It’s no news to anyone that has been reading my articles that there are a few now-obsolete guns and cartridges I’d like to see make a comeback. One of those is the original Marble’s Game Getter, a handy little backpackable combination gun ideal for the trapper, small-game hunter, or backpacker. Here’s why.
Stuff for Small Game
If you do or ever have hunted small game (well, any game, for that matter) you probably go out after one kind of game in particular on any given outing. You may be out after upland birds one weekend, deer the next, turkey or waterfowl after that.
In any of those cases, you’ll be carrying a gun and gear more or less specific to your quarry. A 12-gauge pump-gun for pheasants, maybe a light 20 or 16-gauge for grouse or quail, a .30-30 for deer, and so on.
But there’s a place for an all-round gun, one that’s easy to pack around, quick to put into action, and capable of handling a wide variety of small to medium game.
There once was such a gun. It was Marble’s Game Getter, and while similar combination guns are made today, they are different from the originals in at least one dimension. And that difference is based solely on a silly, arbitrary law. So, while I can have a Game Getter if I can find one, it’s complicated and expensive. Why can’t I have a new, reasonably priced gun like the Game Getter?
A Bit of History
In 1908, the Marble’s Arms and Manufacturing Company of Gladstone, Michigan brought out what they considered to be a useful small-game gun. This break-top piece had a .22 rifle barrel over a .44 caliber smoothbore barrel, a folding wire skeleton stock, and came with a choice of 12”, 15” or 18” barrels. Marble called this the Game Getter, and few guns carried more appropriate appellations. The gun came in two versions, the Model 1908A and the Model 1908B, the first carrying a tang-mounted peep sight to go with the blade front, while the latter had only the standard rear sight on the barrel. The proprietary .44 ammo for the lower barrel was available as the “.44 Game Getter,” although the case was more or less interchangeable with the .44-40 Marlin and the .44 Colt Lightning. Shot and round-ball loads were sold.
In 1921, Marble re-designed the Game Getter and introduced the Model 1921. The grip, stock, safety, and sights were redesigned. The same barrel lengths were sold, but with this second generation gun Marble added the option of a .410 barrel under the .22LR barrel. This being well before the advent of any 3” magnum rounds, the .410 barrels were chambered for a 2” or (much less common) a 2 ½” shell.
While it’s unclear how many Game Getters were built, the gun did see some brisk sales by contemporary accounts. The short, handy folding gun was popular among trappers, prospectors and backpackers, or any other folks who wanted a short, light, handy piece capable of taking game up to deer, if you got close and placed your shot carefully.
But then came 1934. In that year, the Congress did one of the truly boneheaded things that Congresses before and since are notorious for doing: They passed the 1934 National Firearms Act. This was the Federal government’s first attempt at blaming the sword for the hand that wielded it.
Since the Game Getter was available with short barrels and, even in the 18” barreled version, was under the overall length requirement due to the folding stock, it was classified in the same category as a Thompson submachine gun and severely restricted. While denizens of New York and Chicago were doubtless relieved that they would no longer have to dodge a hail of .44 caliber round balls fired from Game Getters wielded by furious mobsters, the Marble company thus lost the greater part of their revenue and eventually closed their doors, although they did produce the gun for the Canadian market until 1955.
In 1939 someone at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had a slight rush of brains to the head and at least administratively removed the 18” Game Getter from the NFA classification, but the deed was done; the Game Getter was effectively dead. Marble went on manufacturing some pretty fine open gunsights and other odds and ends, but no guns.
Consider for a moment the consummate stupidity of this law, at least as applied to the Game Getter. A law intended to deprive mobsters of automatic weapons was mindlessly applied to a light, handy combination gun, with a capacity of two rounds, intended for small game hunters. The Game Getter was too big to conceal easily; it wasn’t overly powerful, and it’s one-and-one shot capacity would not appeal to criminals of any stripe unless they were rather desperate for some kind of firearm.
But mindless government agencies apply these things mindlessly, and so American sportsman were deprived of a neat little small-game gun for no good reason.
If we disregard pricey European oddities like German Drillings, Vierlings and Cape Guns, the American shooter these days have effectively four choices in combination guns, and only two of them are in current production.
The Savage Model 24 is perhaps the best-known of recent American combination guns. These break-top guns were originally offered with a .22LR barrel over a .410 or 20-gauge shotgun barrel, although selections later expanded to include not only the .22 WMR but also centerfire rounds like the .357 Magnum, .223 Remington and .30WCF over a .410, 20 or 12-gauge shotgun barrel.
