The reintroduced Marlin 1895 Trapper is a fast-handling thumper.
I’ve always been a history buff with interest in military firearms and especially armored vehicles. I’m sure that’s partly why I joined the Army and became an armored crewman and eventually a tank commander. But, as cool as those modern tanks I crewed were, there was a German tank from World War II that always captivated my imagination. That tank was the sleek and very fearsome Jagdpanther—hunting panther. It was an agile tank destroyer equipped with the legendary German 88mm gun.
Marlin’s new—reintroduced—1895 Trapper reminds me of that tank.
There are several reasons for this. Though heavier than the American-built Sherman tank, the Jagdpanther was just as fast. With its powerful main gun that could fire a variety of munitions, it could defeat every armored vehicle on the battlefield. The Jagdpanther offered a great balance of mobility, firepower and armor. Similarly, the Marlin 1895 Trapper is a heavy-duty lever gun chambered for the .45-70 Government, for which there are a variety of munitions that make it suitable for any game animal on Earth. It’s compact and handy—maneuverable—and like the Jagdpanther, it’s a hunter.
Marlin first offered the 1895 Trapper in 2018 while under the control of Remington. It was well received, but like a lot of the Marlin firearms produced then, reports of problems were common. Ruger acquired Marlin in 2020 and, though it took some time, their first lever gun was released before the end of 2021.
It was the 1895 SBL, and I detailed it here not all that long ago (Gun Digest May 2022 issue). I wrote that I felt the rifle was, “The best shooting lever-action rifle of any brand, style or design I have ever fired.” I felt that way because the quality of construction on that rifle was superb, and because two of the four loads tested delivered sub-MOA precision. As much as I liked that rifle, I like the new 1895 Trapper even better.
The new 1895 Trapper is built on the same stainless-steel action and has the same big loop lever as the 1895 SBL. And, like the 1895 SBL, it’s also chambered for the .45-70 Government. The primary difference is in barrel length; where the SBL has a 19.1-inch barrel, the Trapper’s barrel is 3 inches shorter. But just as with the SBL, the Trapper’s muzzle is also threaded at an 11/16-24 pitch for brake or suppressor attachment.
Another obvious difference is the stock: The SBL had a gray laminated hardwood stock, and the Trapper’s stock is much darker. Aside from that, the stocks are identical, even down to the checkering, thick recoil pad and stainless-steel sling swivel attachments.
However, when you look closer, you’ll see the other differences. The SBL is fitted with a Picatinny sight rail that stretches from the rear of the receiver partially out the barrel. An adjustable aperture sight is incorporated in the rear of this rail and is paired with a Tritium fiber-optic front sight. Also, the rail allows for a variety of optical sights to be attached.
Instead of a rail, the Trapper utilizes a Skinner Sights rear aperture sight paired with a white-striped Skinner, Bear Buster front sight. The rear sight is screw-adjustable for elevation, and the rear screw slot is elongated to allow for windage adjustment. The other difference between these two rifles isn’t so obvious until you see them side by side. All the stainless-steel metal surfaces on the Trapper have a muted satin finish, which is perfect for a hunting rifle.
A Little Customization
Unboxing this rifle, I was immediately smitten. It’s so compact and handy; it almost feels like it could fit in your pocket. Even if you’re on the short side, you can grasp it at the wrist of the stock and let it dangle, and the muzzle will still not reach the ground. When shouldering the Trapper, it seems like it wants to jump up and onto target. The action is smooth, the trigger is good and this rifle gives you the impression it was made for fighting it out with a pissed-off grizzly.
As much as I liked the look and feel of this rifle, I’m not a fan of the rear sight that comes on it. It’s a great sight, but for a .45-70 that might be used as I would use one—for a wide range of applications—it’s not what I want. This is mostly because with so many varied .45-70 loads available, I would have to constantly re-zero the rear sight. At 100 yards, the point of impact between power level one and power level two .45-70 loads can be more than a foot.
I called Skinner Sights and explained I wanted an aperture sight I could zero for the heaviest .45-70 loads, but which would also permit scope mounting, allowing me to easily zero for whatever .45-70 load I might want to use. Skinner suggested I replace the sight on the Trapper with another version they offer that has an integral groove for Talley scope rings. This way I could zero the aperture sight and mount the scope right over top of it. And, too, the excellent Talley rings would permit the scope to be removed and installed without loss of zero.
This is an ideal approach, and Leupold’s FX-II Ultralight 2.5x20mm riflescope seemed to be the perfect match. However, to keep the riflescope low enough to see through it with a good cheek weld, I had to screw the aperture sight all the way in. This resulted in a front sight that was too high to provide a zero with the heavy-hitting .45-70 loads I wanted the open sights zeroed for. I reached out to Skinner again, and they sent me a shorter version of the Bear Buster front sight, and then everything fell into place.
I mention all this, not to say that the sights that come on the Trapper are bad—they’re not—but unlike with a .30-30 Winchester lever gun, where all the available loads will have a similar point of impact, that’s not the case with the .45-70 Government. If you only plan to shoot one load in your Marlin Trapper, pay no attention to any of this. However, if you want the Trapper to be able to exploit everything the .45-70 has to offer, this is a fantastic solution.
There are lots of ways to classify rifles, and I’d put the Marlin Trapper in the “man’s rifle” category. With power level 1 ammunition, the free recoil energy is only at about 17 pounds, which is like a .308 Winchester. However, when you step up to power level 2 loads, things change. The recoil increases by 25 percent, taking you to .300 Winchester Magnum levels. With power level 3 loads, you’ll feel the force because recoil energy almost doubles. You cannot ignore more than 40 foot-pounds of energy impacting your shoulder.
But it’s not so much the push: Because of its light weight and short barrel, this rifle bucks like a wild mustang. Also, .45-70 loads, like Federal’s 300-grain Power-Shok, will generate a fireball larger than a beach ball. Others, like the Federal 300-grain HammerDown load, create no fireball at all.
From the bench, the Trapper can be intimidating. However, with the 2.5X Leupold, at 50 yards most of the loads tested put three shots into a cluster measuring less than an inch and a half. Open-sighted benchrest groups were only slightly larger. At 100 yards, groups were about twice as large, but I still managed a couple smaller than 2 inches while using the low-powered optic.
Of course, this isn’t a bench rest rifle. This is a rifle you carry, and it’s a rifle you shoot while standing on your hind legs. Conducting snap shots from the high ready at 50 yards, most of the time I was able to keep all my shots inside a 6-inch circle, and I was able to do it—on average—in less than 2 seconds, both with the scope and the open sights. Yeah, the rifle bucks a bit, but you soon get used to it. I found that I could get good hits with follow-up shots in about 1.5 seconds with power level 2 loads.
Already a Favorite
I’ve yet to do any hunting with the new Marlin Trapper, though having taken a variety of critters, to include two African Buffalo, I’m fully aware of what the .45-70 Government is capable of. And, after several hundred rounds down range with the Trapper, I know what it and I together can do. I have an African buffalo hunt planned for next spring, and the Trapper is the rifle I plan to use. I’m sure it will also see some time in the West Virginia hills looking for bear and deer.
I still believe that the newest version of the Marlin’s 1895 SBL is best-shooting lever gun I’ve ever fired. But, as of now, the new Marlin 1895 Trapper might be the favorite Marlin lever gun I’ve ever fired. It’s well made, and it handles like a short sword. It shoots plenty good to extract all the reach .45-70 ammo can provide, and with it in hand you get the feeling you and this rifle could tackle anything.
Marlin’s new Trapper is an agile beast—you could say it’s a hunting panther.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the December 2022 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
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