Photo courtesy of Marlinfirearms.com
Cost and availability: The Marlin 336 retails for around $500 and is among the most ubiquitous rifles on the used market. In its most common configuration (pistol grip, 20” barrel, 30-30) it can usually be had for around $300. Leveraction rifles are typically immune to the restrictions and/or prohibitions that some localities assign to semi-automatic rifles.
Ammunition: The 30-30 is among the most popular calibers and thus ammunition is widely available. As a big game cartridge the 30-30 ammo is comparatively inexpensive. The versatility of this caliber is evident based on the wide variety of bullet weights and styles available. Those offerings include the Remington Accelerator ®, a .224” 55 grain sabotted bullet driven to velocities in excess of 3,000 fps and the gummy tipped spire point LeverEvolution® bullet made by Hornady that is safe in tubular magazines. Remington, Winchester and Federal all produce excellent 150 and 170 grain soft point hunting ammunition.
Reloaders can further improve upon that versatility while significantly reducing the cost with loads ranging from 47 grain .314” Buckshot to cast bullets in excess of 200 grains. Because commercial 30-30 ammo is so common brass is generally acquired inexpensively or free by those who reload it.
Some of my favorite handloads are:
- .314” Buckshot over enough Bullseye to drive it 800 fps. This load is impressively accurate out to 25 yards and makes an excellent small game round as it shoots very close to hunting load zero out to 50 yards. At less than ten cents per round this is an inexpensive way to get repetitions with your rifle or introduce recoil sensitive shooters to centerfire rifles. This load works very well in my 308 and 30-06 rifles too. My 30 caliber rifle actions will feed these rounds from the magazine including the autoloaders when manually cycled. The report is rimfire-like, especially in longer barrels.
- 110-120 grain cast bullet (the Lee C309-113F “Soup Can” is excellent) over just enough Bullseye to get it going about 900 fps makes for a very accurate and inexpensive small game, plinking and training round. This load also prints very close to my hunting load zero out to 50 yards and is accurate in excess of 100 yard though it prints much lower. If you cast bullets the cost is less than a dime each. Gas checked bullets in this weight range also do well at supersonic velocities up to 2400 fps (which is nearly comparable to 7.62 x 39 ballistics)
- 170 grain cast bullet over a max charge of SR 4756 or Unique is soft shooting, jogs down range at a little over 1400 fps and is accurate enough to topple the 200 meter Rams in the Silhouette matches I compete in. We even shoot this load at 500 yards ( See video of my friend connecting on the 500 yard steel can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QiQGPmo3hmM ). Buying commercially cast bullets the cost for this load is less than 25 cents per round. It could also be a viable self defense load where over-penetration is a consideration, though due to legal issues you might consider buying the commercial equivalent to avoid potential liability.
- 150 grain Remington JSP over a near max charge of IMR 4895 ( aka “The Papa John Load”) is one load that seems to shoot well in most 30-30’s.
- 170 grain Hornady JFP over a max charge of Varget is accurate and works very well on Black Bears (from personal experience). Excellent penetration and impressive wound channel can be expected. I have not shot a bear in excess of 300 pounds with it but I have confidence it would do very well on those tough critters.
100 yards, five shots in just over an inch (counting the flier) with a Marlin 336
Charges have been omitted but are available in manuals published by powder and bullet manufacturers.
With a minimum of reloading tools accurate and inexpensive 30 caliber ammo suitable for small game hunting and target shooting can easily be produced.
Note: Contrary to popular belief Marlin’s Microgroove barrels do in fact shoot cast lead bullets very well. As with all rifles, regardless of rifling type, cast bullets must be sized correctly (Mine all seem to like .311”). Another advantage of Microgroove barrels is the easier clean-up when/if it does become fouled with lead, copper or powder residue.
In the field is where a 30-30 levergun really shines. Based on the handy nature of the platform they are commonly referred to as “brush guns” and there are few long guns that can rival its portability. They are also very easy to shoot from field positions, especially offhand, which account for the majority of shots on game in my experience.
When I hunt with my Marlin 336 in 30-30 I typically load four in the magazine and carry some cast bullet subsonic rounds in my pocket to quietly harvest Grouse (legal in my state) with minimal destruction of meat, even with a body shot. The magazine can easily be topped off with a few subsonic small game rounds and then cycled into action when the opportunity to procure dinner presents itself. Out of my 24” barreled 336 Cowboy these are very quiet and if I happen onto a target rich environment I can sometimes harvest my four bird limit from one spot.
Ease of use and maintenance is a big plus for the Marlin Levergun Design. By removing a single screw the lever, bolt and ejector can be removed to allow for cleaning from the chamber rather than the muzzle like other lever action rifle designs.
Just about anyone who has seen a cowboy movie is familiar with the manual of arms for a levergun. They are less complicated than an autoloader and have a lower malfunction potential making them a good choice for infrequent and/or inexperienced shooters.
Other virtues include being very friendly to those afflicted with left-handedness. The Marlin 336 is easily scoped for those preferring optics. The technology has stood the test of time by hunters, lawmen and outlaws. There are superior platforms for specific tasks but as a general purpose rifle a Marlin 336 is tough to beat.
“I have reached up to the gun rack and taken down the .30/30 carbine by some process of natural selection, not condoned perhaps by many experts but easily explained by those who spend long periods in the wilderness areas.”
(From the top) Marlin 336 Texan x 2, Marlin 336 Cowboy (24”) and Marlin 336 SDT (16”)
Jeff Cooper’s Scout Concept is easily applied to the Marlin 336.