“Long live the lever gun!“ These were the words we frequently heard late last year as Ruger announced that they would be leaving the Marlin firearms brand more or less intact after its acquisition. However, despite the announcement, there were understandable concerns that were voiced on whether or not the new rifles made under the auspices of the Ruger would be up to scratch. However, all of you here who read TFB were more than excited to hear the news and thought that the mating of Ruger and Marlin was basically a match made in heaven. I too shared your excitement and today I’m excited to share my experiences with the new Ruger-made Marlin 1895 SBL 45-70 Govt. rifle. Today we’ll take a look at what Ruger did differently, what they kept the same, and how the new rifle measures up in the world of lever guns.
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TFB Review: Is the New Ruger/Marlin 1895 SBL Done Right?
Ruger’s 1895 SBL is absolutely gorgeous and if you disagree you’re just plain wrong. Between the cool grey laminate wood furniture, matte silver barrel, and the high polish receiver there is just too much awesome going on to hate how this gun looks. However, even though Ruger has continued the legacy of one of the most popular lever-action rifles made in modern times, some changes have been made to the 1895 SBL .45-70 Govt since its original introduction by the Remington-run Marlin in 2009.
First off, Ruger has opted to change the sights from the XS white striped sights over to a new tritium and fiber optic front sight. I find the new sight to be quite a handy addition to the platform and while I didn’t do any hunting or shooting at night with them due to range restrictions in my local area, I did plenty of dry firing and goofing around with the rifle in my house in low light settings and I have to say they are quite pleasant to use in the waning hours of the day.
The new Ruger/Marlin rifles will have a white dot with a red circle as well as a special “RM” prefix for its serial numbers.
Second, Ruger has made the extremely intelligent decision of adding an extra half-inch to the barrel and also adding threading to it for the attachment of suppressors or other muzzle devices. This runs the barrel up from its original (2009 specification) 18.5-inches out to a nice round 19-inches in length. The barrel comes with a near-seamless thread protector with two flats making it simple and easy to screw on and off without damaging the thread protector. One thing I will note that I did not like is that the thread pitch on these new rifles is 11/16×24 which isn’t all that common and because of this, I had to buy a completely new thread adaptor for my TiOn Inc Dragoon 450B suppressor. Luckily, they had one in stock and it only cost me about $80 so I was more than happy to throw down another $100 for this review to get the can on the gun.
Ruger has also given the 1895 SBL a brand new rail system that replaces the old one from XS sights. The new rail features 23 slots giving you plenty of room for nearly any type of optic setup. I even went as far as to mount my Steiner DBAL-I2 IR laser unit on it for while just in case I had to go T-Rex hunting at night.
One final improvement over the older models of the 1895 SBL that I’ll note here is the new fluted nickel-plated bolt. This by far has to be the best operational improvement for the 1895 SBL as it makes the gun silky smooth to run allowing for faster follow-up shots and less bruised hands. The only thing I really found wrong with the fit and finish is that the included extended hammer spur kept coming loose even though I used Loctite on its one screw. A lot of changes have been made to the 1895 SBL but the core components are still there and I think that the 1895 SBL’s improvements are both sensible and represent a thoughtful recreation of a rifle many people love. So far, I’m impressed.
I normally like to torture my review guns to see what they are made of but due to the cost of ammunition and just how beautiful this rifle is, I wasn’t able to do that this time. In total, I had about 100-rounds of 45-70 Government ammunition to play with. Fellow writer Rusty S supplied me with some Black Hills 405-grain Lead Flat Points, and Hornady supplied me with a couple varieties of their popular LEVERevolution cartridges. In case any of you are wondering, 45-70 is pretty expensive and runs you about $60 or so per box of 20-rounds so the ammunition from both Rusty and Hornady was a huge help.
Hornady on the left and the Black Hills on the right
The new 1895 SBL is more or less the same rifle as the old Marlin-made 1895 SBL rifles. Where the big differences come into play are its trigger and action. I’ve been browsing a handful of forums and most reports put the old Marlin-made 1895 SBL triggers somewhere in the neighborhood of 2-1/2 to 3-pounds in pull weight. The Ruger/Marlin 1895 that I had has its trigger pull dialed in at 5-pounds 15.5-ounces over a 5 pull average. I’m not exactly sure if mine is so much heavier because of a design change difference or if it’s because most of the Marlin 1895s that others are used to using have just been worn in enough to make a huge difference.
