henry repeating rifle

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My New Henry Big Boy in .357 mag/.38 Special

About a month and a half ago I used my tax refund to buy this beautiful new lever action rifle. The Henry Big Boy is a lever action produced by Henry Repeating Arms Co., one of their many lever action products. Mine is chambered in .357 magnum, many of their rifles are chambered in pistol caliber cartridges, hearkening back to the days of the Old West when Winchester lever actions were chambered in cowboy pistol cartridges such as .44-40 and .45 Colt. The Henry Big Boy comes in .357, .44 mag, and .45 colt. Since mine is .357, it can also feed and chamber .38 special as well.  I bought this possibly as a short range hunting rifle, something to use when I don’t feel like using my flintlock.  Plus, since it can fire .38 special, it is a very economical plinking gun.  .357 is a fairly powerful pistol cartridge, but from a rifle it sports some very impressive ballistics, and it’s certainly good enough to take medium sized game at short ranges.

The most notable feature of the Big Boy is its brass frame. They also offer the same model with an iron frame, a checkered stock, and rubber butt pad. I considered buying that one because it would probably be more practical as a rifle to lug through thick woods. However the lovely gleam of it’s brass frame, brass butt plate, and brass barrel bands was too much to resist.  It will probably get scratched, oh well, it was worth it. The rifle features a neat hexagon barrel, adding to its nostalgic old timey look and giving you the feeling that you are handling an old fashioned cowboy gun. It features a ten round fixed magazine, which is loaded through a loading port at the end of the barrel.  To load the magazine port must be twisted and magazine rod removed. Then you insert the cartridges one at a time, then re-insert the magazine rod.

When I first bought this rifle the magazine rod was very hard to twist and operate.  However the more and more I work it, the more its wearing in and its becoming progressively easier.

Often the Henry Golden Boy and Big Boy is mistaken as a replica of the American Civil War era Henry M1860 lever action rifle. However this is not true. Rather, the Big Boy is almost like a hybrid of a Henry rifle, a Winchester Model 1866, and a Marlin Model 336.  It has the loading port system and tube magazine of the Henry, the forearm and brass frame of a Winchester M1866, and a Marlin action.  Regardless you still get this feeling of handling and firing an antique cowboy lever gun, a must for my tastes. The sights are simple, featuring and adjustable ramp rear sight and a front post sight.

Another feature I must mention is a transfer bar, which means you can have the hammer uncocked and down on a round without risk of accidental discharge, which is probably the most important modern feature on a rifle with design elements dating to the 19th century.

With .357 the action is very smooth and operates without any problem.  I did some plinking with both .357 and .38 special.  I purchased some cheap bottom shelf ammo not thinking about the possibility of feeding issues. Problem is I bought this really cheap .38 special ammo that used lacquered steel casings, and ejection was certainly is issue. I later bought some better quality .38 special with brass casings and found they fed with far less issues, though the action isn’t as smooth as with .357 and you kind of have to work the lever harder and faster to ensure proper feeding and ejection. The recoil is very light, even firing .357 magnum. Recoil wise I would compare it to 7.62x39.  So it will definitely save your shoulder despite the brass buttplate.

At first I just did some simple close range plinking at steel swivel targets at 25 yards.  The rifle hits right on at that range and it certainly is a fun plinker.  Then I took it to the 100 yard range to see what I can do. I must admit I had a bit of a handicap shooting, I work night shift and it was a particularly bright day. So my eyes were very sensitive to light and my vision a bit blurry. I think I’m turning into a vampire. 

I was shooting from a bench rest with open sights, using Fiocchi .357 magnum ammo with 142 grain bullets.  I was firing three rounds groups.  First I tested it at 50 yards. At 50 yards the target and visible and well defined. Note that each increment on the grid is one inch.

The first group shot to the right and high aiming at the bull. I decided to play with the adjustable ramp sight, lowering it one increment.  The result was the 2nd group, which shot low.  Thus I reset the sight and adjusted but aiming low, and to the left, resulting in the third group. At 50 yards it shoots on average 1-2 inch groupings.

I then continued by shooting at 100 yards.  At 100 yards the front sight completely covers the bullseye and black portion of the target.

Despite increasing range to 100 yards it still shot high, in fact it shot much higher than at 50 yards. The first grouping I was aiming right for the bull, resulting again in a high group, with one shot completely off the target. I can only assume know that the .357 magnum’s ballistic arc from this rifle is much more considerable than I had previously imagined.  Thus I adjust the the ramp sight down one increment. Like at 50 yards it then shot too low (2nd group). So I reset the sight and decided to aim low, resulting in the third group. At 100 yards it shoots around 2-3 inch groupings on average.

In my final test, I went back to 50 yards. This time I was not using the bench rest, instead firing off hand.  Nor was I taking time with my shots.  Basically the scenario was that I am the sheriff of a western town and some outlaws are up to no good and I have to deal with them.  So I was shooting as quickly as possible while keeping rounds on target.  This was the result.

