Saturday, July 17, 2010

Thor's Hammer

Let me introduce you to "Mjolnir" - my Marlin 1895G Guide Gun...


Models

My Guide Gun - Mjolnir - is the original 1895G Guide Gun: blue steel, walnut stock, ported barrel, chambered for the 45/70 Government cartridge.  I bought it in 1998.  It has it's name "Mjolnir" - Thor's Hammer - engraved on the left side of its receiver.  I don't make a habit of naming my firearms...it actually creeps me out most of time when I hear other shooters speaking to their guns or calling them by name, but in the case of this rifle, it's brawny, powerful simplicity inspired me to make an exception to policy.  Okay, it's still a little creepy.

Marlin makes other 1895 rifles, including a very classy looking 1895 Cowboy with a 26 inch octagon barrel and a nine round magazine.  There is the 1895SBL, which we'll discuss later. Other Marlin 45/70 models include the 1895, 1895XLR, 1895GBL, and 1895GS.  Marlin also make several 1895 models chambered for .450 Marlin which offers very stout performance - 350 gr @ 2100 fps. This might be a good load in Alaska but more juice than required for whitetails or feral pig. I wonder how long the .450 will prove popular in the lower 48 if Hornady doesn't offer a lighter kicking deer gun load.

Sights

I played with the original irons but my eyes were never great and they're not improving with age. I installed a Lyman receiver sight and Brockman post front sight –  the old one with the gold line running down the middle. With the rear sight set close to the top of the receiver I had to shorten the front sight until it was no taller than it is wide. While I was at it I fit the front sight base a little closer to the barrel so that I could no longer see daylight underneath it. So, sights on the Guide Gun takes a bit of tinkering, but it has never shot a group larger than three inches or so at 100 yards when I do my part. It's worth the effort.

There are other iron sights. XS Sight Systems makes several versions. Skinner Sights are a lot prettier than the XS jobs, but still too high for me. Brockman’s are sturdy (and cool looking) but too tall. The Wild West Guns sight looks hell for sturdy if a little clunky.  I'm sure there are people with better shaped faces who don't have any problem getting a good cheekweld with tall scopes and elevated irons, though I notice Brockman sells a replacement stock with a higher comb

Unless I find a way to build up the stock about the only sight that would let my face get a proper cheek weld would be an L-shaped fixed job right down on the receiver with an aperture no taller than needed to overlook the screws that hold it to the deck. A fella would have to lower his front sight and make adjustments with a file and a brass drift, but the setup would be fast and hell for sturdy. Years ago Finn Aagaard wrote in Rifle magazine about a somewhat similar rear sight Brent Clifton made for his own Marlin 336, but it had some vertical adjustment due to a slightly convex underside. One made elevation adjustments by loosening one screw then tightening the other. Knowing Brent he probably shot the works full of threadlocker once his fixed his zero. A fella could also mill the hole for the rear screw slightly oblong side to side to allow for some windage. One of these days my hunting buddy will get his mill rebuilt and we can play around with this idea.

I tried scopes too. For those who want a conventional scope I'd try the Leupold 2.5x Compact.  On a scout mount I'd look into a premium Aimpoint (or maybe Burris) red dot.  Seems to me a fella might mount one of the better red dot sights on the receiver using a single ring and the front half of a two piece set of bases, but I haven't seen it done. Me, I tried an M8 fixed 4x, then a Vari-X I 1-4x variable, on a traditional Weaver base and rings in the conventional position. The sight-line was too high for a proper cheek-weld. Tried the XS scout scope mount (a quick and easy install BTW) and a Leupold 2.5x Scout Scope. Thus equipped Mjolnir shot under two inches at 100 yards with Winchester 300 grain Nosler Partition ammo and a variety of handloads. The scope was still too tall and the back up sights ended up needlessly high as well.

Back to irons. I took the XS scout scope mount and Leupold Scout Scope off Mjolnir. It now wears the Lyman receiver sight and the shortest available Marbles fiber optic bead. I also carved a sky-light into the original front side hood. It points like a bird gun and I like the sight set-up so far. It's a sort of combination poor man's red dot sight and rangefinder. The bead subtends 6 inches at fifty yards. A commercially cast lead 405 gr @ ~1300 fps strikes under the center of the bead at 25 yards and under the top half of the bead at 50. More trigger time will tell me if the slow heavies will land under the bead at 100 yards where it will subtend 12 inches. If so I can hold center and call it venison. If the deer's thorax is covered by the 12 minute bead it's too far away.

If you remove the screw-in aperture from the usual Williams or Lyman receiver sight the larger ring that remains is what most folks describe as a “ghost ring.” This ring is so thin it effectively "disappears" when you look though it to focus on the front sight, hence the moniker.  This makes the aperture sight quicker to use, and usable at all in low light, but it's a little less precise.









Ammunition

Mjolnir is plenty accurate, especially for a traditional lever action. It shoots under 3 inches at 100 yards with iron sights and under 2 inches when wearing a scope. Winchester Nosler Partitions come very close to cutting an inch for three shots. I've taken whitetail with the Remington factory 405 soft-nose @ 1200 fps. Kills great and you can "eat right up to the hole" just like Uncle Elmer used to say. I'm not sure it expands at all at factory velocity (1200 fps from the ported 18-1/2 inch tube), at least on whitetail. Of course, for most work a .458 flatnose 405 doesn't need to expand to get its work done. The Federal 300 gr hollow-nose softs clock 1600 fps from the 18-1/2 inch ported tube. When I went hunting for black bear in extreme northern Minnesota I loaded it with the 300 grain Winchester Nosler Partition.

