Marlin Model 308MXLR Rifle
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
Those of you who are regular Guns and Shooting Online readers are doubtlessly aware that Marlin and Hornady have introduced a new all-around cartridge for traditional lever action rifles named the .308 Marlin Express. It is based on a slightly shortened .307 Winchester case loaded with a special 160 Hornady LEVERevolution (Flex-Tip) spitzer bullet and extremely progressive, non-canister powders to bring what is essentially .300 Savage or .308 Winchester performance to the Marlin 336 lever action rifle.
This is achieved with a rimmed .30-30 length cartridge and pressures around 46,000 psi, so the .308 Marlin represents a considerable ballistic achievement. Hornady ballistics tables for the new .308 Marlin call for a 160 grain bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 2660 fps and muzzle energy (ME) of 2513 ft. lbs. from a 24" test barrel.
Here are the down range velocity and energy numbers: 100 yards = 2430 fps/2111 ft. lbs.; 200 yards = 2226 fps/1761 ft. lbs.; 300 yards = 2026 fps/1457 ft. lbs.; 400 yards = 1836 fps/1197 ft. lbs. These numbers put the .308 Marlin firmly into the category of all-around cartridges suitable for CXP2 (deer class) and CXP3 (elk class) game.
The trajectory of the new load looks like this for a rifle with a scope mounted 1.5" overbore: +3" at 100 yards, +1.7" at 200 yards, -6.7" at 300 yards, -23.5" at 400 yards.
Feedback from our friends at Hornady reveals that the new .308 FlexTip bullet (BC .400) has proven very effective on a wide variety of animals in the field. Deer, antelope, mountain goats and elk have all been harvested cleanly at ranges varying from short to almost 300 yards.
"308MXLR" is the model designation of the Marlin Model 336 rifle chambered for the .308 Marlin cartridge. This handle was obviously intended to highlight the new cartridge. In reality, the Model 308MXLR appears to be identical to the .30-30 Model 336XLR rifle that Nathan Rauzon and Chuck Hawks reviewed last year.
The basic Model 336XLR type rifle is now available in .30-30 Winchester, .35 Remington, .308 Marlin and .338 Marlin calibers. We here at Guns and Shooting Online sincerely hope that a .270 Marlin Express cartridge, based on the .308 or .338 Marlin case, is in the works to complete the new Marlin cartridge line. (You can find our article proposing the .270 Marlin Express cartridge on the Wildcat Cartridge Page. Thanks to Marlin and Hornady, the .338 Marlin Express concept that we proposed has become a reality!)
If it were up to us we would have applied the existing Model 336XLR designation to rifles offered in the new .308 Marlin and .338 Marlin calibers. It just doesn't seem reasonable to us to dream up a new model designation for every caliber offered in what is basically the same rifle.
Regardless of the designation, these Marlin XLR series rifles are impressive. The action is the basic Marlin 336 that has been produced for decades. But the XLR series of rifles are different. One of the differences is stainless steel construction of many key parts. The receiver, barrel, trigger guard plate, magazine tube, loading gate and lever are all fabricated from stainless steel. Another is the fluted bolt, claimed to reduce friction and contribute to smoother operation. (It also looks cool.) The magazine tube is attached at the front by means of a dovetail slot in the underside of the barrel to avoid the accuracy degrading effect of a barrel band, and the forend is secured at the tip by a forend cap rather than a barrel band for the same reason.
Also unique to XLR models is the laminated, two-tone (gray/black) pistol grip stock and beavertail forend. The pistol grip is oval in cross section, which makes it more comfortable than most. The drop at comb and heel is a good compromise for use with both the supplied iron sights or a low mounted telescopic sight. All XLR stocks now come with a fluted comb, rounded black pistol grip cap and deluxe Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad. Detachable sling swivel studs are provided. Wood to metal fit is very good; the stock and barrel are carefully inletted. The beavertail forend is hugely proud, but that is by design.
The stock is comfortable for most shooters, strong and stable, highly weather resistant and attractive. It is far superior to the injection molded plastic abortions that are standard on so many stainless steel rifles these days.
