Marlin has long been the king of lever action rifles, and without a doubt the .444 Marlin has been one of the most popular heavy rounds of the last half century. Now as the round is fast coming up on its 60th birthday, let's put some perspective into the big .444 slugger.
Why the need
Large game hunters in North America in the late 19th century discovered the venerable .45-70 Government round. The .45-70 was adopted by the US Army in 1873 and used in all of the late Indian Wars as well as the Spanish American War by the military, but its greatest calling was in large animal hunting. The .45-70 helped bring the buffalo to near extinction, and line up innumerable bear, cougar, wolves, and elk and mule deer from Texas to Alaska and back. However, the big round needed a big gun, typically a single shot drop hinge action long barreled rifle that weighed at least 9-pounds.
The Marlin 336 rifle, introduced in 1948 was a game changer. With its solid, flat top receiver and side ejection, the 336 could mount optics and its microgroove rifling worked better with a jacketed bullets. Offered mainly in .30-.30, the 336 was a great brush gun for whitetails, but couldn't be counted on to take large dangerous game. What was needed was a modern heavy round that was short enough to use the 336's lever action. That's what led to the development of the .444 in 1964.
The Design of the .444 Marlin Round
Taking a fat, wide-necked 57mm long case (almost as long as a 7mm Mauser's); the Marlin Company mashed a .429" round on top to create a moose of a cartridge. It was longer by almost an inch than the .44 magnum, but overall nearly the same length as a 30.30 Winchester, but without a neck. It looks like an all brass shotgun shell or a throwback to the Kynoch elephant gun rounds of the 19th century, but it is brutally effective. Mounting bullets of 240-300 grains, it has the same 'throw weight' as the old .45-70 while being able to feed in a lever action carbine. When compared side by side, the legacy .45-70 shot a 300-grain lead slug at 1600/fps with 1700-ft/lbs of energy while the .444 Marlin, using the same 300-gran bullet would sling it 2000/fps and impart 1600-ft/lbs of energy.
Better yet the .444 offered a better trajectory over the .45-70's rainbow of inches over yards traveled. Out to 200-yards, the stout round is more accurate than stock .45-70s while still having more takes down power than a .44-Magnum revolver at the muzzle. It's rated and proven to be able to take any game in North America.
Guns chambered in .444
The original classic .444 chambered rifle was the (wait for it) Marlin Model 444. Introduced in 1965, the Model 444 was a standard Marlin 336 with a strengthened and enlarged action to handle the bruiser of a round. With a straight-grip Monte Carlo stock of uncheckered walnut, it often looks more like the 1895 and is often mistaken for such (although the 1895 was later offered in .444, which further confuses things). With a 24-inch barrel, the 5+1 shot lever gun came in at 42-inches overall and still weighed at a clean 7-pounds. In and out of production since 1965 in a number of variants, it is the primary .444 Marlin shooter out there. New production models run for a MSRP of about $475 whereas used and still-usable versions can be had for around $300.
Other contenders with .444 Marlin offerings are the Winchester 94 Big Bore versions for about $800 and the interesting H&R Handi-Rifles for about $200. The Handi-Rifle is a single shot hinge break rifle that has a 22" barrel, 38" overall length, 7-pound envelope in an inexpensive platform that is popular with entry-level hunters and is even seen as being a primitive weapon in such states as Mississippi.
No matter what type of cone you use, as long as the flavor is .444 Marlin, there is no North American game that you cannot lick at 200-yards.