By Jim Dickson
While most folks think of Winchester when they think of the taming of the West, Marlin was the first to chamber the 45-70 in a lever action in 1881, while Winchester did not have a 45-70 lever action until the M1886. The M1881 Marlin 45-70 was well-used and thought of from coast to coast, and many were taken to Alaska in the 1898 gold rush. Unfortunately, Hollywood and novelists seem to only have heard of Colt and Winchester, and that’s robbed Marlin of much of the historical glory due it.
Ever since Ruger took over Marlin Firearms, people have wondered what they might expect. Well, rest your fears. When I picked up the 45-70 Marlin 1895 SBL at Reeves Ace Hardware in Clayton, Georgia (a big hardware store that doubles as a first-class gun and knife shop), I was very favorably impressed. Fit and finish were up to both Marlin and Ruger standards. The action worked perfectly, neither overly tight nor loose.
SPECS AND FEATURES
The test gun weighed exactly 7.25 pounds on my 1940s grocery scale. It measured 37 1/16 inches overall with a steel tape and had a 19-inch barrel. The laminated wood stock had a 13.5-inch length of pull over a solid black recoil pad and the trigger pull measured 7.5 pounds with a Lyman trigger pull gauge. The lever is bowed outward, which is a great help in the winter when you have gloves on. There is a large 3/16-inch aperture on the adjustable ghost ring rear sight which sits 20.5 inches from the high visibility front sight that features a fiber optic bead for low light conditions. Lever actions have always been famed for fast shooting in the timber and these sights are meant to give it a 21st Century edge at that. There is a Picatinny rail to attach optics and the rail is long enough for either scout rifle scopes or conventional eye relief scopes. There is a safety on the side that blocks the hammer from hitting the firing pin when it is on. Lastly, the rifle comes with studs for the attachment of sling swivels.
The end of the barrel is covered by a thread protector, ready to accept a silencer. Silencers are increasingly popular even though they are covered under the NFA and require a $200 stamp tax and BATF approval to own. A good can serves to protect your hearing and those around you when hunting. A supersonic round like the 45-70 will never be quiet, but a good silencer can cut down the decibel level enough to offer a significant amount of hearing protection while hunting without hearing protection.
PROPER AMMO FOR SILENCER
If you really want a quiet experience with your 45-70, then try the subsonic 45-70 round made by Steinel Ammo company. They have a 730-grain WFN Subsonic long, flat-nose, gas-check, hard-cast lead loading that fires at 1000 FPS. The sound barrier is broken at 1100 FPS resulting in a sonic boom from the bullet that no silencer can stop, so this is as fast as you can go if you want to be quiet. With an 1895 spitting the 730gr WFN round just under the sonic boom range, the combination is a joy to behold!
PERFECT FOR ALASKA
The best thing about this new rifle is its stainless-steel construction and it’s laminated wood stock. As someone who has never let rain make me quit a day of hunting, I really appreciate that. It’s equally important for Alaska in the winter when guns are generally degreased and used without oil in the extreme subzero cold of the arctic and the subarctic. This is an ideal gun for Alaska with its big bears and moose. I’ve seen timber wolves in Alaska that certainly were big enough to warrant using a 45-70. Things grow big and dangerous in Alaska, and a fast handling 45-70 has always been a favorite among gun savvy sourdoughs.
Some of the men who have used both the .375 H&H Magnum and the 45-70 on bears rate them equally in stopping power. However the 45-70 lever action has much less recoil and is a lot faster firing. Instead of the up, back, forward, and down motion of a bolt action there is only the down-and-up motion of the lever. What’s more, most men take the bolt-action down off their shoulder or at least move their head back as the bolt throw comes back toward their eye. The short 3-inch bolt throw of the 45-70 Marlin lever action doesn’t come anywhere near your eye, so there is no tendency to pull your head back or drop the rifle from your shoulder as you work the action. Meeting a grizzly in the thick Alaskan bush at a range measured in feet instead of yards will help you truly appreciate the importance of a powerful, fast handling, rapid fire rifle.
While the stainless steel in the white blends in with the ice and snow of the far North in the winter, it tends to stand out in the months without snow (where a blued finish is preferable.) Stainless steel has always been able to take a blued finish and offering this as an option would appeal to many people. For the ultimate in corrosion protection, they could hard chrome plate the bore and black chrome or Teflon coat everything else. Around salt water, that extra protection to the stainless steel is definitely needed.
A 19TH CENTURY LONG RANGE CHAMPION
While not as flat shooting as cartridges from the smokeless powder era, the 45-70 is and always has been an excellent long-range cartridge. Believe it or not, Frankfort Arsenal was still loading 45-70 match ammo for the 1000-yard range at the National Matches in the 1920’s. You just have to know the range and allow for the trajectory. Previous generations learned to estimate range accurately while the modern generation use laser rangefinders for precise distance measurements for long range shooting.
LEVER ACTION MECHANICS
The Marlin mechanism is simple yet requires precise machining and timing to work. If the relationship of the cam surfaces of the cartridge carrier and the cam surfaces of the lever are not just right (and you have a magazine spring that is too strong) you end up with a round in the cartridge carrier and another round sticking out of the magazine, jamming the gun tight. To clear this jam requires removing the magazine tube plug and dumping out all the cartridges in the magazine tube. You now have a single shot rifle until a gunsmith experienced in lever-action rifles works on it. I had this experience with a new rifle made by another company some time ago.
In operation, the drawing down of the lever pulls the locking bolt down and shoves the bolt to the rear and extracts the fired cartridge case until the ejector knocks it from the gun. The hammer is driven back to the cocked position while space is made for the next cartridge from the tubular magazine to enter the cartridge carrier. Shoving the lever up tilts the cartridge carrier at the proper angle for the bolt to ram the cartridge home in the chamber. As the lever fully closes, the locking bolt is forced up into the bolt preparatory to firing. Pulling the trigger releases the cocked hammer from the sear so that it can hit the firing pin and fire the cartridge.
It is important to work the lever of a lever action rifle smartly so that the cycle is properly completed.
I had 200 rounds for test firing consisting of the following types:
- 20 rounds of Steinel Ammunition 730-grain hard-cast lead bullets at 1000 FPS
- 20 rounds of Steinel Ammunition 500-grain hard cast lead bullets at 1485 FPS
- 40 rounds of Steinel Ammunition 325-grain brass monolithic solids at 1740 FPS
- 20 rounds of Steinel Ammunition 300-grain JHP that clocked 1840 FPS
- 40 rounds of Remington Core-Lokt 405-grain at 1600 FPS
- 60 rounds of Hornady Leverevolution 325-grain FTX at 2050 FPS
Recoil was not bad at all. The rifle proved accurate and very fast on target. The sights may not the best for minute-of-angle shooting at 100 yards, but they are wonderful for fast hits on moving game when hunting, and this is a pure hunting rifle.
The 1895’s loading gate is not as sharp as it is on most lever actions. My thumb really appreciates that.
This rifle handles extremely well, and with its high visibility sights, it is very fast on target. It holds steady for accurate shooting, unlike some rifles that I have tested. This gun is faster than the traditional 30-30 and a whole lot more powerful. The extra weight keeps the muzzle steady during fast target acquisition and the modern sights are a big improvement over the 19th Century traditional buckhorn sights. This rifle is an excellent choice for all American game from deer on up.