Review: ‘New’ Marlin 1894 Lever-Action .357 Magnum

With so many AR-15s and other high-capacity semi-autos, sometimes it’s nice to take a step back from the modern and embrace the traditional. The lever-action rifle was the original “assault rifle” and has been a mainstay in gun cabinets for centuries. They’re reliable, accurate, and hold a fair amount of ammunition. Even today, if a lever-action rifle is all you have, you could certainly do worse. 

Of the popular lever-action designs, the Winchester 1894 design holds a certain esteem. It has been used by shooters for everything from defense to hunting for over a century. Companies from all over have adapted the design to produce their own rifles — some better than others. 

Marlin got its start by making affordable rifles for the working man. They may not have been as fancy as the original Winchesters, but certainly got the job done. For a brief period of time from 2007 until 2020, Marlin was owned by Remington, who overall failed to keep up quality standards and delivered a subpar product. Fortunately, all that has changed now that Ruger picked up this beloved name. 

Marlin lever-action .22 and .357
Here is a 70’s Marlin .22 (top) with the newer Ruger-made Marlin .357 (bottom).

New Owner, New Marlin

When Ruger picked up Marlin, it did more than acquire a name and continue as normal. It improved machining, tightened tolerances, and ramped up quality control. These carefully crafted rifles are now hand finished and receive multi-layered quality control procedures, including daily function and accuracy audits, and multiple inspections that result in some of the highest quality products. With the current standards, it’s clear that the new Marlins are every bit as good as any other lever-action on the market. 

Marlin 1894 Features

If you enjoy the timeless look of blued steel and wood, the Marlin “Classic Series” is for you. Marlin also offers a “Dark Series” for the more tactical shooter, however its main availability comes in 2024. For my purposes, I went with the Classic .357 Magnum for its versatility. While you can use hot .357 loads for hunting and defense, you can still shoot affordable .38 Special loadings when practicing at the range. The combination also pairs well with my .357 S&W revolver. Ruger also offers the rifle chambered in .44 Magnum and .30-30 Winchester, if that’s more to your liking. 

The Classic 1894 is packed with all the features you’d expect from a Marlin lever-action. The checkered American Black Walnut furniture looks as nice as it feels. The blued-steel receiver is drilled and tapped to mount a scope. The rifle comes with an optional offset hammer spur to help with proper clearance. 

Marlin lever-action and S&W revolver at range
A .357 Magnum revolver and lever-action rifle are a great pair.

With a little over an 18.5-inch barrel, you get close to optimal ballistics out of the .357 Magnum round and a good sight radius. It’s also a handy length that balances and points well without weighing too much. The adjustable buckhorn rear sight paired with a brass bead front sight with hood makes for a precise and familiar sight picture for many. Even if you’ve never shot a lever action, this is a very intuitive sight setup to pick up. 

The rifle comes outfitted with a side loading gate, which makes for faster and easier reloading and allows you to top off your ammo when you’re behind cover. The loading gate was pretty stiff at first, but broke-in quickly with some use. The rifle features a 9-round capacity with .357 Mag., but is able to squeeze in 10 rounds when using the shorter .38 Spl. No, that’s never going to compete with a 30-, 40-, 50-round magazine in a semi-auto, but then again, it’s not trying to.

Marlin lever-action with various boxes of ammo
The author shot various types of ammunition and all performed well.

There is a push-button cross-bolt safety located to the rear of the receiver just under the hammer. It is easy to engage/disengage and can only be operated while the rifle is cocked. When you lower the hammer, the safety is fixed in its position, either on or off. This allows you to load the rifle, chamber a round, put the firearm on safe, and lower the hammer safely.

Then, when you need to fire, you do not need to run the lever — simply cock the hammer and put the safety to the fire position. This is good for keeping the rifle ready while hunting or camping and prevents an accidental discharge. 

A 6.2-pound .357/.38 isn’t necessarily a hard kicker, but the soft rubber recoil pad reduces felt recoil to practically nothing. You’ll likely tire of racking the lever long before any recoil gets to you. 

The takedown process for maintenance and cleaning is fairly straightforward, especially for a lever-action rifle. Lower the lever to a secondary half-cock position, unscrew the lever, and pull the lever down and out. Then, slide the bolt straight back and out of the receiver. From here, the ejector will simply drop out if you flip the rifle over. If your fingers are narrow enough, it can also be gently pulled out. 

Disassembled Marlin lever-action
The Marlin feildstrips easily for cleaning and maintenance.

This provides you with enough room to clean the barrel and action. If you’d like to go a bit further, the stock may be removed by taking out a screw located in the rear of the receiver on the tang. Once removed, the stock can slide off to the rear. This provides a bit more access to some of the internal components for maintenance. 

Range Results

At the range is where the rifle really began to shine. There’s something about running a lever gun that’s just plain fun. Additionally, working the lever slows you down and teaches you to make every shot count. Therefore, the lever-action rifle makes for a great training tool. Just be sure to work the action firmly. Like with a pump-action shotgun, being gentle or slow will induce malfunctions. 

Target with .357 ammo and holes
These are two 5-shot groups using Fiocchi .357. The left at 15 yards, the right at 25 yards.

I fired a mix of both .38 Special and .357 Magnum loads, to get a sense of what this rifle can deliver. For .38s, I shot both Armscor 158-grain and Winchester 130-grain FMJ target rounds. For .357s, I fired Fiocchi 158-grain hollow points. I also fired a handful of Speer 135-grain .38 +P Gold Dots I had left over.

I did not experience a noticeable shift in point of impact between rounds, the rifle ate everything and fired dead-on to the point of aim. At 15 yards (standing), I was able to produce consistent 5-shot groups under 1 inch. Stretching out, I rested the rifle and fired at 25 yards, achieving groups around 1.5 inches.

For my eyes and iron sights, this was excellent. With a proper scope, I’m certain you could stretch out further for hunting and target shooting. Although, this is still a .357 Magnum, not a true rifle cartridge, so I’d plan to stay within 150–200 yards. 

Marlin lever-action in leaves
The Classic Series Marlin is stunning.

Final Thoughts

Lever-actions are no new thing, but the new Marlins made by Ruger are definitely worth a second look. I know in 2024, not everyone has a ‘need’ for one, but they should have a ‘want’ for a rifle like this. A good lever-action, especially one chambered in .357 Magnum, is fun at the range and very handy in the field. 

The new Marlin 1894 rifles being manufactured by Ruger are better than ever. What do you think of the Classic .357? Is there a spot in your safe for a new lever-action? Share your thoughts in the Comment section.

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