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The Original Silver Bullet
Rifle Magazine
November - December 2002
Volume 34, Number 6
ISSN: 0162-3583
Number 204
On the cover...
The Ruger Model 77 Mark II Magnum is now chambered in .458 Lott and features a 1.5-4.5x20 Nikon scope. Rifle photo by Gerald Hudson. Alaskan grizzly photo by Michael S. Quinton.
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Product Tests
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Product Tests

Marlin Model 1894 Cowboy Competition Carbine

If this isn’t the handsomest Marlin ever made, it’s certainly the best-looking one ever to come my way. Its casehardened receiver, lever and bolt are outstanding examples of the art: muted swirls of dove grays and midnight blues blended with echoes of copper. Add a blue-black, octagonal barrel and tubular magazine bedded in choice American walnut, and the result is an exceedingly eye-catching combination. Fortunately, the levergun’s appearance is matched by its performance - or to put it another way: “Handsome does as handsome is.”

Sighting wasn’t the problem it might have been. Ordinarily, well-used eyes and open sights aren’t the most compatible of combinations. Although the little 94’s U-shaped rear notch appeared a bit fuzzy, the front bead was clearly distinct. Targets were set up at 50 yards.

Remington’s 125-grain +P jacketed hollowpoints averaged 1,321 fps 15 feet from the Marlin’s muzzle. Three-shot groups ran from 5/8 to 1 1/4 inches. Sub-one-inch groups predominated.

The same firm’s target rounds featuring 158-grain lead bluntnoses averaged 1,006 fps. Three-shot strings grouped from 7/8 to one inch even. Again, sub-one-inch patterns outnumbered the one inchers.

Federal 158-grain lead semiwadcutters clocked 998 fps on average. Three-shot strings measured from 1 1/4 to 1 7/8 inches. Most groups were 1 1/2 inches or slightly less. Handloads might improve those scores. So would a receiver or tang sight.

According to Marlin’s spokesman, Tony Aeschliman, each Cowboy Competition carbine is “factory-tuned,” that is, its lever, lever plunger, spring, hammer, breech bolt, breech bolt lock, carrier, hammer spring and ejector were buffed and polished during assembly to make them fit better and reduce friction. The result is an action that opens, chambers, closes and ejects effortlessly. There were no malfunctions during the range tests. Feeding was positive and ejection faultless.

Trigger pull was checked with two gauges: Lyman’s electronic model and a coiled-spring type marketed by RCBS. Lyman’s readings averaged 2.6 pounds; those made by the RCBS tool came to 2.5 pounds. Close enough.

Let-off was cracker-crisp too. Whether the test carbine’s trigger is truly representative or benefitted from a bit of extra attention is anybody’s guess. If so, it proves the potential’s there.

Marlin’s catalog went to the trouble of pointing out that the carbine’s serial number is located on the left side of the receiver instead of on the tang. That step was taken so that if anyone mounts a tang sight, the serial number will still be visible. Seems to me a couple of holes, drilled and tapped, spaced to fit a tang sight’s base, would have been more useful.

A hammer-block safety is located at the rear of the receiver. Set transversely across the hammer’s path to the firing pin, pushing the left side in flush with the receiver wall stops the hammer’s fall about 3/8 inch short of the firing pin. So adjusted, the word “safe” appears in tiny white letters encircling the right-hand head of the bar.

When the right side is flush with the receiver’s wall, the left side protrudes about 1/8 inch, far enough for a circlet of bright red enamel around the blocking bar’s head to appear. That serves as an additional, visual warning that the hammer is free to fall all the way. It’s a simple but extremely effective system. Not foolproof, of course - but what is?

In addition to the hammer-block bar, a hunter can enjoy additional peace of mind when carrying a loaded carbine by leaving the hammer in the half-cock position. Nudging the safety bar to the right and cocking the hammer all the way would take less than a second or two when the time comes to let a round go.

A fully loaded magazine and all that steel in the stubby barrel make the carbine slightly muzzle-heavy, just enough to help it hang steady when fired offhand. In addition, it points naturally, more like a well-fitting shotgun than a rifle. All those characteristics combine to make the carbine responsive, quick sighting, fast-firing and accurate, ideally suited for cowboy competition as well as small game hunting.

The carbine leaps to the shoulder quickly, with a minimal amount of urging. Best of all, it never shows any tendency to cant. Although it would be difficult to prove, that’s probably due to the consistent way the buttstock snuggled against my cheek, particularly when shooting offhand.

As noted the little 94 feels slightly muzzle-heavy. Not only did that encourage steady holding offhand, but when firing at widely separated targets, sight alignment was almost effortless. All I had to do was focus on the target and when the carbine came up, it automatically (or so it seemed) pointed toward it.

Although designed with a specific form of competition in mind, it’s obvious the 94 Cowboy Competition carbine will make an ideal small game rifle. Accurate, a quick-firer, easy to pack around, instantly responsive and a natural pointer, it would be ideal turkey medicine too.

Marlin’s got a real winner in this one. - Al Miller

Montana X-treme
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