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The 10 Best Hunting Rifles: The Marlin Lever-Action Big Bore

This weapon is perhaps more ingrained in the Western United State’s history than any other rifle, and it is seen as the quintessential frontier gun.  Its action is still impressive, and its usage is an excellent model of versatility and efficiency. However, it’s more than its rich history that gets it the nod for one of the ten best hunting rifles.

The Rifle: Marlin Lever-Action Big Bore

The Caliber: .45-70 Govt.

The Animal: Brown Bear, Wild Hog

The Rifle: Marlin 1895 GBL

The Marlin 1895 GBL is a fast and proven rifle in a caliber fitting for a close proximity wooded area hunt that might include bears. It’s every bit as much a defensive weapon as it is a hunting rifle in larger game areas, and typically it does incredibly well where there is dense and heavy foliage or forest.  This particular rifle is a blued version with a laminated wood stock, an 18.5-inch barrel, and a 6-shot tube magazine.  It has an enlarged finger lever, side ejection, and pretty substantial sights. It has an overall length of 37 inches and a weight of about 7 pounds without ammunition. It’s short, fast to action, and is chambered in a round that is lethal at between 100 and 250 yards on all but the biggest game.

There are faster guns and certainly more accurate ones, but a lever-action seems to have some sort of unspoken bond with the man holding it in the field.  It seems to move at just the right speed, have just the right feel and swing, and always have enough in reserve to keep you out of trouble.  It’s no AR-15, and it’s certainly not as accurate as a high-end bolt gun, but it has a certain something about it that makes it capable and comforting to carry on a hunt, even if it isn’t your primary gun.

This model has a beautiful laminated stock, which keeps it weatherproof while still looking pretty good and allows for some added total durability. (The gun is available in a more weatherproof metal finish via the 1895 SBL.) A classic feel, look, and performance keeps you feeling like you are still part of the hunt, plus this rifle is as adept as any for using iron sights and killing larger game at less than 150 yards. The recoil pad comes standard, and the larger loop lever is an aid in colder environments where gloved hands are usually actuating it.  It has a finished look few mainstream rifles have, and it certainly provides a straight-out-of-the box gun that is capable of just about anything.

The Caliber: .45-70 Govt.

It seems to be overkill for smaller and medium sized game, but there is certainly more versatility than the cartridge is usually given credit for.  The relatively low velocity tends to be a bit more forgiving on game-meat animals than its faster-moving, smaller-diameter counterparts.  While it perhaps isn’t reasonable to take a 105-pound doe with it, it can make sense for 150-pound hogs or 200 to 400-pound larger game animals like elk, moose and caribou.

The key to this cartridge is being familiar with it.  Admittedly, with the recent rise in ammunition costs, this gun is more expensive to shoot than the .308 Winchester. You could arguably get the same result kill-wise with that cartridge, but the immediate benefit of the sheer size and usability of this cartridge provides a decent reason to consider it for dangerous and heavily wooded hunting country.

Again, this gun and cartridge isn’t for everyone, and it is certainly not cheap (although neither are those magnums), but it has a good place in its niche area and probably won’t be unseated any time soon.  The cartridge has been hampered by its slow-rolling performance in the face of faster projectiles with smaller bullet diameters, but nearly seventy-five years after “experts” called it an obsolete cartridge, this round has made a full revival, and its comeback is nothing short of spectacular.  There are so many loads available that a careful hunter could conceivably use this one gun and cartridge as his (or her) sole rifle and feel relatively comfortable with it.  You won’t have to change upper receivers (no offense to the AR rifles) and spend for add-ons (other than perhaps a scope and a sling), but you could still conceivably use it to take animals from larger deer to cape buffalo—even an elephant if you knew what you were doing.

Interestingly, while many will tout the benefits of capacity, yet still hunt with a bolt gun holding three to four rounds, this weapon and cartridge combine for a seven-round magazine. (And really, when was the last time you used all ten, twenty, or thirty-plus rounds in your AR magazine while hunting? When, for that matter, were you comfortable carrying a .308 with four or five rounds in it in bear country without a massive sidearm to make up the difference?) Enter the .45-70; problem solved.

Most of the factory loads stay around 1600-1800 FPS for the 300-350 grain rounds, and while it’s possible to buy factory loads pushing 2400 FPS, it’s essentially a matter of how you want to use the round in the field.

A standard load from factory might have to be zeroed at around six additional inches above for 200 yards than it will be for 100 yards; such is the bullet drop common with such a heavy, large-diameter bullet.  But most shooters will recognize performance almost identical in the terminal ballistics category at 300 grains and 1700 FPS at 100-200 yards to a “normal deer cartridge.”  The .45-70 tends to be pretty flexible in its terminal ballistics performance, and the round is versatile across the range of game it can take down.

