You can also contact us by clicking here.Today, we live in an age of rapid technological innovation and obsolescence. In a decade or less, the tools and technologies that are popular today will be forgotten. You’re probably not using a typewriter or telegraph to communicate in this era of laptops and smartphones. But there are exceptions to this rule — instances where the old ways may still have their merits. This point is demonstrated by the surge in popularity for so-called tactical levers, like this Marlin 336 Dark Series.
Old, But Not Obsolete
The Marlin 336 rifle was first introduced in 1948. However, its core design is based on the Model 1893. This rifle, named for the year of production, has been around since 1893. Before the turn of 20th century lever-action repeating guns from Winchester Henry and Marlin became very popular with American frontiersmen and cowboys. Today, these lever guns are considered an icon of an entire period of weapons. Much like the Thompson during the prohibition or the AR-15 in our time. How will they remain relevant in 2020, and beyond?
Firstly, there’s an unfortunate but important legal reason: Lever-action guns are generally legal in all 50 states. If you live in one of the states that heavily restricts semi-automatic rifles, a lever gun can be a good way to avoid the headaches of “featureless” builds and fixed magazines. Even if you don’t live in one of those places, these rifles can come with you if you travel through them. I recently visited family in California, and although I couldn’t legally bring my suppressed SBR or even a basic AR-15, I could bring this Marlin 336 Dark Series.
In addition, the COVID-19 situation has served as a reminder that finding ammo won’t always be easy. When popular calibers such as .223 and 7.62×39 were impossible to find at local stores, I had no trouble picking up boxes of .30-30. This round packs a wallop, to say nothing of the mammoth .45-70 that’s another popular choice in this realm. Lever guns are also lightweight, reliable, and as we’ll show later in this article, surprisingly well-supported with aftermarket upgrades. Above all, they’re a ton of fun to shoot.
Hello Darkness, My New Friend
During the last few years, we’ve noticed an increasing interest in lever-action rifles within the firearms community. A younger demographic appears to be realizing their merits, and these buyers are molding lever guns to their existing tastes — think black finishes and accessory rails instead of wood grain and stainless steel. Marlin, with its Model 336 Dark Series, has taken this trend into account.
The Dark Series is equipped with a number of modern factory upgrades. The 20-inch barrel has been replaced with a 16.25-inch barrel that sits atop a five-round tube magazine. The muzzle has 5/8×24 threads that make it easy to add a brake or suppressor. The XS Lever Rail comes with an integrated ghost ring, allowing you to attach your preferred red-dot optic or magnified sight. The gun comes with a big loop lever wrapped in paracord and a paracord sling that can be unwrapped for extra cordage. Metal exterior parts have a matte black Parkerized finish, and the stock and forend have a black spatter finish (they’re painted wood, not polymer as some assume). Marlin’s Model 1895 Dark Series comes in.4570, even though the Model 336 Dark Series only comes in.30-30.
Model 336 was a great rifle in its unmodified state. This rifle weighs less than eight pounds and is easy to maneuver. The trigger and lever were crisp and responsive, with little slack. We weren’t particularly fond of the big-loop lever — its large opening would be useful for someone wearing thick gloves, but in any other case, it slaps against the knuckles during the initial forward motion. The paracord wrapping is also uncomfortable. Reloading quickly is a skill that takes practice. However, anyone who has loaded shotguns will be familiar with the process.
The ghost ring rear sight and thin front blade work fine, but aren’t exactly precise, especially during rapid follow-up shots. Thankfully, we were able to use the XS Rail for a Trijicon RMR. This provided a clearer view. The included Picatinny low rail mount allows for a comfortable and secure cheek weld.
Marlin’s Dark Series package makes the tried-and-true Model 336 into a great choice for the modern lever gun enthusiast. But we felt this theme was still incomplete. Like a gearhead hot-rodding an old Model A Ford with disc brakes, fuel injection and aftermarket parts.
