Marlinís New XL7 Bolt Action Rifle

 

by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn

January 1st, 2008

 

 

 

Shooters and hunters in the US are very fortunate to have a huge selection from which to choose when it comes to choosing a good, accurate bolt action rifle.  While some lament the passing of older bolt action designs, I do not, as every worthy design  ever built is now available from some source. Also, bolt guns have lost a little weight over the past several years, and synthetic stocks are readily available for most bolt action rifles as well, for those who prefer their stability over that of wood. Shooters these days can expect good accuracy from most bolt actions, and in the past couple of years, even the trigger pulls on most bolt action designs from several makers have improved significantly. Savage started the trend with their AccuTrigger, and other gun manufacturers have followed suit, greatly improving the trigger action on their rifles.

Recently, I received in for review a new Marlin XL7 bolt action rifle. There is nothing new or radical about the XL7, but it combines some of the best features found on todayís modern bolt guns into a very shootable, reliable, accurate, and affordable package.

First of all, a bit about the Marlin Firearms Company. Marlin is one of the oldest and best known firearms manufacturers in the United States, dating back to the 1870s, with their reputation built on their legendary lever action rifles. I have often stated that if I ever get down to owning just one rifle, it will be one of my Marlin Model 39 leverguns. Those little .22 Long Rifle shooting jewels are some of the sweetest shooting rifles and carbines ever inspired by God and built by man. While it would take some adjusting, I could do ninety-nine percent of what I need a rifle to do with a Model 39. The other one percent could easily be accomplished with my Marlin .45-70 Guide Gun. Marlinís entire line of leverguns are good-shooting, well-built rifles. I get emails pretty often asking why I do not review new Marlin rifles, along with all the other guns that I review on Gunblast.com. Since the inception of Gunblast back in the year 2000, I have tried to talk with the marketing folks at Marlin, and would get a blank stare in person, or just an answering machine when I would call. The man handling that stuff for several years just didnít want to talk to me. Anyway, there were no hard feelings at all, as he was doing his job as he thought it should be done. I have bought for myself and recommended Marlin rifles to Gunblast readers for years.  In addition to their leverguns, their rimfire bolt action rifles have an excellent reputation for accuracy. However, a few months ago, Marlin hired a new marketing manager who is a twenty-first century kind of guy who seems to be really on top of things, and he actually returns telephone calls. A few weeks ago when he told me that Marlin was making a new bolt action rifle, I jumped at the chance to review it. After it arrived, I was not disappointed. After shooting it, I was impressed.

While priced to compete with other affordable bolt guns, the XL7 has several nice features that make it shoot like rifles costing a lot more. The black synthetic stock is lightweight, pillar-bedded to the receiver with two Allen-head bolts, and is comfortable to shoot. The stock wears molded-in checkering for a secure hold, has a soft, comfortable recoil pad, and has sling swivel studs attached, which is always a good idea on a hunting rifle. It bugs me to see many rifles marketed to hunters that have no provision for attaching a sling. Thankfully, Marlin chose to put sling swivel studs on the new XL7. The XL7 received for testing is chambered for the .270 Winchester cartridge, which is a fine choice for just about any medium to large game in the US, or for hunting plains game in Africa, with the right bullet. The XL7 weighed in at six pounds, eleven ounces. The slim tapered barrel is twenty-two inches long, and the muzzle is finished with a recessed crown. The barrel is threaded into the receiver, and locked in place with a Savage-style barrel nut. The rifle balances very well, and comes to the shoulder quickly. The fast-stepping .270 Winchester cartridge is a good match for such a rifle. It is very flat shooting, and can really reach out and hammer medium game like whitetail deer, without punishing the shooter with heavy recoil. What recoil the cartridge does produce is abated handily by the excellent recoil pad that Marlin has installed on the XL7. The XL7 has an internal box magazine, which holds four rounds, giving a total loaded capacity of five cartridges. The push feed design of the bolt head allows an extra cartridge to be fed directly into the chamber, eliminating the requirement that it be fed from the magazine. The bolt head is pinned to the bolt body, much like the system used on the Savage 110 series rifles. I like that feature. It allows to bolt to self-center, doing away with the need to have the lugs lapped as is often required on other designs to improve accuracy. The thumb safety is to the right rear of the bolt handle, as we have seen on the Remington Model 700 rifles for many years. It blocks the trigger from movement, but allows the bolt to be worked. To remove the bolt for bore-sighting or cleaning, a bolt release is located at the left rear of the receiver, and is easy to use. Pressing downward while withdrawing the bolt allows it to slide freely from the receiver. A red cocking indicator tells the user, by sight or feel, that the bolt is cocked and ready to fire. One of the best features of the XL7 is the trigger. Called the Pro-Fire Trigger by Marlin, it is user adjustable for pull weight, and releases crisply with no hint of creep or overtravel. It is a fine trigger. The sample rifle arrived with the pull set to release at just over three and one-quarter pounds, but I lightened the pull slightly to two and one-half pounds. Like the Savage AccuTrigger, the Pro-Fire trigger has a safety inset into the center of the trigger blade that prevents the rifle from firing if dropped hard. The result is an excellent trigger pull that is safe to carry, and easily adjusted. I detest a heavy, gritty trigger on a rifle. It makes it hard for the shooter to take advantage of the accuracy of a rifle. The Pro-Fire is a good system, and Marlin did well incorporating it into the XL7. I like the trigger.

