Not long ago, Marlin claimed their Model 39 platform as the eldest continually produced, shoulder-fired rifle of all time. Though that record ended when the Marlin brand was parted-off to current Ruger ownership, the rimfire world is anticipating a return of this beloved classic. Will some variant of the beloved Model 39 return to production under Ruger’s tutelage? And just why is there such high demand for this lever-driven classic? Guns.com takes a closer look at the life and times of the Marlin 39 family of rimfires.
History of the 39 and 39A
The history of the 39A traces back to some deep roots, going all the way to 1891 with the aptly named Model 1891 lever-action .22-caliber repeaters. The Marlin Model 1891 lever-action rimfire repeater is perhaps best known for sharpshooter Annie Oakley’s 25 shots in 27 seconds – all placed into a playing card during a demonstration. Marlin wasn’t one to stand pat. In fact, the rimfire wonder was bound for more. The 39’s lineage must be tracked through several advancements after the 1891 to the Models 1892 and 1897 before ending up at the official birth of the 39s as we know them.
The original Marlin 39 was produced from 1921 to 1938 and remains unrivaled in quality. There was a full octagonal barrel, color-case-hardened finish, American walnut stocks, no cross-bolt safety, and, on top of all that, a simple takedown design allowing the entire rifle to be separated into halves.
Though most of us would rather have a true original, those prices have skyrocketed. Luckily, the 39A and its variants remain incredibly high-quality rimfire lever guns. As the years passed, so did changes to the 39. Thus, the 39A was born and began its evolution. 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, these lever-driven rimfires are shooters, lookers, and small game hunters.
Marlin’s now-famous Model 39 – and 39A – finished their initial run recently with at least two million produced. In fact, until just before the messy Remington group breakup, the Model 39 was still available through the company’s custom shop.
As we, the 2021-pandemic world, hang in the balance of Ruger’s acquisition of the Marlin brand, we loiter in a strange world sans Marlin 39 production. Ruger purchased the Marlin brand for just over $28 million as part of the Remington Outdoors bankruptcy auction, setting the stage for a new era of Marlin production. Hopes are high for a new run of the storied 39 platform and all the tin can plinking, small game bagging, generational hand-me-down stories those lever guns can tell.
Marlin Model 39A Variants
Just as Marlin rimfires have progressed through numerous model numbers before arriving at the 39 series, the 39As themselves have numerous subsets. There were three model variations to the plain ol’ 39A, most with cosmetic differences. Then came the Golden 39A, Golden 39M, and the revered 39A Mounties. There was a 90th Anniversary edition with a chrome barrel and action dating to 1960, as well as an Anniversary Carbine. There were octagonal barrel models, carbines, centennials, presentations, and limited editions. Marlin built these rimfires for the masses but never sacrificed quality for quantity.
Shooting Our Guns.com Marlin 39A
The test gun we borrowed from the Guns.com Vault turned out to be an earlier variation, dating to around 1949-1950 based on its serial number. Its 24-inch round barrel predates the micro-groove rifling phenomenon. The uncheckered walnut stocks retain a lovely patina for the rifle’s age, a richness that no synthetic can bear. There’s a hooded front sight and elevation-adjustable rear and no sign of ever having been scoped. The buttplate is simple plastic, but it does wear Marlin’s recognizable bullseye buttstock inset.
The tubular-fed 39A, like its predecessors, can be filled with .22-caliber shorts, longs, or long rifles, holding 26, 21, and 19 rounds respectively, with one in the chamber.
We ran several different rounds through the now over 70-year-old rifle. It never missed a beat. The 39A continues to run like a dream, just as expected. Even in its “newer” 39A form, these rimfires still feel like – and have already become – a modern masterpiece.
While rifles like the Ruger 10/22 or even Henry Repeating Arms Golden Boys hold strong places as the favored American-made rimfire rifles, it’s darn near impossible to argue against the Marlin 39 and its variants taking top billing, especially with longevity as the leading quality. Not only is the lever-action design uniquely American, but the history, reliability, and capability of the 39 make this a true American classic.