Come Back Little Martin

“Sweetwater” John was an enterprising old man, his front name earned when he built a still in the mountains during Prohibition.

The few remaining old-timers in the village remembered John’s liquid libation as having “a mighty bite, but sweet.” Sweetwater was long retired, living on Social Security, plus scavenging old gold and silver camps for scrap metal, which he sold in town, 65 miles down the road.

As a U.S. Forest Service firefighter, I lived a year with John and his son Roland. Although already struck with trophy fever, I understood that wild game meant food, not sport, for John: quail, dove, rabbits, javelina and especially deer.

Sweetwater was deadly on whitetails. Took him forever, it seemed, to pull the trigger of his .30-30 carbine. Not me. I’d have three bullets en route before Sweetwater launched one. The only difference was he hit. I missed.

I pledged this past big-game season to meat-making, the way I hunted with Sweetwater so long ago. I’d fill several game tags with a .30-30 carbine having a DF (“difficult quotient”) of three: longbow, DF-1; muzzleloader, DF-2 and .30-30, DF-3.

Gun for the Job

For this mission, I craved a Marlin 336 Texan. After a long search, I finally found one in perfect condition at a gun show. The Texan version of the famous 336 was created as a reliable sidekick. But this one carried stocks of better-than-average color and grain.

I’m a scope man. My PH rifle in Africa, relied on to preserve life and limb of self and client, wears a Leupold 1.5-6X VX-III. But the Texan would go iron-sighted for carry friendly and spark of challenge.

Five animals turned to food with six shots in Wyoming. One antelope buck requiring a follow-up because of a momentary lapse of mental coordination, when I failed to consider the angle.

Off I went to South Dakota in November for more venison. The most enjoyable was my final doe. Early morning was brisk; a euphemism for colder than a well-diggers behind in January Siberia. I perched in a leaned-over homestead cabin reputed to be oldest in the valley — a stubborn testament to pioneer spirit.

A rusty 55-gallon drum lent access to an upper level ledge parted from the roof with a peek-out gap. My buck tag being filled, the object was a fat doe for the SCI Sportsmen Against Hunger program. Typical of the overpopulated area, a plump old dame showed up solo within 30 minutes. At 88 range-finder yards, she stopped behind a grass patch chest high to a donkey.

The 170-grain Silvertip bullet handloaded to 2,150 feet per second from the Texan’s 20-inch barrel parted the grass like a searching cobra. Thank you little Marlin for another perfect show.

I’m not calling for the return of the Marlin 336 Texan for my benefit. I have mine. I want the little gem to come back for you and yours with its good accuracy, strong action and fast handling.

Clean-from-the-breech access via one screw in a compact carry-mate as reliable as sunup is promised. I replaced the original .302-inch front sight with a Lyman No. 37 .410-inch 3/32 ivory (KA 3371674) because at lowest rear sight setting, the rifle still shot high because of improved .30-30 ammo. Hornady’s 160-grain LeverEvolution bullet, for example, chronographed at 2,250 fps from the 20-inch barrel.

Winchester’s new Supreme Ballistic Silvertip also shot “flatter” than older .30-30 ammo. Because the front sight goes opposite the next bullet strike on target, taller brought the group down perfectly. I added a forend band with an integral sling swivel stud plus a plain carry strap and front sight hood with a V-notch for continued protection with better light access. The hood went on only in tough brush and woods conditions.

Rise and Fall

The straight-grip Texan came about as an obvious parallel to Winchester’s Model 94 carbine, with its slim forend rather than a pregnant frontal slab of the regular 336 — in .30-30, of course, and .35 Remington, which should have brought humble praise and adulation from hunters of larger-than-deer game in close cover.

When I asked the folks at Marlin, a spokesperson said the Texan failed after several years, remarkably, from lagging sales. By a 10-to-1 margin, customers demanded the pistol-grip version of the 336.

At one point, Marlin lowered its usual Model 336 sales tag, including the Texan, from $78.95 to $68.95 with “prices slightly higher west of the Rockies.” True, The Man’s Magazine ran an ad praising the .35 Remington caliber in the 336, but the .30-30 continued to be king of sales. The True ad promised the Marlin “unchallenged as the greatest gun for shooting in the tangled deer and black bear country.” Words of wisdom.

The Texan was advertised “with straight grip for lightning-fast removal from the saddle scabbard.” The only problem was it was easier to encounter an elephant in pink pajamas in that “tangled deer and black bear country” than a hunter riding a pony.

You have to wonder if pitching the Texan as a saddle gun didn’t backfire. It sold for $76.95 in 1958, and the Model 94 fetched $79.95. In 1965, the price tag was $86.95. By 1982, the shrinking dollar demanded $220.95 for the Texan and $223.00 for the 94 carbine. The price was always right.

The little Texan takes over nothing. It replaces nothing. It is an addition to the hunting battery; a shining jewel in thickets and black timber, when the average shot is often no more than 50 long steps. It’s perfect in a tree stand.

Add a good variable scope for the best bullet placement. I went iron with the understanding that I would hunt iron-sight style: slow-pacing through the niche, checking the wind constantly, spotting-and-stalking, binoculars working even in thick cover and always going for the closer opportunity.

A particular whitetail heaven I’m privileged to hunt is perfect for creek-walking. Deer cannot hear me coming as I hike down the creek in high-top rubber boots. Deer in that region are the smallest of five whitetail types in my home state of Wyoming. A trophy might dress a 170 pounds, but its rack will look more like a Southwestern Coues than Odocoileus virginianus.

Mule deer also abound in my favorite spot, and they also carry unimpressive racks. Because my goal the first time out with the Texan was prime meat and not “horn soup,” I looked for a mature example with any rack. I found a grown mule deer buck with a retarded headdress and dropped him with a 95-yard shot, a 170-grain Remington Core-Lokt hollow-point doing the work.

My Texan won’t match the surprising groups of the current 336 clan. My XLR .35 Remington prints 100-yard patterns akin to a good bolt-action rifle with Leupold VX-III 1.5-6 set on 6X. But the Texan always delivers bullets into a no-escape pattern at stalk-game ranges.

For shooting across canyons, drag out a long-range, flat-shooting scoped rifle. But in brush and timber, that little Texan suits me fine, and it’ll work for you, too. A 21st century Texan would be the best ever because the current 336 is the best ever. Imagine the new Texan chambered for .30-30, .35 Remington, .308 Marlin Express and perhaps, a new cartridge: .33 or .35 caliber on the .308 Marlin case.

Bring it Back!

Now and again, a company pays attention to a voice from the wilderness. So listen up, Marlin. It’s time to bring the Texan back.

— Sam Fadala is a well-known hunting and shooting writer from Wyoming.

Gun Digest is the national bi-weekly source for firearms news, pricing and guns for sale. Our in-depth editorial, exclusive price guide and new product features, brings valuable information to our high profile subscribers. Subscribe Now!

COMMENT