It doesn’t shoot flat, and it isn’t cheap; it kicks like a mule, and it can exceed weights of 500 grains in factory loads, but somehow, this ammunition makes a case for itself on pretty much any medium-to-large game it comes in contact with.  There is something to be said in the defense of expensive, heavy, and bulky cartridges when they don’t require much money to add such versatility. Sure, you pay a bit more for the ammunition, but don’t you save in going without the unnecessary add-ons and the lack of additional rifles needed to take out a wider range of animals?

The Animals

Brown Bear

What does it take to bag a brown bear? You could say we already wrote an article about brown bears with the .375 H and H article, as we talked about the grizzly, North America’s version of the brown bear.  Many of the best pieces of information about the “brown bear” can be seen there, so in fairness let’s talk a little about the wild hog to give some new information on an animal that absolutely makes sense for this cartridge and gun.

North American Wild Hog

An average weight of between about 100 pounds and 200 pounds puts these animals in the medium category, but these animals tend to be much more aggressive than their average weight suggests. A relatively small kill zone of seven to eleven inches (on a smaller framed hog) from behind the ears to just behind the front legs and above them makes this animal relatively difficult to kill. A larger caliber with slower-moving heavy bullets makes good sense for this animal, and the .45-70 fits in well.

Game trail cameras can be helpful in finding these wild hogs, which tend to be relatively elusive.

The tracking and natural signs of hogs include analysis of the rooting and troughs as well as looking for wallowing holes (big mud pits with pig-shaped indentations in them). Baiting is also an increasingly popular tactic in pig hunting. Using diesel fuel soaked corn keeps other animals away from the bait and keeps the hogs interested, though it’s best to avoid long term exposure to these baits when you plan on eating the meat harvested.

Every state in the U.S. and vast portions of Mexico and Canada are home to the wild hog, and many states or regions have loose laws with regards to hunting them; in some states it is always open season with no limit.

Hog meat isn’t bad by any means, even above certain weight or size, though it isn’t as good as you will find with other game meats and especially with commercial hogs, due to the toughness and leaner meat composition.  Generally speaking for hogs under 225 pounds, if cooked correctly, the meat will be a tasty, a slightly gamier pork taste with many of the same qualities of commercial pork, with less fat content.

This rifle and cartridge combination takes some getting used to, and the “honeymoon phase” can be a wallet-straining and tedious exercise. Once you know how to use the weapon however, it’s a foregone conclusion that anything bigger than a small buck can be taken in North America with it, depending on how well you tailor the cartridge to the game.  And for that matter, many animals in Eurasia and Africa don’t really stand a chance against it, provided that you do your homework and know how to hit the target.  What other gun besides the AR-15 chassis can give this kind of versatility in a single rifle?

©2012 Off the Grid News

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14 comments

  1. I shot a savage model 99 lever action in 45-70 at 100 yard targets. It does have a thump to it. You will not shoot a lot of shots as it will bruise your shoulder. It can kill anything on the north american continent, as will a 30-06 cartridge with good placement. I personally would grab the 30-06 as my all around rifle, but without options the 45-70 is an impressive round. jmh

  2. One advantage of the .45-70 not mentioned in the article is that it is a good candidate for cast bullets, which makes reloading much less expensive. Also, the heavy, slow-moving bullets are less likely to be deflected when hunting in brushy/woody areas.

  3. Nothing takes out dangerous game (bears and hogs) better than the judicious application of artillery, which the .45-70 is.

  4. The Pilsner Prophet

    I have a Marlin lever action. I love it. When I first got it back in the late ’80’s or early ’90’s, it was very prone to jamming. I found a good gunsmith who said “I know what it is,” before I even finished explaining the problem. He fixed it for less than $10. It never happened again, and I’ve shot it a LOT.Apparently it’s a common problem,or at least used to be, but easily and cheaply fixed. What I’m saying is if you buy one of these, put it thru the wringer before you depend on a fast, reliable follow-up shot. Especially if your life could depend on it!

  5. Thanks for the testing and article Ben. I’ve looked at the 45/70 for years, but have never had one. Sounds like it would make a good stopping rifle. Party on…

  6. I contend this article did not contain the whole truth of the 45-70. The 45-70 can shoot .410 shotgun rounds in single shot mode, which gives is a little more versatility for the mere gun own to work with. However, most of the time owner does not need the heavy handed approach of the 45-70 behemoth. In this case i would point them to the marlin .444, which can fire the .444 (similar to the 45-70 and can kill anything alive in north America) .44 magnum (remember Elmer Keith shot and killed a deer at 600 yards with his 44 magnum revolver) and the .44 special (which is similar to the 45 acp.) However, if a rifle was properly built, and used 410 shotgun shell brass, it would have the power of a 45-70, capable range of 200 yards, and the versatility of a 410 shotgun. I am tired of these gun manufactures stamping out the same junk sheet metal and calling it new and improved. at least Taurus and SRM (1216 shotgun) have thought out of the box. There are more useful and versatile weapons than the STUPID 45-70. I just named two weapons that are superior over the old maiden, that has outlived her years, the 45-70. For a third alternative, that does not exist, give me a rifle that shoots the .460 Smith and Wesson. That way a fellow citizens can shoot: 460 Smith and Wesson, 454 Casull, 45 Long Colt, and 410 shotun. Maybe if they do the work right, you can shoot 45 acp.

