Marlin’s New 1895 SBL .45-70 Lever Action Rifle


by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Boge Quinn

March 10th, 2009




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Marlin was the first to chamber the .45-70 Government cartridge in a lever action rifle in their Model 1881, back when leverguns were powered for short cartridges like the .32, .38, and .44 WCF rounds. Those were dandy little cartridges, but had nothing like the power of the big .45-70. Winchester had the .45-75 and .45-60 cartridges chambered in their 1876 levergun, but there is nothing like having a gun that chambers the current US Military cartridge to boost sales, and the Winchester action could just not handle a cartridge as long as the .45-70, and it would be 1886 before John Browning designed the excellent 1886 Winchester to handle those longer cartridges, and in a rifle of much greater strength than the 1876. The 1881 was Marlin’s first lever action rifle, and it was a good one. Unlike Marlin’s leverguns of today, the 1881 ejected empty cases out the top. The 1881 was replaced by the 1895, which was a superior rifle, with side ejection. The .45-70 Government cartridge had been our martial cartridge since its adoption in 1873, and would continue in that role for almost twenty years, and as a secondary US Military cartridge for several years thereafter. In the 1930s, that great old cartridge was dropped from production by American rifle makers, as the world wanted faster, flatter-shooting cartridges. However, the .45-70 was too good of a cartridge to die, and Marlin breathed new life into the cartridge in 1972 with the introduction of their new Model 1895, which was their outstanding Model 336 adapted to the .45-70 cartridge. While the experts on such things had long before declared the .45-70 cartridge obsolete, the 1895 was an instant success. Hunters recognized the cartridge for what it was; a superior cartridge for close range hunting of all North American big game. The 1895 had side ejection, a straight-gripped walnut stock, a twenty-two inch barrel, and handled the big .45-70 cartridge well.

In 1998, Marlin introduced their Guide Gun, which was a shortened version of the 1895. Custom gunsmiths had been cutting down the 1895 rifles into handier brush guns, and the Guide Gun was the factory version of those custom guns, wearing a straight-grip checkered walnut stock, and an eighteen and one-half inch ported barrel. I knew I had to have one, and bought the first one that I was able to locate, driving 220 miles to pick it up. Shipping the Guide Gun to my local dealer was not an option. I had to have it that day! The Guide Gun is a superb rifle for close to medium range hunting of large game. Having a total capacity of five shots, the rifle is very quick-handling and powerful. Factory ballistics for standard .45-70 cartridges from the major ammo makers are not too impressive. The manufacturers are limited as to the intensity of the loads by the many old trapdoor Springfield rifles still out there. However, the modern Marlin is much stronger than those old relics, and can handle ammunition that is loaded to much higher pressures. Careful handloading of the .45-70 makes for an impressive cartridge that is capable of taking, and has done so, any game that walks the Earth. For those who do not handload, ammo makers such as Garrett, Buffalo Bore, Cor-Bon, and Grizzly Cartridge load the .45-70 to its potential in modern lever action rifles. Bullet weights in factory-loaded cartridges run from 300 to 540 grains, and are loaded with bullets capable of fully penetrating a cape buffalo. Quick-expanding hollowpoints or heavy bullets made of solid brass or copper offer outstanding performance on small whitetails or massive pachyderms. Eighty years after being declared obsolete, the .45-70 is now more popular than ever, due in large part to Marlin’s introduction of the modern Model 1895 levergun.

Now, Marlin has introduced what many consider to be the ultimate Guide Gun, the Model 1895 SBL. The SBL takes all of the features of the Guide Gun, and improves upon that wonderful rifle. Like the Guide Gun, the barrel has Ballard style rifling to handle all types of bullets well. The barrel is still eighteen and one-half inches in length, but is not ported, as the early Guide Guns were. It wears a full-length six-shot magazine tube for a total capacity of seven. The SBL has a laminated wood stock, with ample cut checkering for a positive grip. The metal parts are mostly stainless steel, with a couple of the smaller parts nickel plated to match. As any hunting rifle should, the SBL has sling swivel studs for easily mounting a sling or carry strap. I remember when it was pretty routine to buy a new rifle, and have to drill it for sling swivel studs. Thankfully, most good rifles now come with them already installed. In designing the SBL, Marlin took note of the things that many were adding to their Guide Guns to improve the handling and sighting equipment. The SBL wears a medium-sized lever loop, to better accommodate a large gloved hand. This is a welcome feature to me, as my mitts are pretty big, and I find the standard lever loop a bit crowded when wearing a glove. Marlin has built the SBL with the XS Lever Rail in place. This is a very popular accessory for Guide Gun owners, and I added one to my own Guide Gun when the rail was first introduced. The Lever Rail is a very versatile scope mount rail that allows the easy mounting of a standard riflescope, or a scout style scope mounted farther out on the barrel. There is also a set of the excellent XS Ghost Ring sights in place, which consist of a fully adjustable but rugged rear aperture and a front post with white line up the center. They are very useful and quick at close range. I prefer a scope for just about all of my hunting, as a good glass enables me to see better, shoot quicker, and place my shots more accurately. The Lever Rail allows a scout scope to be mounted plenty far away from the shooter’s eye, which is a welcome feature on a rifle with a lot of recoil, which can be heavy with this SBL, depending upon the load chosen. On the subject of recoil, the SBL wears the superb Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad. The is a good, soft pad which really helps to take the pain out of shooting big bore rifles. In fact, during all of the testing of this rifle, whether standing or shooting from the bench, the rifle never once hurt my shoulder, even after extensive testing during long shooting sessions. The rifle does back up a bit with the heaviest loads, but it is more of a big push, and never caused any shoulder pain. The lighter loads were really easy on the shooter. Like all modern Marlin leverguns, the SBL has a receiver-mounted crossbolt safety, to effectively block the hammer from hitting the firing pin. Being a long-time shooter of traditional lever action rifles, I do not use the safety, relying upon the half-cock hammer notch instead, but the safety is there if you want to use it.

