The Marlin Model 336SS .30-30 Carbine
By Chuck Hawks
The lever action Marlin 336 rifle has a long history. Its immediate predecessor was the Model 36, but the line really started back in the latter part of the 19th Century with the Model 1893. However, this article is about the current (circa 2006) Marlin Model 336SS rifle, so I will skip the history lesson.
The Model 336SS was initially introduced as the Model 336M. That nomenclature was quickly changed to Model 336SS, for "stainless steel," which makes more sense. (The letter "M" now means "magnum" in Marlin code, and is used only for .450 Marlin caliber rifles.)
The Model 336 line is the basis of Marlin's continuing success in the centerfire rifle market. The Model 336 is one of the all-time best selling hunting rifles ever invented. Total sales are well into the multiple millions.
There are currently several variations in the Model 336 line. The Model 336SS features a stainless steel barreled action. The MarShield finished black walnut stock has a traditional pistol grip, grip cap, fluted comb, and cut checkering in a hand filling diamond point pattern.
The 336SS is currently produced in .30-30 Winchester caliber only. The basic specifications of the 336SS are as follows: approximate weight 7 pounds; 20" Micro-Groove barrel with full length magazine tube; 6+1 cartridge capacity; overall length 38.5"; hammer block safety; adjustable folding semi-buckhorn rear sight and hooded ramp front sight with brass bead; tapped for receiver sight and scope mount; detachable sling swivel studs; comes with an ambidextrous off-set hammer spur for scope use. The 2008 MSRP was $692.
Perhaps the biggest advantage possessed by the Marlin 336 design is its solid top receiver. This allows a telescopic sight to be mounted on top of the receiver, low and overbore, using a conventional one-piece base (as opposed to a side mount). Other desirable features include fast repeat shot capability, ambidextrous operation, and quick handling. The flat action makes this an easy rifle to carry, and the 20" barrel (and no bolt handle sticking out of the side of the action) makes it a natural to transport in a saddle scabbard.
Marlin has always believed in wood stocks and solid steel parts, which gives the 336SS rifle a quality look and feel plus legendary durability. It is a hard thing to fake, and once experienced it is difficult to go back to rifles with cast aluminum or stamped parts and plastic stocks. I have suppose that eventually Marlin will have to accede to the cost benefits of a 336 with a synthetic stock, but I feel confident that the traditional 336's will continue in the line. And, unless there is a change in ownership, I doubt that Marlin will ever allow inferior quality parts in their 336 rifles.
Our 336SS test rifle wears a Leupold VX-II 1-4x20mm variable power scope in a Leupold mount, which has proven very suitable for this application. The fully multi-coated optics are equal to the task, and the relatively small size of the scope is greatly appreciated on a fast handling rifle like the Marlin 336. The scope's great field of view at 1x is a natural for woods hunting and 4x magnification is adequate for the longest shots at deer size game with a .30-30. Leupold scopes have an excellent reputation for quality and durability, and this model is no exception. The scope and mount add less than one pound to the weight of the rifle.
The .30-30 Winchester cartridge is among the best known hunting cartridges in the world, and I have devoted several articles to it on the Rifle Cartridge Page, so there is little need to go into detail here. Suffice to say that the .30-30 remains the standard of comparison when deer hunting cartridges are discussed. It is one of the most effective cartridges ever devised for shooting deer and similar size game animals out to around 225 yards, and its moderate recoil allows most shooters to take good advantage of the cartridge's inherent accuracy.
Shooting for this review was conducted over a number of sessions at the Izaak Walton outdoor rifle range south of Eugene, Oregon. All groups were fired over sandbags from a bench rest. Like most carbine length rifles with barrel bands, barrel heating rapidly enlarges the group size, which is why I favor three shot groups. At the range I like to let the barrel cool down between shots, as animals in the field are usually killed from a cold barrel.
The stock ("litigation special") 5.25 pound trigger pull was not conducive to bench rest accuracy, so I got G&S Online Gunsmith Rocky Hays to lighten it to a clean 3 pounds. If you are very patient (obviously, I am not), Marlin triggers will tend to smooth and lighten as they wear-in. In fact, the whole action will get smoother as it breaks-in.
Factory loads used for accuracy and function testing included Remington 150 and 170 grain Core-Lokt bullets, Winchester Super-X 150 grain Power-Point and Silvertip bullets, Winchester Supreme 150 grain Power-Point Plus bullets, Federal Power-Shock 150 grain SP bullets and Hornady LeverEvolution with 160 grain FlexTip bullets. This particular rifle proved to favor the Hornady LeverEvolution load.
The out of the box accuracy of this stainless steel rifle was initially not as good as I have come to expect, based on my experience with previous Marlin rifles (which were made of conventional ordinance steel). The first 40 or so 3-shot groups, using the Remington, Winchester and Federal factory loaded ammunition, averaged about 2 5/8" at 100 yards. The largest group measured an unfortunate 4 1/4" and the smallest a lucky 7/16".
I next tried my "standard" .30-30 reload, which uses a 150 grain Speer Flat-SP bullet in front of 33.0 grains of IMR 3031 powder. This reduced the average group size to about 2" at 100 yards, which is fine for deer hunting.
Still, I felt that the rifle could do better. I switched to the 150 grain Sierra Pro-Hunter FN bullet, also in front of a 33.0 grain charge of IMR 3031 powder. That did the trick, as the average 3-shot group size shrank to a satisfying 1.5" at 100 yards.
Last, I tried the Hornady LeverEvolution with its slick boat-tail spitzer bullet. This load proved to be the best of all, producing groups that measured between 1.0" to 1/5". Regardless of the load being tested, function and feeding were perfect throughout.
I have become quite enamored with the stainless steel Marlin lever gun. The walnut stock nicely sets-off the appearance of the satin finished stainless steel barreled action. It is a very handsome rifle of obvious quality. Combine that with its all-weather practicality, proven reliability, effective of the .30-30 cartridge and I venture to say it is pretty close to being the perfect deer rifle.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
Copyright 2002, 2009 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.