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While It Was Out
Marlin 1894CL .32-20 Make-Over
I first saw it at the NRA Show in Reno in the 1980's .... a beautiful leveraction Marlin in that magic caliber - .32 WCF. Marlin was making news by offering their 1894 in two classic calibers, the 32-20 and the .25-20. They featured a "button" or "half" magazine that held 6 rounds. What was cool back then was, they both had cut rifling instead of Marlin's famous Micro-Groove barrel. Obviously someone at Marlin was listening to cast bullet shooters! Right away I wanted one.
It was not too many months after I first saw it that I had one shipped to me. I had started writing for Gun Week on a more-or-less regular basis by then, and needed material. Plus.. I wanted to shoot one of these! Marlin Firearms Co. sent it out along with an invoice in case I wanted to keep it. Did I? You bet! I got the checkbook out and the rest is history.
I carried that levergun all over the mountains around my home for the next few years. Most of the time it was in a saddle scabbard tied on my horse. The .32-20 accounted for feral dogs, cats, coyotes, foxes, a few Javelina and one deer in the course of it's journeys. ( No, I don't recommend the .32-20 as a deer cartridge. With the right handloads and if you get in close enough and place the shot just right, it will work. That does not make it a deer cartridge.)
Over the years I experimented with the .32 WCF and ran everything from Silent Loads to Maxi-Loads through the gun. By the time I moved to Missouri it had been used a lot and showed signs of it. The bluing was worn and bare, the stock was banged and scratched, but the old gun worked just fine. I used it in various Cowboy Action matches either with full loads of black powder and the original 120 gr. Lyman bullet (#3118) or else the equivalent load using smokeless powder. The big drawback was that button magazine. Holding only 6 rounds, it seriously handicapped you on a 10 or 12-round stage!
After talking about getting the gun rebuilt/modified for more than a year I finally gave it to Regan Nonneman (Nonneman Custom Rifles www.leveractions.com ) and asked him to "work it over". I wanted a full-length magazine tube, new sights, and the fat Marlin wood slimmed to make it look like the old Marlin leverguns. I asked him to check it out and make sure it was running alright and to clean it up and reblue it.
I left it in his hands and did my best not call at least once a month and pester him about how it was coming. Or at least I tried. I am not sure if I accomplished complete "non-pestering", but I really did try not to bug him. I have had enough custom work done to know it's best to leave things in the hands of the gunsmith at least a reasonable time before bending their ear.
When the rifle showed up at the ranch I did not recognize it. The slim refinished wood, the full-length magazine tube .. it looked like a completely different gun. And in some ways it is, though it shoots as well as it ever did ... better now since I can see the sights again!!
The Marlin 1894's have a nice short, smooth lever-throw, especially if you work on them just a bit. Mine is pretty smooth from thousands of rounds over the years. Regan Nonneman put in a new extractor (the old one was worn and getting "iffy"), he used a "blind" filler in the dovetail where the original short magazine fastened on, and he did a great job on the wood. I am happy!!
The only thing I have left to do to this firearm is to install the new one-piece firing pin from Evil Roy. This replacement for the Marlin two-piece firing pin is supposed to make the closing stroke even smoother (hard to imagine) and to reduce the breakage that happens with Marlin two-piece firing pins when you shoot thousands of rounds per year, year after year through the guns. I have never broken a firing pin, but I like the idea and the looks of the new pins. I will update you when I have it in and let you know what I think.
NOTE: The firing pin is now installed! CLICK HERE to read about it.
I had installed one of Clyde Ludwig's Cross-Bolt Safety Replacement's a year or two ago. (http://www.leverguns.com/articles/taylor/crossbolt_safety.htm)
That, along with smoothing out the Marlin
"hump" on the bottom of the bolt a little sure made the gun handle
better for Cowboy Action.
I have yet to use it in a match since I got it back, but clanging the steel plates with it on my own range has proven very satisfying. I sighted the gun to hit a couple inches high at 25 yards with my Cowboy loads. This puts them dead on at 50 yards. If I take the gun hunting I will re-sight it. But I sorta doubt that will happen, especially since I have a levergun or two that works just fine for hunting purposes.
Thanks to Regan Nonneman of Nonneman Custom Rifles, I have the old gun in good shape again. What fun!
.32-20 Handloads - all loads with CCI Small Rifle Primers - all velocities chronographed at 7 feet from muzzle to the first screen- all fired in the Marlin 1894 CL .32-20 - all cast bullets sized .311" and lubed with Apache Blue lube
Remember - these loads are safe in MY GUN! They may not be in yours. DO NOT use the heavy loads in the 1873 Winchester. If you break your gun do not come crying to me. You are responsible for your actions.
I chronographed some factory loads. These were all quite mild. You can approximate them with a 115 gr. - 120 gr. bullet and 3.8 gr. Bullseye.
Remington Factory Load - 1082 fps
Winchester Factory Load - 1178 fps