The Return of a Classic Marlin Lever Action

Marlin brings back the Model 1894 Classic Lever Action.

The Return of a Classic Marlin Lever Action

Make a quick survey of social media posts concerning rifles and you may get the impression that the shooting sports are all about long-range shooting, with a number of folks working to hit targets literally two miles distant. 

Next month, three miles away!

All well and good. Yet many, many shooters prefer their shooting a heck of a lot closer. This includes those who hunt in thick brush and cluttered woodlots, and for these shooters nothing is so fine as a good lever action.

Enter the Marlin 1894 Classic.

Marlin Firearms, of course, was purchased by Sturm, Ruger and Company in 2020. A year later, the first Ruger-made Marlins began rolling out. The newest in the Marlin lineup is the Model 1894 Classic, a long-time favorite chambered in .44 Rem. Mag and .357 Mag.

The Model 1894 Classic may be just the thing for the above-mentioned hunters, as well as truck gun enthusiasts, plus just about anyone looking for a handy and nimble lever action. 

Surprisingly Accurate

I received a new Model 1894 chambered in .44 Rem. Mag. I ran a couple hundred rounds through the rifle and found it surprisingly accurate. I also had no functional difficulties with the rifle, which fed, fired and ejected ammunition without a problem. It also felt great on my shoulder thanks in part to a quality rubber butt pad. 

How accurate? In my shooting, I was able to peg three-shot groups of under 1.5-inches at 100 yards from a rest. At 50 yards, groups of 1 inch and under were very possible, too.

That’s not a PRS level of shooting accuracy. But that’s also not what the Model 1894 Classic was designed to accomplish. This is the rifle deer hunters take into the stand opening morning knowing the brush and landscape are such that the standard shot is often a football field away in length, and usually much, much closer.

Great Glass

To get the most out of the rifle, I mounted a Trijicon Credo HX 1-6x24 riflescope onto the 1894 Classic. I’d used the Credo on various hunts and other rifle reviews and knew it was a quality optic.

The second focal plane Credo HX 1-6 featured very precise ¼ MOA elevation and windage adjustments, a rugged 30mm main tube and a BDC Hunter Holds reticle. That reticle also sported red LED illumination.  

During my shooting, the Credo HX 1-6 provided very sharp-edged images and true color representation. It proved a great fit for the Model 1894 Classic.

Mounting the scope was easy. I first removed four small screws from the top of the 1894’s receiver. Then, I installed a Marlin 1894 Scope Rail, Item # MI-1894R, made by Midwest Industries, onto the receiver. Constructed from a single piece of 6061 aluminum, the picatinny rail kept the Credo solidly in place during my shooting.  

Ammo and Groups

For my accuracy and function testing of the Model 1894 Classic, I used three brands of .44 Rem. Mag. ammunition: Federal Premium Personal Defense loaded with a 240-grain Hydra-Shok bullet; Remington High-Terminal Performance (HTP) and a 240-grain semi-jacketed hollow point load; and Sig Sauer Elite Performance pushing a 240-grain V-Crown jacketed hollow point.

Overall, the Sig Elite Performance scored my best three-shot groups. At 50 yards, the Sig and the 1894 made groups of .65- and .81-inches, and a pair of 1.30-inch groups at 100 yards. For a lever action chambered in a handgun caliber, I found those groups very  impressive.

The Federal Premium easily made 1.25- to 1.5-inch groups at 50 yards, which expanded to an average closer to 2.0 inches at 100 yards.

Meanwhile, the Remington HTP averaged placed groups of .95- and 1.4-inches at 50 yards, averaging 1.25-inches for all groups. It also scored a 1.42-inch group at 100 yards, though most of my groups at this distance were in the 2.0- to 2.3-inch range.

All those groups would fill a freezer with venison or wild pork! 

The Model 1894 will also use the less powerful .44 Special cartridge. Unfortunately, I was unable to secure any samples of this round in time for my testing.

