Marlin-Levermatic 256-Winchester

Marlin’s .256 Winchester Levermatic


Marlin-Levermatic 256-Winchester
Marlin’s Levermatic and Ruger’s Hawkeye were both chambered in .256 Winchester Magnum.

Anyone younger than 50 will be forgiven if the name “Levermatic” means nothing to them.

This was a rifle produced by Marlin in the 1950s and ‘60s that can be charitably described as “ill-starred,” but it is one that is still intriguing after all these years.  And if, like your obedient correspondent, you spent your youthful years studying the 1965 Marlin catalog when you should have been learning trigonometry, then the story of the Levermatic is worth hearing.

No one will ever know what moved Marlin, maker of the multi-million-selling Model 39A lever-action .22, to design the Model 56 as a rival for its own star.  But that’s what Marlin did.

The 39A was a traditional lever rifle with a tube magazine – highly attractive in those days when the horse opera dominated the airwaves, and everyone was thinking cowboys and Winchesters.

The Model 56, conversely, had a one-piece stock, a box magazine, and a mechanism whose chief boast was a “short throw” lever that could supposedly be manipulated by flexing your fingers, with your hand never leaving the stock.  It was named for the year of its introduction.

The next year came the Model 57, with a tubular magazine, and later a model to accommodate Winchester’s new .22 Rimfire Magnum cartridge.

forming-256-Winchester-brass
Brass for the .256 Winchester Magnum (r.) is easily formed using .357 Magnum (l.) as the parent case.

So it was no surprise, when Remington and Winchester each announced a new small-rifle cartridge in the spring of 1961, that Marlin decided to adapt the Levermatic to chamber them.  The cartridges were the .22 Remington Jet and the .256 Winchester Magnum.  Both were based on the necked-down .357 Magnum cartridge, and both were billed as “combination” rounds that could, like the .32-20, be chambered in either a handgun or a rifle.

Oddly, neither Winchester nor Remington chambered a rifle for their own creations; instead, they sent them out the door to make their own way in the world, like Oliver Twist.

Smith & Wesson did adopt the .22 Jet, creating the Model 53 “Dual Magnum” double-action revolver to shoot it.  This revolver came out around 1962, and lasted until 1974.

Ruger created its “Hawkeye” single-shot lookalike of a single-action revolver, with a pivoting breechblock in place of a cylinder, and chambered it for the .256 Winchester.  They made 3,300 of them (and created an instant collector’s item) before throwing in the towel.

The only riflemaker to take any interest was Marlin, which adapted its Levermatic action to the two centerfires and the result was the Model 62.  Although it was slated to be made in both the Jet and the .256, only one Jet (a test model) is known to exist.  It was sent to Ken Waters and Bob Wallack for a test article for Gun Digest.  The .256 Winchester did go into production, however, and Marlin made some 8,000 of them.

In 1966, Marlin added the .30 Carbine chambering and began phasing out the .256 Winchester.  Another 8,000 .30 Carbine Model 62s were made before the rifle was discontinued completely in 1971.

256-Winchester-dies
Factory .256 Winchester Magnum ammunition is discontinued, so handloading is the only option for an avid Levermatic shooter.

With only two handguns and one rifle originally chambered for these cartridges, they did not last long on the ammunition lists.  Winchester stopped making .256 Winchester around 1990, and the .22 Jet was gone from Remington’s list by 1993.  Today, both are strictly handloading propositions.  Although factory Remington brass is still available, .256 Winchester brass will never be made again; apparently, Winchester destroyed the dies.  It can, however, be easily fashioned from .357 Magnum brass, with a two-die forming set from C-H Tool & Die.

Owners of Marlin Model 62 Levermatics generally fall into two categories:  Those who would not part with them, and those who want to sell because they can’t find ammunition.  So, while not exactly common, they are not collectors’ darlings, either.

What a Levermatic is, though, is the source of a lot of fun shooting.  Once you have a supply of .256 brass, ammunition making is easy and economical, and the Levermatic is a very accurate, well-made rifle.  Noise is mild, recoil nonexistent, and you can stalk squirrels and ground hogs to your small boy’s heart’s content, regardless of your age.–Terry Wieland

 

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