The Marlin Model 1894C .357 Mag. Carbine
By Chuck Hawks
The lever action Marlin Model 1894 is one of the company's more successful designs. It was a typical Marlin lever action design for the time with a square bolt, solid top action, and color case finish on the receiver. Rifle, musket, and carbine versions of the Model 1894 were produced. All are collector's items today, with rifles (24" barrel) in prime 95% condition selling for around $2500 in 2003, carbines commanding a 25% premium, and muskets selling for twice as much as standard rifles.
The Model 1894 was originally introduced in . . . 1894! It was a short action chambered for the combination rifle/pistol cartridges of the day, including the .25-20 WCF, .32-20 WCF, .38-40 WCF, and .44-40 WCF. At that time its running mates in the Marlin line were the Model 1893 (standard length action for .30-30, .32 Special, .32-40 WCF, and .38-55 WCF) and the Model 1895 (medium and big bore cartridges like the .33 WCF, .38-56 WCF, .40-65 WCF, .40-70 WCF, .40-82 WCF, and .45-70 Govt.). The 1894, later called just the Model 94, was to remain in the Marlin line for 40 years.
By 1934 the demand for rifles shooting pistol cartridges had shrunk to the vanishing point, and the old Model 1894 was discontinued. This should have been the end of the story, but sometimes what goes around comes around. And so it was with the lever action rifle chambered for pistol cartridges. The advent of powerful magnum revolver cartridges, first the .357 Magnum and later the .44 Magnum, renewed interest in the concept. By the 1950's and early 1960's shooters were buying inexpensive Winchester Model 92 carbines (the Winchester equivalent of the Marlin 94, and not yet collectors' items) and re-chambering them for magnum revolver cartridges.
By 1969 the folks at Marlin realized that there was once again money to be made selling rifles for pistol cartridges. Rather than design a new action, they wisely put their excellent Model 1894 back into production. The new rifles came with blued rather than color cased actions and were made of superior modern steel, but otherwise were similar to the original Model 1894. The new Model 1894 was a success, and remains in the line today.
As in the past, the Model 1894 is chambered for short (revolver) cartridges, the Model 336 (successor to the Model 1893) is chambered for .30-30 size cartridges, and the new Model 1895 (successor to the old Model 1895) is the big bore Marlin lever action, chambered for .45-70 size cartridges.
As I write these words in 2003, there are four variations of the standard Model 1894 centerfire rifles. These are the 1894PG (.44 Rem. Mag./.44 Spec.), 1894FG (.41 Rem. Mag.), 1894SS (.44 Rem. Mag/.44 Spec.), and 1894C (.357 Mag./.38 Spec.).
All of these standard Model 1894's are made with solid top receivers (drilled and tapped for scope mounts) and forged, machined steel parts. All come with genuine black walnut stocks that feature fluted combs, cut checkering and Marlin's satin Mar-Shield stock finish. Studs for quick detachable sling swivels are standard. An adjustable semi-buckhorn folding rear and ramp front sight with a Wide-Scan hood is standard, and an ambidextrous offset hammer spur is included for use with a scope. Recent production is equipped with a (thankfully unobtrusive) hammer block safety.
The 1894PG and 1894FG are basically identical except for caliber. Both come with 10-shot tubular magazines, pistol grip stocks, rubber butt pad, steel fore-end cap, blued metal surfaces, and a 20" barrel. The overall length of these rifles is 37.8" and they weigh 6.5 pounds.
The Model 1894SS is similar to the 1894PG, but features a stainless steel barreled action and a straight grip stock. The finger lever is squared rather than oval shaped as on the PG and FG models. It is a strikingly handsome rifle with its checkered walnut stock and satin silver metal finish. It is 37.5" long and weighs 6 pounds.
The 1894C is the carbine version, only available in .357 Magnum. It comes with blued steel metal parts, a straight grip stock, and an 18.5" barrel with a carbine type barrel band rather than a fore-end cap. It also uses a squared finger lever. Its slightly shorter tubular magazine holds 9 cartridges. The 1894C is 36" in overall length and weighs 6 pounds.
In addition to the standard Model 1894 rifles and carbines there are also special "Cowboy" variations. These are designed, no surprises here, primarily for the sport of cowboy action shooting, but are also useful for plinking or hunting in appropriate calibers. The solid top receiver is drilled and tapped for scope mounting. Their straight grip walnut stocks are smooth, not checkered, and come with a hard rubber butt plate. Their finger levers are squared. The tubular magazines accommodate 10 rounds in all models, regardless of barrel length. All Cowboy models come with tapered octagon, rather than round, barrels.
