Hunters and shooters alike have valued Marlin firearms, especially the company’s lever actions, for over 100 years. Now, as we sit poised on the edge of a new beginning for the Marlin brand under Ruger’s ownership and production, takes a look at three Marlin rifles needed to hunt any North American game animal. 

Marlin 39

Not that long ago, Marlin claimed their Model 39 platform as the oldest, continually produced rimfire rifle. The original Marlin 39, springing from the Model of 1891, was produced from 1921 to 1938 and was unrivaled in quality. There was a full octagonal barrel, case-color hardened finish, American walnut stocks, no crossbolt safety, and – on top of all of that – a simple takedown design that breaks the entire rifle in half for compact transport or easy cleaning. All handled .22 Short, Long, and Long Rifle ammunition. 

As the years passed, so did changes to the beloved 39. Though most of us would rather have a true original, those prices have skyrocketed. Luckily, the 39A and its variants remain an incredibly high-quality rimfire lever gun at a more affordable price point. Many model variants came and went, with perhaps the most popular being the Golden Mountie

Most 39As were drilled and tapped for optics mounting and wore ramped and hooded iron sights. Regardless of which Model 39 you grab, the rimfires are shooters, lookers, and small game hunting marvels. The Marlin 39 and 39A rimfires are classic squirrel, rabbit, and smaller varmint rifles.

Our GDC Test Gun: Marlin 39A .22 S, L, LR

This 39A wears a 24-inch round barrel with factory iron sights. The metalwork is blued steel with uncheckered walnut stocks showing the patina of age. The gun dates to around 1950 with a hooded front sight and elevation adjustable rear. It boasts a capacity of 26, 21, or 19 rounds when loaded with Short, Long, or Long Rifle cartridges accordingly. 

Marlin 1894

If you agree that the first logical centerfire choice and perhaps the most well-known and loved decision among deer hunters would be the Model 336 in either .30-30 Winchester or .35 Remington, you should avert your eyes now because we’re going in a different direction. Instead, we opted for the Model 1894

The 1894 has a reputation for being the ideal companion for handgunners because the rifle is chambered in the most popular of the calibers traditionally known as revolver rounds. They include: .38 Special/.357 Magnum, .41 Magnum, .44 Special/.44 Magnum, and .45 Colt. Old West aficionados, however, will recall the throwbacks like .25-20 Winchester, .32-20 Winchester, and .44-40 Winchester, among others. Most of the calibers make the handy rifle more than capable on deer-sized game. Low recoiling and side-ejecting, they gave Winchester’s top-ejectors a run for their money over the years. 

Of what was a full catalog just a few years ago, the Model 1894 was perhaps the only remaining square-bolt centerfire designs. The 1894 represented old-school Marlin with modern design improvements. Many variants came and went over the years, including stainless, black walnut, carbines, big-loop levers, and even a short-run .22 Magnum. In their larger chamberings, like our .44 Magnum, Marlin’s 1894 are quite capable on medium-sized game, including deer and hogs. 

Related: Marlin 1894 in .357 Magnum - 'Long Live the Lever Gun'

Our GDC Test Gun: Marlin 1894 .44 Special/.44 Magnum

This original JM-marked 1894 dates to around 1972. It wears a 20-inch round barrel, gold-plated trigger, and uncheckered walnut stocks with a straight buttstock. It’s drilled and tapped for easy optics mounting and uses Marlin’s micro-groove rifling. 

Marlin 1895

No matter how many lists about the top rifles Marlin made – or rifles one must own, or big bore options for the largest game animals – the Model 1895 is there every time. With roots in Marlin’s earlier Model 1893, the 1895 we have today was designed to chamber a larger, more potent centerfire cartridge. The venerable .45-70 Government has come to define the Model 1895, and rightfully so. They’ve taken big game around the world, dominating North American big game hunting the way Marlin’s Model 336 in .30-30 Win did whitetails. 

The 1895 big bores are side ejectors, fed through a side-loading gate, and hold their rounds in a tubular magazine. It was not alone, though. Marlin added their own .444 Marlin straight-wall chambering to the 1895 action, calling it the Marlin 444. Interestingly, the 1895s were not only rifles. Several times over the years, the company built Model 1895 shotguns in .410 bore as well. 

It's the thumping rifles, however, that dominate on large and dangerous game. A Model 1895 chambered in .45-70 Gov’t will handily take down any North American big game, from Grizzly and Elk to Bison and Moose. It can even be tailored to lighter game like deer with the right ammunition. 

Our GDC Test Gun: Marlin 1895 Dark Series .45-70 Gov’t

This blacked-out shorty uses a 16.25-inch barrel that is threaded for suppressor mounting. It has a black-webbed hardwood stock, XS Lever Rail with ghost-ring sight, and a big loop lever that boasts a paracord wrap. It also includes a paracord sling and 5+1 capacity. It weighs in at 7.65 pounds and measures 34.5 inches in length. 

Related: The Marlin Dark in .45-70 is Stealthy and Modern

Marlin Over the Years – and Today

The Marlin Firearms Company has come a long, long ways from its early start in Hartford, Connecticut, under founder John Marlin. As we sit and wait for the first “new” Marlin’s to roll off Ruger’s lines, we can take a look back. 

Ask any versed Marlin collector, and they’ll be quick to tell you the earliest are – by and large – the most desirable. Such buyers look for the “JM” barrel stamping indicating an earlier manufacture under John Marlin before the days of the Remington umbrella group acquisition. 

It’s by no means fair to call the Remington-owned Marlin-era rifles – sometimes dubbed Rem-lins – low quality. In fact, my own Model 1895 from this recent era is a gem in every way. For each of those, however, are some lemons in terms of quality and function. Thus, it is with high hopes that we anticipate what is to come from Ruger, knowing the history of quality and customer service they bring to the table. 

revolver barrel loading graphic