Is it wrong to have an LPVO on a lever gun? Probably. But I honestly don’t care.
One minor change that Ruger has made as well has to do with how you load the rifle. The old 1895 SBL rifles from Marlin allowed you to freely push the loading gate out of the way in order to slide subsequent rounds in. The Ruger-made 1895 requires that you first push the rim of an already loaded cartridge forward so that the loading gate may come down. The unloading process is simply the reverse of the loading process. I don’t have enough time behind lever guns to know if this is a huge issue for any of you but it didn’t bother me in the least.
Any good rifle must be accurate within a reasonable degree and lever actions, while not generally as precise as bolt actions, can still be pretty dang accurate and are more than accurate enough for hunting applications. I ran three types of ammunition through the 1895 SBL including Black Hills 405-gr FPL, Hornady LEVERevolution 250-gr Monoflex, and Hornady LEVERevolution 325-gr.
Out of the three, I found the Hornady LEVERevolution 325-gr FTX ammunition to be the most accurate for the rifle’s 1:20 twist rate. My groups for the day weren’t stellar but I did manage to pull off one (barely) sub-MOA group using that ammunition. the next most successful was the Black Hills 405-grain ammunition which netted me about a 2-MOA group, and the worst of the bunch was the 250-grain Monoflex which landed me a 2.755-MOA group.
250-grain Monoflex (I forgot to change the Ballistic-X label)
325-grain FTX (the label is once again wrong)
405-grain Black Hills (correct label)
If I were to do this test again, I’d probably opt to use a strap-down style lead sled and a much higher magnification optic. While the SIG Sauer TANGO-6T looked great on the gun, it didn’t offer me enough magnification to see the tiny orange dots in the lighting conditions during that day. However, I think it’s safe to say that the 1895 SBL is more than accurate enough at a 100-yards distance. 45-70 isn’t really intended to be used many past 150-yards for most hunting applications even though it’s more than capable of being used at much longer ranges.
Working the lever on the 1895 SBL was a joy and I don’t think that there are many manually operated firearms that can quite give you the same feeling as working the lever on a lever gun. While repeated and rapid cycling at home made the top of my hand sore, I don’t think many people shooting this gun will be doing exactly that – there are dedicated guns that have much smoother actions and are decked out for cowboy action shooting. This is probably best suited as a range toy or hunting implement.
Since the rifle had a threaded barrel it was only fair enough that I ran it with the suppressor on it. This is probably going to be a pretty controversial opinion but I think the 1895 SBL is much more pleasant to shoot without a suppressor. Don’t get me wrong, I think that suppressors are great to use when hunting or just general shooting but the 1895 SBL’s natural handiness is somehow compromised with the addition of even a lightweight suppressor (mine is about 12 oz).
The rubber buttpad on the Ruger/Marlin 1895 combined with the inherent weight of the gun already provides more than enough recoil absorption but the addition of a suppressor adds more backpressure and therefore more felt recoil. To me, this just makes the rifle less fun to shoot and doesn’t really add anything other than “cool factor” and an added layer of hearing protection. However, this didn’t stop me from performing a couple of tube dumps both with and without the suppressor. In my opinion, the best-case scenario is that you shoot this thing at the range without it and only put the suppressor on to sight it in and hunt with it.
The Ruger/Marlin 1895 SBL is a fine piece of machinery and really combines the badass feeling of the .45-70 Govt cartridge with the cowboy action style shooting fun of lever action. With a few smart improvements across the entire length of the rifle, I think Ruger has made good on their promise to keep Marlin’s lever guns alive and I’m really looking forward to what they have in store for us next.
So to answer the question in the title of this article, is the new Ruger Marlin 1895 SBL done right? I certainly think so! As always I’d like to hear your thoughts. Will you be picking one of the new 1895 SBL rifles up? If you’ve had experience with Marlin’s 1895s then how do you think your older models compare to this new one? Thanks as always for reading TFB. Go on now, git!
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