The Marlin Golden Model 39A rifle has, in one guise or another, been hitting the mark for more than a century, says Charles Smith-Jones
In 1893 the renowned American sharpshooter Annie Oakley put 25 shots through the same ragged hole at a range of 11 metres using .22 Short cartridges. On the same day she shot a jagged one-hole group through the centre of an ace of hearts playing card, shooting offhand with no support. The rifle she used for both feats was a Marlin Model 1891, the forerunner of the Golden Model 39A, which she would probably find remarkably familiar today.
When Marlin introduced its Model 1891 in that year, it was the first underlever rifle chambered for .22LR. Subsequent versions saw the side gate through which it was loaded give way to a front-loading tubular magazine because of problems experienced feeding the smaller round. The design also quickly moved from an octagonal to a rounded barrel. The Model 39 then appeared in 1921 and the Model 39A in 1939.
Marlin Golden Model 39A
Since then, there have been a number of variations, but these have been mostly cosmetic and it is fair to say that the same rifle, under one name or another, can be considered as having been in production under much the same specifications for more than a century. This represents the longest continuous production run of any commercial firearm. Well over two million Model 39s had been produced by the time Ruger acquired the Marlin brand in 2020 and production ceased, although there are hopes that it will resume.
The Marlin Golden Model 39A was introduced in 1983, the first of the series to have a cross-hammer safety. It was also marked out by its signature golden trigger, a hooded ramp front sight and the provision of sling swivels. It went on to become one of the biggest-selling lever-action rimfires in US history.
Featuring Marlin’s proprietary Micro-Groove rifling in a 1 in 16in right-hand twist, it built on the already enviable reputation of its predecessors to become regarded as one of the most accurate .22 rifles ever made. There was also a carbine Mountie version that proved highly popular among American shooters.
It is one of only a few .22 rifles with a takedown capability, allowing it to be separated into two halves for transport or cleaning. The operation involves removing the oversized screw on the right-hand side of the receiver and is easily completed under field conditions using a coin.
Though certainly convenient, some critics object to the feature, claiming that it disrupts the otherwise clean lines of the rifle. The breech needs to be closed before takedown can proceed and this might become an issue if the rifle experiences a malfunction preventing the breech from closing.
The Marlin Golden Model 39A was supplied with an adjustable folding rear sight and a hooded bead front sight, but mounting a scope is a simple enough matter if that is preferred. The open sights are precise enough to cope with the shorter ranges normally associated with rimfire pest control. It is very unlikely that anyone would want to fit a sound moderator to this style of rifle, but even without one and using subsonic ammunition, it is still surprisingly quiet, even more so using .22 Short. Feeding is very smooth and consistent, and speed will depend purely on how fast you can operate the underlever.
The brass-lined tube magazine houses variable numbers of the alternative .22 rimfire rounds that the action can accommodate. There is a visible indicator on the left-hand side of the receiver to show whether the magazine is charged. If the orange tip of the magazine follower shows, the magazine is empty (although, of course, the chamber may not be).
The Golden Model 39A may not fall into the same low-cost category as many of the used .22 rimfires some dealers find difficult to sell and so price accordingly, but this one is rather more special. It is a rugged, reliable, quick-shooting and highly accurate rifle. Many shooters will choose not to fit a telescopic sight, preferring the light weight and handiness of an uncluttered gun. It will serve equally well for pest control and plinking — and there is the bonus of enjoying a piece of Americana.
Marlin Golden Model 39A Tech Specs
- Country of origin US
- In production 1983 to 2021
- Action Lever
- Stock options American black walnut
- Barrel length 24in (Mountie version 20in)
- Magazine Tubular, capacity 18 (.22LR), 20 (.22 Long) or 25 (.22 Short) (Mountie version 15, 16 and 20 respectively)
- Left-hand version No
- Weight (bare) 6lb 8oz (Mountie version 6lb)
- Available in calibres .22LR/.22 Long/.22 Short only
- Cost new Probably in the region of £1,000 (if production resumes)
- Cost used From around £400, depending on age and condition