Lever-action rifles have long been one of the most nostalgic American designs, conjuring visions of the old West, gunslingers, and cowboys. Flash forward to the 2020s, where Marlin has taken that classic design and given it a modern upgrade. Meet the Marlin Dark.
Marlin Model 1895 Dark
Not all black guns are semi-autos or even bolt-actions. The Marlin Dark trades classic walnut and rich bluing for noir-furniture with more practical finishes and accoutrements. The 1895 Dark is like the standard production model is many ways, including internals, though the changes on the Dark variant are both visual and practical.
The .45-70 Government chambering uses a five-shot, full-length tubular magazine fitted to the 16.25-inch barrel. The muzzle is threaded at 11/16x24 for easy mounting of either a brake or suppressor.
Don’t fret the loss of wood stocks, as Marlin hasn’t traded them out for chintzy black synthetic, but rather, the stocks are painted black with the texturizing addition of black webbing. Parkerizing covers all external metalwork, which includes a Big Loop lever that is also paracord wrapped. The rifle is topped with an XS Lever Rail and ghost ring sights. They even include a hammer extension for easy cocking with a scope mounted.
The compact package is incredibly wieldy, with an overall length of just 34.5-inches yet weighing a sturdy 7.65-pounds.
Marlin Model 336 Dark
The Model 1895 is just one of two blacked-out variants in the lever-gun lineup. Those seeking lower recoil and a deer-proven cartridge may also appreciate the Marlin Dark Model 336 chambered in .30-30 Winchester.
The only major difference, other than platform and caliber, of course, is the threading, here at 5/8x24. The closest comparison on the market is the Henry X-Model lever-action, having been launched roughly a year after the Marlin Dark, proof that modernized lever-guns have found a willing audience.
If skepticism counts for much, that’s where we were upon first learning of the Dark series rifles. Typically, being in the camp of fancy walnut and tradition, falling head over boots for this Model 1895 Dark surprised us as much as you. This rifle does not sacrifice quality to become modernized, and in fact, feels like a rifle born to hunt.
Staying with wood stocks and blacking them out instead of switching to lighter synthetic is a welcome surprise, especially on this harder-recoiling .45-70 Gov’t. The inclusion of not just a scope base, but the extended length XS Lever Rail is a quality touch that allows for simple optic mounting -- be that a traditional riflescope, a scout scope, or any number of red dots.
With a smooth action and 5.5-pound trigger pull, there’s not much we’d change on our test model Dark. As much as we thought we’d prefer classic looks, the performance is there — and then some -- and practicality wins the day. Best of all, the Marlin Dark rifles are built in the U.S.
Marlin’s inclusion of a black paracord web sling is not a necessity, but rather, another nice touch to round out the hunt-ready package. That same paracord graces the lever and is a thoughtful addition for shooters pounding out the action. Further, that large loop is ideal for gloved hunters wanting a bit more space to work. Brush busters and blind-hunters will appreciate the incredibly compact size of this rig, which makes it quick to shoulder and maneuverable in tight quarters like a ground blind or tree stand; yet, more than capable of taking down everything from dangerous game to quarry light as deer.
The .45-70 Gov’t may be a historic round, but it’s anything but dead. In fact, there is a greater selection of hunting ammunition for the caliber than ever before. We fired a serious mix of .45-70 Gov’t hunting ammunition, including Remington 300-grain SJHP, Barnes Vor-TX 300-grain TSX, Federal Premium Hammer Down 300-grain, Federal Fusion 300-grain SP, Hornady LeveRevolution 250-grain MonoFlex, and Hornady Subsonic 410-grain. The rifle ran with 100 percent reliability, whether babied or run as it should. We mounted a Leupold VX-Freedom 3-9x40 FireDot illuminated scope, and the combo proved to be a surprisingly accurate partnership.
Not many folks expect sub-MOA performance from a short-barreled .45-70 lever-action, but that’s exactly what we got. Our 100-yard groups, shot from the bench, ranged from 0.85-inches to just over MOA. That’s serious performance from any hunting rifle, but especially one of this nature.
Our concern was recoil, but even given the short barrel sans either brake or suppressor, Marlin fits the butt of the Dark with a quality Decelerator recoil pad. Shooting is truly enjoyable. We sent at least 40 rounds downrange in each of three sessions without a sore shoulder or loss of accuracy. We may add a brake down the road, but for now, this rig is ready to hunt. Shooters wishing to take advantage of a suppressor will greatly appreciate both the threaded muzzle on the Dark as well as Hornady’s new Subsonic loads.
The Marlin Dark Model 1895 is a beast, plain and simple. While it can never replace the classic lever-guns of yore, the blacked-out lever-action is here to stay. It has the knockdown power to take any North American game, manageable recoil in a compact package, and the finish to endure the elements.
Retail price on the Marlin Dark Model 1895 is set at $949, and that includes a quality paracord sling. Retail price on the downsized .30-30 Win Marlin 336 Dark remains the same as its beefier compadre, at $949.