When I was a kid, my great uncle Gus took me out to the delta marsh of the oxbow lakes of the Mississippi River. For those unaware of the area, this is one of the finest parts of the country to sit and wait for flight after beautiful flight of wood ducks, snow geese, and Canadian geese to fly over. The night before the trip he reached far back into his closet and retrieved a bundle the size of a pair of baseball bats wrapped in an old wool blanket and tied with a piece of cord.
"Here you go," he said, passing the bundle off.
I quickly took to the mystery like a hyena to a carcass and dug right in. Blanket and cord parted ways until only an old bolt-action rifle with a barrel that looked like it could part the moon in half lay exposed. It wasn't an elephant gun, it was a Marlin 55. Whether they were built as Swamp Guns, Goose Guns, the Super Goose, or the "Double Nickel," the Marlin Model 55 series bolt action shotguns were some of the best waterfowl pieces ever made.
Origins and basic design
Today, the Marlin Firearms Company is best known for its line of rimfire plinkers and lever-action hunting rifles, but they also made shotguns for nearly a solid century. Between 1903-1954 they produced no less than sixteen different models of slide-action pump guns, usually in 12-gauge.
The Model 55 was first introduced in 1954 by Marlin, and was a novel bolt-action design for the company. Using a one-piece uncheckered American walnut stock with a pistol grip and butt pad, it looked more like a rifle than a shotgun. It used a two-round detachable box magazine that would hold standard sized 2 3/4-inch shells; it was marketed in both 12-gauge and 16-gauge with a 28" barrel and 20-gauge with a 26" barrel. The barrel had basic brass bead front sight and a rear U-grove notch. Options included an end of barrel choke that was adjusted by the turn of a wrist. Overall length was 46-48" depending on the caliber and weight was less than 8-pounds.
With nearly 120,000 of these shotguns made from 1954-65, they were an instant hit, selling for about $30. Regular Marlin models were the M55 and the Glenfield Model 55G (and later as the Model 50) which were sold by mass marketers like Sears and Western Auto. They are valued today anywhere from $140-$250 depending on their condition with the best prices going to Marlin models with the adjustable chokes and lowest to Glenfield models without one. Only about 3000 of the 16-gauge chamberings were made, making them rare.
The Swamp Gun
What many consider one of the best brush guns ever made, the 12-gauge 3-inch magnum Swamp Gun took the basic Model 55 design above and cut almost a foot off the shotgun's total length. It had a 20-inch barrel with an adjustable choke as standard. These rugged bruisers are sought after by hog hunters and are highly esteemed to this day as "Jeep guns." A total of 1493 swamp guns were manufactured in 1963 to 1965 and they tend to run up to $300 when you can find them if in excellent condition. (If you have one for sale let me know!)
The Goose Gun
Introduced in 1962 as the standard Model 55 was being phased out, this is the ultimate evolution of the 12-gauge Marlin bolt gun. Where the Swamp Gun was a chopped down brush version made for up close and personal use, the Goose Gun went the other way. A 36-inch long (yes, the same length as a yardstick) full-choked cylinder bore barrel; it was nearly five feet long. It's receiver was factory tapped for aftermarket sights and it was equipped with double extractors. This version has been in more or less permanent production for 35-years and was the last model shotgun still made by Marlin when they stopped production in 1997. Today these go for anywhere from $200-$400 on the open market depending on condition and age as referenced in recent sales in online gun marketplaces.
The Super Goose and the Slugger
In the 1970s, another pair of shotguns derived from the Model 55 was briefly introduced. These included about 4000 Model 55S slug guns with 24" cylinder bore barrels and the so-called Super Goose. The "Super Goose" was the unofficial name of the Model 5510, 10-gauge 3 1/2" magnum anti-aircraft gun variant of the Goose Gun. More than 21,000 of these heavy hitters were produced before it was discontinued in the 1980s. Both of these models tend to sell for about $300-$400 depending etc.
Except for my uncle Gus's. He won't sell it for nothing.
Lots of geese with 'x's on their eyes due to that gun.
Lots of em.