The “Other” Model ’94 Lever Action Rifle: Marlin 94 Rifle

Opinion: David reviews a classic lever action. The Marlin 94 Rifle.

The "Other" Model '94 Lever Action Rifle
The “Other” Model '94 Lever Action Rifle: Marlin 94 Rifle

New York – -(AmmoLand.com)- If you mention to anyone who is familiar with guns, particularly lever action rifles, the simple moniker of “Model 94” and you will get all of the tales of reverence of the Winchester Model 94 Rifle, and it's hundred plus year history and with it of course arguably the most famous deer cartridge of all time, the .30-30. There is another rifle that goes by the same title that to some has a following that has sustained it for just as long, and that is the Marlin Model '94 Lever-Action Rifle.

Marlin Model 94 Lever-Action Rifle

Marlin Firearms Ad

By the time 1894 rolled around, Winchester was already the big name when it came to lever action rifles. With the help of John Moses Browning providing one successful design on top of the other and earlier guns like the 1866 Yellow Boy and the 1873, Winchester was well entrenched and had the lion's share of the market, especially in the west.

In 1881, an upstart by the name of John Mahlon Marlin started his own company, the Marlin Fire Arms Company, and his first gun, the Marlin 1881, launched a salvo across the bow of every other gun maker. The Model 1881, was the first lever action rifle capable of firing the .45-70 round along with other large caliber rounds up to the .45-85. What was noteworthy was that the Model 1881 came out five years before Winchester introduced the Model 1886, their big bore lever gun capable of handling the truly powerful hunting cartridges.

Marlin didn't stop there, with the help of engineer and designer L.L. Hepburn, a new, smaller frame lever action was introduced in 1888 that was chambered in .32 WCF, .38 WCF, and .44 WCF, which were incidentally, the same calibers as the Winchester 1873 rifle.

The Model 1888 was a top eject design like the Winchester 1873 which caused it to run afoul of the New Haven Arms company. Only an estimated 4,800 Model 1888 Marlins were made before production ceased in 1889.

Hepburn and Marlin though were not finished, and what came next was what made them stand apart from Winchester and other companies then and now.

Marlin unveiled the Model 1889 lever action, which unlike the top eject design of the 1888 or what Winchester was producing, was the first lever action to have a flat solid receiver that ejected cartridges to the side. A few other upgrades from the earlier design strengthened the action so that the gun could not be fired unless it was closed. The caliber choices were the same three Winchester cartridges as the previous model, which were very popular and wildly popular.

The solid top and side ejection of the Marlin 94 Rifles were a distinct advantage over other rifles.

While the 1889 Marlin was a good design, Winchester responded with the Model 1892, a smaller version of their Model 1886, both of which were designed by John Browning and chambered in the same cartridges as the 1889 Marlin. L.L. Hepburn didn't back down from the challenge, taking the Model 1889 and refining it further. The action was strengthened, the 1889's rear locking lug, which tended to pinch the shooter's finger, was removed, the trigger was one piece, and the firing pin was converted to one that was a two-piece design, and the finger lock on the lever was removed. Again the calibers were held over from the Model 1889 except .25 WCF and .218 Bee which was added towards the end of the production of the first generation of the Marlin 94's run.

The early Marlin 94 Rifle was available in the form of a rifle with a 24-inch barrel that was either octagon or round, came in either a full, three-quarter or half magazine, solid frame or takedown versions. The rifles all had case colored receivers, levers, hammers, butt plates & forend caps. The barrel and magazine tubes were blued.

Marlin 94 Rifle ID Plate
Marlin 94 Rifle ID Plate
The early Marlin 94's came drilled and tapped for the rare Hepburn receiver sight.

You could also get the Marlin Lever Action 94 in the form of a saddle ring carbine with a 20-inch barrel or the Baby Carbine, which could be ordered with a barrel as short as 15-inches and with a half magazine. This version only weighed about five pounds and makes a great rifle to pack and carry.

The Marlin 94 Rifle like the other side eject rifles that were produced found favor in the colder climates like the Yukon because they didn't get snow or ice in their actions like top eject designs and freeze up. I can say from experience, I often see more used Marlins on gun racks compared to the number of Winchesters here in the Adirondack Mountains, whether that was because they were more popular at the time because of the cold climate is something that has been lost to the ages.

Marlin lever action rifles gained a reputation for reliability in the cold climate of the Yukon

Marlin produced the early Model 94 until 1933 before shutting down production. There is no way to know exactly how many were made since the serial number records only go up to 1906 and a little more than 355,000 and Marlin numbered all of their guns consecutively, so all of their models ran within the same number range. Marlin made over 450,000 lever action rifles, so it's a certainty a lot of early Model 94's were made.

