Sunday, 20 Oct 2019

[Slickguns Review] Marlin 1895 .45-70 Dark Series vs Originals

[Review] Marlin 1895 .45-70 Dark Series vs Originals

If you hear “lever Slickgun” and immediately have a black-and-white flashback to an old John Wayne movie, you’re not alone.

John Wayne and Lever-Action, American!

Levers are seen as the cowboy rifles of the Slickgun world by an awful lot of people and because that association translates to them believing levers are out-of-date it means people just aren’t shooting them.

Here’s the thing…you’re missing out.

Lever-actions have uses beyond their steady appearance in Rio Bravo (not that there’s anything wrong with the perpetual use of the big-loop lever John Wayne toted in multiple movies).


at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

var PPT_APS = PPT_APS || {};
PPT_APS[41789] = {
“id”: “41789”,
“title”: “Marlin Dark Series Lever-Action Rifles”,
“img”: “×262.jpg”,
“tag”: “”

To prove it, Marlin Firearms released tactical versions of their levers under the Dark Series. How do they run? Let’s find out.

Table of Contents


Lever Love

I can’t help it, I have to throw a little lever-action love out there first. As per usual when I wander off into the weeds of Slickgun history, feel free to skip this section. Of course, if you do you’re totally missing out.

The lever-action’s roots can be traced back to 1848. No, it wasn’t Winchester that first came up with the idea, it was a company called Volition Repeating Rifle.

Volition Repeating Rifle
Volition Repeating Rifle

They filed the first patent but in the end it bombed because they apparently made the design a lot more complex than it needed to be.

After that failure, another company, Robbins & Lawrence, purchased the patent and tried their hand at production – and failed. Finally, Smith and Wesson bought the patent off Robbins & Lawrence and teamed up with some other Slickgun world guys to create the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company.

But wait, there’s more.

The attempt to design and produce what they called the Volcanic Rifle was yet another failure in the history of the lever-action.

Super-duper rare New Haven Arms Volcanic Lever-Action Carbine, sold at RIA for $48,875

In the end, Smith and Wesson bailed – a successful bail, if you think about it – and it was Oliver Winchester left holding the bag. He immediately re-branded the company as the New Haven Arms Company and set to work correcting issues with the rifle.

That’s how we got the Henry rifle that so many people think was the first lever. It kind of was…but not really. It was just the first truly successful lever gat.

Henry .45-70 Lever Action
Modern Henry .45-70 Lever Action

Fast-forward to the 1890s and we have John Marlin developing the Model 1891 and Model 1893, designs that morphed into the Model 39 and Model 36.

About 60 years later the Model 36 became the Model 336. The Model 336 is included in the Dark Series; I have one chambered in .30-30 Win that is pretty awesome. 

Best Entry Level Lever-Action

at Cabelas

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

var PPT_APS = PPT_APS || {};
PPT_APS[31739] = {
“id”: “31739”,
“title”: “Marlin 336”,
“img”: “×233.png”,
“tag”: “Best Entry Level Lever-Action”

As for the Model 1895, it came to be in the year of its name as a larger-caliber progression over the Model 1893.

For some reason, the 1895 wasn’t a big seller when it first came out but in 1972 when Marlin re-introduced it, the rifle began selling at a brisker pace.

Marlin .45-70 with and without scope
The Marlin Firearms Dark Series Model 1895 in .45-70 Gov’t (left) and the Dark Series Model 1895 in .30-30 Win (right).

Today, with the launch of the Dark Series, Marlin is seeing some seriously solid sales to the point the Slickgun is on backorder. That’s good news for the lever world.

Model 1895

Some specifics about the 1895. One of the things that differentiate the Marlin levers from many others is that it ejects to the side rather than to the top.

That’s A Good Thing for shooters, especially if you want to drop a scope on your lever-action. In fact, this rifle ships with an XS Lever Rail topped by ghost rings so you can easily put an optic on it.

Marlin .45-70 close up with scope
Running Riton optics on the Dark Series Model 1895 in .30-30 Win tightened up groups even more but these are refreshingly accurate Slickguns even running irons.

The Dark Series 1895 has a 16.25-inch barrel and an overall length of 34.5-inches, making it a nice size for use as a brush Slickgun and easier to maneuver in a hunting blind (and in general).

