John Marlin founded his firearms company in 1863 (officially 1870), initially producing rimfire single-shot pistols before beginning to manufacture single-shot rifles in 1875. In 1881, Marlin introduced their first lever-action rifle, setting their sights on a market dominated by the Winchester lever-action repeating rifles; the Marlin rifles were superb in both design and manufacture, proving to be at least the equal of the great John Browning-designed Winchesters.
In 2007 Marlin was acquired by Remington, which was in turn swallowed up by a huge private investment company. It soon became apparent that the new management was concerned more with profit than quality, as shooters nationwide began to notice deficiencies with the new Marlin rifles. Although the Marlins produced during that time were good, they lacked the refinement and craftsmanship of the original rifles, and customer service was lacking; this created a thriving collector market for rifles produced by the former Marlin company.
As a result of tumultuous political and financial times, in 2020 the parent company was forced to seek protection from the bankruptcy courts. While the vultures picked clean the bones of such historic companies as Remington and Marlin, the firearms world could do little but watch the carnage and hope for the best. The dust has yet to settle for some of Marlin’s sister companies, and for a time it looked like it was all over for Marlin.
Enter Sturm, Ruger & Co.
In September of 2020, Ruger confirmed rumors that had been swirling and announced its purchase of Marlin Firearms. The opportunity to resurrect a storied 150-year-old name, along with a product line that dovetailed perfectly with Ruger’s own history and philosophy, was too much to resist, and Ruger was able to place a successful bid with the Federal bankruptcy court. This was only the beginning, as the following year was spent perfecting designs, moving equipment, installing new CNC machines, handling personnel, redesigning and building fixtures, and setting up a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility at Ruger’s Mayodan, North Carolina plant. In December 2021, Ruger introduced their first Marlin rifle, the Model 1895 SBL (Stainless Big Loop), chambered in 45-70 Government. The 1895 SBL has already proven to be very successful, and hard to find, as have the Marlin models introduced since that time, but a bit of perseverance on the buyer’s part is rewarded by the acquisition of rifles that are at least as good as any bearing the Marlin name throughout history.
In 2019, (Remington-owned) Marlin introduced the Model 1895 “Dark”, which quickly became one of the most popular variants of the Model 1895. The 1895 Dark was created to appeal to the non-traditionalists, to those who were new to lever-actions, to fans of AR-style rifles, and to those whose visual taste leaned towards the “Dark Side”, often referred to as “Tacticool”. The 1895 Dark’s popularity proved to be short-lived, however, as the Marlin company as it was then constituted was not long for the world. It was only natural, therefore, for the new Ruger-owned Marlin company to pick up where the defunct Marlin company left off, and begin production of their own version of the Dark Series rifles, initially consisting of the Model 1895 Dark in 45-70 Government, the Model 336 Dark in 30-30 Winchester, and the Model 1894 Dark in 44 Remington Magnum / 44 Special…of course, with a few design improvements that make the all-new Dark Series rifles even more appealing than the originals.
To begin with the heart of the beast, the 1895 Dark’s receiver and trigger guard plate are precision CNC milled from Alloy Steel, and finished in Graphite Black Cerakote®. The five-round capacity magazine tube is likewise finished in Graphite Black Cerakote®., while the bolt and lever are finished in Black Nitride for superior wear protection, which adds just a bit of sheen to these parts for a pleasing visual accent. The lever is of a medium size, with a bit of flare at the bottom to allow easier cycling and plenty of room for heavily-gloved fingers, while adding a distinctive and attractive visual touch.
The 1895 Dark’s barrel is 16.17 inches long, made from cold hammer-forged steel, precision rifled, and finished in matching Graphite Black Cerakote®. The muzzle is threaded 11/16-24 to allow easy attachment of standard muzzle devices such as suppressors and muzzle brakes, and the 1895 Dark comes with a very effective and attractive match-polished radial muzzle brake installed. A steel thread protector is included, in case the shooter wishes to eschew the muzzle brake.
The most obvious difference between the 1895 Dark and other Marlin models is the furniture, and this is largely where the 1895 Dark’s appeal lies to those who appreciate such things. I am more of a traditional wood-and-steel guy myself, but I do admit that the 1895 Dark’s stock and forend/handguard are both very useful, and quite attractive in their own way. The stock is nylon-reinforced polymer, both utilitarian and impervious to wet and cold. The stock features M-LOK® slots and a flush cup socket on each side for QD sling mount, as well as textured wrist inserts for a positive grip, and a generous rubber recoil pad to help alleviate felt recoil and to provide a non-slip shoulder purchase. Also included is a detachable polymer cheek riser for use with a scope sight; this cheek riser snaps into stock recesses at the front, and around the QD sling swivel cups at the rear. The forend/handguard will be visually familiar to fans of “Black Rifles”, being an octagon-profiled black anodized aluminum tube with a Picatinny-spec scope rail atop its aft portion. A generous number of M-LOK® slots are situated along each side, bottom, and bottom-quarter flats, allowing for installation of any number of accessories such as lights, lasers, vertical fore grips, and bipods. The forend/handguard also sports a forward flush cup socket on each side for QD sling mount. The one-piece Picatinny rail extends over the receiver as well, for a total rail length of ten inches forward of the rear sight.
