Lever Gun Review: Marlin 336 Dark Series
This isn’t exactly a tactical rifle, but more of a hunter’s lever-action dream.
Full disclosure: lever guns are my jam. They’re the unsung heroes of the gun world, the rifles frequently associated with cowboy action shooting and black-and-white John Wayne movies. There is more to levers than the Old West, though.
Give me a good lever and I’ll happily hunt deer, slay hogs, and sling lead at targets endlessly. Needless to say I was happy when I was told Marlin was launching their new Model 336 Dark Series levers during the National Rifle Association Annual Meeting (NRAAM). New, modernized levers? Yes, please.
A Rifle Nomenclature Lesson
Marlin is well known for their levers. Back in 1870 John Mahlon Marlin founded Marlin Firearms Company after spending the Civil War era building guns. He started out small with derringers but moved on to levers in 1881; yes, we’ve enjoyed 128 years of Marlin lever goodness.
That first lever-action repeater was the Model 1881 and was offered in .45-70 and .38-55. Then, in 1893, came the Model 1893 which was chambered in a variety of cartridges including .30-30 Winchester. That model was eventually rebranded as the Model 1936, a name later shortened to Model 36.
Finally, in 1949, the 36 was redesigned and launched as the Model 336, which brings us up to date on name changes.
Design and Features
Today’s Model 336 Dark Series is a bit different than the original. When you see it you immediately assume it was designed to appeal to the tactical crowd but be careful with your conclusions.
The original 336 had a round-stock bolt, an extractor made of spring steel, and a window milled on the side of the receiver for improved ejection.
Today’s .30-30-chambered 336 Dark Series rifle features a 4140 steel bolt, heat-treated, solid-steel forgings for its receiver and trigger guard, Micro-Groove rifling, and a 5/8×24 threaded barrel. It’s also blacked-out and packed with extras that appeal to the hog hunter in me.
This isn’t exactly a tactical rifle; I see it as more of a hunter’s lever-action dream.
The 336 Dark has an empty weight of 7.65-pounds, an overall length of 34.5-inches, and a barrel length of 16.25-inches, meaning it does have some heft to it, but it’s short enough to be a fantastic brush gun (or an awesome truck gun for my hardcore hog hunters out there). For example, the big loop lever is wrapped in braided black Paracord for comfort during use and it ships with a tightly-braided black Paracord sling.
There’s also an 11-inch XS Lever Picatinny rail made of lightweight aircraft aluminum topping the gun, so you can easily mount a variety of optics to it. The rail is hard anodized for superior surface hardness, something worth mentioning considering the number of rails I’ve seen ruined by heavy use.
If you prefer iron sights, the XS rail ships with an integrated Ghost Ring rear sight already dovetailed into the rail.
As I mentioned before, the Marlin 336 Dark Series is completely blacked-out, hence the name, which makes my heart skip a beat.
It’s also durable – the stock is black-webbed hardwood – and extremely versatile thanks to its threaded barrel and Picatinny rail.
The .30-30 Win chambering harkens back to the early days of levers while remaining a solid caliber. The .30-30’s parent case was the old .38-55 Winchester, for which Marlin chambered their first lever guns. It was also the first smaller-bore cartridge designed for use with smokeless powder.
It has a bullet diameter of .308-inches, a rimmed, bottlenecked case and a maximum pressure of 42,000 psi. This is a cartridge typically recommended for hunting only under around 150 to 200 yards and is the quintessential classic whitetail cartridge, but that doesn’t mean it can’t hold its own on larger game.
Outdoor writer Paul Robertson one said, “Too many moose have been taken with the .30-30 to rule it out as good for this purpose,” and Canadian Thor Strimbold has nailed more than 20 one-shot kills on moose using his .30-30. This cartridge gets work done.
Pew Pew – Range Test
At the range, the Marlin 336 Dark performed well. The gun fits my shoulder well and, although its length of pull is on the short side for my build, it doesn’t cause any issues beyond me needing to be tighter on the gun.
