The 308 and 338 Marlin Express

  1. Editor
    Within the past decade, Marlin, in cooperation with the ammunition wonks over at Hornady, have come up with a solution to the problem that generation after generation of cowboy carbine lover has lamented-- how do you get a long-range rifle round to fit in a tubular magazine?

    You see for well over a century, short, fat cartridges that mounted stubby bullets have handicapped the lever-action rifle. This is because these rounds, resting bullet point to primer bottom, risked detonation if said bullet point was not reasonably flat.

    Well, about that.

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    (The Marlin 338, its based on the 336, but packs a much larger punch)

    The tale of the .308 Marlin Express


    A relative newcomer to the rifle market, Marlin and Hornady, as part of the latter's LEVERevolution line, hatched this round in 2007. Based on the all but forgotten .307 Winchester, a rimmed bottlenecked round made exclusively for the AE series Winnie 94 in the 1980s, Hornady mounted a larger .308 caliber bullet on its 48.5mm long case, and mounted a 140-160 grain modified spitzer type bullet atop it.

    When we say modified, we mean it has a MonoFlex tip made from an elastomer (gooey plastic stuff). This keeps the rounds in the tubular magazine from spontaneously disassembling the rifle when firing.

    If you look at the dimensions of the round described above, it is almost a mirror image for the .308 Winchester (7.62x51mm) cartridge long used in battle rifles around the world and medium to large game hunting in North America. However, you can chamber a lever-action rifle to shoot it. Such as the Model 308MX.

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    (Marlin 308, photo by Marlin)

    Based on the 30/336 series but with a half-length magazine tube (due to the longer 22-inch barrel over more traditional carbine length guns), this walnut stocked gem can pack 5+1 in its tube and tackle all but the largest game. Black bear, whitetail, and similar are no problem-- out to extended ranges.

    However if you want to go after the North American big game, such as Brown bear, elk, moose, and the like, you may want to pack something larger.

    The Marlin Express 338 Story

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    (Isn't it cute? Note the elastomer tip. Overall the cartridge looks like a brass whiskey barrel, Photo by Hornady)

    To understand the story of the Marlin 338, you need to take a trip to 1920s Germany. There a fella named Willy Brenneke came up with a rimless .366 caliber (9.3mm) round on a 64mm case. This was one big fat cartridge. It could accept 300-grain bullets and generate a tremendous amount of force, easily outclassing the 30.06, .303 British, 7.92mm Mauser, and others of its generation. Designed to work in reworked Mauser 98 bolt-action military rifles, the round, dubbed the 9.3x64mm Brenneke, proved to be popular big game medicine on Safari in Africa, and continues in that role today.

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    Herr Wilhelm Brenneke, fed up with the ammunition available at the time, created the 9.3x6mm round that bears his name as well as the modern shotgun slug. More than seven decades later, Marlin and Hornady would take his round to the next level with the .338 ME.

    Now fast forward to 1999. Col. Jeff Cooper, regarded by many as one of the fathers of modern combat pistol shooting, was looking for a round for his Scout Rifle concept that he was developing with Austrian rifle maker Steyr. He wanted a handy, stubby round that was capable of taking just about anything that stepped in front of the barrel of his brush gun. Taking the old Brenneke and necking it up to take a .375 caliber bullet while shortening the case length a tad, Cooper-Hornady-Steyr produced the .376 Steyr (so named to avoid confusion with other .375-caliber loads).

    Stay with us here.

    While the Steyr round and the Scout rifle didn't really set the world on fire, in 2009 Hornady dusted the concept off and, in conjunction with Marlin (who they had worked on the .308 Marlin Express with already), came up with a round that turned heads. Necking the Steyr down to accept a .338 caliber bullet, and mating it with modern propellants that deliver more umpf than legacy loads, they produced the .338 Marlin Express, a 8.6x47mm round that looks like a fat .308 Winchester. The semi-rimmed round, using the same flex tip as on the .308 ME to enable it to be loading end-to-end in a tubular magazine, was designed from the outset to work in lever-action guns.

    This gave Marlin lever-gun users the opportunity to use a round, with legitimate big game gun ancestry, at ranges that outclass their old standby .444 Marlin bruisers. Ranges you say? Yes, the charts show that this flat-shooting round will match ballistics for popular full sized .30 caliber non-magnum rounds.

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    The 338 ME is a strong-willed wraith that is a cross ballistically somewhere between a full size 30.06 Springfield and a .338 Federal, especially at close ranges. At longer ranges, in the words of one sports writer when first introduced, it is "legitimate for anything in North America out to 400 yards."

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    (Marlin 338MX, photo by Marlin)

    Marlin is currently marketing a walnut 22-inch barreled 336 variant, the Model 338MX as well as a 24-inch stainless steel offering with two-tone laminate furniture. Either offers a five shot tubular mag.

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    (Marlin 338MXLR, photo by Marlin)

    When you figure these are still 7-ish pound rifles with the capability to make good backpack or brush guns, you see the appeal.

    The 338 models have been sought after here on the forum but have proved popular as have, to a lesser degree, the 308s. Prices range from $750-$1000 depending on degree of used or new, with a premium going for the few "JM" marked, North Haven, Connecticut-made guns produced before the old factory there was closed.

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    (Be on the lookout!)

    Hornady currently makes cartridges in these offerings; however, reloading may be the logical road to hoe on these rifles-- just in case they shut the line down one day. Marlin calls these loadings, "the only 300-yard chamberings for a traditional, tubular-magazine lever-action rifle."

    Specs on both the .308 ME and .338 ME are readily available as are dies if you look around from both RCS and Lee.Some on the forum have had good luck with various 150 grain bullets on the 308 Marlin Express reloads. However loads on the .338 have been done anywhere from 180 to 250 grain with some success.

    With states such as California pushing for lead-free hunting ammo, hand loading your own copper rounds can keep you in the game (pun intended).

    Although the guns have been hard to get in recent years, Marlin keeps mentioning them on social media and elsewhere lately, which are sure signs that an increase in production is on the way. With their renewed vow to expand Post-Remington quality, something truly remarkable could be on the way.

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