Our only functional criticism of the XLR stock is that, like most factory stocks, it is too thick through the pistol grip and forend. The forend, in particular, is much thicker than necessary. We don't understand why the major manufacturers are so reluctant to slenderize their rifle stocks. It is usually the first thing that a custom stock maker does.
The pistol grip area receives generous, two-panel, machine cut checkering, while the forend is checkered in a wrap-around point pattern. The shape and coverage of the checkering patterns is good and the execution is fair. (It is difficult to checker laminated wood stocks because the grain runs in different directions at different levels.) Uncheckered diamond shapes appear in the middle of the checkering patterns on both sides of the pistol grip and on the forend. This machine cut version of stock carving is acceptable on the underside of the forend, but frankly the grip panels would look better if it were eliminated.
Marlin is still building solid steel and wood rifles that have the intrinsic feel of a quality product. It's hard to describe, but hold a Marlin 336 rifle, operate the action, and you will immediately understand what we mean. The latest versions, like our Model 308MXLR, are not as smooth as the Marlins built in the 1950's, but after a lifetime of use they will undoubtedly "wear-in." If you don't have that long to wait, your local gunsmith should be able to slick-up the action and lighten the trigger pull.
Speaking of trigger pull, it is far too heavy on our test rifle. At the beginning of this review it measured 6.25 pounds on our RCBS Premium Trigger Pull Scale and never dropped below 5.25 pounds. There is only a tiny amount of creep and the over travel is acceptable, but the very heavy trigger made it difficult to shoot optimum groups even from a bench rest, and it will be a bigger problem in the field. Triggers this heavy promote flinching and result in wounded animals that escape to die later, miserably and in great pain. The powers that be at Marlin need to overrule the Company lawyers and start sending rifles out the door with decent triggers. We owe that much to the fine game animals that we hunt.
In addition to the heavy trigger, our test rifle came with the ubiquitous Marlin cross-bolt safety that blocks the hammer when applied. This safety is handy for dry firing the rifle and it is reasonably unobtrusive. The hammer still retains a quarter cock "safety" notch, which is all the safety a lever action rifle really needs in the field, especially when equipped with a telescopic sight that effectively prevents the rifle being dropped in such a way as to force the hammer. Real firearm safety is, in any case, between the shooter's ears, a concept that low-life tort lawyers and their opportunistic clients refuse to acknowledge.
Following are some basic specifications for the Marlin 308MXLR rifle.
In the Marlin catalog the weight of this rifle is specified as 7 pounds. This is clearly understated, as 7 pounds is also the catalog weight given for the Model 336SS (.30-30) with a 20" barrel, the Model 308MX (.308 Marlin) with a 22" barrel and our Model 308MXLR with a 24" barrel. Apparently Marlin's scale tops out at 7 pounds!
Needless to say, the actual weight of these rifles varies and a typical Model 308MXLR rifle probably weighs around 7-1/2 pounds out of the box. Our sample scaled 8 pounds, 9 ounces (empty) wearing a one-piece aluminum Weaver #63 scope mount base, Weaver medium height aluminum and steel scope rings and a Zeiss Conquest 2.5-8x32mm scope. Part of this heft is in the Zeiss scope, which is fairly heavy for its magnification and objective size. It weighs 13-3/4 ounces all by itself.
Optically, this Zeiss Conquest is a pretty good match for the Model 308MXLR rifle. At high power it offers a surplus of magnification for shots at big game animals out to well beyond the maximum point blank range of the .308 Marlin cartridge. At low power it offers an adequate field of view for shooting big game animals at woods ranges. We are becoming quite fond of 2.5-8x scopes for use on big game hunting rifles chambered for all-around cartridges like the .270, 7mm Magnum, .30-06, .308 Winchester and, yes, the new .308 Marlin. The Zeiss Conquest 2.5-8x32 (reviewed separately on the Product Review Page) offers accurate 1/4 MOA adjustments, Euro-style fast eyepiece focusing, smooth magnification changes and clear views of the target.
