Marlin 1895 Dark Series Review: Modernizing a Classic

by Vern Evans

As time moves on, things either evolve or they fall to the side. The gun world is littered with guns that were once the best thing ever. However, they are now simply a paragraph in a history book. There are some guns, however, that stand the test of time. One of those is the mighty lever gun, like the Marlin Dark Series 1895, chambered in .45-70.

The Marlin 1895 Dark Series

Once the king of the old west, the lever gun has continued to find its way into shooters’ hearts. Over the last couple of years, the interest in lever guns has exploded as these classic rifles have taken a “tactical” turn. Companies have vaulted the lever gun into the 21st century, and Marlin is at the forefront of that. Say hello to the Markin Dark Series.

Marlin first introduced the Dark series in 2019, but business issues forced the sale of Marlin. Following a short bouncing around period, Marlin once again found a home, this time with Ruger. In short order, the Dark Series was brought back to life. And the rifles are even better than they were in the first run.

The new 1895 comes with a 16.1-inch cold hammer forged barrel. At the end sits the Marlin radial muzzle brake that’s easily removed should you want to run the gun suppressed. Additionally, as with any modern rifle, shooters will want to mount an optic. So, Marlin answered that call and included a proprietary 23-slot, 11 1/4-inch rail.

Of course, iron sights are still desirable, and the rifle is set up nicely. At the rear of the action, there’s a fully adjustable ghost ring sight. Likewise, at the muzzle, there’s a fiber optic front sight with a tritium ring for enhanced visibility in low light. I found the front sight very easy to acquire and believe it is a solid choice on this rifle.

Shouldering the 1895

The butt stock is one of the most eye-catching points on the gun and is a departure from the classic wood we are accustomed to. While it maintains its traditional shape and lines, it is made from nylon-reinforced polymer. The center of the stock has three cut-out M-Lok slots allowing you to mount pretty much anything you would need.

Marlin has given this stock design some thought and included a cheek riser for shooting with a mounted optic. It attaches easily and allows you good alignment with the glass you mount.

In addition, the grip is a textured insert and provides a good purchase without being too aggressive. The butt stock is finished off with an effective rubber recoil pad. Keeping up with the “tactical” flavor, the gun includes steel studs to accept QD sling swivels.

The other eye-catching aspect of the gun is the black 13 5/8-inch anodized aluminum handguard with M-Lok slots along the bottom and sides. Inside the handguard sits a five-round magazine tube to hold the hefty .45-70 rounds.

As with all other Marlin guns we have seen in the modern age, it comes complete with a cross-bolt safety and the traditional half-cock hammer. Additionally, the bolt and lever are treated with a nitride finish for wear resistance. Likewise, the other major components are enhanced with a Graphite Black Cerakote finish for durability.

The Dark Series on the Range

I was excited to get it on the range and added just three items before we started. First was a Meprolight MOR PRO optic. Next was a flashlight with a pressure plate. And finally, a Blue Force Gear Vickers sling.

Ammo wise, I wanted to try three different rounds to test both accuracy performance as well as function. So, the flavors for the day were Federal Hammer Down 300gr, Hornady Lever Revolution 325gr FTX, and Buffalo Bore 300gr JHP.

The .45-70 round is very capable at a variety of ranges. However, I believe a 100-yard accuracy test would be best. The winner in performance that day was the Hornady 325gr FTX, with a group coming in at 1.35 inches at 100 yards.

That is fantastic accuracy for hunting. Now understand that this was off a sandbag, using magnified optics and a rear bag to minimize human error. While it is not a sniper rifle, it is drastically more accurate than most people would initially think.

Ringing Steel with the Dark Series 1895

The action was smooth, and I was able to run rounds at speed. Likewise, the lever was finished well and had no sharp edges, making it comfortable to run. I used steel targets at ranges running from 25 yards out to 100 yards for the testing. With the Meprolight optic, it was easy for me to switch back and forth between my near and far targets.

On steel, it sounds like a train hitting a wall. This is also why the round is popular in the hunting world. Its effectiveness is undeniable. While I chose a red dot style optic for this testing, I believe that there are really two options for glass on the gun.

If you are truly looking at it for a personal defense rifle, you might consider a simple red dot-style optic. This will provide you with a good field of view and allow you to shoot with both eyes open. However, if you choose the hunting angle, then magnified optics are a must in my opinion.

The rifle and round are capable of taking a variety of game, ranging from deer and elk all the way up to bear inside of the 200-yard range. For this section of testing, I shot exclusively off-hand. This is the “worst-case scenario,” as I would not have anything to stabilize the gun to maximize accuracy.

Softening the Blow of the .45-70 Round

The rubber but stock made running the beefy .45-70 easy and did not beat my shoulder up. Additionally, the Marlin Radial Muzzle Brake performed well. Even at only six pounds, I had very little muzzle rise with the gun.

The only thing I noticed was the heat from the barrel after I got a little sporty and ran a couple of tubes very quickly. Specifically, because the .45-70 round is frisky and runs about 2000 fps, which will heat up any barrel. This was a non-issue for me, however, as the chances of a shooter running ten rounds or more at high speed are minimal.

The trigger broke consistently at five pounds using my trigger gauge. I did notice a slight grab in the travel of the trigger. However, I do not feel that it is a major flaw.

While it has a tactical vibe to it, the Dark 1895 is not a modern battle rifle. What it is, in my opinion, is a dual-purpose rifle. At only 35 inches and coming in at six pounds, the rifle certainly has personal protection capabilities.

Fit and Finish of the 1895

The .45-70 round is without question a fight stopper, even though it is a little overpowered for inside-the-home use. Where the gun shines, however, is as a hunter. It is light, accurate, and easy to run.

The fit and finish on the gun are superb, and it would be an easy carry on a multitude of hunts. While I love my wood stock rifles, the weather and elements can take a toll on them. While some may argue that our rifles are tools and we should not care how they look, that’s just silly. We want our investments to maintain the same good looks they had when we first brought them home.

A polymer-style stock and aluminum handguard will not even blink in the backcountry when the weather turns bad, or you lean the rifle against a rock. The modern aspects of the gun will allow shooters to run modern high-performance optics as well as running it suppressed. It is truly the modernization of a classic rifle.

The Next Step for Marlin

“The Marlin Dark Series is the next step for Marlin,” said Ruger President and CEO Chris Killoy. “There is a growing demand for more modern lever rifles, and the previous Dark Series rifles introduced Marlin into this space. We took a hard look at them and made several significant improvements.”

Marlin has done a good job and made the old new again. The growing interest in lever guns is refreshing to an old gun nerd like me. A unique angle of this gun is its availability around the country. While the powers that be work to limit access to semi-automatic rifles, the lever guns are mostly left alone.

As I mentioned in the beginning, lever guns have been getting it done for almost 200 years, and they still work today. While some may roll their eyes at the “tactical” aspects of the rifle, its performance is undeniable.

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Marlin 1895 Dark Series Specs

Manufacturer Marlin
Action Type Lever Action
Caliber .45-70
Capacity 5+1
Finish: Graphite Black Cerakote/Nitride
Barrel Length 16.17 inches
Rifling 1:20 RH twist
Sights Ghost ring rear / Fiber Optic front
Trigger Pull Weight 5 pounds
Stock Nylon-reinforced polymer butt stock with anodized aluminum handguard
Overall Length 35.5 inches
Weight 6.0 pounds, 13 ounces (actual)
Included Accessories Cheek riser
MSRP $1,379.00

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