By Tank Hoover
I’ve been both the giver and recipient of gift guns. I’ll admit both sides of the equation can make you feel pretty good. I’ve given a few of my amigos Ruger Super Blackhawks on their 50th birthdays for no better reason than putting up with the toils a half a century of life can bring.
Sometimes gift guns don’t really become “ours” until we make the necessary tweaks and adjustments satisfying our style of shooting. Sometimes we need to work on them out of necessity — while others may make us wonder if we’re the victim of some frustratingly cruel practical joke?
When Tank first got the nifty Marlin from old friend, Fermin, it was all roses and pretty bows!
Gift Or Gag?
My buddy Fermin Garza felt as though he needed to reciprocate after I sent him his SBH on his 50th. Imagine my surprise when he handed me a near mint Marlin 1894 chambered in the historically hyphenated .32-20! I was speechless!
So It Begins…
When I finally got the rifle to the range, a perplexing comedy of errors unfolded, raising the question — was this intentional, or was it innocent circumstances? Knowing the sneaky Mexican, I imagined him grinning like a monkey, laughing at my ballistic buffoonery.
So I just wasn’t sure.
I loaded three or four mild handloads through the loading gate and attempt to lever one in, when the jam of all jams strikes. I know what a failure to feed is, and have experienced double-feeds in semi-autos, but what I experienced here gave pause for concern.
Opening the action, via the lever, the whole shebang came hurtling down the magazine tube, jamming the works up, but good! No problem! I’ll just unscrew the lever screw, remove the lever and bolt and unjam this segmented serpent of sadistic shells.
Wondering if I was getting the run around, turning the lever screw 37 times, I finally realized it was stripped. Hmmm.
Applying pressure on the back of the screw with a punch, I finally got it out. Then I removed the lever and bolt, unjamming the cartridges.
Halfway through telling Fermin my tale, he tells me to try a longer overall cartridge length — before I ever mention the jam. He’s pretty perceptive that way. No matter how long I loaded my cartridges, they unloaded faster than a can full of spring loaded snakes.
While researching, I learned about Marlinitis, a malady of well-used Marlin lever guns. Its an easy fix, and after doing it, the cartridges feed perfectly. Didn’t matter if I levered them fast or slow, the gun fed and ejected, as it should with my dummy rounds. I was feeling like the gun was really becoming mine, after fixing her feeding problem and replacing the stripped lever screw.
Later, as the rifle let out its inner demons, Tank kept eyeing his sledge hammer with a knowing eye …
Around August, I’m feeling in need of a dirty-gun run to Pittsburgh to see ol’ Doc Barranti for a day of shooting and visiting. So I thought, hey, I could shoot that lever-gun and see what she’s capable of!
I tell Doc the story of the previous outing with the Marlin and he laughs as I load the rifle up, lever a round into the chamber and fire. Feeling pretty smug, the light handload hits its mark and I attempt to jack the empty out of the chamber. Working the lever, it won’t chamber the next cartridge. Huh? The fired case was still in the chamber. I tried getting it out with my fingernail, but no use.
Lacking a range rod, I see a nearby willow tree and figure I’ll go old-school, find a straight branch and run it down the barrel, muzzleloader-style to dislodge the brass. Easy peazy, right? I thought so too.
Only the stick is now stuck in the bore and Doc and I are doing a taffy-pull tug-o-war of sorts, trying to remove the willow. Eventually the stick comes out, at least most of it. A piece had broken off in the barrel.
We finally remove it at Doc’s house with a cleaning rod. All the time, I hear Fermin laughing clear down from Corpus Christi, Texas.
A call to Marlin and a new extractor arrives, fixing my failure to feed/fail to extract Marlin 1894 gift gun. I added a peep sight to it and now she runs the way she should! She’s mine, all mine, by the sweat of my brow mine! Did Fermin know of these maladies in the first place? Whatever the case, you never want to look a gift horse in the mouth, nor do you want to run a willow branch down the bore of a rifle.
Gift guns are great! So are gag guns with goblins! Once you figure them out, you’ll really feel like you’ve earned it. To this day, Fermin acts like he never knew about all these maladies of the goblin gun. One thing’s for sure, I’ll never part with it!
Now I’m looking for my next “gift-gun” for Fermin. If you’ve got any sixguns with problems getting them starring roles on one of those “Secrets of the Paranormal” TV shows — I just might be your customer.
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