The Model 24 was, of course, a full-size piece, generally with 24 or 26” barrels. While quality was better than average in earlier production guns, Savage eventually cheapened the stocks and, in what was probably a bit of lawyerly pettifoggery, added a cross-bolt safety to this external-hammer piece.
While it’s a great, convenient piece for the small-game hunter, Savage ended the 72-year run of these guns in 2010. You can find them for sale on the various online auction sites, but the folks that have them seem to be hanging on to them, and prices are creeping up.
The second out-of-production piece is the Springfield Armory M6 Scout, based on the U.S. Air Force’s M6 Aircrew Survival Weapon. Manufactured by CZ, the M6 Scout was offered with a .22LR, .22WMR or .22 Hornet barrel over a 3”-chambered .410 shotgun barrel. Barrels were 18 ½” in length. The stock had storage compartments for 15 rimfire rounds and four shotgun shells.
I’ve handled a couple of M6 guns but have never fired one. These guns had an odd “squeeze-bar” trigger, intended to allow for firing the gun while wearing heavy gloves, although it’s hard to fathom whether good accuracy is possible with such a device. Still, the guns had a decent reputation, and fit the “short, light, handy” criteria pretty well, despite the stamped, fixed stock – although Springfield Armory ceased importation of the M6 into the States on or about 2008.
Chiappa Firearms offers two combination guns, both still in production as of this writing. The first of these is the Badger and is remarkably similar to the Savage 24 in being a full-size, over/under piece. Unlike the Savage, though, the Badger is capable of folding for storage by pushing the trigger guard down, making it a handy item to tote around. Rifle calibers include the .22LR, .22WMR and .243 Winchester, while .410 and 20-gauge shotgun barrels are offered in 19” and 20” versions.
Chiappa’s other offering is a clear copy of the Springfield Armory M6; Chiappa also calls their version the M6, specifically the “M6 Folding Shotgun/Rifle.” Like the Badger, the Chiappa M6 folds for carry and storage; unlike the Badger, it is only available with a .22LR barrel under a 12-gauge shotgun barrel. Barrel length is 18 ½”. Weighing in at a bit under six pounds, this may be the best of the currently made combination offerings, although 12-gauge high-brass loads would pack some wallop on the shoulder end in this lightweight piece.
So, as you see, there are some options. But the original had some things going for it that these newer guns don’t; lighter weight, portability, ability to carry in an external shoulder holster in the manner of the Thompson Contender. So, why shouldn’t I be able to have a new Game Getter today?
The purpose of the 1934 National Firearms Act and, indeed, most gun-control laws that followed, had as their primary stated intent to reduce the use of guns in crime. Clearly, they haven’t worked; one need only look at our major cities on any given weekend to see that much.
But in something like the Marble Game Getter, you not only have a firearm that has almost certainly never been used in any crime except, perhaps, poaching. For all the screeching of gun-controllers about “assault weapons” and handguns, in the Game Getter you have a piece that fits none of the categories that drive hoplophobes nuts.
The Game Getter couldn’t be considered a “high-capacity” piece even in the most fevered imaginations. It’s a one-plus-one, basically two single-shot guns in one. Even in the original 12” barrel offering, it would be damned awkward to conceal well, and not terribly useful in a robbery. The only crime it’s really suited for is, as stated, poaching – perhaps.
If someone at the current BATFE would have a sudden attack of common sense and deregulate guns like the Game Getter (I’d rather see the 1934 NFA, the 1968 GCA and a host of other gun laws either tossed out as unconstitutional or just plain repealed, but I’m willing to accept some deregulation as a sensible first step) I think there would be a good market for such a gun.
In modern livery, the new Game Getter would look something like this: A lightweight gun with a folding stock, with a .22LR or .22WMR rifle barrel over a .410 or 20-gauge shotgun barrel. Barrel lengths would ideally include the originals, 12”, 15” and 18”. Like the originals, the gun would have either standard open sights or a tang-mounted peep. A tip-off mount for an optic or (sigh) a Picatinny rail wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
To toss in one other druther, maybe include an option to have that upper barrel in a new .25 rimfire round.
The only downside I can see would be the result of firing a high-brass 20-gauge shell from a 12” barrel; one would want to have some effective hearing protection in place first.
I’d buy one. Not only would backwoods folks, backpackers and the like find it handy for taking the occasional squirrel, rabbit or pheasant, the “prepper” crowd would probably find it a handy thing to have among their various lares and penates. And all we’d have to do is, like in so many such cases, get the damned government out of the way.