I hunt to put food on the table—pure and simple. While getting a deer, boar or bear will stock the freezer very quickly and is desirable, I honestly take more small game than large game. That is just the way it goes.
Knowing this is just a part of the life I choose to live, my go-to firearm for hunting small game is my Marlin Model 60 auto-loading .22.
Although there are many really good .22 rifles on the market—some with pretty hefty price tags—the Marlin Model 60 is the best bang for the buck. Priced new, the 60 will run you anywhere from $150 to $200, depending on the model configuration and where you purchase it.
I picked mine up used for only $100. It had only had 100 rounds put through it. The previous owner even kept the manual. There was nothing wrong with the rifle; the owner just decided to sell it because he wasn’t using it. His loss, my gain.
It’s pretty much the “plain Jane” of the rifle world, but if you are looking for a rifle that will put meat on the table time after time, this is it. The Model 60 has remained virtually unchanged since its introduction in 1960. There have been more than 11 million of these rifles sold over the past 57 years; this says a great deal for its reliability in the field.
Like many firearm companies of the 1960s, Marlin marketed the Model 60 under various names in a variety of locations. Back in those days, you could purchase firearms just about anywhere, and Marlin took full advantage of that. Some of the stores that sold the 60 included Montgomery Ward, J.C. Penny and Western Auto. Each store, of course, put its own brand name on the rifle.
Many shooters learned the fundamentals of shooting with this rifle, and it is still one of the favorite rifles for teaching new shooters, young and old, alike. In fact, my son-in-law has just asked me to teach him how to shoot, and the Model 60 will be the firearm he will learn with.
“ALTHOUGH THERE ARE MANY REALLY GOOD .22 RIFLES ON THE MARKET … THE MARLIN MODEL 60 IS THE BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK.”
Load Once, Hunt All Day
I called Mark, a hunting buddy of mine, to go shooting. We decided to take our .22s out to the Groveton Fish & Game Club’s range to do a comparison.
Mark is a lever-action guy, so he was a little skeptical about the auto-loading rifle. His attitude soon changed: He was impressed by how fast the 60 was to mount and aim, as well as the quick follow-up shots. He was also amazed at how it even fed bulk ammo that was jamming in his lever-action rifle.
Unlike some .22 rifles out there, the 60 is only chambered in .22 LR. Some might see this as a negative, but for small game, the .22LR is the best round out there. It is readily available and relatively inexpensive. The .22 LR is the most logical round, because it is great for both target shooting and taking small game. While some people prefer the .22 Magnum for fox and coyote, a properly placed .22 LR will more than do the job.
Due to its popularity, .22LR ammunition can sometimes be hard to find. There is no real shortage; it is just that there are a lot of people using it. The trick is being prepared to buy it when you see it, because it often sells out fast. And if you can get it on sale, even better.
Weighing in at only 5.5 pounds, the 60 is a joy to carry in the field. It has a tubular brass magazine that holds 14 rounds, so I can load it once and hunt rabbits and squirrels all day (or until I reach my legal limit) and still have rounds left over. The benefit to the tubular magazine is that there’s no magazine to lose or forget. In addition, because there’s no magazine well, the rifle is very streamlined.
The Model 60 is extremely accurate. Part of the reason for that is the rifling’s design. Marlin uses “micro-groove” rifling, which is fancy-speak for shallower rifling grooves in the barrel. The company saw the damage being done to the bullets in deeper grooves. The shallow rifling resulted in less bullet wear and greater accuracy.
However, while this rifle is good, it is only as good as the person shooting it. Putting a few hundred rounds downrange during off-season practice does not hurt when it comes time to put a few of these furry critters in the bag.
Like most rimfire firearms, the Marlin 60 can be picky about the ammunition that it likes, and each rifle will be different. The good thing is that .22 LR ammunition is cheap enough to allow you to run a few boxes through the rifle to find out what really works best for you. I have been very lucky with my 60, because it seems to have no real issue with any brand of ammunition. Nevertheless, it seems to behave better with CCI.
When it comes to ammunition, the type of round used is often more important than the brand. For hunting purposes, I prefer to use a jacketed hollow point. For plinking and fun, solid lead works fine.
Most of my small-game hunting takes place during the cold winter months. The best time to hunt porcupines is in the winter, because they are easier to see. Two days before Christmas last year, I was doing just that and got one porcupine for my efforts. From 30 yards and with open sights, I put one CCI Copper-22 to the body and another to the head.
While hares are harder to see due to their white fur, they are easier to track during the winter. Squirrels—well, they are just squirrels: Either they’re around or they’re not.
As with most things exposed to the cold weather, a firearm’s moving parts can be adversely affected by extreme temperatures. Things just seem to move slower, and sometimes, they do not work at all.
This is especially true with auto-loading firearms. Extreme cold will thicken even the best gun oil. Because of that, I either avoid going out when it is that cold, or I use graphite instead of normal gun oil to lubricate my rifle. Nothing is perfect, but it does help. Even so, I have never had an issue with my Model 60. It operates just the same in the winter woods as it does on the range during the summer.
While I religiously clean all my firearms after use, this is especially important during the winter months, even if they are taken afield but not fired. Bringing a cold firearm into a warm building will result in condensation, which leads to rust. Rust is not your friend, so you need to get that moisture out. Under normal conditions, a quick field-strip will suffice. But when you are dealing with a moisture issue, it is a good idea to do a complete breakdown and dry things out. No matter what, I always do a complete breakdown once a year.
Many people I have talked to who own the 60 say that cleaning this firearm is its only drawback. Personally, I’ve never had a real issue with it. If you pay attention to where the parts go and in what order, you should have no problems. The toughest part is getting the recoil spring back in without it kinking. Regardless of how many times I’ve taken it apart, I always refer back to the manual to make sure I get it correct.
Once everything is thoroughly dried, cleaned and oiled, I spray all the metal parts with a rust-inhibitor such as Rust Prevent made by Shooter’s Choice or GetSome1000, made by GetSome Products.
There are no wall-hangers in my gun cabinet. “Fancy” won’t put meat on my table; reliability will. And that is what I get from the Marlin 60.
My mother always told me, “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” and my father always said, “If you take care of your tools, they will take care of you.” Both of these statements apply to my firearms. My firearms are tools. Therefore, I keep them clean and maintained so they will never fail me when I need them.
If you are going to go through the effort to maintain your firearm, do not skimp on your cleaning products. There are some really good ones out there. The best products I have used come from Hoppe’s, Outers, Shooter’s Choice and GetSome Products. These companies produce some high-quality products, and they are the ones I trust.
At one time, I would say you should break down your .22 every time you use it, but ammunition has changed over the years. .22 LR ammo has had a reputation for being dirty, but today’s ammo is much cleaner. It leaves fewer deposits and less fouling, which equates to less-extensive cleaning on your part.
I simply run a rag dipped in bore cleaner down the barrel, run a dry rag through it to absorb the excess bore cleaner and finish up with some gun oil. This will keep your Marlin 60 operating. However, I do recommend a complete breakdown and cleaning at least once a year.
Marlin Model 60
Caliber: .22 LR
Barrel: 19 inches; 1:16-inch twist; micro-groove rifling
Magazine: 14-shot tubular
Sights: Adjustable-open rear sight; ramp front sight
Stock: Walnut-finished hardwood
Weight: 5.5 pounds
Overall Length: 37.5 inches
Currently available: Six models (60, 60SB, 60C, 60SN, 60SN with scope, 60SS)
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the October 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.