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Marlin 1895: Myth versus Reality

Marlin 1895: Myth versus Reality

Posted by Adam Devine on Apr 30th 2018

I doubt the folks at Marlin Firearms foresaw in 1972 that chambering a rifle for the then 100yr old .45-70 cartridge would help spark a revival bordering on religious fervor, and ultimately kill off their king, the mighty 444. But it didn’t take hand loaders long to understand that the relatively strong 1895 (compared to the Springfield “trap door”) could launch some very potent loads, and the combination has thrived in the world of big/dangerous game hunting ever since. Its prowess is legendary.

The trouble with legend is that it begins to shroud reality in myth. I have, on countless occasions, fielded this question; “Why don’t you guys chamber such and such cartridge in the 1895? I mean, it’s the strongest Marlin action, isn’t it?”

So I want to address it, because this assumption is flat out false. Sorry to disappoint, if you’re one of those under the spell. This misconception seems partially rooted in the idea that the 1895 is unique among its lesser peers, and this is rooted in a misunderstanding of Marlin’s model nomenclature.

It’s important to recognize that Marlin currently only makes two centerfire rifle platforms: the first is the small format 1894, which fires revolver cartridges and always has 1894 in the model designation. The second is the large format platform which fires rifle cartridges and has been known by several model designations, among them 336, 444, and 1895. These are all the same receiver.

By this I mean they share the same critical dimensions and use the same steel. Yes, the 444 and 1895 differ from the 336, but only because they have been modified to pass fatter cartridges. In the case of the 444 (sadly no longer produced) the only modification to the receiver itself was a slight widening of the forward half of the ejection port. The rifle uses other unique parts (like a heavier barrel and bulged mag tube) but otherwise it is a 336 in every spec that counts.

The 1895 is a more heavily modified 336 action, but not in any way that increases strength. In fact, the 1895 is the weakest 336 action made, because a significant amount of material has to be removed to accommodate the .45-70 cartridge.

To fit the .45-70 cartridge (with its incredible pie plate rim) into a 336 action, Marlin had to do three things: 1) fit a larger diameter mag tube, which necessitated a bigger hole just south of the barrel junction, significantly lowering hoop strength; 2) remove material from the internal receiver ribs (just below the bolt) to allow passage of the wider cartridge, which reduces tensile strength between breech and locking bolt, and 3) substantially widen the ejection port along its entire length, which further reduces the tensile strength of the receiver between breech and locking bolt.

But wait, there’s more: while the strength of the base 336 is limited primarily by its bolt thrust capacity, the 1895 is limited by another factor as well—chamber strength. With its half inch diameter case body, the .45-70 has chamber walls a mere .1” thick, mated to a receiver with lowered hoop strength. While this arrangement is perfectly adequate for the mild .45-70 factory loads for which it was designed, the 1895 should not be seen as tank-like and indestructible, for it is not. I have it on good authority that more than a few have been destroyed by over-zealous hand loaders.

If you’re one of those guys who likes to hot-rod your hand loads, then look to the 444 as a stronger big bore alternative. Better yet, pick up a lightly used 1895M (450 Marlin) and go nuts. The poor, dejected, misunderstood 1895M was Marlin’s brilliant attempt to satisfy .45-70 hot-rodders with something stronger, safer, and more powerful. It was all of those things, but hardly anyone got it. If you like to launch .458” pills at shoulder crushing velocities, maybe you should.