As you might imagine, a rifle as heavy as this one wearing a 24" barrel sacrifices some of the traditional lever action's vaunted handling qualities. It is only about 1/2" shorter than a Remington Model 798 (.30-06) bolt action rifle to which we compared it, although it is slimmer and somewhat lighter. Subjectively, the Marlin feels like the faster handling rifle.
Note that this standard size bolt action rifle has a 22" barrel, 2" shorter than the Marlin MXLR. If the Marlin wore a 22" barrel (and the new Marlin Model 308MX, essentially a blue steel and walnut version of the 308MXLR, does) it would be markedly shorter and handier than most standard bolt action rifles with barrels of the same length.
We compared this new Marlin to a common bolt action rifle because, due to its .308 Marlin chambering, that is what it performs like and what it is likely to be compared with by consumers. If you are looking for a lightning quick woods rifle, stick with the traditional Marlin 336 carbine (20" barrel). However, for the hunter considering the purchase of an all-around big game rifle the new Marlin Model 308MXLR is definitely a contender. It is as accurate as a bolt action, handles as well or better than most standard weight bolt actions, offers faster repeat shots and holds more cartridges. It also has that indefinable lever action "feel" and mystique.
To see how the new Marlin .308 shoots, we trekked to the Izaak Walton outdoor gun range south of Eugene, Oregon. This is our usual testing facility and it offers bench rests and covered shooting positions with target stands at 25, 50, 100 and 200 yards. The June weather was partly sunny during our range days with high temperatures of about 73 degrees F and light winds of about 5 MPH.
Hornady kindly supplied us with 100 rounds of their excellent .308 Marlin LEVERevolution factory loaded ammunition with the new 160 grain FlexTip bullet for use in testing the Marlin rifle. Participating in the shooting were Guns and Shooting Online staff members Jim Fleck, Bob Fleck, Rocky Hays, Gordon Landers, Chuck Hawks and friend Jeff Johnson.
We did our shooting for record at 100 yards on Champion Score Keeper targets. All groups consisted of three shots fired from a shooting bench using a Caldwell Lead Sled rifle rest weighted with two bags (50 pounds) of lead shot. We tried to keep the barrel from getting really hot, but it was warm to very warm throughout the test firing. Fortunately, and unlike most lever action rifles with barrel bands, barrel temperature seemed to have no influence on group size. Kudos to Marlin for successfully isolating the barrel from the forend and magazine. Here are the shooting results:
Hornady LEVERevolution (160 grain) - smallest group 7/8"; largest group 2-1/2"; mean average group = 1.55".
The overall accuracy of the rifle speaks for itself. Remember that six different shooters, on an outdoor range, achieved these numbers using factory loads. For all of the ammunition that we burned, only one group measured larger than 2" while several clustered around 1". This lever action definitely shoots like a bolt action, actually better than many bolt action rifles that we have tested.
Marlin lever guns have a well earned reputation for reliability and our Model 308MXLR was no exception. There were no malfunctions of any kind. Lever action rifles typically feed best when the lever is operated briskly and I have no doubt that is also true of the Marlin 308MXLR. However, this Marlin fed perfectly even when the lever was operated s-l-o-w-l-y. Ditto when the rifle was canted at severe angles.
Everyone liked the rifle and commented favorably on the solid feel of the Marlin lever action. The trigger pull, however, was universally condemned. This is a very accurate rifle that is harder to shoot accurately than it should be because of a heavy trigger pull. Rocky blamed the trigger for his single exceptionally large (2-1/2") group, a full 1/2" larger than any other group anyone shot. It's easy to let a shot get away with a trigger this heavy. This is a simple problem for a gunsmith to fix, but Marlin should take care of it so that the consumer doesn't have to.
The .308 Marlin Express cartridge also got positive reviews from all shooters. Performance is good and recoil is moderate. It's more enjoyable to shoot than the .308 Winchester cartridge in a rifle of the same weight. Marlin and Hornady appear to have hit a home run with this new caliber. We are sure that the shooters who try the .308 Marlin Express are going to like it.
All in all, this is a good hunting rifle paired with a fine new cartridge. It is a dandy all-around, all weather combination.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
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