It has a full-length tubular magazine with a five-round capacity – and if five rounds of .45-70 Gov’t isn’t enough to drop a sounder of hogs I don’t know what is – and an 11/16×24 threaded barrel.

Yes, the Dark Series 1895 is suppressor-ready. Be still my heart.

Marlin .45-70 thread protector
Marlin was smart enough to thread the barrels of their Dark Series levers. Suppressor, here I come.

Because it’s the aptly-named Dark Series this 1895 is fully blacked-out. The wood stock is painted with black webbing, the metal has a parkerized finish, and the paracord used for the lever and sling is black, too.

This is exactly the kind of Slickgun that warms my cold heart. 

A big loop lever makes the Slickgun easier to run overall but is also helpful if you’re wearing gloves. The lever is also wrapped in black paracord which is a nice for-comfort feature.

Marlin .45-70 grip and wrap
Pre-paracorded lever? Don’t mind if I do.

It has an empty weight of 7.65 pounds so it’s easy enough to tote through the woods.

Oh, and it’s chambered in .45-to Gov’t because you shouldn’t mess with a classic and big booms rock.


at Lucky Gunner

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

var PPT_APS = PPT_APS || {};
PPT_APS[41794] = {
“id”: “41794”,
“title”: “Hornady LEVERevoution .45-70”,
“img”: “×295.jpg”,
“tag”: “”

Range Time

At the range I ran a few different brands of ammo through the Dark Series 1895.

The Remington Core-Lokt .45-70 Gov’t 405 grain SP and Barnes VOR-TX .45-70 Gov’t 300 grain TSX FN was a given because this is, after all, a Marlin.

Hornady LEVERevolution .45-70 Gov’t 325 grain FTX are another must-have for levers and are, in fact, seriously badass rounds for hunting.

My first observation from the Dark Series 1895 was something I already knew better than doing: if you run 100 rounds of 45-70 Gov’t through a lever without stopping, your shoulder is going to have a bad time.

It was worth it, but I felt it.

The Remington and Barnes ammo produced what I’d label negligible recoil considering the caliber. It was there but it wasn’t massive. Using the included irons and shooting from the bench the rifle nailed five-shot groups under 1.5-inches at 25 yards and hovered around 3.1-inches at 50 yards.

Marlin .45-70 and Remington Ammo
Using Remington Core-Lokts and iron sights the Marlin Dark Series 1895 nailed some wickedly precise groups.

I got carried away and added five more shots to a group at 25 yards and maintained the same lovely one-hole group. Considering the state of my vision and my expectations when I started, you could say I was pleased.

That Hornady LEVERevolution, though…you feel that one in your bones. It also has an edge for precision, so it’s a load you should seriously consider for hunting.

Hornady Lever Revolution .45-70 vs 5.56
Hornady Lever Revolution .45-70 vs 5.56

Doing the same irons-and-bench-shooting routine, five-shot groups with Hornady ammo were around 1.2-inches at 25 yards and I had a best five-shot group of 2.7-inches at 50 yards.

The rifle far outdid what I anticipated. With an optic, groups are even smaller. The fact that the rifle consistently produced tight groups with irons made my day.

A brief commentary on the performance of various features. The trigger on the Marlin Dark Series 1895 has an abbreviated, even pull with a crisp, clean break. Reset is quite short.

Marlin .45-70
The Marlin Firearms Dark Series Model 1895 chambered in .45-70 Gov’t.

The lever is a bit stiff and requires more force than I’d like but based on comparing it to my older Model 1895 I’m guessing it will smooth out with use. Until the lever smooths out, rapid-fire is more challenging to manage but not entirely impossible. 

So far, so good. The Dark Series 1895 has eaten everything I’ve fed it, created stellar groups on paper, and been awesome to shoot. Length of pull is a little shorter than I’d like but not short enough to cause trouble.

The rubber pad on the stock does help mitigate felt recoil to your shoulder somewhat but mostly you’ll notice felt recoil changes significantly depending on the ammunition you use. 

Flashback to the Originals

It’s worth mentioning this isn’t my only 1895; I have three.

Each rifle I have is from a different generation of the 1895 design and I admit the oldest Slickgun is my favorite. That’s partly due to long use smoothing out the lever and the fact that I do actually enjoy the golden appearance of unpainted wood stocks.

From past experience, I know the Marlin 1895 is a solid Slickgun for everything from deer to gators to hogs (yes, gators).


