Marlin Model 336TDL .30-30 Carbine with Leupold VX-Freedom 2-7x33mm Riflescope
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
The Marlin 336 action traces its design heritage back to the Model 1893, which was based on the L.L. Hepburn lever action design incorporating a two-piece firing pin, external lever pivot, rear locking bolt, right receiver side loading gate and a solid top receiver with side ejection. These remain signature Marlin lever action features today.
Most of us on the Guns and Shooting Online staff have owned and used Marlin 336 lever action rifles in .30-30 Winchester or .35 Remington and in some cases chambered for less common Marlin cartridges. The latter include .308 Marlin, .338 Marlin and .444 Marlin.
Particularly in its carbine form with a 20 inch barrel, the Marlin 336 is one of the fastest and best handling rifles in the woods. Having played second fiddle to the Winchester Model 94 lever action for decades, the Model 336 finally surpassed its long time rival in annual sales in the 1980s.
In 2007 Remington Arms (then part of the Freedom Group, now renamed Remington Outdoor) purchased Marlin and promptly closed the Marlin North Haven, Connecticut factory. Production was moved to Remington facilities. Remington quickly discovered the Marlin machinery was worn and required the experienced Marlin workers to operate satisfactorily, whom they had already fired. Even worse, many engineering plans and specifications had been lost. Remington was forced to acquire new CNC machinery and train new workers to run it, and it took a while to get to the point the rifles consistently worked correctly.
Meanwhile, quality, availability, sales and the brand's reputation suffered. Many Marlin models were simply discontinued, including the recent .308 and .338 Marlin Express calibers, as well as the powerful .444 Marlin and .450 Marlin calibers. We are still waiting, so far in vain, for these to be re-introduced.
Market reverses and poor management decisions have plagued Freedom Group/Remington Outdoor and in 2018 the Company is reportedly in the process of declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This leaves the future of Marlin firearms in doubt, particularly since Remington executives could choose to simply end Marlin firearm production and concentrate whatever limited resources exist on the Remington brand. (Assuming that Remington Outdoor achieves Chapter 11 protection and does not simply cease to exist.) We fervently hope that both the Remington and Marlin brands survive and prosper.
Amid this chaotic situation a high grade, limited production, Model 336 TDL has appeared and we were able to get one for this review. For those not familiar with Marlin nomenclature, the "T" stands for Texan, which signifies a Model 336 with a straight hand stock. The "DL" stands for Deluxe, a higher than normal grade. If the end is near, at least Marlin will go out with a Model 336 worth remembering.
Model 336TDL Features
The 336TDL is the nicest and best looking Marlin lever action to be offered in quite a while. The metal surfaces are, indeed, deeply and attractively hot blued. The metal polish beneath the bluing could have profited by the use of a finer polishing grit, but it looks nice as is. The top of the receiver is given a matte finish to reduce glare, which is inexplicably carried around to include the bottom of the receiver.
Model 336TDL Specifications
Our test rifle weighed 7 pounds, 1 ounce out of the box, very close to the specified weight. Every walnut stock can be slightly different in density, causing minor weight variations.
The smooth, medium width trigger is gold plated, always a nice touch. Not praiseworthy is the trigger pull weight, which measured a heavy 5-1/2 pounds per our RCBS pull gauge. On the plus side, the release is clean and creep free.
As explained above, Remington is producing Marlin rifles on new CNC machinery that, unlike the old Marlin machines, requires very little hand labor. The action of our test rifle feels tight and secure, but not particularly smooth. Stroking the lever requires more effort than it should. It can be hard on the back of the fingers of the shooting hand if you do a lot of shooting in a single session.
One of the features we appreciate about the Marlin action is its lever/trigger disconnect system. Most modern lever action rifles prevent the trigger from firing the rifle if the bolt is not completely closed (lever all the way up).
In the case of a Winchester Model 94, a spring loaded pin must be compressed by the lever. This requires the shooter to keep the pin depressed by holding the lever closed with the shooting hand. Relax finger tension and the lever will move downward enough to allow the trigger disconnect pin to pop out, with the result the rifle will not go bang.
The Marlin 336 uses a similar trigger disconnect pin, but the Marlin lever is designed to click into place when fully closed. You can then relax finger tension on the lever and it will not move, keeping the disconnect pin depressed, so the trigger works when you squeeze it. This superior system works great. I have seen Marlin shooters try Winchesters at the range and find they cannot fire the rifle, because they are not used to holding the lever all the way up when they try to pull the trigger.
Like most Marlin 336 models, the TDL comes with a semi-buckhorn rear sight. This is dovetailed into the barrel and uses a traditional ramp with steps for elevation adjustments. Windage is (crudely) adjusted by tapping the sight base laterally in its dovetail.
