the idea of a rebounding hammer & sliding tang safety added to a design "perfected" over 60 years ago in the model 71.
ANYWAY, the last few weeks have been spent wringing out it's preference in handloads. The factory stuff from Winchester & Remington are neat to shoot, but they're loaded at pressures that a trap door Springfield can still handle. The specs for the Remington load are their 405gr jsp @ 1350fps. Buffalo Bore & Garrett have loads upping this 500+fps! I'm not up to trying those yet so I'm loading Speer's 400gr jsp to 1700-1750fps with several different powders including IMR 4895 & Varget. For lighter work, the Hornady 350jrn @ 1800fps shows a lot of promise.
this group was fired at the jbart ranch range @ 75 yds
The ONE thing that MUST be done to the Hornady bullet, since it is really designed for the .458 Winchester Magnum, is to file the exposed lead on the nose flat or the shooter will be first person at a chain fire in the magazine tube!
a comparison of the original bullet & one modified for the 1886
As a note of further interest, Hornady has recently started manufacture of a flatnose version of this bullet. When I can get my hands on a box or two, We'll get to see what they're made of. So far, all of my distributors are SOLD OUT. Wonder why?:)!
Now, can you guess what's wrong with this picture?
Does the buttstock look a little strange?
If you were thinking that you remembered the Browning rifles had a crescent stock,
YOU WERE RIGHT!
I fired the rifle about 20 times with the powder-puff Remington & Winchester ammo & even then the top curve of the buttcap began to bruise my shoulder just at the end my collarbone. Any ideas of shooting some of the high-powered super-duper ammo went out the window!
My plan to remedy this began with dad contacting several of the larger custom stockmakers to see what a shotgun style stock with a flat solid rubber pad would run. After giving him CPR, I decided to go to my backup plan & contact Browning to see if a carbine stock was available. I had seen a picture of one and, although still curved metal, I knew it would be much easier shooting.
the difference between the carbine & rifle stocks
The factory's website stated that all parts had been sold to Midwest Gun Works in Festus Missouri. I called them up & they have plenty of spare stocks. U.P.S. delivered, and with a little fitting, dad & I got the new stock on & ready to go. This has worked so far, but I haven't made my mind up yet if I really want to shoot Buffalo Bore or Garrett ammo just yet.