Now I must say this is no tack driver, nor is it a long range rifle, and I bought it with that expectation. Ballistics data using a 140 grain bullet show that it has a drop of -.2 inches at 100 yards and -5 inches at 150 yards.  So 100 yards is probably the edge of its optimum range. Mine seems to shoot high, but I still would not go beyond 100 yards.  That is fine to me since where I traditionally hunt it is thick woods and there is rarely any continuous ground more than 75 yards. With a scope you could probably get much better range and accuracy out of it. I imagine that if I was using much better quality ammunition with hotter loads, say +P or buffalo bore ammunition, the groupings would tighten considerably at 100 yards and the adjustable sites will be much more useful.  I shall try that some time in the future and post the results.

My final comments on the Henry Big Boy had to do with its quality. Originally I wanted to buy a Rossi Circuit Judge in .410/.45 long colt, most because of the allure of a revolving rifle.  However, I had seen many complaints about the quality of it and manufacturing flaws. Plus it carried the Taurus name (Rossi is owned by Taurus), a Brazilian company which has a reputation for iffy quality control.  So I decided to ditch the Circuit Judge. I also looked at the Ross M1892 lever action rifle, also in .357/38 and also made by Taurus.  It was $300 cheaper (the Henry cost $730), but when I saw it in person I was not impressed.  The metal work was OK, as was the metal finish, done satisfactorily but nothing thrilling.  However the wood and wood finish looked bad, as if it had been done by either child labor, a drunk, or someone who just didn’t really care about what they were doing.  It was really off putting.  The Henry looks like a rifle of unparalleled quality at first glance. It looks like someone made them with an eye for detail and with uncompromising quality in mind. I also own a Henry lever action in .22LR as well, although with a steel frame, and I can say the same for it.  When the sales person took it out of the box I immediately blurted “holy shit, that’s a beautiful rifIe.” I can’t stress the quality of workmanship that goes into Henry rifles, they are more than just firearms, they are works of art.  They are the only metallic cartridge firearms I own and I have no plans nor feel the need to buy any other modern firearms again. Instead I want to focus my collection on antique muzzleloaders or replicas of antique muzzleloaders.  So for me the quality of the Henry trumps all else, its a rifle you can own for a lifetime and can be passed down from generation to generation.

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Henry rifle

Designed by Benjamin T. Henry c.1857-60 based on the Volition and Volcanic repeating rifles, manufactured by New Haven Arms Co. c.1860-66 - serial number 3645.
.44RF Henry 16-round tubular magazine, lever action repeater, brass frame.

This is one of the few surviving example of an US ordinance Henry rifle purchased to arm the 1st D.C. Cavalry regiment. Most Henry rifles of the war were private purchases ; although expensive, its front-loaded magazine had an unmatched capacity for the time, earning him the reputation of being “a gun you load on Sunday and shoot all week long”.

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Henry 1860 patent rifle

Manufactured by the New Haven Arms Co. c.1864 and sold through the Black & Howell General Store - serial number 5808.
.44RF Henry 15-round tubular magazine, lever action repeating rifle, brass frame, unusual hooded rear sight made fron an old barrel.

The Black & Howell General Store was apparently the first brick building in Virginia city, operating from 1862 to 1888 when the owner murdered his brother in a back room over a property dispute.
The rifle is haunted is what I’m getting at.

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Henry rifle

Designed by Benjamin T. Henry c.1860 and manufactured c.1860-66 by the New Haven Arms company - serial number 1495.
.44 Henry rimfire 15-round tubular magazine, lever action repeating rifle, silver-plated brass frame.

An early production deluxe Henry rifle, showing us how good-looking a block of brass can be.

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Henry 1860 repeating rifle

Manufactured by the New Haven Arms Company c.1860 - serial number 64.
.44RF Henry 16-round-magazine, lever action repeater, iron receiver.

Only the second to 355th Henry rifles didn’t have its signature brass receiver. This one was used in the Confederate cavalry unit Buckner’s guides during the American Civil War.

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Winchester Model 1865 lever action repeating rifle

Manufactured by Winchester Arms Co, Bridgeworth, CT c.1865~66, serial number 3.
.44 Henry RF, tubular magazine, lever action, gunmetal foregrip and receiver, off-chart coolness level.

Officially the first gun ever manufactured by Winchester. Produced at no more than 700 units, it is the missing link between the Henry 1860 and the famed Winchester 1866, of which it is a clankier alter-ego. So much gunmetal.

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Smith-Jennings 2nd Model 1851 repeating rifle

Manufactured by Robins and Lawrence of Windsor, Vermont, USA c.1850′s, serial number 6S - out of a production run of about 400.
.54 rocket ball and - I think - priming tape, >12 shots in a tubular magazine located under the barrel.

The fruit of the collaboration of many great names of the American firearm industry in the 19th century, such as Henry, Smith and Wesson.
Gotta love that all-steel low and heavy design. Some badass firearm here compared to fancy Henry.