We doubt that many shooters today make use of the supplied semi-buckhorn open sights. This is just about the poorest type of sighting system available and we find it hard to understand why it persists on lever action rifles. The projecting "ears" on the semi-buckhorn do nothing but restrict the shooter's field of view. Fortunately, the top of the receiver is drilled and tapped for riflescope mount bases.
The 336TDL features scroll engraving at the four corners of both sides of the receiver and in the center of the left side of the receiver. The engraving pattern is traditional "American" in style, restrained and attractive. One seldom sees factory engraving on firearms any more, so it is much appreciated.
This looks like hand engraving, but when examined under a microscope by our Rocky Hays, a member of the Engraver's Guild, the bottom of the grooves is rounded, rather than "V" shaped, as from hand engraving. However, this engraving does not appear to be laser cut. Like hand engraving, there are even tiny mistakes. How this engraving was done, we do not know. It is likely some new type of machine engraving.
In the center of the right side of the receiver is the traditional Marlin "rider on a horse with his rifle" logo in gold inlay. This is also a nice touch and not overdone.
How nice it is to review a modern hunting rifle with good walnut (instead of plastic), an all steel barreled action (not aluminum and sheet metal) and deep bluing (instead of an unpolished matte finish). The engraving and gold inlay are icing on the cake and harken back to a day when firearms were precious possessions and displayed with pride.
Marlin calls the 336TDL walnut "Grade B." We would describe the wood used in our test rifle as "Moderately Fancy." It shows some nice grain structure and some fiddleback. It is clearly higher grade walnut than the standard grade wood supplied on other walnut stocked Model 336 rifles.
We definitely prefer the "Texan" straight hand stock to the usual 336 pistol grip stock. The straight grip is less bulky, slightly lighter and handles a shade faster. It gives the rifle sleeker lines and it looks better. There is a traditional Marlin "bullseye" inletted into the underside of the butt stock and steel detachable sling swivel studs are provided.
The butt stock terminates in a contoured, brown, solid rubber butt pad with a black line spacer. This is not a recoil pad. We like rubber butt pads, as they are less likely to slip and cause the rifle to fall if it is propped muzzle up when resting on a smooth surface.
On the other hand, the 336TDL retains the usual Marlin 336 beavertail forearm. We have always found this bulbous forearm shape unnecessarily bulky and comparatively unattractive. Why Marlin persists with it, especially on a rifle with a slender, straight hand stock, is hard to fathom. The slender forearms typical of Henry and Winchester lever action rifles look and feel better. A steel barrel band secures the front of the forearm and the front sling swivel stud is mounted on the barrel band.
The wood is finished with an attractive Mar-Shield satin finish that looks like a hand rubbed oil finish. If this is the same Mar-Shield finish Marlin has used for years, it is water resistant and durable.
As usual with a new rifle, Guns and Shooting Online's Owner/Managing Editor Chuck Hawks spent about a week with the rifle at home, dry firing and working the action to help the parts to begin to wear-in. He also put a drop (one, not more) of gun oil on the lever pivot, hammer pivot, trigger and lever latch.
The Leupold VX-Freedom 2-7x33mm Riflescope
For our test rifle, we requested a Leupold VX-Freedom 2-7x33mm riflescope, along with a lightweight Leupold Rifleman cross-slot base and Rifleman low rings. The matte black finish on the base and rings matches the matte black finish on the VX-Freedom riflescope.
Mounting the scope on the Marlin test rifle was quick and straightforward, as was bore sighting with our optical bore sighter. The Leupold's modest objective lens bell cleared the rear sight, so we did not have to remove the latter. The spacing between the adjustment turrets and the front and rear bells provides better than average mounting latitude, a characteristic of most Leupold scopes.
The new VX-Freedom line has replaced the previous VX-1 riflescopes for 2018. These are Gold Ring scopes protected by the famous, transferable, Leupold Lifetime Guarantee (not a limited warrantee), which is the best in the industry.
Like all Leupold riflescopes, the moderately priced VX-Freedom line is manufactured in Beaverton, Oregon USA by skilled technicians to the highest standards. The upscale VX-3i, VX-R, VX-5HD and VX-6HD lines offer more features, but all Leupold scopes are equally durable and precisely made. The main tubes are CNC machined from 6060-T6 aluminum solid bar stock. We have visited the Leupold factory and it is an amazing process to watch. (See Leupold Factory Tour for more about this.)
This scope features Leupold's twilight light management system, 1/4 MOA finger tip windage and elevation adjustments, the famous Leupold Duplex reticle, fully multicoated optics, waterproof, fog proof, shock proof, scratch resistant lenses to military standard extreme abrasion specification and a one inch main tube. It weighs 11.1 ounces, has a 43.8 foot field of view at 100 yards, 75 MOA adjustment range, second focal plane reticle and an eye relief of about four inches. The 2018 MSRP is $259.99 ($199.99 retail at Midway USA).
