I purchased (regrettably w/o test firing) a used Marlin 1894 CS in .38/.357. I knew there were a lot of problems with the guns from the first few years after the Remington buyout but the seller assured me this gun was more recent and all the bugs had been worked out. It did look good and operated smoothly but range results have been poor so far. My first testing was with the Lyman 358477 and mild charges of Bullseye--3.8g, increasing to 4.0g, 4.3g, and 4.6g. Bullets were tumbled in LLA and sized .358 and .359--loaded in .357 brass. I was getting softball-sized groups at 50 yds so tried some 125g jacketed bullets I had in bulk from Midway. Very little if any improvement. Maybe it would do better with hotter loads, I thought, so today loaded the same 125g bullets with 20g H110. Not much improvement--3" to 4" groups at 50 yds. The bore was cleaned very thoroughly before any of this testing--it's not a bad looking bore but not great either--seems like I'm seeing some tool marks. Anybody have any suggestions? Would it be worthwhile to try a harder alloy and/or a gas checked bullet?
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Try Onondaga's bore polishing method (you will have to look it up on the forum). If you see tool marks maybe the polishing is what is needed; just a thought. Also, IMHO, soft lead may obdurate more than hard lead for better seal, annealed cases may help seal bore more, fit of course can make a huge difference, and I sure would try gas checks. Gas checks help some of my loadings a considerable amount, if you have the gas checks I recommend trying those first as it involves minimal extra handling. As an added thought, do .357 loads give different group size than .38 Sp? Just curious.
Please let us know what you find works best, if anything.
You don't say what alloy you are using but I agree with tikeizer that soft bullets are more likely to shoot better than hard and fit is critical. I also agree that a gas checked bullet may be worth trying.
I disagree that polishing the bore is worth your time unless the objective is easier cleaning. Even Onondaga, when pinned down, would only claim a 2% accuracy improvement -- which of course is too small to matter and anyway impossible to determine without firing hundreds of groups.
I hope Ed Harris chimes in since he has lots of experience with this class of rifle.
I have had the same problem with the Marlin CL only mine is a 32-20. I have not had any luck with cast loads and the jacketed loads are not much better. I bought the rifle new, years ago and it set in the gun safe for several years before I got around to trying it out this past year. I should have left it setting in the gun safe and I wouldn't be near as disappointed. Back in the early 80's I bought a 1894 marlin in .357 with micro groove rifling. The bore was so oversized that you could stick a .358 bullet into the bore with hardly any resistance. The gun shop loaned me a used marlin to use while mine went back to marlin. The loaner rifle shot so good that I bought it while mine was visiting Marlin. When I received the oversize bore Marlin with a new barrel it was fine and shot wonderful so I had an extra and gave the new one to my son. Good luck and I hope you solve your problem. I can definitely sympathize with you.
David a. Cogburn
before you give up on that Marlin, you should do a chamber and throat cast ..... mainly because that is the most likely area of " disrespect " in instances of really bad accuracy.
for fun, you should try some 100 yard groups also ... if it is just your gun vibrating and pointing in different directions shot to shot or loose sights the groups will be about twice as big at 100 compared to 50 yards.
if your bullets are getting distorted by a mis-fit or horrible rifling ... your groups will be 4 or 8 or 20 times bigger at 100 vs. 50.
and before you take a sawz-all to it, i would trade you something for it ... i take in orphans ..... besides, those 6 inches at 50 yards is about what i shoot offhand anyway ... gives pop cans a sporting chance ...
Good advice Ken.
Spent several years in the telephone business. First rule of trouble shooting is start with the basic things first. Work up from there. After 60 years, I still have to relearn that lesson from time to time.
My 1894 .45 Colt JM Marlin has an oversize and over-length chamber. Ammunition for it must be segregated from my revolver .45 Colt ammunition.
Each firearm is a law unto itself. If you get it fixed, you may still have to tailor a load. Work with it and see what it takes.
Rifles are as fascinating as women; since Mt. Everest has been conquered, rifles and women are the last great mysteries for men.
Farm boy from Illinois, living in the magical Pacific Northwest
Thanks for the replies. David--I also have an 1894CL in 32-20 and mine is a pretty good shooter. I often use it in a weekly "light rifle" match with some pals--we shoot the NRA Light Rifle target at 50 ft. It holds its own even against tricked out 10-22's and a Kimber. We used to shoot a "1900" match--meaning pre-1900 guns (or modern derivatives). Ten shots from the bench and ten standing at 100 yds. I shot it once with the 32-20 and won even though my bench score was, as I remember, just fair--probably about 90, on the 100 yd. Smallbore target. I had a pretty good Standing score on the same target, though. That was with jacketed bullets, but since then I've shot the Saeco 120g mostly and when I want to step up the velocity a bit I use the gas checked 311316. I'll keep working with the 38/357--if anybody uses gas checked bullets and could send me a few I'd gladly pay the postage. My e-mail address is:
As Ken said, do a chamber and throat cast.
But, make that casting long enough OUT INTO THE BORE to be able to measure the
Groove diameter as well.
Then use an appropriate sized cast bullet at 0.001 or so Larger than throat/ groove dia.
OH, and check the MUZZLE CROWN WITH A MAGNIFIER
BudHyett is correct that every rifle is special case. I don't have any experience shooting a rifle in .38 special or .357 to share with you- but I do have quite a few .45 colt revolvers and a winchester rifle in that caliber. Custom handloads refined over 30 plus years that perform perfectly in one revolver often only provide "acceptable" groups in another. Shooting them in a rifle is a whole new ballgame as the expression goes. I find my Winchester rifle prefers heavier bullets and much slower buring powders compared to my revolvers. Myself, I wouldn't change anything on your .38/.357 Marlin - but suggest you just might be pleasantly surprised if you give the heavier bullets over slower burning powders a fair trial. Of course your mileage might vary - so please provide updates, keep us advised.
Shoot for the moon! Getting older may be inevitable, but acting your age appears to be optional ....
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