A Classic Look

The American black walnut used on the 1894 Classic’s stock and forend was truly just that — classic.

The walnut on my test rifle was nicely grained and essentially blemish free. The checkering was sharp and fairly deep, allowing for a very solid grip. For those customers who love traditional wood and shy away from the poly and plastics commonly used today, a rifle like the 1894 Classic will be at the top of their “to buy” list.

 The rifle’s receiver, lever and trigger guard plate were CNC machined from alloy steel forgings; the 20.25-inch cold hammer-forged barrel was also crafted from alloy steel. The receiver and barrel were both blued and done in a nice satin finish.

The semi-buckhorn rear sights were adjustable and would provide quick target acquisition. The hood over the front post worked to keep the post glare free, though the hood could also be tapped off. But my eyes are no longer young, so I opted for help from the Trijicon Credo HX. 

The rifle’s tubular magazine held 10 rounds of 44 Rem. Mag. (11 rounds of 44 Special), and rounds were fed via a loading gate on the right side of the receiver. 

The Model 1894 featured a positive, push-button, cross-bolt manual safety that prevented the hammer from striking the firing pin when in the “SAFE” position. When loaded the rifle could also be kept in the traditional half-cock hammer setting, allowing the shooter a quick pull back of the hammer to be in the fire-ready position. Yet, the trigger could not be pulled when the hammer was half-cocked. 

The trigger pull on my 1894 sample averaged 3 pounds, 14 ounces. My trigger was rather stiff, and initially I did pull shots. The trigger held up about midway, and I soon realized I was slightly jerking the trigger to get it past this hold-up point. 

By the end of my shooting the trigger had smoothed out somewhat and incorporating a very firm pull improved my groups. I suspect another couple hundred rounds worth of shooting would work to give the 1894 a much smoother pull.

Selling the 1894

If seeing is believing, a gun shop may want to make sure a Marln Model 1894 Classic is on display — horizontally, that is, so that potential customers can see the classic, clean lines and the American black walnut.  

“There are a lot of new lever gun enthusiasts,” notes Eric Lundgren, Marlin Product Manager for Ruger. “I think that the Model 1894 Classic will appeal to some of them. It’s true that the newer, younger lever fans tend to be OK with more modern features. But we're finding that a good number like the classic look and features, too.

“I think this rifle will appeal to people who know lever actions and want a well-built, attractive rifle that is akin to what was being produced by Marlin in New Haven and North Haven years ago [before the purchase of the company by Ruger].”

For those lever action collectors, point out that the “new” Ruger Marlins have two distinctive features. First, the previously traditional black and white bullseye located on the bottom of the stock is now red and white. Plus, all Ruger-made Marlins begin with the serial number prefix of "RM." 

These may be relatively small differences to many consumers, but they mean a good deal to the collector-minded buyer. 

Marketing and Distribution

For larger marketing efforts, Lundgren noted that Model 1894s were widely requested by many editors, writers, YouTubers and Social media influencers. Taken together, these should be generating a good deal of 1894 coverage now and in the future. 

Ruger sells only through distribution. Never direct. And Ruger/Marlin uses all the major and most smaller distributors. A full list of Marlin/Ruger distributors can be found at:

Marlin does not maintain a formal program to train FFL retailers in their firearms. Yet, there are many online resources to educate retailers about the features and benefits of Marlin rifles. Ruger itself provides some of these resources, including YouTube. Go to the Ruger channel at to view these.

More to Come 

The Model 1894 Classic chambered in .357 Magnum was slated to hit the distribution channel in November 2023. It is also possible that the rifle could see life in another chambering or two. At this writing, the .45 Colt was the leading caliber contender, but that had not been decided upon.  

Various caliber offerings aside, expect Marlin to introduce a number of 1894 variations in the years to come.  

“There will be many versions of the 1894,” Lundgren promises. “We're just at the beginning now.”


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