This scope is focused by turning the ocular bell multiple turns, until it is adjusted for the shooter's eye. There is a lock ring to (hopefully) prevent inadvertent turning. The zoom ring is very heavily knurled and includes a raised tactile bump. Like most Leupold zoom rings, it requires a little more effort to turn than most scopes. The reason is to avoid accidentally changing the zoom setting in the field. What feels great in the store is often too easily changed in the field.
The zoom ring is marked only with the numbers 7 - 4 - 2 in white. It goes from minimum magnification (2x) to maximum in about 1/3 of a turn.
The fingertip windage and elevation adjustment knobs are convenient and the 1/4 MOA clicks are easy to count. The knobs are protected by screw on caps, as all hunting scopes adjustments should be. Unfortunately, the scope itself does not come with lens caps, so we purchased a Butler Creek rubber "Scope Bikini."
This scope is easy to look through. The eye relief is good and the eye-box is generous.
The optics are adequately sharp and clear, as you would expect from any $200 riflescope. The edge sharpness is good. Colors are accurately rendered. Distortion is minimal. The scope can be aimed close to the sun before lens flare becomes evident. (NEVER aim a scope, or any other optical instrument, directly at the sun!)
We consider a riflescope with a minimum magnification of about 2x and a maximum magnification of 6x or greater, built on a one inch diameter main tube with an objective lens not exceeding 40mm in diameter (smaller is better), to be just about ideal for a multitude of big game hunting situations. Such a scope has a wide field of view for hunting in the woods or brush country, sufficient magnification for shooting at Class 2 or larger animals to beyond the MPBR (+/- 3") of any popular hunting cartridge and, mounted low and overbore, it should be light enough to minimize the scope's affect on the rifle's handling and balance.
The Leupold VX-Freedom 2-7x33mm neatly fulfills these specifications and is a good choice for any .30-30 rifle. Like every Leupold we have ever used, the VX-Freedom 2-7x33mm gives good views of the target and the standard Duplex reticle is still the best all-around hunting reticle there is. (Leupold invented the "plex-type" reticle everyone else has copied ever since.) Yes, a VX-3i is superior in most respects, but the VX-Freedom is a capable hunting scope in its price class.
We did our test shooting at the Izaak Walton outdoor range south of Eugene, Oregon. This facility provides covered bench rests and target stands at 25, 50, 100 and 200 yards. Guns and Shooting Online's Chuck Hawks, Gunsmithing Editor Rocky Hays, Chief Technical Advisor Jim Fleck and Technical Assistant Bob Fleck were on hand for the shooting chores.
The factory loaded ammunition used for this review included Hornady LEVERevolution with 160 grain FTX (soft tip) spitzer bullets (MV 2400 fps), Barnes Vor-Tx with 150 grain TSX flat nose bullets (MV 2335 fps), Remington Core-Lokt with 150 grain bullets (MV 2390 fps), Remington Core-Lokt with 170 grain bullets (MV 2200 fps), Winchester Super-X with 150 grain Silvertip bullets (MV 2390 fps) and Federal Power-Shok with 150 grain Soft Point FN bullets (MV 2390 fps).
These catalog muzzle velocities are taken in 24 inch test barrels, so subtract about 40 fps (based on Remington figures) for our rifle's 20 inch carbine barrel for a more accurate estimated MV.
Our thanks to our friends at Remington, Barnes and Hornady for providing ammunition for this review. (The Federal and Winchester ammo was purchased locally.) Without their support our job would be much more difficult and our reviews less complete.
For record, we fired three shot groups at Redfield Precision Sight-In Targets at 100 yards from a Caldwell Lead Sled DFT on a sturdy bench rest. The shooting was slow enough that the barrel never got hot. Here are the average group sizes with our test loads:
Like most Marlin 336 rifles, the test rifle functioned perfectly. There were no malfunctions of any kind. It fed reliably from the magazine and can be single loaded, if desired.
The Marlin Model 336TDL is a deluxe, limited edition rifle. It is the right size and weight for its cartridge and purpose. It is also an heirloom that can be used with pride and handed down to future generations. The .30-30 Winchester cartridge is one of the world's best and best selling Class 2 hunting cartridges.
Likewise, the Leupold VX-Freedom riflescope performed as advertised, without fuss or muss. This reasonably priced optic is lightweight, reasonably compact and suitable for any all-around big game hunting rifle. It is covered by Leupold's Gold Ring Lifetime Guarantee, which is the best in the industry.
Note:An expanded review of the Marlin Model 336TDL, including full shooting results and a Rifle Review Summary, can be found on the Product Reviews index page.
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