Marlin Firearms Model 1894C: What Once Was Old Is New Again

Marlin Firearms has retooled its Model 1894C, adding to the lever action's undeniable connection to the Old West and widespread appeal.

Marlin Firearms Model 1894C: What Once Was Old Is New Again

Photo: Marlin Firearms

Say what you want about the high-tech firearms on the market today — the tactical, the long-range tack drivers and the semi-auto wonders laying down veritable fields of fire — the lever action remains an American favorite.

The lever action’s connection to the Old West is undeniable and certainly part of its appeal. But another key reason the lever action remains popular more than 100 years after the original Winchester Model 1894 was introduced is the pure functionality of the rifle itself. Easy to load, accurate and extremely maneuverable, the lever action is also a lot of fun to shoot.

My basic question: What functions does this handgun chambering in a carbine accomplish that the handgun does not?”

Marlin Firearms recently debuted a redesigned lever action that is sure to attract attention, the Model 1894C chambered in .357 Mag/.38 Spl. Marlin had an 1894C in this caliber combination previously, but reintroduced it late last year after a near-complete overhaul from an engineering standpoint. Marlin engineers kept the same basic design, but tweaked several parts to make both calibers feed much more efficiently. 

Marlin recently sent me a new Model 1894C to test and evaluate. I was a little suspicious about the notion of a handgun caliber in a long gun. My feeling has always been that handgun calibers belong in … handguns. My basic question: What functions does this handgun chambering in a carbine accomplish that the handgun does not?

After several range sessions with the Model 1894C, my questions were answered. The long-gun application of the handgun caliber makes the rounds more accurate and more powerful, and therefore more useable in the field. In this case, the Model 1894C will make a fine truck gun, is a great choice for a youth rifle, and has many applications for hunting, plinking and even home defense.

Testing the Model 1894C

My test Model 1894C arrived with iron sights, and a nicely checkered wood stock and forend. I headed to my outdoor range to see what the rifle could do, along with three different brands of .357 Mag ammunition: Aguila with a 158-grain semi-jacketed soft point bulletsRemington Performance Wheelgun and 158-grain semi-wadcutter projectiles; and, Winchester’s PDX1 Defender load topped with 125-grain bonded-jacketed hollow points.

I decided my accuracy testing would be at the 50-yard mark, given the iron sights and my no-longer-young eyes. I had no problem pegging 1.5- to 2.0-inch five-shot groups with the Remington and Winchester rounds. My best grouping was with the Remington Performance Wheelgun at 1.18 inches — and four of those shots measured just .63 inches.

The Marlin and the Aguila, though, did not mesh. The very best I could do with this combination was a single 2-inch group. Most groups, though, were 3 inches or larger.

Marlin Firearms Model 1894C chambered in .357 Mag/.38 Spl. Photo: Marlin Firearms
Marlin Firearms Model 1894C chambered in .357 Mag/.38 Spl. Photo: Marlin Firearms

Next, I ran 50 rounds of various .38 Spl. rounds through the rifle — without a hitch. That’s important. Dual-caliber levers can struggle when going from one caliber to another, and some earlier versions of the 1894C suffered from this problem. But not the Marlin 1894C, and that makes the .38 Spl. a nearly recoil-less practice and plinking option. Per round, the .38 Spl. is also less expensive than .357 Mag., a small but nice selling point for those who are budget-conscious.

The lever and bolt on the 1894C worked smoothly and easily, even when the rifle was on my shoulder. In nearly 200 rounds, I didn’t have a single hang up or feeding issue. The rifle features a cross-bolt type safety, with a bright red “Fire” indicator on the left side of the receiver that’s easy to see.

Rounds loaded easily into the side port, and the spring in the tubal magazine provided consistent pressure and clean feeding, whether I had the tube fully loaded with nine rounds or had only a couple rounds inserted.

The checkering on the walnut stock and forend of the Marlin 1894C was nicely done, and deep enough for a very positive grip.

Marlin has retooled the iconic 1894C lever-action rifle with new calibers to appeal to more consumers for sport shooting and hunting. Photo: Kat Ainsworth
Marlin has retooled the iconic 1894C lever-action rifle with new calibers to appeal to more consumers for sport shooting and hunting. Photo: Kat Ainsworth

The trigger breaks at a nice, crisp 4 pounds, 5 ounces, according to my Lyman Digital Trigger Pull Gauge.

The one thing I would change on the rifle? The sights. Now, I fully admit to having 59-year-old eyes and that’s a real factor here. But I found the hooded front post difficult to pick up in lower-light conditions, and felt the rear blade should have a slightly wider notch. A white outline on that notch would be a big help, too. All of which may not be a factor for younger shooters.

The rifle’s receiver is drilled and tapped for a scope, and Marlin includes an easily-attached hammer spur to make life with a scope much easier.

Performance of the Model 1894C

I measured 10 rounds of each brand of .357 Mag ammunition using my PACT Professional-XP Chronograph from Brownells, and the 18.5-inch barrel on the 1894C actually did produce noticeably higher velocities, anywhere from an extra 200 to 250 fps.

For example, the Winchester PDX1 Defender round leaves the muzzle of a 6-inch handgun barrel at 1,325 fps and achieves 487 ft-lbs. of energy. At 25 yards, the muzzle energy is at 422 ft-lbs., and 371 ft-lbs. at 50 yards, according to two online ballistic calculators.

Dual-caliber levers can struggle when going from one caliber to another, and some earlier versions of the 1894C suffered from this problem. But not the Marlin 1894C.”

But, the same round through the Marlin 1894C has a muzzle velocity of 1,516 fps, with 638 ft-lbs. of energy. At 25 yards, the bullet is moving at 1,404 fps and delivers 547 ft-lbs. of energy. At 50 yards, the bullet still zips along at 1,304 fps (nearly the same velocity of a handgun at the muzzle) with 472 ft-lbs. of energy.

It’s not exactly a water buffalo killer, but plenty of people take deer and hogs every hunting season with .357 Mag revolvers. Using the Marlin 1894C lever action instead will boost the .357 Magnum’s energy and range noticeably.

Model 1894C In the Field 

As a possible youth rifle or a truck gun, the Marlin 1894C is a solid option thanks to the shorter barrel, the maneuverability of the rifle and — even using the harder-hitting .357 Mag — the rifle has relatively little recoil. It’s also an effective hunting rifle.

“The 1894C in 357 is a great varmint round and even appropriate for deer at modest ranges,” says Eric Lundgren, marlin’s senior product manager. “And we are seeing a lot of folks use a lever rifle as a personal protection gun. The .38 Spl. makes the rifle into a great plinker and is popular because of the lack of recoil.”

Lundgren also noted the rifle’s ability to use and switch between the two calibers.

“Feeding problems can occur with rifles that take two cartridges, like the .357 Mag/.38 Spl. and .44 Mag/.44 S&S Spl.,” he says. “And, some ammunition types work well when others don’t. At first, our engineers could get an extremely low malfunction rate on the .38 Spl. loads, for example, but not on the .357 Mag. It took a good while and a lot of tweaking to get them both to run very well, with a wide variety of ammunition types.”

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