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Marlin 1897 Cowboy .22 Levergun

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Marlin 1897 Cowboy


In 1997, Marlin introduced the Model 1897 Century Limited to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the company's first lever-action takedown .22. The rifle featured a gold-plated engraving of John Marlin on one side of the receiver and a gold fox on the other. Other distinctive touches included cut checkering in an 1897-vintage pattern, western-style straight-gripped stock and a 24" half-round, half-octagon barrel. Production was limited to 3,000 units and the rifle was priced at $1,055.

While collectors don't mind shelling out that kind of money, it's more than most plinkers want to pay.

While a few Century Limited Commemoratives are still available, Marlin now offers a slightly plainer, considerably more affordable version of this classic rimfire. The New Model 1897 Cowboy rifle has the same look and feel of the commemorative version, but sports a plain-sided receiver with no engraving or gold inlays.

The American black walnut stock has generous cut checkering, but lacks the distinctive grain featured in the higher-priced collectible. Other differences include a 24" full-octagon barrel in place of the Century Limited's half-octagon, half-round tube, and a full-length tubular magazine that holds 19 Long Rifle cartridges. The commemorative version sports a 3/4-length magazine with a 13-shot capacity. Both rifles digest .22 Short, .22 Long and .22 LR rounds interchangeably.

Both versions share the same sighting equipment: a marble semi-buckhorn rear sight, step-adjustable for elevation and drift-adjustable for windage, combined with a brass bead-on-post marble carbine front sight.

The receiver is drilled and tapped for scope mounting. The gun is 40" long and weighs an even 6 pounds. The legend "1897 Cowboy" is stamped on the left side of the barrel.

I admired the Model 1897 Century Limited rifle when it was first introduced but never had the chance to use one. When I finally got hold of an 1897 Cowboy rifle, I was eager to put it through its paces.

Marlin's venerable M39 is a longtime favorite, so there were no surprises when it came to functioning. This is one of the most reliable rimfires on the market, and it chewed through a variety of .22 Short and Long Rifle loads without complaint.

I was momentarily startled when the hammer clanked against the rifle's crossbolt safety instead of firing the first round. I guess I'm still frying to forget that Marlin added the manual safety to its fine, old lever rifles several years ago. Call it wishful thinking in an increasingly litigious age.

At 50 yards, the Model 1897 Cowboy punched 1 5/8" five-shot groups. Long experience tells me Marlin's lever-action .22s are capable of even better accuracy, but I'd need a scope to prove it. I can't bring myself to add glass sights to this great-looking lever rifle.

The Model 1897 Cowboy lists at $648. That's $400 less than the similar 1897 Century Limited, but still $167 higher than Marlin's standard Model 39AS lever rifle. I'm betting a lot of cowboy action shooters and western firearms fans will be willing to pay the difference.

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