While few of us ever thought we’d have a blacked-out lever-action hunting rifle on our wish list, here we are with not one, but two.
The Marlin Dark series was followed by the Henry X-Model, both American-made levers. Neither stands head-and-shoulders above the other, but the variance in features, calibers, and price may sway some buyers.
Here’s what you need to know before pulling the trigger on purchasing the Marlin Dark or Henry X Model.
Henry won 2019 with the introduction of its side loading gate featuring dual loading ports, so it’s no surprise the X Model is built on that platform. The X Model can be loaded either via the magazine tube or the port in the receiver, meaning the best of both worlds in one firearm. Marlin maintains its receiver loading port, and the Dark Series is built around their two long-proven models-- 336 and 1895.
The actions on both the Henry and Marlin run smooth and true, and function on both guns was just as expected. If manual safety is a concern, the Marlin includes a crossbolt safety, whereas Henry has only a hammer block safety. The Henry is all blued steel while the Marlin is parkerized. Both use a large loop lever, though the Marlin’s loop is bigger and paracord-wrapped for a thoughtful touch. Choosing on design alone becomes a Ford versus Chevy decision, but wait, there’s more.
Marlin’s Dark rifles are compact with their 16.25-inch barrel, where the Henry goes for slightly longer barrels. The Henry X Model Big Boys wear 17.4-inches, while the bigger bores -- .45-70 and .410 shotgun — go to a 19.8-inch barrel. Overall length on the Marlin is naturally shorter at 34.5-inches versus 36.3 to 38.6-inches on the Henry.
Kudos to both for manufacturing in the U.S. The Henrys weigh in at 7.3- to 7.4-pounds, while the Marlin is just a hair heavier with its wood stocks at 7.65-pounds. The numbers here are quite close, so this will come down to personal preference.
Black is black—or is it? Though these guns look similar from a distance, a la all-noir, a closer inspection reveals very real differences. While the majority of black guns use synthetic stocks, the Marlin Dark retains its wood furniture but is painted black and drizzled with black webbing for extra grip. Henry takes a turn for the ultra-modern, as far as lever guns are concerned, going synthetic for the first time in its history. Because of the switch to synthetic, Henry added molded Picatinny and M-LOK mounting points for accessories.
The rifles differ as well in recoil pads. Marlin is topped with a quality Decelerator pad, whereas the Henry uses a somewhat less forgiving harder rubber pad. Henry’s design, though, is of little consequence in all calibers lesser than .45-70 Government.
Marlin gets the edge here for the inclusion of some convenient add-ons. The factory hammer extension is welcome for those who plan to mount an optic, whereas Henry buyers will want to order one. The Marlin’s paracord wrapped lever is a nice touch, and the matching paracord sling dresses up the package. Similarly, Marlin includes an extended XS Lever Rail for easy optics mounting—be that rifle scope, scout scope, or red dot—as well as an integral ghost ring sights.
By comparison, the Henry comes drilled and tapped without bases but does come fitted with a very visible fiber optic sight set, with the red rear and green front. Both come threaded for the addition of either a muzzle brake or suppressor, with the sole exception of Henry’s X-Model .410 shotgun, threaded for interchangeable chokes.
Chambering selection will make up the minds of many buyers. When we talk calibers, the Marlin Dark series leans more to the traditional, with the Model 336 Dark in .30-30 Winchester and the Model 1895 Dark in .45-70 Gov’t. However, Henry goes hog-wild with hunters in mind, transforming their Big Boy, Shotgun, and Big Bore lines into X-Model variants. The current Henry X Model family includes: .45-70 Gov’t, .410 shotgun, .45 Colt, .357 Magnum/.38 Special, and .44 Magnum/.44 Special.
While both Marlins hold five rounds in the full-length tubular magazine, the Henry varies. The Big Boy models stack seven rounds in the magazine, while the .45-70 variant holds four, and the .410 bore accepts six rounds of 2.5-inch shells.
Performance and Price
We tested, at length, both the Marlin Dark and the Henry X-Model in .45-70 Gov’t, and both guns performed admirably. Accuracy, especially from the short barrels and heavier hunting ammunition, was exceptional with both. The Marlin shot sub-MOA 100-yard groups from the bench, while the Henry hovered just above that, both exceeding our expectations. The Marlin is especially wieldy for brush-busting and use in hunting blinds, with the Henry not much longer.
While blacked-out and modernized lever-actions may not be for everybody, they sure serve a practical purpose. Though much uncertainly now surrounds the Marlin brand with news of a Ruger buyout, modernized lever gun shoppers debating over the Marlin Dark or Henry X Model face a tough choice. The result, however, should be one happy shooter on the range and hunter in the woods.
The Marlin Dark in either Model 1895 or 336 lists at $949. The Henry, in any of its configurations, sells slightly higher at $970. Real-world prices put them very close to the same, though recent shortages due to COVID and civil unrest have both in short supply at the time of this writing.