Marlin 1895 SBL review

Review: Marlin 1895 SBL .45-70 lever-action rifle


Does the new Ruger-made Marlin really stack up?

The first of the new Ruger-made Marlin rifles, the 1895 SBL (Stainless Big Loop) in .45-70 Govt, is now available in Australia and it’s time to find out whether Ruger has honoured Marlin’s great legacy after the damage done during the years it was owned by Remington.

When Remington bought Marlin in 2007, we saw a dramatic drop in quality of fit and finish. To be fair, most of the “Remlin” rifles worked fine but they often needed a bit of work to get them there. After a couple of years Remington did lift the quality and there are lots of great examples out there, but the brand was diminished and the fit and finish were never up to what many of us expected from a Marlin.

I have owned several older JM Marlin-produced lever guns and they have all been great in both function as well as fit and finish. I set out to see how Ruger has done in reviving this iconic rifle.

Marlin 1895 SBL review
The 1895 SBL has a stainless barreled action and grey timber laminate stock, with rail, aperture sights and big-loop lever

The 1895 SBL is a stainless gun with a grey laminate stock, so it is not going to appeal to the ultra-traditionalist who only likes beautiful walnut and deep lustrous blued steel; you’ll have to wait a year or so for the 1895 Guide Gun to get that.   

The SBL is a modern and very practical take on a long-proven design and deserves to be judged on that basis. Ruger did not attempt to recreated an old Marlin, but in its usual forward-thinking manner has given us a rifle for the 21st century that is ideal for close to medium distance big game.

It’s a brilliant pig gun — truly amazing in close cover. 

Marlin 1895 SBL review
The Ruger-made Marlin has a number of improvements and refinements that make it a superior hunting rifle

FIT AND FINISH

Ruger has addressed one of the pet hates of many recent Marlin owners by slimming down that very tubby forend used on late-model Marlins. A huge tick from me and everyone I showed the rifle to. It sounds like a little thing but it makes it feel better in the hand, instantly.

Wood to metal fit is excellent. While not up to 1960s era hand-fitted guns, it is consistent and looks great.

The polished stainless steel combined with grey laminate is very attractive as well as practical as this gun will take a beating in the scrub and polish right back up for the range or safe.

The recoil pad is well fitted and it’s an excellent quality pad that really absorbs recoil from even the heaviest loads we tried, plus it is coloured to complement the laminated stock.

Sling swivels and the sights are all very well fitted and look great.

The 1895 even comes with a matching screw-on hammer extension that’s handy when using a scope.

Marlin 1895 SBL review
Feeding and ejecting cartridges is effortless. We did not have one failure in testing

FUNCTION TESTING

For testing we shot this rifle offhand and in other positions, as you would when hunting. We shot off the excellent Bogpod Deathgrip tripod and we shot from a Caldwell portable folding shooting bench — so we gave it a serious workout.

This Marlin is hands down the smoothest traditional lever gun (out of the box) that I have ever tried, with an amazingly slick action that feels almost liquid as you chamber rounds. We mixed up brands of ammo and bullet types and sizes; all fed smooth as silk through the Marlin.

Only the modern rack-and-pinion lever actions, such as Browning’s BLR, are smoother but not by a lot.

Loading the magazine is easy on the fingers and Marlin/Ruger has got the spring tension on the loading gate just right so that despite putting over 100 rounds through this test gun, none of us lost skin or got the dreaded “lever pinch”.

Marlin 1895 SBL review
Even the act of loading the Marlin is better with this Ruger-built version

Ruger has done a truly magnificent job in providing a very versatile and highly practical sighting system (it is actually a system) that will stand the test of time.

It features a Ruger-designed rear “ghost ring” peep with a huge sighting ring that is almost shockingly fast to align for close-in shots and still accurate enough for “minute of pig”. 

Marlin 1895 SBL review
Offhand speed and accuracy are excellent thanks to a super-smooth action and great ergonomics

I have a test I use for hunting rifles where I shoot offhand without support as rapidly as I can acquire a solid sight picture at 50 yards on a 6” steel plate (see picture). All three shots were right on the money and I was surprised how quickly I could get back on target thanks to that excellent pad. 

I know any of you will put a red-dot or low-powered scope (or even a forward mounted scout scope) on this rifle as soon as you buy it, but I encourage you to put a few rounds through the iron sights first, so you know it is sighted in (in case you need a backup) and also to experience how surprisingly accurate a large-diameter aperture ring can be. 

