Marlin 39 Review: 90 Years Old and Still Functioning Flawlessly
Have you ever found a gem in an unexpected place? While on a hunting trip to Kansas, I traveled to Garden City one afternoon to check out an antique gun store. In it, I found many rare and collectible rifles, pistols, and shotguns dating back over 100 years.
I needed a .22-caliber lever gun to compete in lever-gun silhouette matches in Tucson and New Mexico, so I asked the clerk for a Marlin 39A. The one he had was just average. He then told me to consider a rare Model 39. I had never seen one before, and it was a beautiful gem of a rifle.
So, today's review is of that original, rare Marlin Model 39, the Oakley rifle!
Marlin was a serious competitor of Winchester lever guns around the turn of the 20th century. The Model 39 was handcrafted to be solid, reliable, and accurate. It is a .22-caliber rimfire rifle. It's claim to fame was its preferred use by none other than Annie Oakley, “Little Miss Sure Shot.” Oakley performed with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show throughout the United States and later in Europe. She performed before the queen of England and even instructed her about shooting. She entered many shooting contests against men and won, which was unheard of in her day.
My rifle was made in the Depression era between 1930 to 1935, when production stopped. The serial number is prefixed “HS” meaning it is safe for modern high-velocity rounds.
Feel & Specs
Under 7 pounds, this is a light rifle. It feels quick and skinny in my hand. The semi-pistol grip assures firm control. Its smooth lever action is fast for follow-up shots. With 17 rounds in the slim under-barrel magazine, it holds more ammo than a standard modern Ruger 10/22 rifle! Most of its weight is in the octagon barrel, aiding in offhand accuracy.
Its ability to add a tang-mounted rear sight brings out its versatility. When I shoot it, I am reminded of my first Daisy BB gun from many years ago. It is fun to shoot. But when I am reminded of its age of nearly 90 years, I am humbled to own and shoot a gun with such history.
Overall Length: 40 inches Length of Pull: 13 inches Barrel Length: 24 inches, full-octagon heavy barrel Weight: 6.4 pounds Magazine Capacity: 17 .22 Long Rifle cartridges (more for Longs and Shorts)
This takedown lever gun has a steel color-case-hardened receiver. Although old, the receiver still shows some shades of black and blue color.
Many guns of this time period were takedowns, making them easy to transport and clean. The takedown screw is coin-slotted. When unscrewed, it allows the action to be broken apart into two pieces. This exposes the bolt and allows it to be removed for cleaning. Other internal parts can be seen, such as the ejector, lifter, hammer, and sear. It is hand-fitted and beautifully smooth in operation. There is no safety, but the hammer may be set to half-cock to prevent firing.
My rifle is fitted with a tang-mounted Marbles peep sight for better target accuracy. I removed the buckhorn sight to give a clear view of the front post-bead sight and extend my sight radius for target shooting. Lever-action rifle silhouette shooting is fired to 100 yards at steel targets – chickens, pigs, turkeys, and rams. I choose CCI “Quiet” standard velocity .22 LR ammo for range work. It is so quiet that you hear the hammer striking the firing pin and no report from the rifle.
Shooting from the off-hand position, the rifle will group three shots nearly touching at 25 yards. I shot a water container easily and a 2-liter soda bottle, which spun and squirted in all directions! Moving to 100 yards, I engage the steel “Milk Bottle” shaped target. Hits are easily made with a positive ding-bell sound on each shot. No misfires or malfunctions were encountered while I plinked away at the range.
Better lucky than good, right? I found this gem and am glad I took it home with me. Although you may not find one, you can still see Marlin 39As being offered.
The Model 39 is accurate, light, and slick-shooting. When centerfire ammo can cost 50 cents per shot or more, the Marlin 39 or 39A comes to the rescue for lots of fun shooting or competition for much less money. I hope you find your gem out there and take it home like I did. Good luck and good shooting!