Since about 1997 the modern Henry Repeating Arms Co. has made lever-action, pump, bolt-action, and semiautomatic rifles chambered for rimfire rounds. A few years back it began offering the Golden Boy, a brass-frame, exposed-hammer, tubular magazine-fed .22 rimfire that has been well received among fans of that genre of firearms.
The Henry Big Boy was the company’s first venture into the centerfire rifle marketplace. As with the Golden Boy, the Big Boy lever gun has a brass receiver and classic styling. Let’s take a look at some of its features.
Traditional Yet Unique
Unlike most traditional centerfire lever guns chambered for pistol cartridge-size calibers, the new Big Boy does not load through a gate on the action’s right side. Instead, there is a slot in the front of the tubular magazine into which cartridges are inserted. To load, the magazine tube follower is rotated slightly and pulled forward to expose the loading port. Then cartridges are inserted and the follower pushed back and locked into place. This is the same magazine tube system that has been used on .22 rimfire rifles of all sorts for well over 100 years. However, the only big-bore lever action that I am aware of that loaded through the front of the magazine tube was the original Henry .44 rimfire rifle of 1862 to 1866 vintage.
|Big Boy Lever-Action Rifle|
|Manufacturer:||Henry Repeating Arms Co.|
|Barrel Length:||20 inches|
|Rifling:||6 grooves, 1:38-inch twist|
|Overall Length:||38.5 inches|
|Length of Pull:||14 inches|
|Weight, empty||8.68 pounds|
|Sights:||Brass bead front; Marble buckhorn rear|
|Stock:||Two-piece American walnut|
|Magazine Capacity:||10 rounds|
|Finish:||Blued steel barrel, magazine tube, lever, trigger, hammer, sights; bright polished brass receiver, buttplate, barrel band; oil finished wood|
Here’s a word of warning about loading magazine tubes from the front with centerfire cartridges: They must be inserted with the firearm lying level. Then they can be gently slid to the rear. If they are dropped from the front with the muzzle pointing skyward, a primer could ignite from the impact of cartridges hitting one another. This is not just an idle warning. Such has happened often with the replicas of the original Henry rifles imported from Italy and chambered for such centerfire rounds as .44-40 and .45 Colt.
Once the new Big Boy is loaded, it functions in the same manner as traditional lever guns. That is, the operator’s fingers are inserted through the loop lever and it is drawn downwards and then back up again. That movement does two things: a cartridge is inserted into the chamber and the hammer is brought back to its fullcock position. Then to fire the rifle the trigger is pressed.
Over the 140 years that lever-actuated rifles have been in production, two basic modes of ejecting empty cartridges have evolved. Winchester-designed versions throw their fired cases out the top of the action, and Marlin-designed versions throw fired cases from the right side of the action. The Big Boy follows the Marlin style. As the Big Boy’s lever is brought upwards, the bolt travels forwards and when closed is locked shut by the lever. There is also a disconnector behind the trigger that prevents the trigger from being pulled unless the lever is drawn completely upwards.
That covers the operation of the Henry Big Boy. Now let’s take a look at its cosmetics. As I said earlier, it has classic styling. The stock is two-piece American walnut. The buttstock has a straight grip with a brass buttplate. In its shape the buttplate closely resembles the Winchester and Marlin carbine-style buttplates of the late 19th century. That is, it has a slight curve without being crescent shaped, and it is fairly wide to help distribute recoil.
On my sample Henry Big Boy the buttplate was 1 3/8 inches in width. The forearm is likewise of straight-grained American walnut and is 9 1/2 inches long. The forearm is secured to the barrel by means of a brass barrel band, which is also reminiscent of carbine barrel bands as used by Winchester and Marlin in the late 19th century. Length of pull on my test sample is 14 inches.
A point where the Henry Big Boy varies from 19th-century carbines is with its octagon barrel. The 20-inch-long barrel is fairly heavy, measuring .75 inch wide at the muzzle. It is rifled with six grooves with a twist rate of one turn in 38 inches. A lead slug pushed down the barrel measured .429 inch in diameter. The magazine tube is nearly the full length of the barrel, stopping about 1/4 inch shy of the muzzle.