Recoil depends a lot on what load you run through which gun. The Remington factory 405 gr @ 1200 fps out my seven pound Guide Gun Mjolnir kicks about like a 12 ga field load. The 300 grain hollownose soft at 1700 feels about as snappy as my 30'06 rifles. When a fella starts to push 350-420 grain bullets at 1800-1900 fps the handy short-barreled gun can become obstreperous. I'll guess the longer, heavier Cowboy would be a little easier on the ears and the shoulder.

For deer there's probably no reason to use anything but the 300 grain express load.  For black bear I'll wager the Remington factory 405 @ 1200 would be plenty. For brown, grizzly, or polar bear I suppose I'd be happier with a ~400 LBT-pattern going as fast as a fella's shoulder would tolerate (again, do replace the truck tire the factory calls a recoil pad with something squishier).  Garrett Cartridges offers such loads commercially.  They are very snappy.  The recoil is not brutal, unless you think the kick of a 375 H&H is brutal.

When it comes to handloading I've had good success with IMR3031, IMR4198, and RL7 with the jacketed 350 gr Hornady softs and commercially cast lead 300, 350, and 405s. I'm still looking for a pistol power load for the cast 300s and will probably use Trail Boss for such work.  The 45/70 in first gear still trumps a 44 magnum at the firewall.

Aftermarket Accessories

The Wild West Guns trigger kit vastly improved but did not quite perfect the pull on my Guide Gun. Next time I have Mjolnir apart I may install their improved ejector and aluminum magazine follower as well.  They also offer an accessory rail that attaches to the magazine tube ahead of the fore end cap in case you need to put some light on your target.

While the new XLR appears to have a proper recoil pad every Guide Gun I've seen wears a pad made of rubber about as resilient as a truck tire. I had a SIMS Limbsaver installed. While it sticks to the carpet in the gun safe it feels much, much better when I press the go button.

If I were rich I might install Brockman's cartridge trap in the buttstock to hold a few spare rounds.  As it is I'll buy one of Andy Langlois' leather ammo cuffs one of these days.  A lace-on leather butt cuff beats the cheap elastic job all hollow.  If you order a carry sling at the same time as the butt cuff he can match colors for you.  BTW, Andy's prices on leather of all kinds are excellent.  Check out Andy's Leather Shop before you buy anywhere else.  Seriously, talk to the man.

Features

When slung on its carry strap I keep Mjolnir's chamber empty and magazine tube loaded. I lower the hammer to the half-cock notch over a chambered round when actively hunting. I admit I use the cross bolt "hammer blocker" when cycling ammo through the action to empty the rifle. Why not? When used only for that purpose about the only risk is that I forget to turn it back "Off" when done or that it gets bumped into the "On" position without me noticing. When I forget to turn it off and try to touch off a shot the hammer stops well short of the firing pin, with a disconcerting "click instead of a boom". If a fella doesn't care to remove the safety then the most interesing option I've seen at Beartooth Bullets forums is to turn the set screw deeper - making the safety harder to turn on and off without deliberate effort. Might try it next time I have the stock off.

My 1895G is ported and I suppose I wish it wasn't. The porting was quietly dropped a few years ago.  I suspect that most Guide Gun using deer hunters settle on the factory 300 gr @ 1700 fps express load which does not need the recoil reduction so Marlin reduced the risk of hearing loss ligitation by eliminating the ports. I still wonder whether a 16-1/4 inch unported barrel is quieter than a 18-1/2 inch ported barrel.  If you hunt wearing the same electronic hearing protection you wear when practicing then the extra noise from the ports will cause you no trouble. I strongly recommend you protect your hearing as a young man, or end up a little too deaf a little too soon like me. The Peltor 6S is a pretty good setup.

I may take my Guide Gun to Africa when I go back as it seems just the thing for quick close range work in the bushveld. Mjolnir, a nice kudu, and me smiling would make for a memorable photo. I've got some LBT 420s but I haven't played with them yet. As deadly as they look sitting still they must be quite the hammer at ~1800 fps. A fella might do the trackers a favor by bobbing the barrel to remove the very noisy ports though.










There are those who say Marlin nicked the idea for the Guide Gun from the Wild West Guns Co-Pilot.  The resemblance is striking, but then without Marlin's rifle they'd have had nothing to work with...  In the years since its introduction Marlin seems to have noticed all the aftermarket enhancements being made for their Guide Gun.  Their newer 1895SBL comes ready for serious work out of the box. It's made of stainless steel.  It has a sturdier laminated wood stock set fitted with a real recoil pad.  It has the de rigueur large lever loop, a full length magazine tube that holds an extra cartridge, and serious iron sights.  It comes with the XS combination scope rail that let's you put a scope or optical sight in the conventional or scout position.  Much as I like my 1895G Guide Gun, if I were shopping today the SBL has everything a fella needs and nothing he don't. It’s a neat piece of work.

There are more powerful rifles but few repeaters are this handy and weigh but seven pounds, especially at the price of the Marlin. Whether a 45/70 Guide Gun is any better than a 12 gauge slug gun for bear defense I'll leave to folks who have fought bears with both, but it's certainly more attractive than my old Remington 870 Express.  Try one; I predict you'll enjoy yours too.


UPDATE: In March of 2011 I fitted Mjolnir with a leather butt cuff ammo carrier made by Andy Langlois (who also plays gracious forum host at The Scout Rifle Community).  Andy's workmanship is beautiful and he'll make a carry strap or Ching Sling to match the rich color of your ammo carrier.  Sometimes it's nice to have some spare cartridges or the ability to charge an unloaded rifle in a grab and go situation.  A butt cuff from Andy's Leather is a fine way to make that happen.

REUPDATE: Andy has developed a superior shooting sling for those who choose to eschew the third swivel needed to make the Ching Sling workable.  His Rhodesian Sling is an elegant solution in the extreme.  Check him out before you purchase anything less. 


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