Here’s the thing. The Dark Series 1895 really does seem to have an edge for accuracy. It’s definitely more precise, which is interesting. When comparing them side by side you can see different screws were used in the receiver of the Dark than in the older 1895s.

The rail and ghost ring sights on the Dark are another obvious improvement over the older design. And although the lever itself is stiffer on the dark the bolt runs more smoothly than the older 1895 bolts. 

Marlin .45-70 bolt
The bolt of the Dark Series Model 1895 has a parkerized finish.

The Winner

There isn’t exactly a clear winner among the various Model 1895s. If you an edge in precision, get the Dark Series 1895. The fact that it’s blacked out is a major plus, too (just saying).

But if you want to go the more traditional route with light-colored wood and irons, go for an older Model 1895. I haven’t had any failures with any of my Model 1895s.

Not saying it cannot happen, because it can, just that it’s gone quite well for years.

Marlin .45-70 angled
A little side-by-side look at an older Marlin Model 1895 in .45-70 Gov’t and the new Dark Series version.

Aside from aesthetics and a precision bump there are other reasons to consider the Dark Series 1895 over the other versions.

The biggest reason is the rail because it means you can mount a scope to the rifle without messing with aftermarket rails.

I don’t know about you, but that’s an extremely big pro for me. Although I was able to shoot the Dark Series 1895 well with irons it’s even better with a scope and if you’re using it for hunting you might really want the boost of a good optic.

And if you really love irons, even the ghost ring sights are better than the aperture sights found on the older models.

Marlin .45-70 Peep Vs Leaf
The change to XS ghost rings atop the Dark Series’ XS Lever Rail is a great improvement over the older-Model 1895 irons.

Then there’s the cushion the paracord-wrapped lever provides and the bonus of an included paracord sling. 

Sure, you could paracord All the Things yourself but it’s nice when it’s done for you and matches the finish so well. It’s a complete package and it runs well out of the box. I call that a win.

By the Numbers

Reliability: 5/5

There have been no issues, yet, with any of my 1895s. I will say you need to know how to work the lever fully because if you do not cycle it properly you’ll cause a failure. Make sure you open and close it entirely.

Ergonomics: 4/5

This rifle has decent overall ergonomics. Minus one point for the shorter length of pull but honestly, is there such a thing as the perfect length fixed-stock rifle? No. No there is not. The rubber pad on the stock functions nicely to reduce felt recoil and the Slickgun fits my hands well. 

Accuracy: 5/5

I almost can’t believe I’m giving a lever Slickgun a 5/5 for accuracy but here we are. The Dark Series 1895 is an accurate Slickgun – dare I say, precise – and out-performs a lot of other levers currently on the market. You won’t be disappointed. 

Customization: 3/5

The things I’d normally do as aftermarket additions to a lever – a sling, rail, and wrapping the lever – are already done. You could change up the color, but why would you?

side by side Marlin .45-70

Same goes for the trigger. It’s good to go. So although you could customize this Slickgun if you set your mind to it I’m not really seeing reasons to mess with it.

Value: 4/5

With an MSRP of $949 you’re going to find the Dark Series 1895 at dealers for sub-$849, maybe even less as time goes on. It isn’t a smoking deal but it is a reasonable value for the Slickgun. 


at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

var PPT_APS = PPT_APS || {};
PPT_APS[41789] = {
“id”: “41789”,
“title”: “Marlin Dark Series Lever-Action Rifles”,
“img”: “×262.jpg”,
“tag”: “”

Overall: 5/5

Parting Shots

What can I say, it’s a rocking rifle. I do want to see it withstand the test of time and hard use but it’s off to a good start. Then there’s that iron-sights-assisted precision.

Marlin .45-70 angled

And it’s black. All black. The Marlin Dark Series 1895 in .45-70 Gov’t is a nice gateway lever for firearms lovers who haven’t tried lever-actions yet and also makes a nice addition to existing collections.

I recommend this one for both hunters and guys who just want to go plinking with a good lever Slickgun. Just be prepared. This is not your AR-15’s felt recoil.

What is your favorite classic rifle? Do you like lever-actions or bolt-actions better for deer season? Let us know in the comments! If you want to really scratch that cowboy itch, take a look at the Cimarron-Pietta 1873!

Cowboy Slickguns (8)

The post [Slickguns Review] Marlin 1895 .45-70 Dark Series vs Originals appeared first on Pew Pew Tactical.

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