Marlin 336 Dark lever-action rifle review, lead
Photo by Jordan Bell
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Before getting to the Marlin 336 Dark, let’s take a look at the original. The Model 336 lever-action rifle is one of the most popular long guns from Marlin Firearms. Though it was introduced in 1948, its predecessors date back to the late 19th century. L.L. Hepburn, an employee of John Marlin, had developed and patented a side-ejecting, lever-action rifle in 1889. Then Hepburn developed a new bolt locking system and two-piece firing pin that was patented on August 1, 1893, and incorporated into a new lever gun that could handle longer, more powerful cartridges than the pistol-caliber Model 1889. Designated the Model 1893 and retaining the side-ejection feature, it was initially chambered for the .32-40 and .38-55 smokeless-powder cartridges.

In 1906, the Model 1893 was renamed the Model 93. A similar business decision in 1936 led to it being renamed the Model 1936 once more, but a few modifications were made to the stock, forend and sights to improve sales. The name didn’t stick, however. A year later, the rifle became known as the Model 36, eventually leading to the 336. There were versions for just about any need or taste, and the

Marlin Model 336 joined the Winchester Model 1894 to become a quintessential lever-action “deer rifle” for several generations of hunters.

Marlin 336 Dark Details

As of this writing, Marlin Firearms offers 11 variations of the Model 336. Most of them differ mainly in their stock, barrel, magazine tube and finish configurations. The 21st century Model 336 is only available in two calibers as well: The ever-popular .30-30 Winchester and the .35 Remington. Both hunting rounds have withstood the test of time and are more than enough medicine for medium-sized game. One advantage the Model 336 and its ancestors have long held over other lever-gun designs is the solid receiver top, which allowed users to mount iron peep sights and, later on, optics. Top-ejecting designs made these options a bit more difficult.

Nowadays, some shooters might scoff and say that lever-action rifles are obsolete when compared to fast-firing, higher-capacity modern sporting rifles (MSRs) or bolt-action rifles. But there are those of us who still love our Westerns and history. In early 2019, Marlin Firearms decided to split the difference by offering an updated Model 336 with its new Dark Series model. Marlin completely blacked it out from muzzle to buttstock. The steel barrel, receiver and other parts sport a matte black Parkerized finish. Meanwhile, Marlin painted the hardwood pistol-grip buttstock and forend black with a webbed texturing. With its short 16.25-inch barrel, this rifle might have been called a “Trapper” in times past, and it definitely qualifies as a carbine or brush gun today. But let’s look at more of its features.

Going Dark

The muzzle sports 5/8×42-tpi threading for a suppressor, and Marlin includes a knurled thread protector. The forward-sloping front sight blade has a vertical white bar for fast targeting, and the ghost-ring rear sight is an integral part of the XS Lever Rail mounted on top of the barrel and receiver for optics. The rear sight is fully adjustable as well.

Just below the barrel is the tubular magazine, which holds five .30-30 Winchester cartridges and features an orange follower. The steel forend cap hosts a sling swivel. Marlin also includes an adjustable black paracord sling for easy carry in the field.

The receiver has a generous ejection port just above the loading gate. Marlin has also decided to use Torx screws where you would previously find slotted screws. A crossbolt safety blocks the hammer from striking the firing pin. The hammer spur is serrated, and the optional spur extension (which I installed) is knurled and serrated. The smooth-faced trigger on my test sample was crisp with an average pull weight of 4.6 pounds.

Reminiscent of John Wayne’s lever guns, the Marlin Model 336 Dark Series also has an oversized loop lever that is wrapped in black paracord. The somewhat short buttstock has a 13-inch length of pull for fast shouldering, and it’s fitted with a black rubber recoil pad.

Range Prep

As you can see, this solid brush gun has a lot of built-in features and tips the scales at 7.76 pounds unloaded with an overall length of just 34.5 inches. When I gave my test sample a once-over, I couldn’t find anything to criticize in terms of how the metal and wood fit together. The finish was even and well executed as well.

For easier targeting on the range, I installed a Sightmark Ultra Shot Pro Spec Sight NV QD. This is a cost-effective reflex sight with an aluminum body and a metal protective shield. It has a wide field of view, and you can choose between four different reticle patterns. Each reticle is adjustable to three different daylight brightness settings, as well as two night-vision settings. The Sightmark runs on a single 3-volt CR1632 battery, and the built-in Interlok system helps the sight hold its zero extremely well, even after you remove and replace the sight using the QD claw mount. Finally, the Ultra Shot Pro has a matte black finish to match the Dark Series carbine, and it weighs only 9 ounces. What’s not to like?

