By Jon R. Sundra
By now, surely everyone who reads these pages knows that the Remington we all knew is no more. In 2020, the Marlin division of Remington Outdoors was acquired by Ruger in bankruptcy proceedings.
Whether it’s coincidence or not, the last couple of years have seen an uptick of interest in traditional lever-action rifles, most notably Marlins, so the unveiling of the first Ruger-made Marlin a few months ago was especially propitious.
The specific model chosen to launch the new line is the 1895 SBL, which was the most popular Marlin model at the time of Ruger’s acquisition. For some reason Marlin chose to use the “1895” designation for all models chambered in .45-70, but it’s the same Model 336 that was the basis for most of Marlin’s centerfire chamberings. The “SBL” suffix denotes a satin-finished raw stainless barreled receiver and tubular magazine, mated to a black-gray laminated stock.
It took roughly 18 months to complete the move from Ilion to Ruger’s Mayodan, North Carolina factory. A lot of the machinery was outdated and had to be either updated or replaced to meet Ruger’s standards. All aspects of design and production were reviewed and tweaked wherever needed, while still retaining all original design elements. In fact, except for obvious cosmetic changes, there is essentially no difference between a Marlin 1895 and a Ruger 1895. But you sure can feel the difference, and upon close scrutiny, see the difference.
Thanks to tighter tolerances and a nickel-plated fluted bolt, the example sent us for testing was noticeably smoother, tighter, and I think quieter when compared to my own Marlin-made 336s chambered in .450 Marlin. Visually, the biggest change is the presence of a 23-slot Picatinny rail that provides all kinds of optic mounting options — conventional scopes, EERs and red dots.
Open sights come standard and consist of an adjustable ghost ring aperture rear, and a green, fiber optic front. It is an excellent setup that makes for rapid target acquisition, but alas, I have monovision, courtesy of ocular implants. My right eye is dominant and set for distance vision, my left for close vision. So, for testing I removed the iron sights and replaced them with Leupold 1.5-4x.
Ruger chose to go with a large lever loop and a full-length 6-round tubular magazine. Personally, I think the traditional-size lever loop and a 3/4-length magazine make for a more attractive and balanced look. The 19-inch barrel ends with a cap protecting an 11/16×24 threaded muzzle should one want to affix a suppressor or brake.
The wood-to-metal fit at both the buttstock and forend seams are better than on my Marlins. The trigger is much better. The average pull on my three Marlins is around 7 1/2 pounds, whereas on the test gun it was 5 1/2, which is about as good as one can expect from an exposed hammer ignition system. The safety is a cross bolt affair at the rear of the receiver, and there’s also the traditional half-cock hammer position.
Out of the box the test gun weighed 7 pounds, 5 ounces. With the Leupold aboard sans iron sights it’s 8 pounds, 4 ounces. Considering historic .45-70 ballistics, even Hornady’s ground-breaking 325-grain Flex Tip (FTX) load, which extends the effective range of the cartridge by more than 50 percent when compared to the round and flat-nosed loadings it was saddled with for some 140 years, a 1.5-4x scope is a good match.
I managed to get two sub-MOA 3-shot groups at 100 yards with the Hornady load — the one I’d prefer because of its flatter trajectory and energy retention. Another excellent load is Federal’s 300-grain HammerDown. You can’t go wrong with either.
Bottom line: this new Ruger rendering of an iconic American lever-action rifle strikes all the right chords. With the Hornady FlexTip factory load my average for five 3-shot groups at 100 yards was 1.3 inch. Exposed hammer, slab-sided lever actions aren’t supposed to shoot this well! Surely there will be other iterations and calibers coming down the line, but this 1895 SBL by Ruger is a helluva’ start. I can’t imagine any lever lover not liking this gun!