In my experience, you are either rolling your eyes already and thinking this is ridiculous, or you are intrigued and are genuinely curious. I have not found many people in the middle. As surprising as it might seem, the thought of doing this to a Lever Action Rifle is enough to bring all the nay sayers out of the wood work in waves. Traditionalists cringe at the site of a "perfectly good" Thirty-Thirty getting decked out and even just muttering the term "tactical lever gun" brings chills down their spine. Even knowing full well what this might bring, we embarked on this Journey with the help of our friend Jeremy (Owner of Keystone Munitions) and a local shop near us called Xtreme Gun Worx. We have the most badass Marlin Lever Action Rifle in Existence.
Five months ago I posted a video to my YouTube page describing my experiences with the Marlin 336 XLR. My whole goal was to explore whether or not a "Tactical" Lever Action Rifle even had a legitimate role to play. I was genuinely curious to find out if I would be willing to grab a rifle like this to respond to a "bump in the night" scenario. I connected with Keystone Munitions as they had just replenished their stock of subsonic 30-30 ammunition and I picked up about 600 rounds of ammo. Then I got to work.
Before I dive super deep into what it was like to run this rifle, let's dive into what went into this gun. The Marlin 336 XLR is a fine lever gun right out of the box. It has a nice, modern feel to it and, although it lacks true wood furniture in our trim, it maintains a level of elegance and simplicity all at the same time. The moment you lay hands on a nice lever gun, your brain takes you back to a distant time. Although Lever Action Rifles are far from my favorite platforms, I can't help but let my mind wander into the days when men were men and adventure meant heading west into the unknown. Most people at this point would determine that their 336 XLR was a fine rifle and needed no further improvements other than some form of an optic. We are not most people.
This is when Xtreme Gun Works got to work. The internals got a nice polishing up. The trigger has some of the grit removed from it, and the feel and break of the trigger is great. The action feels like glass. A swift push of the lever results in the signature sound of the steel action being worked back and forth. Even without looking you will know this is a lever gun when you hear the action. It is stout, yet smooth. Resistance is minimal and the ammunition feeds like it should. The action was stripped down and given a nice dark grey cerakote finish. We topped the rifle with Midwest Industries MLOK rail and picatinny top. There was definitely some custom fit and finish applied to this firearm and the result is like a well built clock. The barrel was then chopped down to the minimum legal limit and threaded with a 5/8x24 thread pitch. Topping the end of the barrel is a Silencerco ASR Brake which allows quick attachment of our Silencerco cans.
The entire package looks as good as it feels and from first glance I knew I was going to fall in love with this rifle on the range.
I mentioned that my goal was to find out whether a lever action rifle actually had a place in a defensive role, so on the range I focused heavily on barricades, transitions, shooting and moving. For the most part I ignored ammunition capacity. This could be seen as slightly counter productive, as ammunition capacity for a defensive weapon is a must. I thought that point was a very obvious negative to using a lever action rifle like this Marling 336 so I did not spend a ton of time contemplating that. Rather I focused on the use of the weapon. If I had six rounds in my 300 blackout SBR or six rounds in this 336 XLR, would they compare? This decked out Tactical 336 does not disappoint on the range. It is light, very maneuverable, and recoil, especially with subsonic ammunition and a suppressor, is virtually non-existent. Working barricades was very straight forward and I found that I enjoyed the vert grip more than expected. It helped me keep a solid grip on the MLOK rail and keep the muzzle where I needed it. The biggest thing, in my opinion, to overcome is the manual action. I will admit it was slightly awkward working the lever on certain positions on the barricades. With a few runs I began to ignore this slight awkward aspect and really the only thing I found even slightly annoying was ammo capacity. This is another reason I chose the Marlin: Quicker reloads.
We love Henry rifles too, but at the time of the making of this rifle, there were no Henry side loading lever action rifles. We have a henry Big Boy in 44 mag that we had cut down and threaded as well, but that is unhandy when it comes to reloading. On the Tactical Marlin 336 XLR you simply add ammo through the side feed ramp as needed. You can keep spare ammo on hand and reload relatively quickly. We are obviously not in the same realm as simply swapping a mag, but it is pretty easy to get the gun back into action. With our henry, reloads after dumping a mag are irritating at best. Shoot 10 rounds of 44 mag through your suppressor and let me know how it feels. To load our henry we need to remove the suppressor (you know, the one that is a million degrees?), unthread the mag tube, insert bullets one at a time, rethread mag tube, re install suppressor (that still feels like the surface of the sun), then continue shooting. It doesn't take a mathematician to realize the benefit of the 336 XLR over our henry. We love them both, but for tactical applications, the Marlin wins in my book.
Accuracy was very good and I was able to lay down groups around 1" at 50 yards. Even with subsonic ammo smashing small steel plates at 100 yards was a breeze. Once I figured out my holdover at 200 I was easily hitting our C zone A-DAP steel target plates.
The more time I spent with this rifle, the more I loved it. That being said, I still had to answer the question: Does a Tactical Lever Action Rifle have a place in the realm of defensive firearms?
I'm going to answer that, after running gobs of ammo through this rifle, with a Maybe. It depends. You can't argue that a Tactical Lever Action is outdated when compared to a modern AR15. The AR15 just has so many obvious benefits over the Tactical 336 XLR, it is almost not worth debating. With that being said, I am keeping an open mind here. I believe it could serve a role as a defensive firearm. Whether defending against human or animal threads, this customized Marlin 336 XLR is light, accurate, modular, adaptable, and packs a punch. It can be run suppressed, which has many benefits both defensively and for hunting purposes. The top pica tinny rail section allows me to run modern optics and the MLOK rail allows attachments like my Boscabel Weapons System Bel Loc Bipod or my vert grip. I can also easily mount a flashlight or IR laser. Yes, we will be running this lever gun suppressed, with Nods and our IR pointer. That WILL happen. Although it is true that I would choose an AR15 in 300 blackout over this 336 for most instances, I would feel comfortable rocking this lever action as well. I think it takes lever action rifles to new heights. I truly believe this is the ultimate Lever Action Rifle. Traditionalists may cringe, but at the end of the day this Lever gun is created from the best parts and offers more versatility than a stock 336 XLR. You can debate whether that adds up to anything or not, but the fact is it DOES give the weapon more versatility.
The only other thing I would like to do is build one in 357. I feel like a 357 would offer more benefits over a 30-30 like ammo capacity and the ability to run 38 SPL subsonic through our suppressors. I am seriously considering buying/building another one in 357 so please let me know if that is something you want to see.
We love to push the envelope and I especially like to think outside the box. Life is too short to never challenge your own bias and I welcome the opportunities to do so all the time. Does this gun replace my 7.5" 300 blackout SBR? Nope. But that doesn't matter anyway. This is America, and we do as we please.
I recognize you're probably either in love with the build, or you believe I committed blasphemy by "butchering" a perfectly "fine" Lever gun. At the end of the day each gun is a tool and each person has different desires for these tools. If you are into lever action rifles, already have a 336 XLR, or are simply intrigued by them, a build like this MAY be for you. Buyer/builder be warned, you can easily wrap up $2500+ into a build like this. You could argue that with a price tag that high, there are better options, but again to each his own. I like to live on the edge and do things others won't. That's my style and that is our style here at TA. If you want to be different, catch the attention of everyone at the gun range and blow peoples minds with a nearly silent firearm, a Marlin 336 XLR or Marlin dark may be in order.