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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.