In terms of ammunition, I procured four different .30-30 Winchester loads to test the Model 336 Dark Series, including Barnes’ 150-grain VOR-TX rounds, which use solid-copper TSX hollow-point bullets, and Federal’s 150-grain Fusion JSP ammunition. I also obtained Remington’s well-known 150-grain Whitetail Pro Core-Lokt and 150-grain High Terminal Performance (HTP) Copper loads.

Complete Testing

Heavy rains made it difficult to test the new Marlin. It took three separate range sessions to finish the shooting evaluation, and I was getting down to the wire. During the second session, the clouds were getting darker as I hurriedly set up my Oehler Model 35P chronograph to measure the velocities of the test .30-30 ammunition. With that chore out of the way, I was about to take paper targets downrange when the deluge opened up and the shoot was over. So, I had to return once again. You can see the results in the performance table below.

The third shooting session took place between showers. I wanted to see what kind of accuracy potential the Model 336 Dark Series had with the Sightmark installed. Given this carbine’s short barrel and brush-gun nature, I felt 50 yards would be a realistic distance. This little rifle also has defensive applications for the home and field, so, again, 50 yards seemed to make sense. I shot each of the four .30-30 test cartridges from the bench using a sandbag rest and produced three 5-shot groups. I had one 4-shot cluster that measured 0.71 inches with the Remington Core-Lokt load, but a flyer opened it up to 2.46 inches. The best official group came with the Remington HTP load, measuring just 2.21 inches. I’m sure this rifle is capable of better accuracy, but I was shooting, cycling the lever and shooting again, trying to beat the precipitation.

Practical Shooting Test

For a practical shooting drill, I actually went out into the brush that surrounds the outdoor range I often use. I set the target stand at 30 yards and used 12 random rounds for a “10/20/30” exercise with a Birchwood Casey ISPC silhouette with a blue scoring area and an orange center. At 10 yards, I shot the rifle four times off-hand while standing. As I moved back to 20 yards, dodging vegetation, I shoved more ammunition from my jacket pocket in through the loading gate and again engaged the target. Then I backed off 10 more yards and, using the cover of a large tree, reloaded the Marlin and fired my last four shots.

I scored 110 points out of a possible 120, with some of my shots going low into the 8 and 9 rings. I found that wrapping the paracord sling around my support arm made for steadier shooting, and the paracord-wrapped lever loop was easy on the knuckles. One point I’d note is that getting the last round in through the loading gate requires a good push downward and forward. It’s better to shoot, move and load as you go. This works well and keeps you from ever wielding an empty weapon.

Iron Sight Testing

I wanted to see how the Model 336 Dark Series would shoot using the supplied iron sights. So I removed the Sightmark optic and set up a new Birchwood Casey silhouette at 25 yards. Again, I used 12 rounds of mixed ammunition but shot off a sandbag rest. Only two shots landed outside the orange oval-shaped 10 ring, and the entire group could easily be covered with the palm of my hand.

I was curious to see how these sights would do at the 50-yard mark, but raindrops were just starting to fall on my head. I quickly loaded the Marlin with six .30-30 rounds and just levered and pulled the trigger as fast as I could. Some of the shooting was with the gun leveled correctly, but sometimes I had the gun tilted at various angles. Nevertheless, there were no malfunctions. The action worked smoothly, and all of the ammo fed and fired properly.

At the end of the day, as the smoke cleared and the rain fell once again, I came away impressed. If you need a handy carbine that shoots a pretty powerful cartridge in a modern but Old-West-style package, the Marlin Model 336 Dark Series could be just the ticket. Make sure you check it out. For more information, visit marlinfirearms.com.

Marlin 336 Dark Specs

  • Caliber: .30-30 Winchester
  • Barrel: 16.25 inches
  • Overall Length: 34.5 inches 
  • Weight: 7.65 pounds (empty)
  • Stock: Hardwood
  • Action: Lever
  • Sights: Ramp front, ghost-ring rear
  • Finish: Black
  • Capacity: 5+1
  • MSRP: $949

Marlin 336 Dark Performance

LoadVelocityAccuracy
Barnes 150 VOR-TX2,2382.23
Federal 150 Fusion2,3352.49
Remington 150 Core-Lokt2,2642.46
Remington 150 HTP Copper2,2912.21

Bullet weight measured in grains, velocity in fps by chronograph and accuracy in inches for best five-shot groups at 50 yards.

Marlin 336 Dark FAQ

Is the new Marlin 336 any good?

We see this question a lot. Yes, it’s very good. Modernizing a classic doesn’t always work, but it does with the Marlin 336 Dark.

What is a Marlin 336 worth?

In case you missed it, Marlin set the price of the new 336 Dark at $949.

What is the maximum effective range of a 30/30 rifle?

We tested the Marlin 336 Dark between 30 and 50 yards, but it could effectively extend to around 200 yards.

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