What seems like forever ago, my little brother snagged a Model 94 Winchester from the local gun shop. It was chambered in .44 Magnum, and let’s just say we all fell in love with that short and sassy little lever gun. Ever since then, I have been dying to get something similar for myself, but life has a way of dictating your gun purchases, doesn’t it?

So, when the opportunity to get a Marlin 1894 in .357 Magnum came my way, I was not going to let my dream go unlived. But would it be everything I had hoped for?

The Marlin 1894

Since the 1870s, Marlin has been manufacturing lever guns and other firearms for the American public. It has seen several ownership transfers over the past two decades, and the latest one will hopefully be a good and final one. Regardless, the 1894 has been one of Marlin’s most popular models over the years, though there are many others that have also graced the shooting public. 

The 1894 is like many of Marlin’s firearms, a lever-action repeater. Probably the most distinguishing feature of the model is its side-ejecting receiver design. This has made Marlin lever guns very popular with users of riflescopes as it allows for a more generous mounting area. The rifle has an eight-round tube magazine that loads from the side of the receiver through a loading chute.

Opening the Box

When I received the rifle, I set straight to fiddling with it. It’s practically impossible to pick up a lever gun and not jack open the action. The gun seemed just a bit stiff, which I’m sure was more about it being brand new than anything else. A few hundred rounds would surely loosen it and make it run like warm butter.

The rifle featured handsome checkering on both grip areas on the walnut stock. On the breach end of the barrel, there is the traditional buckhorn rear sight. A hooded front post sits at the tip of the barrel. I like the old lever guns without the modern safeties, but this one is at least minimal and doesn’t stick out terribly. Plus, the gun still has the half-cock safety.



The Ammo Situation

I am lucky to have prepared for the ammunition crisis years ago, and my storage has plenty of components to make dang near anything I need. With a good stash of .357 and .38 special brass and bullets, I knew I wouldn’t have to get gouged at the local gun shop.

In just a few hours, I had built up a nice supply of .38 special ammo loaded with soft-shooting 160-grain wadcutters as well as a small pile of .357 Magnum cases that I loaded with a warmer charge underneath 125-grain Hornady XTP bullets. Both of these loads worked great in the little Marlin and made for hours of plinking fun.

.357 ammo on top of a Marlin 1894 lever-action rifle
Loading .357 ammo provides plenty of power, but you have the flexibility to load lighter rounds as well. (Photo: Jeff Wood/Guns.com)
A man reloads his Marin 1894 lever-action rifle
Loading the tubular magazine is quick and easy. (Photo: Jeff Wood/Guns.com)

To the Range!

The 1894 is obviously meant for up-close business, making shots beyond 100 yards more about luck than focused effort. The accuracy of the 1894 was still very useful, and it proved enough for squirrels at 60 yards anyway. In just a few minutes, I had gotten quite accustomed to loading and shooting the rifle. Much like shooting .22s, this became quite addicting. Hitting targets the size of soda cans under 60 yards became a quick game for us, and it was even more fun when we stretched it out to 100 yards or so.

The report of the rifle was surprisingly soft, as was the recoil. I wouldn’t recommend shooting it without hearing protection, but it barely felt like you needed it out in the open country. The recoil was soft enough that only the youngest of shooters would shy away from it. This also made follow-up shots easy and fast.

The Marlin 1894 is in my mind the perfect little camp rifle. Whether it is used for kids plinking at cans or for the serious hunting of deer-sized animals, the rifle is more than adequate for the task. This little gun would be a perfect companion for a hike through the forest. Its petite size and light weight make it ideal for walking. With the ability to shoot light loads like the .38 Special or hard-hitting loads like the powerful .357 Magnums, you can use whichever ammo best suits your purpose.

Accuracy and Action

I wish I could have gotten a scope mount for this story. I think it would have been a valuable addition. But I found it very easy to hit what you are aiming at within the range of this rifle even using the factory iron sights. Accuracy with the provided sights allowed me to obtain 1.5-inch groups at 50 yards, which I consider acceptable for the purposes that fit this rifle. I’d imagine that I could probably tighten that up a bit more if I had a scope mounted to the rifle.

The flawless function of the 1894’s action attests to the reason these rifles became so popular in the first place. Positive feeding and extraction from shot to shot could be felt in your loading hand, and stuffing the stubby little cartridges into the feeding chute made you feel like you were in a John Wayne film.

A man shoots the Marlin 1894 lever-action rifle at the range
The lever-action design allows you to feel the mechanical action of the gun while shooting. The 1894 is also soft shooting and great for plinking.  (Photo: Jeff Wood/Guns.com)


I suppose you could say that the Marlin 1894 fits perfectly into the space I dreamed up for it. It’s a solid-functioning rifle with easy and soft-shooting characteristics and relatively inexpensive ammunition that can be as powerful or soft as you want it to be. 

Unlike gas-operated semi autos, lever guns rely on the input of the shooter to cycle cartridges. So, shooting subsonic ammunition or the full-power stuff will not affect its function, making these rifles very useful for any number of shooting tasks. I think Marlin has enjoyed its reputation for very good reason, and hopefully they keep making these beautiful rifles for another hundred years.

revolver barrel loading graphic