The Marlin Model 1894 .44 Magnum Carbine
By Ed Turner
I'd been thinking about a compact lever gun in a powerful pistol caliber for a good while, but remained unsure as to just which one I should get. There are a few imported versions made in typical calibers. Some are stocked in hardwood, some in walnut and some offer stainless steel barreled actions.
I thought about several different calibers from .357 Mag. (I already own a .38 Spec., so that could have been good) all the way up to .454 Casull and .480 Ruger. I figured the fun-to-shoot quotient to be high, so decided against some of the more exotic pistol calibers. After finding some "Whoop-Ass" .44 Mag. loads marketed that were every bit the equal to the .454 (albeit as expensive) I figured the .44 Mag. to be the best compromise in terms of power to cost to availability of different loads.
I am old enough to appreciate the idea of scoping most anything I want to shoot, from BB guns on up. In addition, I feel, experienced enough to know anyone who claims iron sights to be superior to a low mounted, quality scope is talking through his hat. Suffice to say, I wanted a solid top, drilled and tapped receiver and the Marlin line looked better by the day!
Marlin has produced many lever rifles in a lot of configurations and their Model 1894 is no different. Today it's available in three different calibers and variations; .357 Mag. (1894C), .45LC (Cowboy version) and the one I finally chose, the .44 Mag. A little more background on the Marlin Model 1894 might be in order here.
Marlin's first lever rifle was the Model 1881 and it was chambered for the powerful hunting rounds of the day. Their next venture, the Model 1889, was designed for the pistol calibers of the day as a carbine companion for sixguns. The 1894 was an updated and improved version of the 1889 and remained a mainstay for Marlin until they ceased production in 1934.
The new magnum revolver rounds, such as the .357 (born the very year Marlin ceased production) and .44, eventually made Marlin rethink their marketing strategy and they resumed production of the "new" Model 1894 in 1969. It was chambered it for the .44 Magnum. They added the .357 Magnum in the 1970's and the .41 Magnum in the 1990's. Marlin also changed its rifling type from Micro-Groove to Ballard (deep cut) in the 1990's.
The latest Model 1894 is also available in a "Cowboy" model, a straight hand stock configuration devoid of checkering and supplied with an octagonal barrel. This very classy looking rifle adds the .45 Long Colt caliber to the fold.
My choice was for the standard version with 20" round barrel, straight grip stock and squared off lever. The stock is of American Black walnut and has stain light enough to see some grain through, making it handsome if not exactly striking. It's cut-checkered in a somewhat awkward style (to my taste) with an uncheckered diamond in the center of the forend and the center of each side of the buttstock. Others may find this an attractive addition to the pattern, but I don't.
The overall appearance of the rifle is positive, no mistaking that. Well made (in the good ole U.S.A.) and nearly perfect in form, if not quite perfect in fashion. The stock is well designed and feels great in hand, although the LOP seemed a tad short for me, certainly not Marlin's problem, as my arms are a tad longish. The bluing is reasonably well done and far superior to the typical matte finish too often encountered today. A bit of my favorite furniture/gunstock polish, made of beeswax and lemon oil, brightened the stock considerably.
Enough about the looks. I handled the little gem for 2 or 3 days, trying to decide whether to scope it. I aimed the standard iron sights at all sorts of targets and even used my very similar Model 444S with its peep sight, trying to make the big decision. I'd recently mounted a super nice Nikon Monarch SG 1.5-4.5x on my Model 336ER in .356 Win. caliber and that left a nice Weaver V3 1-3x20mm homeless.
I finally took the big step and mounted the entire outfit of base, rings and scope, all gloss, on top of the new Model 1894. I checked before placing the rings atop the base and I can still use the irons over the Weaver base. The V3 looks and feels great atop there. The balance is unchanged and my hand fits around receiver and scope. Low rings and compact scope were a perfect match of form and function. Off to the range!
I settled on a very basic load for initial testing (and possible hunting as well), a 240 grain JSP listed at a nominal 1250 FPS out of a 6" revolver barrel. I chose the soft point rather than the equally popular hollow point because it would allow for deeper penetration. The bullets unearthed after initial range work showed excellent expansion, by the way. I'm hoping for complete pass-through from broadside shots on our smallish Tennessee and Kentucky whitetails with these and the 270 grain bullets I'm testing next.
The first couple of three shot groups were fired using the iron sights and gave me about 2" groups centered two inches high at 50 yards. That would make it close to zero at 75 yards and a few inches low at 100 yards. I installed that nice little Weaver scope and rings and began sighting-in at 50 yards. A couple of groups later we were ready to move to the 100 yard mark. By the way, shooting a Marlin 1894 in .44 Mag. from a Lead Sled was akin to shooting a .223, if that!
Groups were not bad, about 1.5" at 50 yards. Not exactly Cooper Rifle quality, but surely sufficient for a rifle and caliber combination that shines for informal plinking, small game to 50 yards and deer-sized game to 125 yards. The 100 yard groups averaged 3" and I'd be willing to guess that by testing some additional loads I could knock an inch off that. That would be all I could ever ask of this handy little carbine.
From all I've read, there are many owners of Ruger .44 Carbines, both semi-auto and lever, that would be quite happy to see these results. Not a Ruger basher here, simply stating what seems to be common knowledge among .44 carbine aficionados. Some shooters might prefer faster and lighter bullets, in the 180 to 210 grain range, but I have decided to stick with 240 grains and also to try some 270 grain bullets, since the recoil with the 240's is very manageable and I'm primarily interested in this rifle for short range whitetail hunting.
My opinion is that this will also make an excellent carry rifle in the field. I normally carry something while roaming the Tennessee woods after having my dog chased by two hungry coyotes several years ago, while we were walking in the woods. Additionally, at least one person has been killed by a black bear in Tennessee within the last two years.
Does the .44 Magnum really have sufficient power to carry where big black bears or grizzlies roam? Perhaps. Certainly a .44 carbine stoked with heavy loads is far better than no firearm at all. I'd prefer the security of hot 45-70 or .450 Marlin loads when needing protection from big bears, but 10 rounds of .44 Mag. is nothing to sneeze at.
Here are some data for the .44 Mag. Marlin 1894, taken from Marlin's web site:
At six pounds and 37.5" long, this is one compact and powerful tool for use hunting a myriad of game, as well as being a very handy carry gun for protection in the field. It will definitely find itself 15-20 feet up a tree sometime soon, accompanying me while waiting for a deep woods buck to try to sneak by.
I'm one happy camper with this fine American made Marlin, and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if at some point a nice looking 1894 Cowboy version in .45 LC ends up residing alongside a couple of its Marlin brothers at Ed's house.
If you've had the urge, as I did, to own a compact carbine with enough power to make it darn versatile, or to marry with your .357, .44, or .45 handgun, I'd recommend that you stop the thinking and start buying!
Copyright 2008 by Ed Turner. All rights reserved.