Marlin 1895 Dark – Reviewed

Author with 1895 Dark and Eberelstock pack

Finally, a long-awaited review item has shown its face. After a long wait, this week I managed to procure an almost mythical creature, the Marlin 1895 Dark. If you have seen a lever action in the last 30 years, it was an 1895. They are prolific, to say the least, as well as Marlin is nearly synonymous with “lever gun”. And while I think the dark is cool, it may upset the purists.

A striking gun

Which I think is the wrong line of reasoning. Yes, it is vastly changed from a traditional 1895. But it is full of features that can attract a younger crowd to this style of gun. It is just about as modern as you can make a lever-action without adding a foregrip and a flashlight. And getting the attention of that next generation of shooters opens them up to all the benefits of a “John Wayne gun”, which are many. I have always been impressed with how quick handling an 1895 can be. It is basically snap shooting perfected, in the form of wood and steel. Even in the modern incarnation, it looks less scary than a magazine-fed rifle, if that is a concern. And if you are that young guy out asking for permission to hunt private land, carrying a lever gun might get you in some doors that a modern blaster would not. A lot of the older guys respect the heritage of a cowboy gun a lot more than they ever will an FDE sniper rifle.

1895 Dark with the rising sun

The 1895 Dark starts with the same hardwood stock as a normal 1895, painted black and textured. So while it isn’t going to win any beauty contests, it is very functional. The texturing does provide a positive grip even when it is wet outside, I check while making the video for this review. And if you are walking the forest looking for game, that does matter. And even if it is dipped in paint, at least you aren’t carrying a fiberglass heresy.

At home in the woods

The next real bit of modernization is the chosen barrel length. This one is 16.25 inches, very uncommon in such a gun. Other Marlins do exist with a 16 inch, 20 is the most common. Even the 18.5-inch barrels are more common than the 16.25. Why? No idea. Because with the barrel cut to this length, the 1895 feels positively tiny. With the small action and minimalist layout of a lever gun, the overall package now feels like a baby gun. That still shoots 45-70, if anyone wants to call you on it. The barrel is also threaded 11/16×24, which opens up the possibilities for suppressors and muzzle brakes. Both of which are awesome options to have.

Or at the ranch

The 1895 Dark features a big loop lever, which is smooth and much preferred to other designs. The big loop fits like it was made for your hand, and was a joy to run. The Dark model also has a black paracord wrap on the lever, providing some knuckle padding in addition to looking cool. The action was very smooth, it felt broken in right out of the box. And the trigger is fantastic, not a millimeter of creep.

Big loop lever

Hey wait, you skipped a step! You talked about everything except the sights! Yes, guilty. And I saved it for last because it had a direct effect on how we tested the gun. Up top is a set of XS Ghost ring sights, and a 12 inch picatinny rail. And a picatinny rail up top offers sighting options of everything from an Aimpoint to a Night Force 7×35. And to be fair, I debated how to do our shooting test for some time.

threaded barrel with thread protector

Now we could have gone with a scope, and some of you do. It isn’t uncommon at all to see them on 30-30’s and hasn’t been for 50 years. But to me, especially with this lightweight short gun, it kind of ruined the aesthetic. Like I said up top, a lot of the reason I like a lever-action to begin with is that it is quick to the shoulder. And you start putting things on it, and you start to lose some of that snap. So while I am sure I will take heat for it in the comments, I did all my testing with just the included ghost ring irons.

included sling, with author thumb for width reference

Which, if we are being fair, represent a bit of a compromise. On the one hand, the absolutely humongous rear aperture makes acquiring the front lightning fast. On the other, that gaping hole of a rear isn’t exactly set up for a Palma match. The front is just a large blade with a white line, and it is also quite large. But it lacks an outer ring or winged architecture like an M16A2 front, so you don’t have much of a reference point for proper alignment either. Which may be old hat for some of you, but it was new to me.

Reversible ( and optional) hammer spur

So does it work? Well, my groups on paper were not exactly record breaking. In fact, I missed the paper entirely with 2 for 3 on my first attempt. I was misjudging center of that rear aperture enough to be 6 inches high at 50 meters. A bit of retraining later produced a 3 inch 50 meter group, which isn’t going on my trophy wall at home. But, I also have no doubt that with some training time, that would shrink. However, moving over to the steel targets, I found a new appreciation for the sights. Even left handed, the set up proved its value on rapid shooting. Both the inherent natural pointing of the gun and the XS sight system made B/C zone lead slinging a breeze. And this is my point entirely. If I wanted something stupid accurate off a bipod and with a sniper grade scope, I would have a bolt gun. Something light and handy in the woods, but perfect for a snap fire from the shoulder? Lever action all day long.

stock texture close up

Complaints about the rifle? Only one. The loading port is sharp, to the point that loading this rifle was not a good time. I am certain that it could be cleaned up in 5 minutes with some sand paper, but I was not super happy about it. But it does concern me when every shell I put in the 1895 Dark leaves a curl of brass casing from sliding into the tube.

loading port was a bit sharp

An also often overlooked component, I was very happy with my ammo choice this time. Our 1895 Dark, as mentioned, is chambered in 45-70. And the last time I reviewed a 45-70 I only had full power rounds. Go back and watch it. I almost threw up after I sparked off the first round. In a very light gun, full power 45-70 is punchy to say the least. So this time, I turned to our friends at HSM for some Cowboy Action loads.

