Marlin Model 444 Rifle
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
The Marlin Model 444 lever action rifle was introduced in 1965 specifically for the .444 Marlin cartridge. The Model 444 action is based on a (new) Model Marlin 1895 action, itself a 336 action modified to handle the .444 Marlin cartridge and later the .45-70. Visually the 444 action is virtually identical to the regular 336 action.
The .444 case is fatter (0.469" compared to 0.422" base diameter) than the .30-30 case and has a 0.012" larger diameter rim; the .444 case is also 0.13" longer. In effect, it's a rimmed version of the .30-06 case blown out straight to accept .429" diameter bullets and trimmed to a length of 2.225". Cartridge overall length is pegged at 2.57", the longest cartridge adapted to the modern Marlin lever action. The SAAMI maximum average pressure is 44,000 cup.
Clearly the .444 Marlin cartridge is no lightweight! It was designed for hunting CXP2 and CXP3 class game at moderate ranges.
The original Remington Express .444 Marlin factory load called for a 240 grain bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 2400 fps and muzzle energy (ME) of 3070 ft. lbs. The 2007 Remington catalog quotes a MV of 2350 fps and ME of 2942 ft. lbs. with a 240 grain flat point bullet.
Hornady offers a .444 factory load in their "Light Magnum" line using a 265 grain flat point bullet at a MV of 2325 fps, and has introduced a LEVERevolution load using a 265 grain flex-tip spitzer bullet at a MV of 2325 fps. The muzzle energy of these Hornady loads is 3180 ft. lbs.
Shooting flat point bullets zeroed to hit 3" high at 100 yards the .444 is, at best, a 200 yard big game cartridge. The Hornady LEVERevolution spitzer bullet extends that range to somewhere around 225 yards. Its ballistics look like this from a rifle with a scope mounted 1.7" over bore: - 1.7" at the Muzzle, +3" at 100 yards, -1.4" at 200 yards, -18.6" at 300 yards. All of these ballistics figures are based on a 24" rifle barrel, such as those supplied on Marlin XLR series rifles.
Originally, Marlin's Model 444 rifles were supplied with 1:38" twist barrels, just like .44 Magnum rifles. This is fine for 240 grain bullets, but bullets weighing over 265 grains were (theoretically, at least) under stabilized. Marlin later changed their rifling twist to 1:20". This faster twist allows the use of heavier bullets, and 300 grain bullets have become popular with shooters reloading the .444 Marlin.
The Speer Reloading Manual #13 shows that their .429"/300 grain Uni-Cor soft point bullet can be driven to a MV of 2200 fps from a 24" Marlin barrel. (Speer's Model 444 test gun was rifled 1:38 and gave excellent accuracy with this bullet, by the way.) That means ME of 3224 ft. lbs., identical to the velocity and energy of the famous .405 Winchester load, also 300 grains at 2200 fps, that Teddy Roosevelt called his "big medicine" and used for shooting lion and rhino in Africa. The 300 grain .405" bullet has an advantage in sectional density (SD .258) over the 300 grain .429" bullet (SD .233), but the 444's .429" bullet has an off-setting advantage in cross-sectional area.
The current standard Model 444 rifle features the checkered black walnut, pistol grip, fluted comb butt stock of the 336C with the same Mar-Shield finish. The checkered, semi-beavertail forend is secured to the magazine tube by a sheet steel cap rather than a barrel band. As with practically all Marlin rifles, this forend should be slimmer. A pistol grip cap, rubber butt pad, and detachable sling swivel bases are all included.
The Model 444 is a (right) side-eject lever action with an exposed hammer and solid top receiver. The action incorporates both a traditional hammer ("quarter cock") safety notch and a manual hammer block safety. The barrel is 22" long with deep-cut 6 groove rifling. The two-thirds length tubular magazine under the barrel holds 5 cartridges. Metal finish is polished blue with a matte receiver top to reduce glare when using the iron sights.
Here are some basic specifications for the 2007 Marlin Model 444:
Over the years different barrel lengths from 18.5" to 24" have been tried on the Model 444, and the 22" barrel has proven to be the best compromise. It balances and handles well, carries easily, reduces muzzle blast compared to shorter barrels, and provides satisfactory ballistics. The Model 444 reviewed here is the standard version with a 22" barrel.
The 2007 Model 444XLR, designed to extract full performance from Hornady LEVERevolution factory loads, is supplied with a 24" barrel. The original Model 444 also came with a 24" barrel and an usual butt stock that combined a Monte Carlo cheek piece with a straight hand. This stock made the rifle recognizable, but not particularly attractive. Before long it was replaced by a typical 336 style pistol grip stock, which is used to this day on both standard and XLR Model 444 rifles.
After the introduction and outstanding sales success of Marlin's .45-70 Guide Gun carbine with its 18.5" barrel, the Model 444 was also given the Guide Gun treatment and fitted with an 18.5" ported barrel and a straight hand stock. This was called the Model 444P Outfitter and it measured 37" in overall length and weighed 6.75 pounds.
