By Dave Hurteau
About a month ago, we started with The Sweet Sixteen of Whitetail Brush Rifles-a March Madness-style tourney to decide the top deer gun in the thick woods. In four rounds of head-to-head matchups, you voted the great Savage 99 out in the Elite Eight and sent the North Woods staple Remington 7600 packing in the Final Four. So it came down to the top seeds: Winchester 94 vs. Marlin 336.
And now, with more than 800 votes cast in the final matchup, it is all over-and it wasn't even that close. While I admit I was rooting for the 94, my sentimental choice, I'm not surprised the 336 came out on top. I am mildly shocked, however, that it trounced the venerable 94, which got only about 40 percent of the vote.
I get the advantages of the 336, that the solid-top, side-eject receiver accepts a low, center-mounted scope (unlike all 94s prior to 1982 when angle-ejection became standard). I realize that the Marlin's action is considered stronger, with a more positive feel (whereas the Winchester has some slop and rattle). But, even forgetting the 94's traditional reputation as the American deer rifle, its light weight (6-1/4 pounds compared to the 336's 7); its straight, slender wrist and trim receiver that snugs between just a thumb and forefinger; its waifish frame and graceful lines altogether make the 94 the nimblest, finest-looking little brush gun ever made.
The 94 is Kate Moss. The 336 ain't bad looking, but she has man hands.
None of this is to say the 336 isn't a deserving winner. I have one in .35 Rem with a 2x scope that I take over the 94 whenever I leave the low, evergreen thickets for the mixed ridges. Overall, it may well be the best practical choice. I just figured the 94's mystique, looks, and handiness would make this a much closer contest. Anyway, to all you Savage 99 fans (myself included), take heart; it will get another chance in the All-Purpose Whitetail Rifle tourney to come. Meanwhile, all hail the 336-Whitetail Brush Rifle Champ.