Inexpensive but not cheap, the XL7 may be the best value in hunting guns today.
By Clair Rees
When Marlin launched the MR7 a decade ago, sales never met expectations. While the company is famed for its classic lever guns, this centerfire bolt rifle never really caught on. After marketing it for a couple of years, Marlin eventually dropped it from the line. With the new XL7, Marlin is trying again. This time I think they got it right.
The discontinued MR7 was a pretty good rifle, but didn’t have much to set it apart from the competition. The XL7 I recently received for testing doesn’t have that problem. It has a whole batch of desirable features, starting with a new adjustable Pro-Fire trigger that, while resembling the Savage Accu-Trigger, is an entirely new design.
“Our trigger system is similar to the Glock-style Safe Action trigger,” says Bruce Rozun, Marlin’s director of research and development. “However, it in no way violates other patents. We researched a number of triggers, and the basic design we selected to improve on dates back to 1886, when it was used in single-shot falling-
“In normal operation, your finger first encounters the Pro-Fire trigger release lever that protrudes from the main trigger when the action is cocked,” Rozun notes. “When the lever reaches a certain point, it allows the trigger to travel rearward. The trigger itself can’t move until the release lever has been depressed.”
The trigger on my rifle was crisp and creep-free, breaking at an even 3 pounds. With the help of an Allen wrench, the trigger can be easily adjusted down to a 2 1/2-pound letoff. The Savage Accu-Trigger can be adjusted even lower — something long-range varmint hunters appreciate — but there’s no real need for a lighter trigger on a rifle intended for deer and larger game.
Designed with reduced production costs in mind, the XL7 uses a barrel nut to lock the barrel and receiver together. No shoulder is needed on the barrel. This greatly simplifies manufacturing and allows consistent headspacing with every rifle. Savage uses basically the same arrangement, and it’s proven its worth over time. The new Marlin also has a round receiver machined from 4140 steel alloy instead of the forged flat-bottom receiver once employed in the MR7.
“We simplified the bolt and replaced the three-position safety we used on the MR7 with a two-position safety,” Rozun continues. “We also removed the safety system from the bolt sleeve and incorporated it into the trigger.”
The safety makes an audible “click” when disengaged, but exerting a little downward pressure with your thumb allows noiseless operation.
The bolt is fluted, reducing surface contact with the receiver by 25 percent. This makes for extra-smooth operation. With an empty magazine, our test gun’s bolt cycled effortlessly. Point the rifle’s barrel slightly upward, then palm the bolt handle up. The bolt slides open of its own accord.
The bolt features twin locking lugs up front, with a raceway cut into the lower part of the right lug. A spring-loaded extractor is housed in the same lug.
The bolt face resembles that of the post-’64 Winchester Model 70. It’s fully recessed, enclosing the base of the cartridge case. A plunger ejector tosses empties through the generously sized ejection port.
A streamlined shroud covers the rear of the bolt, protecting the shooter from hot gases should a case or primer fail. A gas-escape port on the right side of the receiver where the action and barrel meet provides added safety. A bar projects from the lower rear of the shroud when the action is cocked. The indicator can be easily seen or felt with the shooter’s thumb.
To save both weight and expense, the XL7 sports a blind magazine instead of a traditional hinged metal floorplate. This requires the shooter to manually work unfired rounds through the action when it’s time to unload the magazine — something that would have been safer with a three-position safety.
The 22-inch barrel features a deeply recessed target crown at the muzzle. The six button-rifled rifling grooves have a 1-in-10-inch twist in all three calibers for which the rifle is currently chambered (.30-06, .25-06 and .270). I’m told short-action versions should be available next year.
The synthetic stock is pillar-bedded, with a new Soft-Tech recoil pad at the butt. This is a pad Marlin developed. It’s supposed to significantly reduce felt recoil, and in my experience, it does. With 180-grain factory loads, the Marlin didn’t punish my shoulder in spite of the rifle’s agreeable 6 1/2-pound heft. I like my rifles light, and this .30-06 nicely fills the bill.
All in all, I was impressed with the quality of Marlin’s new rifle. I was frankly astonished the company could build the XL7 to sell for a recommended retail price of just $326. Naturally, “street” prices will be even lower.
While the new rifle looked good right out of the box, the proof of the pudding would be found at the firing range. Rozun told me Marlin technicians had been getting 100-yard groups measuring between 0.9 and 1.6 inches across. That’s decent deer-rifle accuracy.
Since the rifle came without sights, I installed a Bushnell 3200 Elite
3-9x40mm scope, bore-sighted it and headed for the range. Incidentally, the new gun has same spacing between the screw holes for mounting a scope that the Winchester Model 70 does.
My friend Ken Turner and I took turns firing from a sandbagged rest, using a variety of factory ammunition I’d brought along. Three-shot groups averaged well under 1 1/2 inches between centers. The 1 1/4-inch group produced with 165-grain Hornady loads was a fair representation. Federal factory fodder loaded with Barnes’ 180-grain Triple-Shock X Bullets yielded almost identical results.
We burned through 140 rounds of ammo before calling it a day. Shooting paper targets and plinking at some discarded fruit I’d begged from the supermarket was fun, but it wasn’t hunting! And that’s what this rifle was designed for.
Unfortunately, in my home state of Utah, prospects were limited at the time of testing. A fall deer hunt will provide a more suitable venue for evaluating this .30-06.
If I decide to write a check rather than return the XL7 at the end of the consignment period — a distinct possibility considering how small that check would be — I would fill the buttstock cavity with foam to deaden the hollow sound it makes when something strikes it. I would also spend some time testing other factory loads, then working up some handloads that could turn this already good-shooting rifle into a bona fide tack driver. I don’t think it would take much effort to help the XL7 reach its full potential.
I think Marlin’s new bolt rifle is an incredible value. It may not be fair to compare it with high-grade Brownings, Weatherbys, Remingtons and Winchesters — but when it comes to performance, I think the XL7 can more than hold its own. It has a smooth-operating action; a comfortable, well-designed pillar-bedded stock; a highly effective recoil pad; and accuracy that’s more than good enough for hunting deer and similar-sized game. The new Pro-Fire trigger system really impresses me. It’s simple, easily adjustable, and adds to the rifle’s accuracy. Add the astonishing bargain-basement price, and you’ve got a rifle competitors should start worrying about.
I appreciate top-quality rifles wearing figured walnut stocks and all the other bells and whistles. At the same time, I’m a cheapskate at heart. Marlin’s new bolt rifle isn’t fancy, but it’s not hard to look at, either. I think Marlin has a definite winner here.
They say there’s no free lunch, but the XL7 appears to deliver filet-mignon
performance on a hamburger budget.
Action: All-new Marlin XL7
Operation: Manual turnbolt
Caliber: .30-06 Springfield
Stock: Pillar-bedded synthetic stock
with raised cheekpiece
Magazine capacity: 4 plus 1
Length: 42 1/2 inches
Weight: 6 1/2 pounds
Barrel length: 22 inches
Rifling: 6 grooves, 1:10 RH twist
Trigger: Adjustable Pro-Fire trigger
Sights: None supplied; Bushnell
Elite 3200 3-9x40mm scope
mounted on test gun
Reprinted from the August 2008 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.