Marlin though was not finished with the Model 94, although it took thirty-six years to get back to it. There were efforts to make .44 Magnum work in the Model 336, but the action just couldn't be fitted to where it was reliable, so in 1969 the Model 94 came back in .44 Magnum, and that was it for many years. Then there was a run of cartridges that included the .357 Magnum, a couple of old favorites, the .25-20, .32-20, and the .218 Bee. The .41 Magnum and .45 Colt were also introduced. Today the Model 94 is offered in a variety of options, finishes, barrel lengths, and styles and in .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and .45 Colt.

I recently picked up a Marlin 94, it's not my first, although the others I have owned were newer versions. I have owned a pair of 1894CL's in both .25-20 and .32-20, a .41 Magnum version and an early 1970's vintage Model 94 in .44 Magnum, but this particular version goes back to the early days, and as best as can be determined by the serial number, it was made sometime between 1916-1917.

This Model 94 is a rifle and in .32-20, one of my favorite calibers. There have been some rumors over the years that the early Marlins tend to have bores that are oversized for their calibers. I decided to test out some factory ammunition to see if that was true, this Marlin has some of the cleanest rifling I have seen in a long time.

At 25 yards with both Remington 100 grain ammunition and some Ultramax 115 loads, both of which fed through the old Marlin flawlessly and the empties ejected just as well out the right side. Both loads grouped very well, so I wonder if the rumors of those oversized bores on the Model 94 were just that.

Ultramax and Remington 115 & 110 loads in 32-20 WIN
Ultramax and Remington 115 & 110 loads in 32-20 WIN
Marlin 94 Rifle the end results
Marlin 94 Rifle, the end results.

I even tried out a few of my handloads, some mild loads with the Lyman 115 grain cast SWC. These were a little finicky because of their overall length, but they shot well on a rabbit silhouette I made up, a perfect target for the .32-20.

Rabbit Silhouette
Rabbit Silhouette

The Marlin Model 94 has been around a long time, and over the years it's had some ups and downs, a long period where it wasn't even available, but it appears now that it's finally not going anywhere. It can be seen in the hands of Cowboy Action shooters, but don't forget that it makes a darn good hunting rifle up close. The older versions with the smaller cartridges do very well on small game, and in the right circumstances, an occasional whitetail or two. Don't pass one up if you get the chance to won it.


David LaPell
David LaPell

About David LaPell

David LaPell has been a Corrections Officer with the local Sheriff's Department for thirteen years. A collector of antique and vintage firearms for over twenty years and an avid hunter. David has been writing articles about firearms, hunting and western history for ten years. In addition to having a passion for vintage guns, he is also a fan of old trucks and has written articles on those as well.

 

 

 

  • 13 thoughts on “The “Other” Model ’94 Lever Action Rifle: Marlin 94 Rifle

    1. My first Marlin was a 39A Mountie .22LR. I was 15 years old.
      Over a few years i bought 336 in 35 Remington because I could handload the same bullets I cast for my 357 Magnum handguns.
      Then I bought a 336 in 44 Magnum. One the barrel band/ magazine tube band was relieved to “float” the barrel barrel accuracy was excellent.
      Marlin made a mistake and the action from the factory only allowed 240 grain factory length ammo. The 250 grain Keith 42921 bullet would not feed because a spring loaded stop on the lifter did not allow the slightly longer Keith handload to clear the magazine. The solution was to grind 1/16-1/8 inch from the stop. Somebody will claim it wasn’t safe because the stop might ignite a primer. The factory had a bigger surface with the stop formed. But my gun was reliable and shot 250 grain Keith bullets with 24 grain of 4227 powder very well.
      Wish I still had them all.

    2. I’m not sure but I know the Marlin I used for the first two deer when I was a teen was a fully enclosed bolt like the Model 94. Marlin Safety Steel on it either top of the receiver or barrel. Very short barrel approximately “16 inches. It had the most incredible color case harden receiver I ever saw. Very compact and was not a take down as it was a very handy sized woods rifle. The caliber was 32-40 Winchester, and much easier to find in the store in the late 50s then now. The rifle was not a target class rifle, and even though the condition was like new, you could keep a ten shot group in 6”. Each of the two whitetail deer that were taken were single round kills at age 13 and 14. The rifle was a borrowed family rifle that I would have given about anything to own. However, the family split up, and I moved on in life by serving in the Marines at 17. Always had an appreciation of good firearms, and managed to start a collection I could call my own. Often think about those early days and the freedoms we had to roam about anywhere to hunt and fish. Each day brings more restrictions, and I wonder just how long we can keep them!

    3. I have 3 marlins…I have the 39A Golden in the 22LR with the JM stamp on it in Mint Condition..Less than 100 rounds threw it..Had a few older models with the JM stamp sold them wish I didnt..Stayed away from them for a few yrs because of troubles when they sold out to Remington..Bought a 4570 in the Trapper in 2018 shots and cycles a round like a dream..Just bought the Model 1894 SBL in the 44mag..Very happy ..Looks like the Marlins are back to building quality..Thanks Marlin.

