You say that you love the underbarrel tubular magazine of the classic Model 60 but also want the nice, steady, short-throw bolt action of the 800 series Marlins and a groovy walnut stock?
Man, if they made that in one gun, it would be heaven, right?
Well the good old JM Marlin Company did just that in the 1970s and 80s with the 781 series rifle and its cousins.
In 1970, Marlin perfected their 780 series rifle, which is a nice little .22 rimfire that had a natty Monte Carlo-style American walnut stock with white-line spacer, gold-tone trigger, and a richly checkered pistol grip and forearm. An update of the old Model 80, this gun used a slightly curved 7-shot magazine different from what we know today as the one used on the 880 series and above.
Well, Marlin also went out on a limb and married up the new 780-model rifle without the oddball box mini-banana magazine. Instead, they went with the tried and true underbarrel tubular magazine that ran the length of the 22-inch micro-groove barrel. This produced a gun that looked like a cross between Marlin's bolt-action rimfires and the Model 60 series of autoloaders-- only with an upgraded stock.
See what we mean:
Put into production in 1971 as the Model 781, it had a 17-shot .22LR magazine that, like the tube on the Model 60 and 81, will also accommodate larger numbers of .22L (19 rounds) and .22S (25 rounds).
(That tube look familiar?)
Weighing in at just 6-pounds, the 41-inch long rifle was handy and well made, with markedly better furniture seen on later Marlin guns. With a set of decent open rear ramp and hooded post front sights as well the standard grooved receiver top for tip-off rings, the little rifle made a decent choice for grown small game hunters and target shooters without the stigma of having 'a kids gun.'
Introduced alongside the 781 was the magnum-sized .22WMR chambered Model 783. The larger length of this round when used in a tube mag the same size as its little brother, gave a reduced capacity of just 13-rounds. In addition, since the chamber size was stretched, it could only fire the .22 mags and not the host of shorter rimfires.
Both it and the 781 were sold with and without sling swivels and a companion leather strap over there distribution history that ran from 1971-1988. The last year they were sold, the 781 had a MSRP of $162 in 1988 dollars while the 783 ran $179.
Marlin replaced them in their lineup with the Model 881 and finally with the Remington-made 981 which is mechanically similar but has a plain black nylon stock rather than the beautiful American Walnut one of the older 781/783.
Getting your own
These guns have been out of production for the better part of thirty years now, which is good and bad. It's good because they are still young enough to not of interest to most hardcore Marlin collectors-- which keeps prices down. Its bad because the level of replacement/repair options open to you if you have a broken gun is limited at best. While Numrich and others have a decent stock of parts on hand now, that may not be the case in another generation so if you have one of these guns and want to shoot it a good bit, you may want to stock up on the small pieces that experience a lot of wear such as the springs, extractor, etc. and put them away for a rainy day.
(May want to gather some springs and small parts for a rainy day. Couldn't hurt)
Bottom line, after consulting both Fjestad and Petersen, listed values on these run between $75-$175 with the higher prices going for the 783 magnums. This is roughly confirmed through searches of the past 90 days on a number of internet gun auction sites of concluded listings. Anything higher would need to be minty in the box with the old original sling if possible.
(These guns are identified easily by their roll-marks on the barrel. Also note the all-important JM mark under the rear sight as denoting the gun as an old-school Connecticut Marlin. All of the 781/783s come from that era)
So if you can get your hands on one at the right price, and the prospect of a bolt gun with a tube mag makes you smile, keep your eyes peeled for one of these bad boys.