My initial reaction to picking it up was “I bet this thing is going to kick like hell?” In fact, I received similar reactions from almost every person I showed it to. The object of this conjecture was the new Marlin Guide Gun – a light weight, lever action repeating rifle chambered for one of the most popular classic cartridges available today, the venerable .45-70.
The Marlin Firearms Company is the largest producer of sporting rifles in the USA today and anyone with the slightest knowledge sporting rifles knows that the new Guide Gun boasts a long, and honorable, pedigree stretching back over one hundred years. Founded by John Marlin in the late 1860s, in 1881 they began production of their first lever action, tubular magazine rifle designed by Andrew Burgess – although John Marlin himself designed the cartridge elevator. The Model 1881 chambered such popular cartridges as the .32-40 and .38-55 Ballard, .45-70 Govt, .40-60 and .45-85 Marlin. 1888 saw a new, light weight rifle – dubbed, appropriately enough, the Model 1888 – chambered for the .38-40 and .44-40 WCF. The following year an improved model designed by Lewis Hepburn was introduced chambered for the .25-20, .32-20, .38-40 and .44-40 WCF cartridges.
The Model 1889 introduced four new features, a solid top receiver, sideways case ejection, an improved locking system and a new firing pin safety – all of which became trademarks of all Marlin lever actions to follow. The solid top receiver provided additional strength and kept dirt and debris out of the action. Locking was by means of a vertical strut that is moved up into a notch on the rear of the bolt when as the lever is closed. Additional safety is provided by a two piece firing pin whose two sections are pushed into contact by the aforementioned locking strut making firing impossible unless the bolt is fully locked. The Model 1889 proved very popular with American shooters and was considered the only serious competition to Winchester’s Model 1873 rifle.
Marlin first smokeless powder rifle, the Model 1893, chambered for the new .30-30 WCF, proved more popular then any of its predecessors, remaining in production for forty-two years. In 1936 Marlin introduced the improved Model 36 rifle which featured a rounded operating lever and all coil springs. Twelve years later Marlin’s most famous rifle, the Model 336, with a round breech bolt, improved extractor, loading gate, trigger block safety and cartridge elevator was announced.
The Model 336’s stronger action allowed the use of more powerful cartridges and over the intervening years it has been produced .219 Zipper, .307 Winchester, .32 Special, .35 Remington, .356 Winchester, .375 Winchester and .44 Magnum. With the rising popularity of telescopic sights Marlin’s solid top receiver could be drilled and tapped for scope mounts, something its Winchester competitor could not boast until recently. The last major change to the design occurred in 1984 when a push button hammer block safety was incorporated into all Marlin lever actions.
The year 1964 saw the Model 444 rifle, chambered for the new .444 Marlin cartridge. Both the rifle and cartridge were designed for those Nimrods who wanted a fast handling, large calibre, medium range rifle for hunting large game in heavy cover.
Using the basic 336-type receiver, Marlin modified it to handle the long, straight case of, what was, the first new large calibre rifle cartridge to hit the market in many years. 1972 saw the introduction of yet another 336 variant, the Model 1895, chambered for the .45-70 Govt cartridge. This was the natural successor of the original Marlin Model 1895 which was chambered for the most powerful cartridges of its day – e.g. .33 Winchester, .40-82 WCF, .45-90 WCF, etc. Both the .444 and .45-70 Marlins have proven their ability to handle the largest – and dangerous – North American game animals at moderate ranges and are especially popular with woods hunters.
The .45-70 cartridge was developed at the Frankford arsenal for the U.S. Army in the early 1870s. Because it was loaded with 70 grains of black powder and a 405 grain round nosed, lead bullet the official designation, in the parlance of the era, was “Cartridge, Ball, .47-70-405.” It proved an accurate, hard hitting round and was popular with soldiers, hunters and target shooters alike. Like most U.S. military cartridges, the .45-70 has a loyal following among American shooters and hunters today and is still manufactured by the major ammunition companies – and with good reason.
Modern, high performance loads push bullets of 300 – 350 grains to 1800 feet per second plus, producing in excess of 2200 foot/pounds of energy making it suitable, at moderate ranges, for large, dangerous species such as bear and buffalo. The traditional load of a 405 gr. soft nosed bullet at a velocity of 1330 feet per second, produces very light recoil and is an excellent choice for hunting animals the size of pigs and deer. The large diameter, slow moving bullet has excellent knock down power without excessive meat or hide damage and is much less likely to be deflected by brush then smaller, faster moving projectiles.
After seeing the Guide Gun at the 1998 Shot Show I put in a request for a sample and Marlin’s Tony Aeschliman was kind enough to ship me an early production rifle to test for Gunweb. The Guide Gun – as its name indicates – is intended for those persons who need a fast handling rifle chambered for a cartridge with the authority to put down large, dangerous game at close range. It also had to be light enough to carry all day – which was accomplished by reducing the length of the barrel and magazine tube and slimming the stock and forearm.