    4. I own an 1894 Marlin Cowbow in 44 mag that I bought used. It is a 1996 production from the old John Marlin factory. It has become my favorite rifle when I go up to my farm. This last year, I put a temporary Limb Saver recoil pad so my 12 year old son who is fairly large framed could shoot a hog. He took a hog (about 125 lb) using open sights with one shot. The 240 grain jacketed soft point Winchester went through both shoulders and dropped the hog where it stood. It is now my son’s favorite rifle.

    5. I have owned several 94’s and 95’s. In calibers like 357, 44mag and 4570 they are a force to be reckoned with. I was never able to get them to jam unless I fed them overly long bullets. As a hunting firearm they are hard to beat especially when ranges are below 250yds. As a tactical/defensive weapon, I have never felt small with a 94 in my hands. A good, fat, decently fast moving heavy bullet is not to be underestimated. They put big holes in both game and urban varmints. After the civil war, up until W.W.-1, these lever guns were the assault weapons of the day. Model 94’s in the cowboy model can hold 14, 44 magnum rounds. I know that is no where near a 30 round mag, and I know it would take a lot longer to top off the mag tube BUT, that is still 14 rounds of 44 mag. Yes, I know that the 44 mag and the 4570 have a trajectory like a rainbow but, so does a 16″ battle ship projo. The fact is that if either of the three land on you, you are going to have a bad day. Even after 600 yds., the ’94 in 44magnum with a 240g. bullet is more powerful that a 45ACP at the muzzle. Still quite the urban varmint stopper. If you want to see how a 94 can be used in a hurry, go to a cowboy shooting match: S.A.S.S. It is fun to watch and even better if you participate. Ranges are usually very close so you will see some speed you may not have expected. Never underestimate a lever gun!

      Arm up, carry on.

      1. Deplorable Bill – I agree 100% and I would add that there is a not insignificant number of us who have voluntarily chosen to go the levergun route…instead of buying into the current AR “fad.” My 1895 SBL feels, handles and points so natural that it is almost like an extension of my own body. If headed into a post-SHTF gunbattle, I would not feel undergunned at all. Many of us are rediscovering the benefit of the weapons system so prized by the settlers of the Old West…the lever gun, revolver combo. It was the original go to armament for SHTF 150 years ago and, amazingly it is still practical and no less effective in the 21st Century.

    6. Never found a Marlin 94 that I couldn’t jam up. Had two, finally gave up when I jammed my buddy’s also. I tend to back the bolt out a tad to check if a round is in it and the next one jumps past the gate. When there’s one past the gate and one part way in the chamber you’re done. You have to disassemble the rifle. My bad habit, but no other design does that except a really badly worn action in a 870 remington shotgun. No doubt, it’s my bad habit but it’s just not a rife that lends itself to my bad habit of checking the chamber absent-mindedly…..

    7. Marlin, Winchester and Henry Arms, bring out your lever actions in 218 Bee, 256 Win Mag., 32-20, 357-44 B&D, 41-454 Casull, 454 Casull, 475 Wildey, 50 Action.
      Also, please chamber your lever action rifles in 357 Maximum. Make the rifle work with 38 Long Colt, 38 Special, 357 Magnum and 357 Maximum. Hornady could produce loads in 357 Maximum with polymer tip bullets. This rifle would be great for prairie dogs, coyote, hogs, deer and black bear. Also a great rifle for home protection in areas that have banned semi-autos.

    8. A friend inherited an old thick walled Adobe house that was built by his great grandfather in 1880 located a mile from where the last Indian uprising in Northern New Mexico took place in 1894. In those days you defended yourself. In an small closet under a staircase to the attic we found an original 1881 Marlin 40-60 with an octagonal 28″ barrel in excellent shape which I traded for and now own. I was and still am looking for a 1894 Marlin 45-70.

    9. My first ’94 was a winchester. I only had it for a couple of years. Sold it, then bought a Marlin ’94 44 mag. I’vs had that gun for over 40 years now and it’s still my favorite rifle. The 44 spls make for great target practice. The rifling is micro and is extremely easy to clean.

    10. I have owned and own Marlins most of my life (the first gun I purchase was a Marlin 336). They are great guns and now that they have fixed some of the initial problems from their factory relocation, they are back on track. I just wish they would dump the useless “lawyer safety”.

    11. Bought my 94 in .44 Remember mag. in the early ’90 when I was stationed at Ft. Drum, N.Y. Got it from a gun store in Black River for the price of $100.00! Of all the things I own, that .44 will be one of the last I give up! I’ve used it for everything from tree rats to a very large Black Bear and an Elk that someone else had hit in the back leg. A 240-325 gr. bullet , you can get what you need or want.

    12. I loved my 94 in 44 mag. Was a great brush gun for Arkansas deer. (And the occasional annoying ass squirrel in the tree next to me!)
      Good info, good article.

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