HSM Cowboy Action loads
405 grains of can plinking fun

And that was a great choice. While the lead bullet is still 405 grains, it is slowed down to 1300 fps. Which will still knock over a tin can or punch a hole in cardboard. But it is remarkably pleasant to shoot. Hey, full power is still cool. If you need to hunt dinosaurs or whatever, take all the power you can get. But for fun shooting? This round was amazing. Which is yet another strength of a lever action gun. I can have the monster slayers too, but still have something downloaded enough to play with.

absolutely monstrous 45-70 rounds

And that combination makes this a really, really fun gun. I actually haven’t shot a gun in quite some time that was, for lack of a better word, such a joy. I was having so much fun with it, I didn’t even mind when I ran a set of drills with dead batteries in the camera. Because that just meant I got to do it again. Which I don’t think I can overstate the value of. In a world that is often entirely to serious, the 1895 Dark takes you back to just having a good time. Like walking the woods when you were a kid. And if something serious does need doing? Well, HSM also makes a bear load, and the Marlin 1895 is one of three lever actions they say will handle the pressure.

large rear sight aperature
Cross bolt safety
Blade front sight
Picatinny top rail
45-70 round next to authors thumb

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About the author: Clay Martin is a former Marine and Green Beret, retiring out of 3rd Special Forces Group. He is a multi-decade and -service sniper, as well as 3-Gun competitor and Master ranked shooter in USPSA Production. In addition to writing about guns, he is the author of “Last Son of The War God,” a novel about shooting people that deserve it. You can also follow him on twitter, @offthe_res or his website, Off-The-Reservation.com

{ 24 comments… add one }
  • Edgar October 31, 2020, 4:59 pm

    The SHOULDER of my Marlin’s threaded barrel was not cut square from the factory. So when screwing on my suppressor the suppressor was pushed by the crooked shoulder and it caused baffle strikes. I had several improvements to my Marlin from Ranger Point Precision and I was warned that Marlin was not friendly to those upgrades. Luckily Loheman’s Gunsmith in Houston TX. Has a Marlin Expert in house. He recut the barrel shoulder square and corrected several shortcomings that Marlin QC did not. I have a WONDERFUL shooting Marlin Lever gun in my tool box now. If you have an assortment of rifles….get a good lever gun. They are absolutely relevant today…just as they were over 100 years ago. Especially in these days where everyone is afraid of their shadow….the Lever gun does not have that “Black Scary Gun” effect on the anti-gun Democrats. Marlin Lever guns are the go-to rifles in those restricted places that don’t allow semi-autos.

  • henry October 30, 2020, 4:56 pm

    UGLY UGLY UGLY WHAT ELSE CAN i SAY? STOCK FIT LOOKS CRAPPY Picatinny RAIIL ON A LEVER GUN THREADED FOR A SUPPRESSOR ON A HUNTING RIFLE? COULDNT PAY ME TO OWN ONE

  • M R Weinheimer October 30, 2020, 9:41 am

    I have a 357 1894C from the Remington days and have fitted a Wild West Big Loop lever, one piece trigger, aluminum follower, and one piece ejector spring. I also a Skinner adjustable peep sight and taller front blade painted orange. All major improvements on the original. My eyes couldn’t focus on the original buckhorn rear sight and the front blade at the same time – the peep fixed that and the base matches the tapped holes in the receiver perfectly. Big advantage with the adjustable peep – leave it big for cloudy or low light days, dial it down when it’s bright and increase accuracy. Looks like Marlin has learned some of the same lessons….

  • triggerpull October 30, 2020, 7:11 am

    I get the idea–but that is major BFU and my other lever guns would throw it out of the safe.

  • Adam B October 28, 2020, 9:49 pm

    I wonder how this will compare if Clay reviews a Henry X model. While it has all weather polymer furniture isn’t that kinda the point for a brush/shtf gun?

  • JB October 26, 2020, 9:23 pm

    A 45-70 slug in a home invader. Now that’s stopping power

    • FundRobocop October 31, 2020, 7:51 am

      Not that I would take up a career in home invasion, but damn I’d hate to be the thug that takes a 45-70.

