Not long ago I wrote an article speaking of “the compromise gun.” I propose the idea that shooters are best served by minimizing the guns they use and train with to only those that are needed as rotating platforms can undermine your skills development. However, most shooters need a compromise gun, whether it be a small, deep-concealment handgun for certain environments, or a compromise long gun that is perhaps legal where your preferred gun is not, or is perhaps more practical for some applications.
I think the two premier long gun “compromise” options are a good pump shotgun or a lever-action rifle. Such guns can realistically accomplish any self or home defense requirements, they are legal in restricted districts where an AR15 or other battle rifle may not be, and they are perhaps better suited to being trunk guns as a stolen pump shotgun or lever rifle is better than a stolen AR or AK. Personally, I am not much of a shotgun guy so I lean more towards rifles for any given application. I love a good bolt rifle as a woods or field gun where any engagements will be at distance, but as a self-defense compromise gun the bolt is very slow for follow-up shots. A lever action rifle, however, is an excellent and very capable defensive tool.
It is hard to argue with the efficiency of the venerable 30-30 lever rifle, my personal favorite of which is the legendary Marlin 336. As a good hunting gun that can also serve well for home defense, 30-30 is a good round. However, as a dedicated self-defense lever gun for home defense or as a trunk gun, I like lever rifles chambered in 357 magnum. These tend to be harder to find, and are typically more expensive than the 30-30 variants.
I recently had the good fortune to find a Marlin 1894c in a local gun store and I grabbed it. I had my reservations as new-production Marlins are, shall we say, questionable. They have improved since the initial Remington takeover of Marlin about a decade ago. Right after the Remington takeover the guns were utter shit. They have improved massively. However, even now, most argue that they don’t compare to the pre-Remington days. Ironically, the model 336 seems to be the best bet as far as consistent quality, but the 1894 models remain questionable.
Well, let me say, I got lucky. This gun that I found, which is a brand-new production gun, is flawless. It even feeds 38 Specials with no reliability issues at all. Older 1894s had issues feeding the shorter 38 Specials as compared to the longer 357 round. This gun, however, runs everything with complete reliability. I put a red dot on it and it is fast, accurate, reliable, and 357 Magnum hits with authority out of the 18 inch barrel. The Marlin provides a side-loading gate so that the gun can be topped up, similar to a tube-fed shotgun, and I think that is important. Henry lever rifles are beautiful, but I am turned off by the tube-loading system. Granted, needing more than 10 rounds of 357 Magnum from a rifle-length barrel in any civilian defensive use is statistically infinitesimal. Still, I like the option.
My rifle is a sample of only one, so I can’t speak further about Marlin reliability, but based on this rifle, the Marlin 1894 is an excellent compromise long gun for defensive use. I also love it as a gun to grab for a hike in the woods as it is a lot lighter and sleeker than an AR15, and it can adequately handle anything that you may encounter in the woods east of the Mississippi. In big brown bear country I would consider one of the Marlin 1895s chambered in the powerful 45-70, but for my purposes, the 357 Magnum rocks. I love it and recommend it.