The front sight is a green fibre-optic that is very well protected within solid steel housing. It is a true night sight, given its tritium insert. This is a real touch of genius from Ruger. It actually works — that sight is bright in full sun or in the dark.

Marlin 1895 SBL review
A red-dot like this Aimpoint is a perfect sight for the Marlin if you don’t want to use the standard-issue peep sight

That aperture is part of a long Picatinny-type rail that made it simple for us to install an Aimpoint red dot and several scopes easily and quickly. I love having all these options quickly available on a hunting gun.

My only slight niggle with the SBL is purely personal taste. I would have loved a smaller, traditional-size lever rather than the larger “Big Loop” lever that is provided on virtually all contemporary lever guns. I live in Queensland and never need a large loop as I never wear gloves.

RELIABILITY

We ran over 100 rounds of mixed ammo through this rifle and every round fed, fired and ejected smoothly, even from the bench, where lever guns sometimes struggle.

Marlin 1895 SBL review
Fine accuracy testing was done with a high-magnification scope and the Marlin was up to the task

ACCURACY

After seeing the excellent results from my offhand 50-metre gong test, I wanted to test claims by importer NIOA’s staff about astonishing accuracy. I fitted a ZeroTech Thrive HD 2.5-15x target scope which was massive overkill but allowed me to fully test accuracy from a bench at 100 metres.

We were using a portable folding bench by Caldwell. 

Shooting a 45-70 off the bench does get punishing when using high intensity loads like the Hornady Leverevolution 325gn rounds, coming out of the barrel at approximately 2000fps, but we soldiered on and were amazed.

Marlin 1895 SBL review
The Marlin 1895 gives extraordinary accuracy for a lever gun, especially one chambered in .45-70!

The Leverevolution loads did the best, with repeated sub-MOA three-shot groups!

It was followed ever so closely by the gentle Hornady subsonic 300gn rounds which also never produced a group larger than MOA. However, at 100 metres they hit more than 250mm lower than the Leverevolution rounds.

This is truly amazing accuracy for a lever gun that most of us would be happy to see shoot into 50-70mm at 100 metres.

Ruger has really improved accuracy, it seems. We don’t need that degree of accuracy for Mr Piggie but it is confidence-building to know your new Marlin will likely shoot as accurately as a bolt gun.

As we wanted to review this new Marlin as a hunting rifle, we went to new Aussie leather maker RKM Leatherworks for a butt cuff ammo holder and sling.

Marlin 1895 SBL review
The leather ammo holder, made by RKM Leatherworks, was a neat addition to the Marlin

The Marlin 1895 SBL and the ammunition were provided to us by Cleaver Firearms in Queensland and we would like to give a big thanks to Dean at Cleaver for all his help getting us this hard-to-find rifle.

Marlin 1895 SBL review
The 1895 SBL devoured a range of different ammo without any problems

BOTTOM LINE

Ruger has done the Marlin name proud; this is an extremely well made and functional take on the Marlin design and I believe Ruger should be proud of what it has produced. The 1895 SBL is certainly worth considering if you are in the market for a big-bore lever gun. 

Now I am eagerly awaiting a new Marlin 1894 to be produced in .357 Magnum as I am convinced Ruger will do it right. It will come in the future, as will a Model 336 in .30-30, but don’t start holding your breath just yet.

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Calibre: .45-70 Government
  • Action: Lever, stainless steel
  • Barrel: 48cm (19”), cold hammer forged, threaded, stainless steel
  • Capacity: 6 rounds in tubular magazine + 1 in chamber
  • Safety: Cross-bolt safety plus half-cock hammer
  • Sights: Aperture rear with fibre-optic front bead; Picatinny-type rail fitted
  • Length of Pull: 340mm (13.4”) 
  • Overall Length:  946mm (37.25”’)
  • Weight:  3.3kg (7.3lb)
  • Distributor: NIOA
  • Review rifle supplied by Cleaver Firearms
  • Price: From about $2350 (January 2023)

 

 

 


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Graham Park

Graham is the President of Shooters Union Australia and is also a keen lover of all things that go bang. With over 40  years of experience in the firearms community and industry, Graham is well placed to share information on a wide variety of firearm related issues. He runs a cattle property and is also a well published writer, with an Australian best-selling book (health related) and many, many published articles in Australian and international media.

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