November 20, 2023
Can a classic be improved? Literature buffs and car enthusiasts will likely argue no; there is no such thing as a better Moby Dick or finer ’67 Corvette. A classic is appreciated for what it is, and any changes to its form or function detract from the original. That may be true for novels and hot rods. Hunters, however, can now point to at least one example where a new version of a classic firearm has, indeed, improved upon its predecessor. The Marlin Model 336 Classic, manufactured by Ruger, remains true to the lines of the legendary lever gun but includes refinements that increase both quality and performance.
Before we take a look at the 336 Classic’s features, it’s worth reflecting on how Marlin got here. Remington Arms acquired the brand in late 2007 and moved production of Marlin lever-action rifles from North Haven, Conn., to Remington’s factory in Illion, N.Y., a few years later. Remington drew modern blueprints for the 336 and invested in new machinery, and rifles came out of Illion in fits and starts. Just when it seemed like Marlin was on the right track, Remington declared bankruptcy—twice. The second time, it put Marlin up for sale, and Ruger bought the company and its assets in 2020.
Ruger moved the Marlin machinery to Mayodan, N.C., set up new lines for several Marlin lever guns (Model 1895 and 1894 rifles are also made there), and perhaps most importantly, revamped manufacturing processes for tighter tolerances, improved function and higher quality. In 2021, the 1895 was the first Ruger-made Marlin to roll off the new production lines, and judging from my experiences with the rifle, Ruger got it right. Marlin introduced the 336 Classic earlier this year, much to the delight of deer hunters who had been asking for a 336 ever since Ruger decided to carry the Marlin brand forward.
One glance at the 336 Classic reveals it was worth the wait. The fit and finish of the rifle I received for testing are superb. Much of the 336 Classic is made on modern machinery, but the rifle still exhibits the craftsmanship that gives wood-and-blued-steel lever guns a certain distinction that traditionalists appreciate. The American black walnut stock has a rich brown hue and satin finish that accentuates its grain, and while the checkering is cut by laser, it’s deep, precise and provides a slip-free purchase on the fore-end and grip.
Ruger made several changes and enhancements to the stock. First, the fore-end is slimmer than on previous 336 rifles, and its interface with the barrel band is improved. It looks and feels better. The grip cap displays the Marlin horse and rider logo in silver. This part is plastic, but it looks more like metal. The white inlay on the bottom of the buttstock—a Marlin hallmark—now has a red dot at its center in keeping with Ruger’s primary branding color. A thin, black plastic spacer separates the rubber buttpad from the stock, and the fit of these components is exact.
The 336’s receiver, lever and trigger-guard plate are CNC-machined from steel forgings. There are no sharp edges on any of these components, and the action cycles smoothly and comfortably. This is also a result of the polished bolt, as well as the time Ruger put into improving manufacturing processes to tighten tolerances of components, including those inside the rifle.
Measuring 20 1/4 inches long, the barrel is cold-hammer-forged with six rifling grooves, rather than having the MicroGroove rifling of previous 336 rifles. The muzzle is not threaded; the location of the front sight prevents this feature, which most deer hunters probably wouldn’t use on a lever gun like this anyway. Stopping about a half-inch short of the muzzle, the tubular magazine holds six rounds and is joined to the barrel by two bands. The rear band encircles the front of the fore-end and includes a sling swivel stud.
Sights are conventional: a folding semi-buckhorn rear and a ramped brass bead front protected by a hood. The rear sight is adjustable for elevation via a stepped elevator. Adjusting windage is a matter of drifting the rear sight base in its dovetail notch. The receiver is drilled and tapped for optics, and the screw pattern is the same as previous 336 rifles.
Traditionalists may never get over the cross-bolt safety at the rear of the receiver, but it’s been a feature of the 336 since the mid-’80s and remains on this version. Most Marlin fans, especially newer hunters and shooters, appreciate the extra measure of safety the design provides when lowering the hammer to the half-cock position while the chamber is loaded. A hammer spur extension comes with the rifle to make it easier to manipulate the hammer with a scope mounted.
Although the iron sights on the 336 Classic are entirely adequate for the quick, short-range shooting at which lever guns excel, the addition of a low-power variable riflescope helps extend practical range and, dare I say, may even make the rifle faster at close ranges. With this in mind, I mounted a Leupold VX-3HD 2.5-8x36 mm scope to the 336 for testing. This is a lightweight, compact scope, and it didn’t adversely affect the handling qualities of the rifle. The buttstock, however, is configured for iron-sight use, and some shooters may want to add a padded riser to get a solid cheekweld when using a scope.
At the range, the 336 Classic proved it is just as capable of producing accurate groups as its predecessors—if not more so. The overall average of 15, three-shot groups with three .30-30 Win. loads having bullets of three different weights was slightly less than 1 1/2 inches. The best load shot groups that were very close to an inch, and I can’t ask for more than that from any lever gun.
The 336 Classic cycled and fired all three loads without any hang-ups, and my range sessions included some rapid-fire work where the rifle neatly ejected all empty cases in a consistent arc. While the trigger had a bit of creep at the start of my testing, it seemed to get better after I had fired about 60 rounds. The trigger-pull weight was 5 pounds, 1 ounce.
Marlin once had a rough road, but thankfully, that’s now well behind us. Thanks to Ruger’s oversight, the 336 is arguably better than ever. Deer hunters will appreciate the improvements, and best of all, the rifle remains worthy of its classic designation.
Marlin 336 Classic Specifications
- Type: lever-action centerfire rifle
- Caliber: .30-30 Win.
- Barrel: 20 1/4"; cold-hammer-forged
- Trigger: single-stage; 5-lb., 1-oz. pull weight
- Safety: half-cock and cross-bolt
- Magazine: tubular; 6-round capacity
- Sights: folding semi-buckhorn rear, hooded brass bead front
- Stock: American black walnut
- Finish: matte blue
- Overall Length: 38 5/8”
- Weight: 7 1/2 lbs.
- Price: $1,239
Load: Hornady LEVERevolution MonoFlex
- Bullet Weight: 140 grs.
- Muzzle Velocity: 2,404 fps
- Average Group: 1.38”
Load: Nosler Ballistic Tip
- Bullet Weight: 150 grs.
- Muzzle Velocity: 2,111 fps
- Average Group: 1.12”
Load: Remington Core-Lokt
- Bullet Weight: 170 grs.
- Muzzle Velocity: 2,068 fps
- Average Group: 1.79”
Muzzle velocity is the average of 10 consecutive shots fired through a Caldwell G2 chronograph at 10 feet. Accuracy is the result of five consecutive, three-shot groups fired from a sandbag rest at 100 yards.