January 2014

Upgrading 30-30 Win. Truck Gun Becomes A Bear of a Project

Montana-based Grizzly Custom turns Roger Eckstine’s lever-action pawnshop truck gun into a work of art. Functionally, the Marlin also became faster and smoother to handle and shoot.

In the February 2003 issue of Gun Tests we published a single-page feature entitled “Mike’s Ultimate Truck Gun.” In that, we described how gunsmith Mike Montgomery had taken a pawnshop refugee 30-30 Winchester Marlin 336RC and upgraded it. First, it was modified for faster handling by shortening the barrel and stock. The action was checked and tuned. Montgomery changed the sights to a Williams adjustable rear peep sight and light-gathering filament Firesight up front. Also, the magazine tube was shortened, reducing capacity to four rounds. Total for the Truck Gun conversion at the time: $225.

For a decade, it has been a favorite of Contributing Editor Roger Eckstine, who liked having it with him when testing guns at a private range where feral dogs are sometimes a problem. But after 10 years of riding in a pickup truck, Truck Gun needed renovation.

The Gun Tests staff thought the Marlin 336RC would be an ideal candidate for a Before & After renovation, in which we take a previously reviewed gun and either upgrade it ourselves or send it to a specialty shop to see how the changes perform and assess whether we think they’re worth the money.

Eckstine’s rifle had been back to Marlin once to fix a sticky elevator, but he knew it could be a lot better if he could find the right gunsmith. At the 2013 Dallas Safari Club convention, he noticed sample guns by Lew Bonitz, purveyor of Grizzly Custom Guns based in Columbia Falls, Montana (GrizzlyCustom.com, [406] 892.4570). Grizzly Custom’s packages include refinishing and updating lever actions with modern sights, Picatinny scope mounts, and big lever loops. Also, Bonitz said he could provide a smoother action, including less resistance from the loading gate. The desire for faster, easier reloading of the magazine was a prime reason Eckstine went looking for a gunsmith in the first place.

Grizzly Custom offers eight different update packages for lever-action rifles. They are the BackPacker Lite and BackPacker Lite Scout, the 2-Tone package that features satin stainless highlights, the BackPacker and BackPacker Scout SBR (short-barreled rifle), the Tactical Package, and the Kodiak. The Kodiak is a Safari Grade package with a fancy-wood Monte Carlo/deep pistol gripped stock. But what Eckstine wanted was a variation on the Brush Hawg package, which includes shortening and recrowning the barrel at 16.5 inches; shortening the magazine tube, if required, and adding a custom LPA ghost ring sight system with single post front sight and dovetail fill to replace factory rear sight. Also included were an enlarged lever loop, smoothing all ports inside and out, modifying the loading gate for easier loading/unloading, and extensive action smoothing, including a trigger job, dehorning, and adding a bobbed hammer and stainless steel follower. Rounding out the Brush Hawg was a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad and leather butt-cuff ammunition carrier (right or left handed) with matching Slimline leather sling, satin matte metal prep and bluing. Of course, the rifle was returned test fired and sighted in. Base price of the Brush Hawg Lever gun Special built on a customer’s gun is $1560. Bear in mind that the wood and especially the steel used in older models like the test gun circa-1965 Model 336RC is superior, and Bonitz typically charges extra to work on later-model rifles (such as Marlins with an MR prefix before the serial number).

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