July 26, 2022
I am at the stage in my life where I no longer chase the most high-tech precision rifle with the greatest optics and state-of-the-art bullets. The technology that has been integrated into guns, optics, and ammunition in recent years is impressive, but it’s also taken some of the “hunt” out of “hunting” for me. For much of my hunting these days, I’m looking for a way to make things more challenging. I’m talking about traditional muzzleloaders, handguns, and iron-sighted rifles—especially lever actions. Marlin’s new 1895 SBL is just such a tool.
Lever actions were the workhorse of the American outdoorsman for more than a century. These guns are compact, portable, durable, reliable, and have plenty of capacity for most purposes. They’re also legal to own in every state in the Union. To me, there’s something special about a lever-action rifle and I’m not the only one who feels this way. Lever guns are making a serious comeback.
Despite being one of the brand leaders in that market, Marlin Firearms almost missed the party—on its 150th anniversary the storied firm was on its way to becoming a victim of Remington Outdoor Company’s bankruptcy. That was until Ruger swooped in and bought the brand. Less than a year later, new Marlin rifles hit the market. Numerous models including 336s and 1894s will be produced, but the first carbine released was the Model 1895 SBL (Stainless Big Loop) chambered in .45-70 Government.
Unlike Remington’s disastrous roll-out of their own Ilion, NY-made Marlin lever guns, Ruger has done it right. The new 1895s aren’t carbon copies of the previous versions; Ruger put their own spin on them. For starters, the major components are machined from stainless-steel forgings, making them weather-resistant. The barrels are cold hammer forged in Ruger’s own factory and their traditional rifling is compatible with jacketed and cast bullets. The actions are slick and smooth, and ours fed and ejected reliably. Part of the magic is a fluted and nickel-plated bolt that encounters minimal friction from the receiver. The tubular magazine holds six rounds and can be topped-off as needed, a huge benefit of a lever-action. The large lever loop, one of the distinguishing characteristics of this model, allows for its use with heavy winter gloves. The trigger on our sample broke cleanly and consistently at 5.5 pounds.
The stock on the 1895 SBL is a green laminate, with checkered panels on both the pistol grip and forend. The forend has been slimmed noticeably when compared to my 20-year-old Marlin 1895G Guide Gun and I like the way the new gun handles. The black recoil pad is soft and does a nice job of keeping the powerful .45-70 from being overly punishing to shoot. The traditional Marlin “bullseye” at the toe of the stock now features a red center, signifying the Ruger affiliation.
Barrel length on the 1895 SBL is 19 inches, which means that the muzzle sits an inch forward of the magazine tube. Part of this section is threaded 11/16-24 to allow for the use of suppressors. A thread protector cap covers things up when no device is mounted. I didn’t have a suppressor in my inventory that matched this thread pattern so we did not mount a can for testing.
If a rifle even comes with iron sights these days, they are likely junk. This is not the case with the 1895 SBL. A green fiber optic front and ghost-ring rear sight provide a lightning fast and surprisingly precise aiming solution that will never fog up and is unlikely to break. The front sight also has a tritium insert, making it useful in low-light situations where iron sights can be more of a liability than an asset. In addition to the sights, the 1895 SBL comes with a long Picatinny rail for optics mounting. There is a great deal of real estate on this rail, giving you the ability to mount optics in the traditional location above the receiver or in the forward “Scout” position. The rail can also be removed, allowing an optic to be mounted directly to the receiver via traditional drilled-and-tapped mounting holes. Similar ghost-ring sights and optics rails were a common aftermarket option on previous Marlin models, usually costing the owner an additional $200.
On the Range
For our accuracy testing, we mounted an EOTECH Vudu 1-10x28mm scope in a set of 34mm Modern Sporting Rings from Talley Manufacturing. I had the opportunity to hunt both elk and mule deer with this scope last fall and came away impressed by its performance and versatility. At 1x, this scope is as fast as any red-dot optic and, at 10x it is capable of allowing precision shots at extended ranges. This scope’s mounting position required the removal of the rear sight which was held in place by a Torx screw.
We tested the 1895 SBL with two loads: Hornady’s LEVERevolution 250-grain MonoFlex and Federal Premium’s HammerDown 300-grain bonded soft point. Accuracy was excellent with both ammunition types, repeatedly producing one-hole three-shot groups in the .5- to .75-inch range. In terms of range, the limiting factor will be bullet drop rather than accuracy. To me, though, the whole point of hunting with such a firearm is to get closer.
The 1895 SBL is a very utilitarian carbine. It could serve a variety of hunting roles from the northern timber to the southern piney woods and would be an ideal truck gun. I’ve hunted black bears in the thick Maine brush and feral hogs in Florida’s swamps with an older 1895G and was a huge fan of wielding so much power in so handy a package—add in the stainless-steel construction, the upgraded sights, and the optic mounting options and you have a carbine that is more capable than ever. I’m happy that Ruger took the risk of carrying on Marlin’s proud tradition and, based on this first offering, the company has done a great job.
Marlin 1895 SBL Specs
- Type: Lever-action repeating rifle
- Caliber: .45-70 Government
- Barrel: 19-inch stainless steel
- Weight: 7.3 pounds
- Capacity: 6+1
- Stock: Green laminate
- Finish: Polished stainless steel
- Sights: Fiber optic/tritium front, ghost-ring rear, Picatinny rail
- Trigger: 5.5-pound, single-stage Triggertech, field-adjustable
- Price: $1,399
- Website: marlinfirearms.com