For accuracy testing, I mounted my Leupold Scout Scope. This is perhaps the ideal scope for such a rifle. It has two and one-half power magnification, which is plenty of power for big game hunting, even in the open fields, yet is low enough magnification for close range shooting in the woods. I had Leupold to make a custom elevation dial for this scope, which follows the trajectory of my favorite 405 grain load out to 400 yards. Leupold makes these custom turrets for a very reasonable fee. You just tell them your load, and they build the dial. Read more about this scope here.

The Marlin 1895 SBL was very reliable, handling easily every handload and factory load tried. I did encounter one problem early on, that I traced to a damaged magazine tube. The gun arrived in a box that had been pretty well abused in transit, but the rifle looked okay. However, it would only accept four rounds into the mag tube. Trying to load a fifth would jam the follower. There was no visible damage to the tube, but checking it with a dial caliper revealed that it had been hit on the mag tube, which resulted in an out-of-round tube, with a tight spot about six inches from the muzzle end. A quick call to Marlin had another tube here in two days, and replacing the tube fixed the problem. The magazine now accepts a full payload of six rounds, for a total loaded capacity of seven. Whether the SBL’s six rounds is an improvement over the Guide Gun’s four depends upon the situation. Personally, I like the higher capacity. It gives the SBL a decided advantage over any bolt action big game rifle, while still maintaining the excellent handling qualities of the Guide Gun. The SBL has an overall length of 36.5 inches, and my sample gun weighed in at 7 pounds, 6.8 ounces. With the Leupold scope in place with Warne Quick Attach rings, it weighs 8 pounds, 3 ounces. The trigger pull measured a crisp three and three-quarters pounds.

Since the SBL is designed for hunting large game that bites and claws, I wanted to try out a couple of new bullets on the market, or new to me at least. The first is the GS Custom solid copper flatnose bullet. This bullet weighs 300 grains, and was designed specifically for lever action .45-70 rifles. It is a shortened version of their excellent flatnose bullets that are used in large forty-five caliber cartridges, such as the .458 Winchester and .460 Weatherby. These GS Custom Flat Nose bullets have several driving bands which engage the rifling, while the main body of the bullet rides the bore, reducing pressure and allowing the bullets to be pushed faster, safely. They are also moly coated to further reduce friction and fouling, but uncoated bullets can be ordered, if desired. I found them to be very accurate in the Marlin, and they exhibit very good penetration and controlled expansion. I also used the Belt Mountain Punch bullet in the SBL. Unlike the GS Custom bullets, the Punch does not expand at all, instead providing maximum penetration. It is a brass bullet with a lead core in the rear section for added weight, is a flat nose design, and is a fine choice when penetration matters above all else. Accuracy is also superb with these fine bullets. Another bullet that is new to me for the .45-70 is the North Fork Technologies bonded core bullet. This bullet has a copper jacket bonded to a soft lead core to provide controlled expansion without coming apart like some bullets do. This makes the North Fork bullet less sensitive to velocity variations, and to hold together when fired from high velocity magnums, while still expanding at low velocity. I also loaded the Barnes X bullet, which has proven itself to me many times. It is a copper homogenous bullet with a huge hollow nose that is made to expand and penetrate. Lastly, I loaded some of my standard whitetail load, which uses the relatively cheap and plentiful Remington 300 grain hollowpoint. It is very accurate in my Marlins, and does a good job on light, thin-skinned big game. With each of these bullets, my goal was not ultimate velocity, but to achieve respectable velocity while maintaining accuracy. None of these bullets has to be pushed to the maximum velocity to perform well, and that is what makes them superb hunting bullets. While I tried many different loads for each of these, my favorite load for each bullet is listed in the chart below. Velocities were recorded at twelve feet from the muzzle, at an elevation of approximately 600 feet above sea level, with an air temperature around forty degrees Fahrenheit. Velocities are listed in feet per second. Bullet weights and powder weights are listed in grains. All loads were very safe in this test gun, but may not be in yours, so reduce charges a bit to start, and always use a good loading manual and published load data. Not load data published by me, but by a reputable ballistics lab. I have neither a reputation nor a lab, so use caution. All loads functioned perfectly in the SBL, and ejection was smooth and easy, with no sticky extraction at all. Remember, for a dangerous game rifle, function trumps velocity every time. I load for flawless function, accuracy, and speed, in that order. All exhibited fine accuracy, limited only by the shooter’s ability (me) to place the bullets accurately on target. I used the Leupold Scout scope exclusively for accuracy testing, and accuracy was recorded using a three shot group at fifty yards, and again at one hundred yards. All loads used Federal 210 primers and Starline cases.

