Like many of my generation, I shot my first deer with a lever-action rifle. That happened in November 1966 when I was 11, and that borrowed 1892 Winchester in .38-40 is still the coolest gun on the planet. In reality, it was butchered and battered until it was nearly junk, but I didn’t care then and I don’t care now. Lever-actions are cool in any condition.
It’s clear today that the shooting world is coming around to my thinking and is growing to appreciate lever-action rifles again. Look at any lever-action group on social media and membership is growing. Dealers tell me the guns fly off the shelf as fast as they can get them. Most buyers are hunters, some are just shooters and some have them for self-defense. But they all have guns with levers hanging underneath the action, indicating an appreciation for the design.
Perhaps it’s a bit of nostalgia among aging baby boomers trying to recapture the simplicity of our youth, or maybe it’s something else. I think when Marlin was closed as part of the Remington bankruptcy it was a wakeup call. I have a friend trying to buy a Marlin in .444 Marlin for a bear hunt we are doing together this fall. The last one he bid on went for more than four-times its true value.
All that foolishness should stop soon. Ruger bought Marlin and expects to ship new guns this fall. The conventional thinking is that they will bring quality to the brand and produce some very nice rifles.
Of course, we have lots of companies currently offering lever-action rifles. Henry is producing some great guns. Mossberg has lever actions and of course Winchester has lever guns. Big Horn Armory has lever-action rifles in artillery-type cartridges for whacking really big stuff.
I recently found a brand-new Marlin 336 in .35 Remington. Found as in I forgot I bought it years ago. About the time I purchased it, I inherited another just like it and have been hunting with that one and completely forgot about this “new” gun on the shelf. The inherited rifle is being passed to the next generation, so I decided to set up the other gun for use here in the North Country. I plan to rediscover New England and New York deer hunting this year. I think this gun is perfect for that. First off, it’s in one of my favorite cartridges. A friend said the other day, “When it comes to .35-caliber rifles, you either get it or you don’t.” I have always gotten it and the .35 Remington is the classic .35-caliber deer cartridge.
My ideal lever-action wears a peep sight, but my ideal age is long past. My old eyes can see these sights very well at the shooting range, but not so good anymore in the deep and poorly lit November North Woods. That’s why many of my newer lever-action rifles have scopes on them.
I am always one who wants it both ways, and this time found out I can have that. I called my friend Andy Larsson, the owner of Skinner Sights, to order one of his new 1x-6x-30mm scopes and as I am wont to do, got sidetracked about wishing it was a peep sight instead.
“How about we set up that gun with both?” Andy replied. “We have our Express sight offered with an integral scope mount. It takes Talley quick detach rings, so you can pop off the scope and use the peep sight. It’s the best of both worlds.”
On my .35 Remington I chose their all-brass Patridge-style front sight. One note on those: The sight is made to fit into the dovetail on the front ramp. They come slightly oversized and must be filed to fit. It’s not hard, but if you don’t know how, it might be smart to have a gunsmith do the install. I also fitted one of their dovetail plugs made to fill the slot emptied by removing the rear sight.
The rear base with sight attached simply screws into the holes in the Marlin’s receiver. I degreased and used a drop of blue No. 242 Loctite on each screw.
The Talley rings fit over the dovetailed scope base. There is a screw that acts as a recoil stop so the rear ring should fit against it when the install is complete. The rings come with both quick release levers and Torx head screws, so it’s your choice.
The Skinner scope has a multi-hold reticle in case you encounter a big buck 250 yards into a clear-cut. The scope also has an illuminated red-dot center, which in a 1X scope is the fastest system I have used for shooting any rifle, but only if the shooting eye is lined up with the center of the scope.
Most lever-action rifles, including this one, are stocked to align the shooter’s eye properly with iron sights. That makes the comb too low when using a scope. I have seen guys shoot with their heads floating in the atmosphere like a turkey that’s just heard a safety click off. That is not good if you want to shoot to the rifle’s capability.
Andy and I got talking about that. We have a mutual friend, Rob Leahy, who owns Simply Rugged Holsters. We took the problem to him and he developed a beautiful lace-on comb riser. It’s made from thin, supple garment leather so it doesn’t look like a tumor on the gun like some others I have seen. It’s also lined, so it doesn’t wear the surface on the gun. It has an ammo carrier on the off side to hold five extra cartridges.
I gotta be honest; I have never been a fan of cartridge holding cuffs on any rifle, until now. I really like this one. You can buy them from Rob or from Skinner Sights.
This rifle is shooting very well with Hornady’s 200-grain LEVERevolution ammo. I recently used this rifle to hit steel targets from 200 out to 500 yards. I don’t advocate shooting game that far, but I am very confident at 250 yards where I have practiced extensively.
I think this rifle and me are going to have a great fall.