With its heft you’ll find you can certainly shoot it offhand, but might prefer a rest or at least shooting sticks if you need precision, or for longer shooting sessions at the range. It is not a heavy rifle per se, but you do notice the weight after some time. The rifle is fairly well-balanced and you can get a good cheek weld using the factory irons.
For the purpose of this review I ran a variety of ammunition through the gun, including Remington Core-Lokt 170 grain SPs, Barnes VOR-TX 150 grain TSX HPs, Browning 155 grain BXR Polymer Tips, Winchester Silvertip 150 grain Polymer Tips, and Hornady Whitetail 150 grain Interlocks. The gun did not experience failures of any kind during range time.
At 100 yards, shooting from a rest, the average five-shot group size with all ammunition was between two inches and three inches. Felt recoil was negligible; the .30-30 is flat-out soft recoiling when compared to its big 30-cal lever brothers like the .30-06. The greatest precision came from the Hornady Whitetail ammo, which grouped around two inches with the occasional 5-shot group under two inches.
When it came to 3-shot groups, which are commonly used to test hunting rifles such as this, sizes averaged around 1.5-inches. All groups are dead-deer/dead-hog sized.
Basically, this rifle performs as I expected, accurate but not a sub-MOA gun. Most levers produce similar results and when I compare this to other manufacturers recent lever-action launches I’d say the Marlin 336 Dark is at the head of the new-lever pack.
The fact that Marlin wrapped the loop with Paracord is a definite bonus because it protects bare hands from repeated impacts with metal. The lever-action is a bit stiff at first but smooths out with use; if you’re familiar with levers you can run this gun quickly. If you’re not familiar with levers, get on it.Its five-round tubular magazine is plenty for most hunts but might require fast reloads if you get into a good-sized sounder of hogs.
Controls and Trigger
Since you should be well-acquainted enough with your guns to handle fast reloads this should not pose a real problem. No, it isn’t as fast as slapping a fresh magazine into an AR but with practice it also isn’t slow. The gun’s cross-bolt safety is also easy to manipulate and clearly marked in red when it’s set to “fire.”
A word about the trigger. This rifle ships with a factory Marlin trigger with a measured pull weight of 4 pounds, 6 ounces (measurement the result of averaging ten pulls using my Lyman Digital Trigger Pull Gauge from Brownell’s). The trigger itself has a firm, solid pull with consistent weight throughout the pull. Reset is relatively short. However, it’s the one thing I’d change about this gun.
The pull doesn’t feel natural and easy, it feels heavy and stiff. It isn’t a bad trigger just not my personal preference. And, of course, it may improve with more extended use.
This isn’t my first Marlin and it won’t be my last. It also isn’t my only lever – I have more of those than I dare say. It has quickly become a favorite, though. The fact it’s straightforward and simple to drop a scope on it is a solid bonus as is the fact it’s blacked-out. Taking this rifle out at night on hogs would be perfect but it would also do nicely on deer.
The Marlin 336 Dark Series cycles reliably and consistently produces groups that will drop whatever game you’re hunting. There’s a definite element of convenience to it since you can sling it and have a protected loop right out of the box, too. Thanks to its length it’s easily maneuverable; you can handle this rifle in close quarters of all kinds more easily than ARs that might be six inches longer, or more. Then there’s the fact you could put a suppressor on it. That’s a big win in my book.
Here’s the thing: levers are cool. They’ve taken a back seat to the glut of ARs and shorty shotguns-that-aren’t-shotguns on the market and it is past time they return. I’ve run levers on hunts, at the range, and in classes. They rock. Get your hands on one of these Marlin 336 Dark Series levers in .30-30 Win and you’ll see what I mean.
In conjunction with the Model 336 Black release, Marlin also put out a Black Series version of their Model 1895 lever gun in .45-70 Govt, for those of you who prefer big, straight-walled cartridges.
Marlin 336 Dark Series Specs:
|Capacity:||5-round tubular magazine|
|Weight:||7.65 lbs. (unloaded)|
|Trigger Pull:||4.6 lbs.|
|Rail:||XS Lever Rail with ghost ring rear sight|
|Stock:||Hardwood painted with black webbing|
|Other:||Ships with paracord sling and paracord wrapped lever loop|