Shooting the 1895 Dark was a pleasure; while the 45-70 is not for the faint of heart, recoil was not at all punishing, and extended shooting sessions never ceased to be fun. The trigger on my sample was very crisp and creep-free, breaking right at two pounds of resistance, making it easier to keep shots on target. The 1895 Dark features a cross-bolt safety and a half-cock hammer notch. While I cannot say I am a fan of the cross-bolt safety, as it can easily be activated in the field, causing the rifle to CLICK instead of BOOM, I do understand that it would be a legal nightmare in today’s litigious society for Ruger to eliminate a “safety feature”, no matter how superfluous that feature might be, that was included in previous incarnations of the Model 1895, so I will grudgingly tolerate it.
The sights on the 1895 Dark are quite nice, consisting of a fully-adjustable aperture (“peep”) rear sight, and a green fiber-optic front sight surrounded by a tritium ring for use in low-light conditions. This sighting system proved to be both quicker than more conventional sighting systems, and also a bit less precise. Fifty-yard groups fired from a bench rest hovered around four inches; this is quite a bit larger than I was able to achieve using my Ruger-produced Marlin Trapper 1895, which is essentially the same rifle in a more formal dress. I attribute this accuracy difference to the large size of the front sight on the 1895 Dark, which entirely covered my paper target’s 4″ area at fifty yards. The 1895 Trapper’s front sight is a square post, which yields a more precise sight picture, somewhat at the expense of speed; for shorter ranges against moving targets, the big round dot of the 1895 Dark’s front sight would be a real advantage. Of course, mounting a telescopic sight on the factory Picatinny rail would level the playing field between the two rifles, and substantially extend the rifle’s effective range in areas where longer shots are expected. Although the 45-70’s projectile has a trajectory like a football, the big, relatively slow bullet flies straight and true, and its reputation for long-range accuracy is legendary and well-earned.
When I first became aware that Ruger was taking the reins at Marlin, I was excited because I knew Ruger would take their time and do it RIGHT. The folks at Ruger are “gun guys”; they appreciate the history and Freedom associated with fine firearms, and they take pride in what they do. Pairing an established innovator such as Ruger with an historic and legendary name and product line like Marlin’s was simply a match made in Heaven. I knew it would work, and the folks at Ruger have not let me down. Thanks to Ruger, Marlin is entering a new Golden Age, and we are fortunate to be here to see it happen.
Specifications – Marlin® Dark Series Model 1895™
Model #: 70901
UPC #: 7-36676-70901-4
Caliber: 45-70 Government
Material: Alloy Steel
Finish: Satin Black
Weight: 7 Pounds
Overall Length: 35.50 Inches
Barrel: 16.17 Inches, Cold Hammer-Forged Alloy Steel, 6-Groove 1:20″ RH Twist, Threaded 11/16-24 (Muzzle Brake and Steel Thread Protector Included)
Stock: Nylon Reinforced Polymer, 13.5 Inch Length of Pull, with M-LOK® Slots and QD Sling Attachment, Detachable Cheek Riser
Forend / Handguard: Anodized Aluminum with M-LOK® Slots and QD Sling Attachment
Front Sight: Fiber Optic with Tritium Ring
Rear Sight: Adjustable Ghost Ring
Scopeability: Receiver / barrel Picatinny rail
MSRP as of December 2023: $1,379.00 US
To Find a Marlin® Dealer Near You, Click on the DEALER FINDER at Lipsey’s: http://www.lipseys.com/
About the Author:
Boge Quinn is a life-long shooter, born and raised in the Great State of Tennessee. A co-founder of Gunblast.com (https://gunblast.com/)in the year 2000, along with his brother Jeff Quinn, Boge has continued on with Gunblast after Jeff’s passing in 2020. A Lifetime Endowment member of the NRA, Boge serves on the Board of Directors of The Shootists (https://shootists.org/), an organization started by John Taffin in 1985, as did his brother Jeff. Boge appreciates firearms of all types, but his soul is particularly stirred by the “older style” guns: lever-action and single-shot rifles, along with Single-Action and Double-Action revolvers and 1911-style pistols. As a former professional artist, Boge appreciates the aesthetics of a fine gun, as well as its mechanical precision and practical application. His particular affinity lies in the world of handguns, and he has hunted mostly with handguns of all types since the mid-1970s. A regionally well-known musician, Boge is also a Deacon in the same Baptist Church where his brother Jeff formerly served as Deacon, and where their Dad finished his 50-year career as Pastor.