Shooting the XL7 was a pleasure. As mentioned earlier, the stock design and recoil pad make the rifle very comfortable to shoot.  The excellent Pro-Fire trigger made it easy to hold the rifle on target while pressing the trigger blade. For accuracy testing, I mounted a Leupold VX-L atop the Marlin using Weaver bases. The Marlin uses any scope base that is made for the Winchester Model 70, which is a nice feature, as that base is very common and readily available. However, during the accuracy testing, I also realized that this Marlin is priced below just about every other bolt action centerfire rifle available in the United States.  Keeping that in mind, I mounted a Bushnell 3 to 9 variable Sportview rifle scope. This scope sells for a very low price. It is nothing like the quality of the Leupold VX-L, but I realize that most buyers of the Marlin are not going to pay twice as much for a scope as they do for the rifle. I also used no premium or handloaded ammunition in the Marlin. I wanted to see how this rifle would perform for a hunter using ammunition that is readily available to everyone. I tested the XL7 for function and accuracy using  the inexpensive and plentiful Remington yellow and green box Core-Lokt .270 ammo that I purchased from the Wal Mart. I also tested the XL7 with Federal 150grain round nose ammo that is also commonly available at any Wal Mart store.  None of this ammunition is high priced, and in the .270 Winchester, premium ammo is not needed, as the Core-Lokt has probably killed as many animals as any bullet made, and it still works quite well.

Functioning of the XL7 was very good, with the cartridges gliding smoothly from magazine to chamber, and extracting just as easily after firing.  Accuracy was fine, using either of the two scopes tested with the rifle. The targets were much easier to see clearly with the Leupold, but the accuracy of the XL7 was the same with either. As can be seen in the pictures, this rifle preferred the heavier 150 grain bullets to the 130 grain loads, but even the 130s grouped three shots into one and five-eighths inches. The 150 grain Remington grouped into one inch, and would do so every time, all day long. The Federal ammo grouped almost as well. For deer hunting, a rifle this accurate is not a necessity, but it is nice to know that the rifle will shoot into an inch at 100 yards if needed.

While testing the new Marlin, my cousin Jacob Taylor arrived to help out. I had already sighted in the XL7, and Jacob was going to take it hunting for a few days, so he settled down behind the rifle. It was wearing the Bushnell scope, and he selected a target at 100 yards and squeezed the trigger. His first shot from the Marlin hit the X of the bull. I told him there would be no excuses on the deer hunt after that. If he misses, he canít blame the rifle!

I like accurate rifles. I especially like accurate rifles that are a real bargain in todayís market. I usually do not list prices in a review, as our articles stay up on Gunblast in the Archive section forever, and we are constantly getting new readers who find our site. In this case, however, I will make an exception, as this new XL7 carries a list price, as of this writing, of only $326 US. This price, combined with the accuracy, comfort, and handling of the rifle, along with that excellent trigger, makes this new Marlin XL7 one of the best bargains available in a quality rifle. In addition to that, it is made in the United States by American skilled workers. Considering reliability, accuracy, and price, the Marlin XL7 is hard to beat, and I highly recommend it.

For a look at the entire line of Marlin rifles and L C Smith shotguns, along with H&R rifles and shotguns, go to www.marlinfirearms.com.

For the location of a Marlin dealer near you, click on the DEALER FINDER button at www.lipseys.com.

Jeff Quinn

For a list of dealers where you can buy this gun, go to:

 

 

 

 

Jacob Taylor assisted in accuracy testing.

 

 

Jacob's first shot demonstrates that if he misses his deer, it won't be Marlin's fault!

 

 

100-yard groups show that the Marlin XL7 is as accurate as rifles costing several times its price.

 

 

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Click pictures for a larger version.

 

Marlin's new XL7 bolt-action rifle.

 

 

Bolt head is pinned to fluted bolt.

 

 

Marlin's Pro-Fire trigger is safe, crisp, and easily adjustable.

 

 

Weather-resistant synthetic stock features checkered panels and grip cap, swivel studs, and soft recoil pad.

 

 

Manual safety (top), bolt release (center), and cocking indicator (bottom).

 

 

Barrel is attached with a Savage-style barrel nut.

 

 

Trigger guard is synthetic to match the stock.

 

 

Stock is pillar-bedded to the action.

 

 

Stock contacts barrel at two points near tip of forend.

 

 

The XL7 uses commonly-available Winchester Model 70 scope bases.

 

 

Author accuracy-tested the XL7 using Leupold VX-L (top) and Bushnell Sportview (bottom) scopes.