Marlin 39A – And How to Secure It

The Marlin 39 type rifle, which is basically a Model 1891 (the rifle of choice of Annie Oakley) is a all-steel, moderately priced (about $400), well-made 22 LR lever action rifle. It is perhaps the oldest repeating rifle design still in widespread use and was recently in production, though Remington (who owns Marlin) is now only selling it as a ridiculously over-priced fancy custom edition. Shame on you Remington! May Mossberg, Henry, Browning, and any other consumer-oriented manufacturer EAT YOUR LUNCH. However, it must be said, that all those rifles are made of cheap aluminum, have straight stocks (I greatly prefer the pistol grip stock), and none of them have the suburb 22 Caliber barrel that Marlin was famous for.

There are a few things about the 39A that I really like, and some overlooked advantages. To begin with it has a relatively heavy, almost cylindrical, “Microgroove” barrel. This makes for a very accurate rifle, nearly as accurate as my “accuracy machine” Kimber 82. The Microgroove barrel is called so because instead of having 4-6 lands and grooves that make up the rifling, it has about 18 very shallow and narrow lands and grooves. This distorts the bullet less, makes the barrel heat up less (less friction), and fouls the barrel less. The coin used to rifle these barrels engraves both to the full depth of the groove and the top of the lands, leaving a very good finish on all bullet-contact surfaces (unlike miserable 30 caliber Microgroove barrels, which have rough perpendicular drill marks on the lands and foul terribly, and give all Microgroove barrels a bad name). The 22 caliber Microgroove barrel is perhaps the best factory-grade 22 caliber barrel out there.

Being a lever action design, it is essentially ambidextrous, which is important for a lefty like me in a family of mostly righties. Add to that a 19 round capacity magazine and a breakdown mechanism, which is simple, keeps the scope aligned with the barrel, and facilitates breech-end cleaning. Most semi-automatic 22 rifles cannot be breech-end cleaned easily, though I’ve noticed Ruger is now making a breakdown 10/22, but since the 10/22 takedown separates at the chamber area, any scope mounted on the receiver will be disturbed relative to the barrel. As far as I am concerned, a pointless feature!

Breech end cleaning is preferable to muzzle-end cleaning since the muzzle is the most delicate and important part of the barrel. It is the last bit that the bullet “sees” before going on its journey downrange, so if there is some nick or flaw near the muzzle, it will disturb the bullet at this most critical time. Cleaning with rods is always risky. Most can damage a barrel if misused, and this is why it is better to push them in from the breech-end which is less critical if you nick it. It’s also nice when you don’t have to tear down the whole rifle and get out all your tools to clean from the breech-end. For this Marlin, all you need is a quarter and a small flat screwdriver (the one in a Swiss Army knife works).

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Using a quarter or half-dollar or similar coin, start to unscrew the big bolt on the right side. Bring it most of the way out with your thumb and forefinger.

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Holding the receiver with your left hand, gently rap the muzzle on a cloth covered table or similar surface that wont scratch. The receiver should spit in half. Then push the rectangular bolt back with your fingers and take the small flat screwdriver, push the ejector down with thumbnail, and capture it with the nut by turning that screwdriver.

There are couple of things I dislike about the Marlin 39, and all Marlins. One is that they do not cycle as smoothly as the Winchester and Winchester-like rifles, like the Mossberg 464. Another is that the the newer ones (last 40 years) have stupid cross-bolt safeties. I have no problem with safeties. I like safeties. But give me a TANG safety, which is ambidextrous, fast, and unobtrusive. Also, Marlin just doesn’t do that good of a job on their triggers. The trigger isn’t bad on this rifle, but it is not as good as it should be.

But, like all lever actions, it makes a great bedside rifle. A while ago I learned that trying to get a rifle out of a safe or whatever when you need it, at night, when you have a raccoon or some critter killing your chickens or whatever, is hopeless. By the time it is ready, it’s too late to do any good. That is why you need to keep the rifle HANDY, LOADED, UNCHAMBERED, and SECURED.

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The magazine tube is filled, there is nothing in the chamber, and the lever is locked to the stock. There is no way an unauthorized person can chamber a round or shoot it, yet it takes only seconds to make it shootable.

A key advantage to any closed loop lever rifle is that you can lock the lever to the stock preventing the action from cycling. Bolts and pumps and whatnot are not nearly so conveniently secured this way. Despite being completely secure (a bolt cutter or hacksaw would be needed to defeat this) I can undo this in about one or two seconds. I keep the key around my neck on a dog-tag chain even when I am in bed. If you buy a lock with a pair of keys, this makes one for the wife, too.

The chain I have here is just off the shelf chain from Home Depot. It is a bit heavier than needed, I think. Perhaps there is nicer chain, but it is zinc plated and smooth, so it doesn’t scratch up the rifle. The lock is a Master 130, which is the smallest lock with a 4 pin tumbler (and so a decent sized key) and two locking notches. It costs about $5 with two keys. Smaller locks (120s) are “luggage size” locks. They are so small that it is hard to get the key into them quickly, and their tiny 3-pin tumblers have tiny keys. They may work, but I like the slightly larger lock. Also, the keys are all metal (I think they are brass) and don’t have stupid plastic tabs which break and look and feel stupid around your neck.

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It’s a good idea to practice unlocking and locking a bit with an unloaded rifle. It’s also a good idea to anoint the lock with a dab of light lubricant every now and then so the key slides in easily. If you have a home with children, securing all firearms is essential, and this is the most cost effective way I am aware of for rifles.

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