    • The Pilsner Prophet

      Shooting shot thru a rifled barrel spreads the pattern extremely wide. This is because the spin imparted to the load causes centrifugal force, making the load travel at various angles to the bore line upon exiting the muzzle. Something to think about if you are considering using .410 in this or any other rifled barrel. This is one of the drawbacks to the Taurus Judge, in my opinion.

    • Doesn’t the .444 Marlin have rather large ballistics as well?And why do you want a rifle in .460? Wouldn’t the ballistics be less rather than more than a 45/70? Having shot several rounds in the over .40 crowd I cannot say that the .444 is better. With the leverevolution the 45/70 demonstrates a practical shooting range and the weight of the bullet itself creates a signficant amount of momentum. Would a .444 hit harder or less?

    • The reason the 45-70 has been around is the very versatility of the round. While it is old it is not “an old maiden.” The one I shoot will outshoot anyone with a big pistol like a .500 Smith. What is the purpose of a large pistol? To shoot. And so it is with the 45-70. Calling an inanimate object stupid denotes a belief that some amount of intelligence exists where it doesn’t. People who like big caliber rifles have a proven track record to rely upon. People calling inanimate objects stupid do not.

  7. An excellent point. I have never personally used this rifle for .410 shotshells, but that interchange is certainly historically available to a user of the .45-70. I would definitely say this however: even though .45-70 isn’t cheap, it is relatively inexpensive compared to more-wildcat type cartridges. I am a fan of some of the cartridges listed, but from a historical perspective this cartridge has more experience, and from a modern perspective, this round offers substantially similar ballistics, for a good price point, and understandable characteristics, though is not the best at any specific job, when adding cartridges such as you listed, to the mix. Good points however, thanks!

  8. the old prosprctor

    the AK47 round 7.62×39 can not kiss the boot of the 308 or 7.62×51. to make the 7.62×39 a good round you need to move up from AK47 some thing the mimi 30 by ruger, than that moves it up to the good old 30/30.

  9. the old prosprctor

    PS, to my comment about moving the 7.62×39 round up the old 30/30 note the leverevolution ammo put new life in to the old 30/30.

  10. The artical at hand was a good read.I own a marlin 1895G ,I do most of my hunting in the heavy thick swamps of centrial FL.I got this rifle when it was first introduced in this short version. It’s just my opinion but it has been the best rifle I have used in the swamps here. I have had a lot of kills using it, most shots where I hunt are under 50 yards but have killed one Hog at over 70yrds threading the needel through the thick folage,what I like most is it does’nt deflect with small branches ect in the way and finds its mark. another thing good placed shots want destroy meat. i have destroyed more with my 3006 than i have with 45/70. It shoots better than I thought it would, with remington 300 gr FNHP 3″ groups at 100 yrds,I’m well pleased with it. tried new leverrevelution this year killed a hog, it to worked well,would like to try at range see what I could do with it.,I think the 1895G in 45/70 is a great rifle for hunting here in florida where I do,i have a few other choices in other cal but It always seams this is the one i have in my hands when I get to the woods. by the way this one is ported, it is more of a push than a kick,great gun to reload your own rounds for as well,. p.s. I have never tried shooting a 410 shell in mine, My brother that lives in alaska also has this same model ,it is what he carries with him in his float plane Thanks for info it always helps,

  11. Just ordered one of these bad boys for defense while camping in the wilds of Canada. My former bush gun was a vz58 (which I still love) but even though it is lighter than the Marlin GBL it doesn’t feel like it is. The vz is compact and densely weighted and carries like a cinderblock. The weight of the Marlin is distributed well and is far more comfortable to carry, access, shoulder, etc. After using a friends GBL for a week in the rockies I would’ve sworn it was 3 pounds lighter than my VZ with the folding stock. Until that experience I was a certified “tacticool” gun lover. I’ve been converted…at least where the GBL is concerned.

    As the author stated so well, there really something inexplicably pleasing about holding and using a gun like this. Such a simple, clean, time-tested design. I have a bit of a bear phobia and I felt peace of mind having it strapped to my back. The big can of bear spray on my hip didn’t hurt either :)

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