  • Mike in a Truck October 26, 2020, 2:35 pm

    If your not handloading the 45-70 your really missing out.And if your not casting your own bullets you’ve really missed out on a lot of fun. There are several powders when loaded light with a tuft of dacron filler that make nice “cowboy loads.” I have a couple of 1895’s and two 1894’s. Rangerpoint Precision has what you need to to upgrade that loading gate to a much easier one and the vids to show how to do it. Also a good addition is the power claw extractor along with an aluminum follower.My latest 1894 was built on brand new equipment purchased by Remington to correct the worn out machines they got from Marlin.Fit and finish are superior on my 2019 rifle compared to my circa 1979. I couldnt keep house without at least one Marlin in the safe!

  • Francis Barbeau October 26, 2020, 2:00 pm

    I saw one “possible” ill fitting photo(and that could have been a shadow)(The pic. of the pistol grip, right side) Other then that sir, it was fitted very well(I believe you are hanging on to some biased here, that the Remlins HAD in the past)) Other wise the fit was Great!(Again)

  • KC October 26, 2020, 1:05 pm

    I would love to see you review the Henry Big Boy X now. I’ve had my eye on it since it came out. My loading gate on my 3030 Winchester is a bitch too.

  • James Monroe Shannon October 26, 2020, 12:25 pm

    A suppressor ready 45-70…I have the WEIRDEST boner right now…..

  • Big Al 45 October 26, 2020, 11:48 am

    Gotta say I really like ya Clay, but a Marlin with a “smooth” action and little or no trigger “creep”?!?!?!?!?!?
    I have owned, and sold, MANY Marlins, I have NEVER handled one with even a decent trigger, and all mine have been gone over action wise and had the triggers reworked.
    Color me skeptical on this one. You got lucky.

  • John Belsher October 26, 2020, 11:18 am

    I have a Marlin 1894 in .44 magnum from the late 1980s. The loading port on it was also very sharp edged (poorly finished). I guess they haven’t improved in the last 30 years.

  • Tom Hart October 26, 2020, 10:41 am

    Does it take a bayonet and glock mags?
    Seriously another great review Clay!

  • Steven Haushahn October 26, 2020, 9:24 am

    This rifle will please some people and may turn some semi-auto guys towards a lever gun. That is a good direction. I prefer nice walnut and blued 24 inch octagon barrels on my own leverguns and as long as I can find what suits me I am good with those who prefer something else entirely. Notice please the crude wood to metal fit in the pictures – that alone would put off those of us that take pride in the quality of our firearms….

  • Edward Nichols October 26, 2020, 8:55 am

    Why isn’t this chambered in the .460 and 500S&W?

  • David Wong October 26, 2020, 8:49 am

    A red dot adds to the look (unlike scopes which look clunky and out of place on a lever gun) and work GREAT!

  • Jim October 26, 2020, 8:44 am

    Much rather have the 1894 in .357 or .44.

  • D October 26, 2020, 7:41 am

    Thanks for serving our country. But if you’re supposed to be a professional of some sort why not take a little time and mount a scope and at least show the accuracy potential which is usually great with Marlin. Could shoot peep sight as well to show the difference

  • shrugger October 26, 2020, 7:10 am

    Bu-but the TV tells me black rifles are super scary.

  • Ronnie Tuttle October 26, 2020, 7:08 am

    Love Ruger rifle pistols and rifles . Happy y’all got the marlin line from Remington they were killing the lever guns I own several of the old marlins 444 45-70 22 on I wish you would go back to the old style bring it back instead of this black tactical crap ! If you don’t believe me go into Facebook these a marlin group you can join that may be of your interest what the people really like Thank you ! Make some good leverguns !

  • Gary Crispens October 26, 2020, 5:49 am

    My first rifle was a Marlin 30-30 and it has been with me for almost 50 years with no malfunctions. It has been a wonderful gun and I never had any trouble swinging fast using the 1.5 x 6 scope mounted on it. The 150 grain Remington PSP always got the job done on deer and clusters the bulls eye at 100 yards. I do not want to shoot a 45-70 and I do not need one for bagging a whitetail.

  • XFactor0302 October 26, 2020, 2:59 am

    With Remington filing for bankruptcy and Ruger buying Marlin, are the dark series still in production? Has production been halted until Ruger moves production to their facility? I have been trying to find a 336 Dark and 1894 Dark without success most of this year.

  • Will Drider October 26, 2020, 2:45 am

    I like Marlin Lever guns and had them in the past. When my interest in them resumed, I didn’t buy a Marlin because of the damn manual Safety they added. Winchester added one too. Yeah, lawyer this, lawyer that B.S. but I’m not going to throw money at it! I’m not alone with this complaint either.

    I don’t know how mant many times that guns been passed around but the finish black finish isnt holding up on the barrel, feed tube and edges. Guess thats Opperator rattle can maintenance. Doesn’t really matter to me with the deal killer safety.

    Seems Herny Firearms does quite well without the manual “safety” on their lever actions.

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