Sights are classic Old West all the way. The front sight is a tall blade topped with a brass bead. It is set into the barrel by means of a dovetail. The rear sight is a Marble’s buckhorn style that is elevation adjustable by means of the usual notched slider. It is also set into a barrel dovetail and can be adjusted for windage by drifting laterally. There is no provision for mounting peep sights on either the receiver or tang, nor is the receiver drilled and tapped for scope mounting.
|Shooting The .44 Henry Big Boy|
|Factory Load||Muzzle Velocity (fps)||Velocity Variation (fps)||25-Yard Accuracy (inches)||100-yard Accuracy (inches)|
|.44 Special Cowboy Loads|
|Hornady 180-gr. RN/FP||1014||65||1.50||–|
|UltraMax 200-gr. RN/FP||1033||24||1.63||–|
|Black Hills 210-gr. CNL||863||64||1.25||–|
|Winchester 240-gr. RN/FP||877||17||1.75||–|
|.44 Magnum Cowby Load|
|UltraMax 240-gr. RN/FP||975||16||2.25||–|
|.44 Magnum Hunting Loads|
|Federal 180-gr. JHP||2088||49||–||4.75|
|Hornady 200-gr. JHP||1580||22||–||3.63|
|Black Hills 240-gr. JHP||1572||71||–||2.88|
|Federal 240-gr. JHP||1610||134||–||3.46|
|PMC 240-gr. Starfire||1376||58||–||4.04|
|NOTES: Aa 25-yard accuracy figures are for a single 10-shot group. All 100-yard accuracy figures are for three five-shot groups. All shooting was done from a sandbag benchrest. Velocity is the average of 10 rounds measured six feet from the gun’s muzzle.|
The walnut stock is oil finished, and the steel barrel, magazine tube, lever, trigger, and hammer are all given a nicely polished blue finish. Wood to metal fit is very nice. Of course, the brass receiver, buttplate, and barrel band are highly polished brass. The choice of brass in this day and age seemed odd to me so I called Anthony Imperato, Henry Repeating Arms Co. president.
He told me they chose brass to help identify with their namesake company of the 1860s. When I asked about the composition of the brass, Imperato said there are many different formulations for brass and that theirs is a special proprietary composition. He said they have extensively tested it and determined it to be strong enough to withstand the pressures given by standard .44 Magnum factory ammunition.
At The Range
After perusing the Henry Repeating Arms Co.’s catalog it is obvious that the company hopes to enter both the cowboy action shooting market and the short-range woods hunting arena with the Big Boy lever gun in .44 Magnum. Therefore in my test shooting I chose to use both full-house .44 Magnum factory loads with jacketed bullets and cowboy-type lead bullet factory loads. The high-velocity .44 Magnum loads that could be considered for deer hunting were test-fired at 100 yards in strings of five rounds. The low-velocity .44 Magnum and .44 Special lead-bullet “cowboy” loads were fired at only 25 yards but in strings of 10 rounds.
To be honest, in the beginning, I was not looking forward to doing much shooting with a .44 Magnum lever gun. About the worst I have ever had my right shoulder beat up during shooting came a few years back when testing several .44 Magnum carbines for an article. Fortunately, brass is heavy, which causes this particular .44 Magnum lever gun to weigh 8.68 pounds, about one to 11/2 pounds more than other comparable sized lever guns. And due to its relatively heavy weight, the Big Boy was pleasant enough to fire even with full-house .44 Magnum factory loads. With .44 Special low-velocity loads it was a plain pussycat.
Accuracy at 100 yards with the full-house .44 Magnum factory loads was very good, especially considering that the brass bead front sight subtends a full eight inches at that range. This sample Big Boy’s trigger pull averaged six pounds but was without creep. At 100 yards, groups averaged in the three- to four-inch range, which is just what I have come to expect from other lever guns sporting similar sights and chambered for pistol-size cartridges. At the close range of 25 yards, the 10-shot groups ran more in the 1.5 range. That sounds fairly large, but those big .44-caliber bullets were usually cutting large, ragged holes.
Functioning was flawless with the loads listed in the accompanying chart. In the past I’ve encountered feeding problems with several .44 Magnum lever guns when they were loaded with shorter .44 Special cases, and in the beginning I wondered if the Henry .44 Magnum also would present problems in feeding the shorter .44 Special loads. This Big Boy did not seem to care. I tried to go a step further and feed it .44 Russian ammunition, but those very short cases would not function through it.
Let’s discuss the intended purposes for the Big Boy as envisioned by the Henry Repeating Arms Co. In the catalog the company discusses this new lever gun as being for hunters and cowboy action shooters.
Some hunters will balk at that shiny brass receiver, saying it will scare game away. And perhaps that is so. But the original Henry repeater and its follow-up, the Winchester Model 1866, were brass framed (actually, in those days, bronze) and popular among hunters for decades. Time will tell on that one.
As for use by cowboy action shooters, the Single Action Shooting Society (probably better known as SASS) has approved the Big Boy for use in all SASS events. The Big Boy has sired a couple of variations that might interest lever-action fans. The lever-action design is particularly popular with cowboy action shooters, and Henry has designed a version of the Big Boy specifically for them in .45 Colt. The Big Boy’s smooth operation should prove to be a benefit in those close competitive situations where performance counts. The most recent version of the Big Boy is chambered in .357 Magnum/.38 Special calibers. The .357 Magnum Big Boy would be ideal for close bush hunting.
The Henry Big Boy I tested was accurate, reliable, and smooth of operation.