Bullet Charge / Powder Velocity
Barnes 300 X 48 H322 1652
GS Custom 300 FN 60 AA2015 2039
North Fork 350 GRS 54 AA2015 1841
Remington 300 JHP 46.5 AA2015 1516
Belt Mountain 400 Punch 48 AA2015 1756
Buffalo Bore 300 JFN Factory Load 2357
Hornady 325 LEVERevolution Factory Load 1787

As can be seen in the table, the Buffalo Bore 8E load is a real screamer. You can handload to this same level, but I am not listing any of my loads that reach those velocities. Buffalo Bore ammo is pressure tested in a laboratory. My loads are not. Again, the loads that I prefer are the ones listed above, and these bullets do not have to be pushed to the max to work well. That is why I like them. If I was going to Africa after the heaviest game, I would take Buffalo Bore ammo with me, or some of my maximum handloads, but the handloads listed above will work well for anything on this continent. The SBL exhibited some pretty impressive velocities from its short barrel, and the advantages of the short barrel greatly outweigh the bit of velocity lost to a longer tube. Even with the heavy Buffalo Bore loads, the SBL just did not thump the shoulder at all. The muzzle did rise quickly under recoil, but it was not painful to shoot. Accuracy was very good with each load listed above, as again, I was seeking function and accuracy above all else. Groups at 50 yards were typically a cloverleaf, as shown in the picture, and one hundred yard groups were in the one and one-quarter to two inch range with all loads listed. It was raining steadily during the 100 yard testing, so I was not able to get any good pictures of the groups, as the paper targets were falling apart upon removal from the target board. However, I was well-pleased with the accuracy of the SBL, especially using the low powered scope. I can shoot better groups with a target scope, but Steve Garlock was doing quite well with the SBL at 100 yards using the Scout scope and LEVERevolution ammunition. Steve came over one day with my Pastor, George Hall, to do some shooting, and I was testing the SBL at the time. It is always interesting to get a visit from the preacher, especially when he shows up toting guns. We all three were pretty impressed with the Marlin 1895 SBL. It is a very good rifle with awesome power potential, American made, and a true American tradition. There is no rifle made that is more American than a .45-70 levergun, and the SBL is one of the best.

Check out the SBL and other Marlin products online at

To find a Marlin dealer near you, click on the DEALER FINDER at

To order the SBL online, go to

For a look at the entire line of Leupold optics, go to

To order any of the premium bullets shown here, go to,,, and for the GS Custom bullets, click on this link:

To order the Buffalo Bore ammunition, go to

Jeff Quinn

NOTE: All load data posted on this web site are for educational purposes only. Neither the author nor assume any responsibility for the use or misuse of this data. The data indicated were arrived at using specialized equipment under conditions not necessarily comparable to those encountered by the potential user of this data.  Always use data from respected loading manuals and begin working up loads at least 10% below the loads indicated in the source manual.

For a list of dealers where you can buy this gun, go to: To buy this gun online, go to:


Buffalo Bore's factory loads are consistently excellent.



Hornady's 325-grain LEVERevolution ammo.



Handloads tested used (left to right): Remington 300-grain JHP, Barnes 300-grain X bullet, GS Custom 300-grain FN, North Fork 350-grain GRS, and Belt Mountain 400-grain Punch Bullet.



Fifty-yard three-shot group is indicative of the Marlin 1895 SBL's fine accuracy.





Target Shooting, Inc. Model 1000 Rifle Rest allows easy use of lever-action rifles.



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Click pictures for a larger version.


Marlin 1895 SBL .45-70 lever action rifle.



The new 1895 SBL (right) compared to an original Guide Gun (left).





Sling studs.



Nicely-checkered laminated stock.



Lever loop is larger than the standard Guide Gun's.



Crossbolt safety.



XS Lever Rail & Ghost Ring sights.



Leupold Custom Shop Scout Scope.



Full-length magazine tube holds two more rounds than the Guide Gun's.



The SBL's magazine capacity is a full six rounds.



Very long magazine spring assures reliable feeding.



Recoil pad is very effective with even the heaviest loads.