Optic: Trijicon RMR Type 2. Adjustable Low Mount. Europtic is available here.
Handguard: Midwest Industries M-LOK $160 GRITRsports is a great place to start.
Scales: RailScales (two) XOS and XOS -H, Honeycomb patterns.
4-Slot $216 railscales.us
Handstop: RailScales karve-P $26 railscales.us
Ammunition Carriers for Spares: HopticUSA Quivers (two left-handed)
on protoype 2×4 Mount, one left-handed) $175 hopticusa.com
Light: Use WMLx gen 2 on M-LOK Rails with 5-slots
Includes handguard $165 on Brownell’s.
Sling: Blue Force Gear Magpul Swivel QD Vickers Sling
DIY Rear Sling Strap $61 on Brownell’s.
Muzzle Device: 2A Armament 3 Compensator $65 2a-arms.com
Trigger: Ranger Point Precision 3.5-Pound $110 rangerpointstore.com
Lever: Ranger Point Precision Super Lightweight Medium
Two sets of Loop Levers and Lever Shims $174 rangerpointstore.com
Upgrades available: Ranger Point Precision Hammer Spur
Loading Spring Extension with Quick Takedown Screw
Aluminum Magazine Follower $127 rangerpointstore.com
Marlin Dark Series – The Build
Midwest Industries had the M-LOK aluminum handguard that we were looking for. The rifle is instantly given a contemporary look and can be used as a base for additional accessories. This handguard will not fit the Dark Series if your Model 336 has a barrel band.
The handguard has a front sling stud, which we have removed. In order to avoid using the standard fixed-sling for carrying the rifle on the shoulder, we decided to adjust the sling so that it could be worn across the chest, just like any modern carbine. A Blue Force Gear Vickers-padded sling with a QD mounted is attached on the side of the handleguard. It was then rigged onto the stock by using some nylon webbing, buckles and a scrap from a parts box. The setup works well and is secure, but in the future we will drill and tap the stock to create a recessed QD socket.
Above: After trying out a few different setups of lights, we found that the Inforce WMLx worked well for this build. The button on the 2A Armament X3 Compensator is easy to access, and the bezel is behind the ports.
We then selected some extra components for the MLOK rails. RailScales also provided Karve handstops and G10 panels that make it much easier to operate the rifle while using the support hand. The Marlin 336 Dark Series’ 5+1 capacity is one of its most substantial drawbacks, so this has been supplemented with six rounds of spare ammo on HopticUSA Quiver carriers — one on the left side, and two on the right. The right-side Quivers are mounted on a prototype of the company’s new 2×4 bracket, which angles the front two rounds outward for easier access. The extra ammo is fed directly into magazine by pulling it out, similar to a side-saddle carrier of a shotgun competition. To make the rifle usable in low-light environments and nighttime home-defense situations, we installed an Inforce WMLx 800-lumen light at the 10-o’clock position.
We also selected some mechanical upgrades. Recoil from the .30-30 cartridge isn’t as severe as you might expect in standard form, but we chose a 2A Armament compensator to make it even more manageable. Ranger Point Precision in Texas, which specializes on lever gun parts, provided a medium-loop lightweight lever to replace the big loop. Thin shims were used to ensure the lever has no side-to-side play in the receiver (they’re sold in packs of two, and our gun needed three, so buy some extras). RPP supplied a smoother Flyweight load gate, a durable aluminum magazine following, an extended hammer, as well as an improved trigger. The combination of these parts makes the gun easier to cycle, reload and shoot.
Since we didn’t have experience working on lever guns and knew that gun designs of this era often require some finesse, we took the Marlin 336 Dark Series and its parts to Wright Armory in Mesa, Arizona. They installed internal upgrades, a handguard, and a compensator. Their gunsmiths also ensured that everything was operating safely.