But being Marlin could not negate the basic laws of physics it was also necessary for them to find some means of controlling the recoil generated by high performance .45-70 ammunition. This was accomplished by two sets of six ports on either side of the muzzle end of the barrel. These vent powder gases up and to the sides to counteract recoil and reduce muzzle flip, permitting fast follow up shots. To further reduce the effects of recoil a generous, rubber recoil pad is fitted to the stock.
Upon opening the rectangular box that the parcel service dropped off and picking up the Guide Gun I was suitably impressed. Despite its short overall length it displayed excellent balance and came up to my shoulder smoothly. It was a most attractive rifle, with a deep blue finish and a stock and forearm made from a fine piece of walnut that featured sharp cut chequering to further improve handling. While I assume a large percentage of Guide Gun owners will fit a low magnification telescopic sight I was taken by the practical set of open sights that come standard with the rifle: the rear is a wide, semi-buckhorn design which, when mated with the brass bead front sight, provides an extremely clear and fast sight picture that is perfectly suited to hunting in heavy cover.
For those who might desire some other form of sighting equipment, the receiver is drilled and tapped for mounting telescopic and receiver sights. While a hammer spur extension is supplied for use with telescopic sights I would advise it be installed even if you use iron sights as it greatly facilitates fumble free cocking of the exposed hammer. Lastly, a set of q.d. sling swivel mounts come as standard equipment.
Well enough nit-picking, I figured it was time to take this little beauty out and run it through its paces on the range. A search of the dark recesses of my supply closest yielded a good selection of .45-70 ammunition including high performance loads from Cor-Bon and Winchester and some of the traditional 405 gr. loads from Remington. Depositing the rifle, ammo, spotting scope and other paraphernalia in my truck I enlisted the help of my shooting buddy Butch Simpson and made our way to my gun club. Once there we set about seeing what type of accuracy we could coax out of the short barreled .45-70 on my clubs fifty yard range. Setting up a series of Birchwood/Casey Shoot-N-C targets we loaded the Marlin and proceeded to fire several five shot groups with each brand of ammunition.
It quickly became obvious that, even with the iron sights, the Marlin was an extremely accurate rifle and none of the groups we fired that afternoon went over 2.5 inches, which is more then adequate hunting accuracy not matter how one defines it! After a few shots to figure out where to hold with the flat shooting Cor-Bon and Winchester loads Butch and I had little trouble at all hitting rocks out on the 200 yard backstop. With some sort of optical magnification device I have no doubt the Guide Gun would prove capable of shooting impressive groups for as long as your ammunition supply lasted.
It was quite evident that the ported barrel system worked as advertised and even thought it was obvious that one was discharging a large calibre projectile from the barrel each time the trigger was pulled, muzzle flip was much less then we had anticipated. And while it must be admitted that recoil was more noticeable when firing from the bench rest, offhand shooting was a pure pleasure with fast, follow up shots proving easy to perform. We were not only able to put all of our offhand shots on an eight inch target out to seventy-five yard but both of us found it easy to knock empty soft drink cans around at the same range.
All in all, we were suitably impressed with the Marlin Guide Gun. It displayed quality materials and workmanship, functioned 100% reliably during our 200+ round test firing and proved more then accurate enough for its intended purpose. It is light and short enough to tote around all day in complete comfort yet chambers a cartridge that is capable of handling the toughest game at moderate ranges without – thanks to the extremely efficient porting system – the punishing recoil and muzzle flash of magnums. For the big bore, lever action rifle aficionado and bush hunter the Marlin Guide Gun deserves a long, hard look. I can assure you, you won’t be disappointed.
|Specifications – Model 1895 Guide Gun|
|Overall length||37 in.|
|Barrel length||18.5 in.|
|Weight (unloaded)||6.75 pounds|
|Magazine||four round tubular|
|Sights||front: hooded brass bead|
|rear: semi-buckhorn, adj. for elevation receiver is drilled and tapped for scope mounts & receiver sights|
|Stock||American black walnut, chequered grip & forearm|
|Accuracy results (five shot groups at 50 yards)|
|W-W 300 gr. JHP||1 1/4″|
|Cor-Bon 350 gr. BJSP||1 5/8″|
|Rem. 405 gr. JSP||2 3/8″|
For further information contact:
Marlin Firearms –
PO Box 248,
North Haven, CT 06473.
Cor-Bon Ammunition –
1311 Industry Rd.,
Sturgis, SD 57785.
Remington Arms Co. –
PO Box 700, Madison,
Winchester/Olin Corp. –
427 N. Shamrock St.,
E. Alton, IL 62024.