The Marlin Golden 39A
By Chuck Hawks
Illustration courtesy of Marlin Firearms Co.
The Marlin 39 lever action rifle is the oldest continually produced .22 rimfire rifle in the world. In fact, it is the oldest long gun of any type still in production. Its forerunner was the Model 1891, which was the first rifle ever to be chambered for the .22 Long Rifle cartridge.
The Marlin 39 series has been chosen by some very famous shooters, none more so than Annie Oakley, the most famous exhibition shooter of all time. In the 1950's and 1960's the Model 39 was the choice of the redoubtable Colonel Larson.
A heritage like that is hard to live up to, but fortunately the Model 39 remains a top quality firearm and the standard of comparison for all other adult .22 rifles. It was an adult .22 before the proliferation of such rifles, and remains an American icon.
It is built of heat-treated, forged steel parts and genuine American black walnut. It is one of the very few remaining take-down .22 rifles. This handy feature makes the Model 39 very easy to clean, and handy to pack for trips. Back when it was legal to do so, I used to frequently carry my taken-down Model 39 Mountie carbine in my suitcase so that I could do a little shooting at my destination.
A large thumb screw on the right side of the receiver allows the Model 39 to be split into two major parts, the barrel and the left side of the receiver and the stock and the right side of the receiver. The scope, mounted on top of the receiver, stays with the barrel, so the point of aim is not affected when the rifle is taken-down and reassembled.
Like all Marlin lever action rifles, the Model 39 has a solid receiver top and side ejection. Low and overbore scope mounting is not a problem, and all Model 39's come with a scope mounting base. The trigger is gold plated, which is the source of the designation "Golden" 39.
Marlin uses their proprietary Micro-Groove rifling in the M-39. This uses many small lands and grooves rather than 2, 4, or 6 deeper grooves. It is claimed to provide a better gas seal and less bullet distortion than conventional rifling.
In 2002 the Marlin Model 39 is available in two versions. One is the traditional Golden 39A. This is a rifle version with a checkered pistol grip stock and a 24 inch round barrel (the heaviest barrel found on any lever action .22). The other is a version called the 1897 Cowboy, which comes with a checkered straight grip walnut stock and a 24 inch tapered octagon barrel. There is also a carbine version of the Cowboy model with a 20 inch octagon barrel.
Offered intermittently over the years (but not in 2002) has been the Mountie carbine version of the Golden 39A with a round 20 inch barrel and a straight grip walnut stock. All Model 39 variations feature full length steel tubular magazines under the barrel with a brass inner tube.
The basic specifications for the standard Golden 39A are as follows: Caliber .22 rimfire; Magazine capacity is 26 Short, 21 Long, or 19 Long Rifle .22 cartridges; Lever action repeater with solid top receiver, side ejection, one step takedown; Receiver tapped for receiver sight and scope mount base (included); Rebounding hammer with hammer block safety, offset hammer spur (works right or left) included for scope use; 24 inch barrel with 16 groove Micro-Groove rifling; deeply blued metal finish, gold plated steel trigger; Overall length 40 inches; Weight 6.5 pounds; Adjustable rear semi-buckhorn rear sight, hooded ramp front sight; American black walnut stock, fluted comb and blued steel forearm cap, cut checkering and satin Mar-Shield finish, rubber buttpad; Detachable sling swivel studs included. The list price in 2002 was $525.
My Marlin Golden 39 is a vintage carbine version with a straight grip walnut stock. For many years this has been known as the Mountie model. It has a 20 inch barrel and a full length tubular magazine that holds 15 Long Rifle cartridges. It weights 6.75 pounds including a scope and sling.
I got the rifle used many years ago, and the previous owner (a personal friend) had slicked-up the action. It levers cartridges so smoothly and quickly it sounds almost like an autoloader if I make an effort to shoot fast, and the trigger breaks at a clean three pounds. The Model 39 is a very simple action, easily accessible, and anyone with the skill can smooth it without a lot of complicated disassembly. This is just as well, as all of the recent Golden 39A's I have tried need a trigger job.
This particular rifle wears a Redfield Westerner compact 4x fixed power scope. This petite scope, with eye relief and fully coated optics suitable for a big game rifle, makes an excellent scope for a .22. Unfortunately, it was discontinued years ago. A compact 4x scope is just about ideal for a .22 rifle. It provides plenty of definition and field of view for small game hunting at .22 rimfire ranges at reasonable cost.
Accuracy has always been very good with Marlin Model 39 rifles. At the range my Golden 39 Mountie will shoot five shot groups averaging about 1/2 inch at 25 yards, around one inch at 50 yards, and 2 inches or less at 100 yards. I regard this as outstanding accuracy for a .22 rimfire hunting rifle shooting High Velocity ammunition. My best recorded groups with the Mountie have run 3/8 inch at 50 yards, shooting CCI Stinger ammunition. All of these figures are for a rifle shot over sandbags at an outdoor range. The latter point is worth noting, as the .22 LR High Velocity bullet is extremely wind sensitive. The groups would certainly be smaller on an indoor range.
My Rifle seems to prefer CCI Stinger and Mini-Mag ammunition (the latter being perhaps a little more consistent), but it also shoots very well with Remington Golden Bullet and Winchester Super-X .22 LR cartridges. It is not as sensitive to ammunition as many of the .22 rifles I have owned.
The Marlin Golden 39A series are premier quality .22 hunting rifles. The rap has always been that they cost as much as a centerfire rifle. This is because they are just as well made as a centerfire rifle. In today's marketplace there are several bolt action .22's that cost even more than a Model 39, so perhaps the premium price is more understandable than it was 40 years ago, when the Golden 39 was practically the only adult .22 on the market. One thing that hasn't changed over the years is the pride of ownership that comes with owning a Marlin Golden 39A.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
Copyright 2002, 2008 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.
SPECIALIST IN ENGRAVING AND RESTORATION