The Cowboy Competition Carbine, Model 1894CBC, is available in .38 Special or .45 Colt calibers. It is built on a standard Model 1894 action but is factory-tuned for the competitive shooter. This handsome and authentic looking rifle comes with a color case finish on its receiver, trigger guard plate, and lever. Its 20" barrel is equipped with a Marble adjustable semi-buckhorn rear sight and Marble carbine front sight. It is also designed to accept the installation of a tang-mounted peep sight. The straight grip walnut stock is not checkered. With its smooth action and decent trigger, this would make an excellent hunting rifle if it were chambered for .38 Special + .357 Magnum.
The standard Model 1894 Cowboy rifles come with a blue finish on all metal parts. Calibers are .45 Colt (24" barrel), .357 Mag./.38 Spec. (20" barrel), and .44 Mag./.44 Spec. (20" barrel). With a 24" barrel the overall length is 41" and the weight is 7 pounds. With a 20" barrel the length is 37.5" and the weight is 6.5 pounds. In the Magnum calibers and equipped with a low power scope these make perfectly adequate, traditional looking, short range hunting rifles.
Perhaps the biggest advantage possessed by all of the Marlin 1894 lever action rifles is their solid top receivers, which allows a telescopic sight to be mounted low and overbore using a conventional one piece base on top of the receiver. Other desirable features of the 1894 rifles include fast repeat shot capability, ambidextrous operation, and quick pointing. The flat action without a bolt handle sticking out of the side makes them easy to carry, and they are naturals for transporting in a saddle scabbard.
The specific Model 1894 reviewed for this article is a standard Model 1894C in .357 Magnum/.38 Special caliber. I equipped it with a used Weaver K1.5 fixed power scope in Weaver rings, mounted low atop the receiver. This discontinued scope provides a prodigious field of view and (like all scopes) puts the target and the aiming point in the same optical plane, which is the main advantage any scope has over iron sights. Today I would probably select a new Weaver K2.5, the lowest fixed power scope remaining in the line. The scope and mount add about 3/4 pound to the weight of the rifle.
The .357 Magnum cartridge is extremely well known in both rifle and handgun circles. I have written an article about it, ("The Versatile .357 Magnum"), so there is little need to go into detail here. It is an excellent self defense round, a fine javelina and small predator cartridge, and with proper loads an adequate woods cartridge for the smaller species of big game (such as whitetail deer) within 100 yards. Its light recoil when fired in a Marlin 1894 carbine allows most shooters to put the bullet exactly where it should go, which always the most important factor in killing power.
This particular Model 1894C was purchased new and has been exceptionally accurate right from the beginning. Typical 100 yard groups fired with the very low power 1.5x scope run about 2 MOA (2" at 100 yards). Exceptional groups measure as little as 1.25 MOA (1.25" at 100 yards), and one three shot group (out of the 14 recorded for this review) went into 7/8" at 100 yards.
The best accuracy with any full power load was achieved using handloads with a 158 grain Hornady JSP bullet in front of 14.5 grains of H110 powder sparked by CCI 550 magnum primers. Remington Express factory loads using their 158 grain JSP bullet also shoot very well and would be my preferred deer load. Mid-range loads using a 158 grain Hornady JHP bullet over 7.5 grains of HS-6 powder gave exceptional accuracy, including the smallest group from several range sessions.
Chronograph results show that the full power (H110) handload above averaged a velocity of 1545 fps over the sky screens at a distance of 10 feet. The Remington factory load clocked a velocity of 1685 fps. The mid-range (HS6) handload averaged 1130 fps from the little carbine's 18.5" barrel. Add 1 fps for each foot from the muzzle to the first sky screen (10 fps in this case) to get the approximate muzzle velocity.
This rifle came with an acceptable trigger pull out of the box, but that is unusual for recently produced rifles (thank you so much, tort lawyers). Marlin triggers are relatively easy for a competent gunsmith to lighten, and do tend to smooth as they wear-in. In fact, the entire action will get smoother as it breaks-in. Function and feeding have been perfect, one of the advantages of using a true short action rifle for pistol cartridges.
The Marlin Model 1894 is a fine rifle, accurate and reliable. Its short action, designed for pistol cartridges form the beginning, makes it the best choice among the rifles so chambered today. The walnut stock nicely sets-off the deeply blued, forged steel action. This is clearly the real thing, not a cheap copy or replica.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
Copyright 2003, 2007 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.