Mention the word “Marlin” to anyone with even a casual interest in guns and chances are it will evoke the image of a lever-action rifle. Of course lever-actions are not the only type of firearm Marlin has produced since the company was founded back in the late 1870s, but the fact remains that Marlin and lever-action have become virtually synonymous. Interestingly enough, Marlin sells more semiauto and bolt-action rimfire rifles than anyone else.
The Marlin XL7 as tested in this review with a new Weaver Classic Extreme 2.5-10x50 scope in Warne QD lever rings on Weaver bases.
Anyway, when it comes to Marlin bolt-action centerfire rifles, it’s been a different story. Marlin’s first bolt-action rifle venture was back in 1954 when the company rolled out the Model 322; it was built on a Sako Vixen action and chambered only in 222 Remington. This Marlin rifle boasted the company’s Micro-Groove rifling that worked so well for them in their rimfire rifles. In a high velocity centerfire rifle, however, 16 shallow rifling grooves didn’t work very well, and barrels often shot out in 500 rounds or less. Only 5,800 Model 322s were sold between 1954 and 1959 when the rifle was discontinued. In 1956 Marlin introduced the 422, which had a different barrel and stock, but it was the same basic rifle as the 322. Only 354 of the rifles were sold between 1956 and ’59.
Also in 1956 Marlin introduced the Model 455, its first venture into the arena of the high-power big game rifle. It was built on the excellent FN commercial Mauser action fitted with a Marlin barrel and a stock by E.C. Bishop & Son. The 455 was a good rifle, but Marlin didn’t have the reputation as a builder of bolt-action big game rifles and it simply did not sell. Only 1,079 rifles in 30-06 were sold between 1956 and ’59, along with 59 rifles chambered in 308 Winchester, which was the only other cartridge offered.
It was 1996, 37 years after the demise of all three Marlin bolt-action centerfire rifles, that Marlin once again threw its hat into the ring with the Marlin MR7, a completely new rifle built on an action of its own design and manufacture. The Marlin MR7 was a hybrid that borrowed from the Remington 700, Winchester Model 70, and the Ruger 77. It was a very sound rifle, but offered nothing new to set it apart from those whose features it copied. It had no elegance, no panache; it simply was another ho-hum bolt-action rifle in a sea of other more established bolt-action rifles. The Marlin MR7 died a merciful death before the turn of the millennium.
Which brings us to the present and yet another attempt by Marlin to become a player in the bolt-action centerfire rifle market. Enter the Marlin XL7, a rifle that, like the Marlin MR7, is totally new and of Marlin design and manufacture, but its future looks a lot rosier than that of its forebears. Why? Well, let’s review a test Marlin XL7 rifle chambered in 25-06. Now granted, a 25-06 is at the upper end of what could be considered a predator cartridge, let alone a varmint cartridge, but it is the least potent cartridge for which the XL7 rifle will be available this year (the other XL7 chamberings are 270 Winchester and 30-06). Surely, though, with their track record, Marlin is testing the waters. With the new Marlin XL7, however, I don’t think they need worry about its future. I’m sure a short action and varmint cartridges will be added in the near future to XL7 cartridge offerings.