Brothers in Arms – 30-30 and 7.62×39
In addition to the unique pros and cons of lever guns against more modern alternatives, we also took a look at the ballistic potential of the .30-30 cartridge itself, with an eye toward performance against light barriers in an urban environment (think car bodies and Sheetrock) as well as soft targets — whether two- or four-legged. As it turns out, the “vintage” .30-30 Winchester displays a striking resemblance to the Soviet-era 7.62x39mm. Despite its septuagenarian age, the 7.62x39mm has gained worldwide fame for being barrier blind, brutally efficient within 200 yards and still influencing the balance in world power into the 21stcentury.
Both cartridges use a .30-inch bullet diameter, although 7.62x39mm slugs are generally lighter — typically 122-150 grain versus 150-170 grain for .30-30. We compared a 150 grain soft-point bullet in both calibers, using the Ballistic Calculator on GunData.org. At 100 yards, the .30-30 bullet has nearly identical velocity, energy, and trajectory to 7.62×39. At 200 yards the velocity is only 7 percent different and the impact point is just a fraction of an inch. Stretching out to 300 yards, the .30-30’s velocity is 14 percent lower and its trajectory drops 2.3 inches below the 7.62×39 round.
If you decide to integrate a .30-30 lever gun into your preparedness plan, feel confident that it will hold its own as a mid-weight, midrange round for game-getting and gun-fighting alike, even keeping ballistic parity with arguably the most battle-tested cartridge of the last 75 years.
Marlin Dark Series: Rounds Downrange
Before heading to the range, we picked up a few boxes from Hornady’s selection of .30-30 ammo options, including 150-grain American Whitetail, 160-grain LeveRevolution, and 170-grain Subsonic. The LeveRevolution cartridges impressed us the most, as they feature FTX Hollow Point Bullets with a polymer FlexTip which increases velocity and therefore expands more than a flat-tip bullet. This ammo was also more smooth in feeding, whereas flat-tip bullets sometimes nose-dived and jammed if the muzzle angle was downward. Subsonic ammo also performed well, however we bought it mainly to compliment our eventual plan to install a suppressor on this gun.
Modern two-point slings were an instant improvement at the range. Fixed slings make it difficult to unshoulder a rifle and get a sight picture quickly, and they’re certainly not suited to modern run-and-gun tactics. RailScales, handstops and other features make it easier to cycle the Marlin 336 Dark Series lever. Ranger Point Precision’s lever was able to eliminate the problems with the big loop we were experiencing and give the action a smoother feeling.
The original trigger was good, but RPP’s replacement is even lighter and more direct. It also eliminates the “flop” that’s present in the stock trigger when the hammer is cocked. Using the compensator with red-dot sights, it is now easy to fire multiple rounds quickly. Quivers, which are stacked in front the RPP loading gates, make reloading a breeze.
Some people may think that lever guns are outdated and should be kept in museums, but with some work, they can still find a place among modern weapons. While they can’t match the sustained rate of fire of semi-autos with detachable 30-round magazines, lever guns can be an excellent option for those who live in places where those guns aren’t readily available. And no matter where you’re from, they’re sure to put a grin on your face as you run through a course of fire like a cowboy-turned-high-speed-operator. Those 1890s frontiersmen might be confused at the sight of this futuristic concoction, but we’re sure it’d win them over if given the chance.
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- Q: Marlin 336 Dark – Is it still being produced?
A: Marlin will reintroduce the Model 336 in 2023.
- Q: Who is the Marlin 336 Dark?
A: The Marlin 336 dark is made by the Marlin Firearms company, now under the umbrella of Sturm, Ruger & Co.
- Q: What is Marlin dark and what does it do?
A: The Marlin Model Dark Series Carbine is a black matte finish lever action gun.
- Q: Is the barrel of Marlin Dark 336 threaded?
A: The muzzle has been threaded 5/8×24.
- Q: What is the Marlin Dark available in?
A: Model 336 Dark Series only comes in. 30-30, Marlin offers a Model 1895 Dark Series chambered in . 45-70.
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The Marlin Dark Series Review was first published on RECOIL.