Chambering: .44 rem mag/.44 special
Optics tested: irons/Nikon Buckmaster
Ammunition tested: Magtech 240gr soft flat nose
Price: $545 new
Those wanting to skip the story and get to the review, skip to paragraph 4.
It's been a while since I bought a firearm with the purpose of hunting as a primary use. In fact, the last time I bought a "fud gun" as some may call them, was in 2004. But this year, I decided that I needed a new rifle for deer hunting since Indiana has allowed a select few cartridges for hunting whitetails. My muzzleloader had served me well since I was 13, but now that some rifles are allowed, the advantage in range and accuracy I had with it is no more as magnum pistol rounds fired through a rifle replicate and exceed the ballistics of my muzzleloader without the heavy fouling and maintenance. Oh, and did I mention the superior accuracy? Yes, there's that too.
My search for the a rifle was pretty short. I knew what I wanted. The rifle had to be chambered in something larger than .357 magnum, capable of at least 4MOA, and not be made by Ruger. I considered getting an AR-15 upper in .50AE or .458 SOCOM but didn't because of price concerns. That left me with two options: a single shot or a lever action. Since I wouldn't be able to live with myself for buying a single shot rifle, that left me with a lever action. And as far as pistol caliber lever actions go, there is only one that I could ever consider owning: the Marlin 1894. So with my mind made up on the rifle, I had to decide on the cartridge next. Since the '94 is only offered in .44 rem mag/.44 spc, that part was easy. However, there is a conversion offered by Forkin for .50AE... albeit at a considerable price.
With my mind made up, I went out in search of a rifle. Luckily, my hometown has its share of deer hunters so finding a "deer rifle" wasn't the least bit difficult. I found mine at a local gun store for $545 plus $210 for a scope. Excited with my purchase, I hurried home.
The first thing I noticed about the rifle was how naturally it fell into my shoulder, much like fine shotgun. The second thing I noticed was the front sight and how obtrusive it was. Clearly, iron sights on this are meant for 50yds and closer. What impressed me the most, though, was the trigger. I've shot many lever actions from Winchesters to Henry's to Savages and all them had one thing in common: a notoriously hard trigger pull. But the trigger on the Marlin was incredibly light and crisp. It felt very similar to the old JP single stage I used to use in my competition AR, but with even less creep! I estimated the trigger pull to be around 3 1/2 pounds, but Marlin claims it to be around 4 1/2. After I was done fondling the rifle, I took it outside to do some sighting in.
I decided to try the irons out first since it would be a shame not to shoot a rifle with the sights it was designed to use. The irons are the buckhorn variety rear and beaded front sight. The bead makes sight acquisition easier, but ruins any appreciable accuracy past 100yds. It would cover a deer's entire chest at that range. The sights also do not come adjustable for windage. I fired 10 shots prone and 10 shots offhand at 50yds. My prone shots were all almost touching and were just a little under 1" in size. My offhand shots measured just a little over 2". As expected, recoil was very manageable with some muzzle flip. It felt about like shooting a .410 shotgun. Impressed, I added a scope and took my shooting out to 100 and 150yds.
At 100yds, the rifle revealed itself as a 2MOA gun and exhibited no shift in windage after sighting the scope at 50yds. In other words, nothing turned up that I hadn't expected.
At 150yds, things got a little interesting. First, while firing my test targets, I could distinctly hear the bullet impact the target almost 1/2 sec after taking the shot. Group sizes did not track with the previous groups and were about 5" in size and 6" low. There was also the occasional flyer that I couldn't account for. It was still enough to strike a deer's vitals every time, but the bullet was moving slow enough that this is probably the furthest I could comfortably shoot a deer. I was hoping to group a little better at that range, but it was still about 1" better than my muzzleloader so I was satisfied, more or less. I packed up my shooting gear and called it a day.
-More than acceptable accuracy
-Widespread ammo availability
-100% reliable after over 100 shots
-Ease of handling/ease of maintenance
-Quality of workmanship
-Front sight is obscenely large
-Effective range a little disappointing
-Limited selection of factory chamberings
In conclusion, the rifle will suit the hunter well for deer under 150yds or black bear under 100. However, those in states that allow most rifle cartridges for use, there probably isn't a practical reason to own this over a .30-30. Accuracy is respectable especially considering the ammunition used during the testing of the rifle. Handling also gets top marks. The front sight presents a problem, but its overcome with a scope that most hunters will add anyway. All in all, Marlin continues to give us a sound package in the 1894 and one that this hunter will hopefully use to take a nice whitetail this November!