Tim Pilbeam tests a rifle and scope combo from across the Atlantic: the Marlin X7 in .243 and the Weaver Super Slam scope
Marlin is probably best known for its underlever actions and rimfires in the USA, rather than for hunting rifles. I have been told they are good value for money, and more importantly, that their accuracy is ‘just darn good’! With an RRP of £715, the X7 is an entry-level model, maybe for the first-time buyer of a centrefire – but does it punch above its weight?
The Marlin X7 range of rifles come in short and long actions, chambered in calibres from .22-250 to .30-06. For the review, I had the X7Y Short action model in .243, but is also available in 7mm-08 and .308 Win. It is fitted with a lightweight synthetic stock as standard – when tapped lightly, it sounded hollow and ‘plasticy’. My first impressions were that this was a budget build. When raised to the shoulder, the raised cheekpiece fits well, as does the narrow, chequered pistol grip. To the rear, the ‘Soft-tech’ recoil pad is comfortable, and I imagine it would be forgiving when shooting the larger calibres.
The action itself is bedded on steel pillars within the stock, so to reinforce the mounting area, resulting in a very solid fitment, secured by two hex-headed screws. This should improve accuracy for what seems a fairly light rifle, weighing in at 6¾lb. The forend is designed to touch the barrel in two places. This may change the point of impact when a bipod is fitted or affect accuracy when the barrel heats up. (In the USA, bipods are not used by most hunters other than long-range varminters.) QD mounts are also fitted in the normal places.
The rear of the bolt is fully enclosed with a cocking indicator, and is fully fluted the length of its body. Thanks to this fluted bolt, it cycles smoothly with the bolt head being pinned to the body, allowing the round to self-centre for enhanced accuracy. There is a two-position safety catch mounted to the right that when applied, locks the trigger, but allows the bolt to be cycled. To release the bolt, simply press a lever down, located to the left of the bolt, and out she slides. On top of the action, a Picatinny-style rail or bridge is a standard fitment, allowing a wide variety of Weaver-style mounts to be used.
The lightweight, tapered 22in sporting barrel boasts a button rifling process for the rifling and is threaded with a recessed crown. With a twist rate of 1 in 10in, it maybe favours the heavier bullets, but that is common for many .243s. Similar to some of the Savage rifles, there is a locking collar next to the action to guarantee the exact head spacing measurements during manufacture.
The ‘Pro-Fire’ Trigger is easily adjustable from 2½lb with this rifle set to just over 3lb from the factory. With a hint of creep, it is very crisp and I had no need to adjust it to a lighter pull, as it felt just right for everyday hunting. Similar to the Savage I reviewed recently, the Pro-Fire trigger has a central safety blade that has to be pressed first before the main blade moves. This forward safety blade system allows the trigger to be adjusted to below 3lb without the worry of falling foul of the American laws. Also, it prevents the rifle firing if it is dropped heavily.
The X7 does not support a detachable magazine or floor plate. With a ‘blind magazine’, it is a pure top-loader, so there is plenty of room to press a maximum of four rounds in from the top. To unload, every round has to be individually extracted by cycling the bolt. Overall it has the feel of a budget rifle, no thanks to the hollow stock, but it is light, well balanced and fitted with what seems to be a quality trigger. So does it perform in the field?
The Marlin X7 came with a Weaver Super Slam 3-9×56 and Millet Angle-Loc mounts, all supplied by Edgar Brothers. As it came threaded, I fitted my Reflex T8 moderator, and for ammunition I used Hornady Superformance 95-grain SSTs flying out at a feisty 3,180fps. Before using a collimator, I made sure the windage adjustment on the scope was in the middle of its travel. I then adjusted it to the central line of the collimator by adjusting the base screws on the Millet Angle-Loc scope mounts. This can be a useful option for those times when, for some reason, the scope will not line up properly. I see this rifle being used for everyday fox and deer control, so I set the zero at 150 yards – just right for close woodland stalking, and, with lighter bullets, foxes out to 250 yards.
Within four shots, the zero was achieved and the X7 recorded a 1.5in group at 150 yards, which is respectable considering it was shot off my shortened high seat with the rifle resting on my hand. I found it comfortable to shoot thanks to the slim pistol grip and grippable, chequered forend.
Out to 250 yards, now using a bipod, the Pro-Fire trigger was a delight to use, but I found that the grouping increased to 3.5in with the 95-grain ammunition. I then tried, at the same distance, some home-loaded Nosler 55-grain ballistic-tipped rounds (MV 3,825fps) and they surprisingly achieved a group of less than two inches.
I mentioned that the stock forend is designed to touch the barrel in two places. Adding a bipod can alter the point of aim owing to increased pressure on the barrel from the forend, but it did not seem to change it by more than an inch at 250 yards. The cycling of ammunition was smooth, and there were no faults with the feeding from the blind magazine.
To sum up, the Marlin X7 has the feel of a budget rifle largely because of the low-cost stock, but once lifted to the shoulder, it certainly performs a lot better than one. I see this attracting the first-time owner of a centrefire, or the gamekeeper who wants a totally reliable, lightweight workhorse.
With an RRP of £715, consistently shooting well below 1MOA, what else do you really need out of a gun? In the USA, it retails for $434 with a scope thrown in, so it is seen as one of the more inexpensive centrefire rifles available. The more I shot the X7, the more it demonstrated its ability to shoot well. Does it punch above its weight? It certainly does.