Unfortunately, the .444 cartridge operates at much higher velocity and pressure than standard .45-70 factory loads. Both the .444 and .45-70 are big bore rifles with similar applications, but the .444 makes its energy by throwing a relatively light 240-265 grain bullet at relatively high velocity, while the traditional .45-70 load uses a much heavier 405 grain bullet at much lower velocity (1330 fps). The .45-70 derives its killing power from a heavy bullet that penetrates deeply. The bottom line is that the .444 pays a much greater ballistic penalty for an attenuated barrel, and the .444 Outfitter's sales never matched those of the .45-70 Guide Gun. The Model 444P was discontinued around 2004.
Guns and Shooting Online Technical Advisor Bob Fleck purchased a standard Marlin Model 444 from a Eugene gun shop, and that is the rifle that we test fired for this review. Like most outdoor publications, electronic or print, Guns and Shooting Online consigns many firearms for review directly from the manufacturer. Unlike most other outdoor publications, we also buy rifles for review locally, just as you do. We feel that this helps to keep everyone honest, and we are happy to report that we have never been sent a "ringer" (a specially prepped firearm) for review by any rifle manufacturer.
Since the Model 444 is basically a short to medium range rifle, we equipped our test gun with a Weaver Classic V3 scope in a 1-piece Leupold base and Leupold STD low rings. Its flat, solid top receiver makes the Marlin lever action just about the easiest of all rifles on which to mount a scope base.
The Weaver 1-3x20mm scope provides plenty of eye relief and the exceptionally wide field of view so useful for hunting in deep woods. And its light weight and compact size minimize the scope's impact on the rifle's handling qualities. With a maximum magnification of 3 power, it is not the best choice for shooting tiny groups at 100 yard paper targets, but it is sufficient for reliably killing big game animals from field positions out to 200 yards. The Weaver V3 is an excellent scope for any big bore lever action rifle.
We did our shooting for record with our Marlin Model 444 during late January during a welcome weather break here in Western Oregon. High daytime temperatures were about 50 degrees and we were blessed by mostly sunny skies during our range days with the Marlin 444. The wind was 0 to 5 knots and judged not to be a factor. Guns and Shooting Online's Bob Fleck, Jim Fleck, Chuck Hawks, and Rocky Hays did the shooting with Remington Express 240 grain Soft Point, Hornady LEVERevolution 265 grain Flex-Tip, and two Stars & Stripes factory loads. One Stars & Stripes load used the 225 grain Barnes XPB solid copper Hollow Point bullet, while the other used the Hornady 265 grain Interlock Flat Point bullet designed especially for the .444 Marlin cartridge.
The Izaak Walton outdoor gun range south of Eugene, where we test rifles, provides covered firing positions and solid bench rests with target stands at 25, 50, 100, and 200 yards. We used an Outer's Lead Sled rest weighted with 25 pounds of lead shot to minimize both recoil and shooter tremor and fired at Hoppe's 100 yard Small Bore Rifle targets. (The large bulls eye being relatively easy to see in the 3x scope.) All groups fired for record were 3-shots at 100 yards. Here are the shooting results:
AVERAGE GROUP SIZE FOR ALL AMMUNITION = 1.58".
The Marlin 444 functioned perfectly throughout our testing. No surprise there. This time out Jim shot the smallest single 3-shot group; congratulations, Jim! The Model 444 delivered unexpectedly good accuracy, particularly considering the relatively low power scope with which it was fitted and its clean but excessively heavy trigger pull. The latter is a common complaint in the modern, tort lawyer plagued world.
A brief word about the Stars & Stripes ammunition used in this review. At $21.99/box of 20, their 265 grain FP load (MV 2216 fps) is close in discount retail price to the Remington Express load and much less expensive than the Hornady LEVERevolution load, and it handily outperformed both in our testing. All rifles are individuals, but anyone with a .444 Marlin rifle would be well advised to stop by the Stars & Stripes web site (just click on the banner at the bottom of this article) and order up a box of this ammunition to test in his or her own rifle.
Perhaps our most surprising collective observation is that the recoil of the .444 was not nearly as unpleasant as we had expected. In the interests of research (well, okay, for fun) we shot this rifle offhand as well as from the Lead Sled, using Remington factory loads, and--much to our surprise--enjoyed the experience. A slip-on Sims Limbsaver recoil pad kept our shoulders bruise free. There may be a local run on Marlin .444 rifles as a result of this review.
For many years the .444 Marlin was the most powerful cartridge available in a new lever action rifle. In recent years it has been somewhat upstaged by the newer .450 Marlin cartridge and high pressure .45-70 reloads. (Not entirely, however; see: "Compared: The .444 Marlin, .45-70 Govt. and .450 Marlin" on the Rifle Cartridge Page.) The .444 remains a very powerful cartridge that delivers bone crushing performance with somewhat less recoil than the .450 Marlin. With ballistics akin to those of the famous .405 Winchester, the .444 Marlin should not be overlooked by those seeking a powerful, big bore woods rifle.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
Copyright 2007 by chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.
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