by B. Gil Horman - Tuesday, December 9, 2014
The handgun-caliber carbine represents an old idea that's just as relevant to the modern-day shooter as it was to the cowboys of the Old West. The ability to dip into just one box of ammunition to feed both a revolver and a lever gun is quite convenient at the shooting range, in the field, and at the reloading bench. In the case of Mag.-power handgun cartridges, such as the .357 Mag. and .44 Mag., the good long gun will not only stretch the cartridge's effective range but it will reduce a wrist-wearying level of felt recoil to a tame and enjoyable level.
The Henry Repeating Arms Big Boy is a modern revolver cartridge lever-action rifle that successfully preserves the look and handling qualities of a classic design while taking advantage of modern materials and manufacturing processes. This rifle is available chambered in .45 Colt, .44 Mag., and .357 Mag.. For this test, the .357 Mag. version was put through its paces.
When it comes out of a shipping container for the first time, the Big Boy is a beautiful sight to behold. The solid brass receiver is polished to a mirror shine, as are the brass barrel band and butt plate. The smooth, satin finished straight-grip shoulder stock and fore-end are carved from American walnut. The rest of the rifle, including the barrel, magazine tube, hammer, trigger, lever, and screws are made from richly finished blued steel. The wood, brass, and steel components were all expertly fitted without the gaps or tool marks found in some rifles. In fact, the only concern I had about the gun's exterior was that I might accidentally scratch it.
The rifle's sight system consists of a brass-bead front sight blade paired with a fully adjustable marble semi-buckhorn rear sight resting atop a heavy 20" long octagonal barrel. Directly below the barrel is a round magazine tube with a 10-round capacity. The exposed hammer's spur is grooved for easier cocking. Although some other Henry rifle models feature a hammer half-cock safety system, the Big Boy is fitted with a transfer bar safety to prevent the rifle from firing unless the trigger is cycled. As a result, the hammer only has two positions: fully cocked and fully forward. The steel bow trigger exhibited a short crisp break with 3 lbs., 6 ozs. of trigger pull.
The Big Boy has an overall-length of 38.50" with an unloaded weight 8 lbs., 7 ozs., according to a digital postal scale. Although much of that weight is in the heavy barrel, the rifle's balance point is located right about where the wooden fore-end butts up against brass receiver. So even though this rifle is relatively heavy, it balances nicely for off-hand shooting. The weight also works to improve accuracy by steadying the rifle and reducing felt recoil.
Overall, the function of the Big Boy was excellent. The action was light and smooth to cycle. Just in case you want to go ahead and "spoil the lines" of this classic rifle (as some purists see it), the Big Boy's receiver is drilled and tapped at the factory to accept the in-house Model BB-RSM scope mount. Installation of this mount does not require the removal of the rear iron sight.
Loading the Big Boy, while not the fastest process, is certainly not as slow as some folks seem to think. With the rifle pointed in a safe direction, open the action to visually and manually verify the chamber and action are completely empty. Close the action, and then lower the hammer into the forward position. Twisting the knurled knob at the top of the brass-colored interior magazine tube, which is held snuggly in place by a rubber gasket, releases it to be pulled out to uncover the loading port cut into the exterior magazine tube.
Some shooters opt to pull the interior tube all the way out and set it aside while they load. This can lead to the tube getting dropped, dented or dirty. Since the rifle has to be held in an upright position to load anyway, it seems easier to hold the tube in the top of the magazine while handling ammunition with the other hand. Once 10 rounds are loaded, press the interior tube back into place, give it a twist to lock it in place and the rifle is ready to have the first round levered into the chamber.
At the shooting range, the Big Boy proved to be a fun and accurate rifle to work with. It was fed a mix of jacketed .38 Spl. and .357 Mag. ammunition without any malfunctions from beginning to end. Standard-velocity .38 Spl. produced such a mild level of felt recoil that the first couple of shots felt like squib loads. Filling the rifle up with full-power .357 Mag., even heavy 180-grain hunting loads, produced a modest shoot-it-all-day level of recoil that just about anyone should be able to comfortably work with, especially with a benchrest.
Formal benchrest accuracy testing was conducted by firing five five-shot groups of each load into targets placed at 100 yards with a Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 3-9X 40 mm scope attached to the rifle using Leupold QRW rings. It should be noted that although the group sizes produced by each ammunition brand were relatively tight, the vertical point of impact from where the scope was originally sighted in shifted measurably from one bullet weight to the next. It was about a 5" difference between the top of the highest hitting load's groups to the bottom edge of the lowest. So, if you are heading out for a hunt or competition with the Big Boy, stick to the load you sighted in with.
The best single group of the test, 0.83", was produced using HPR HyperClean 125-gr. jacketed hollow points. This load also yielded the best average of 0.96". Federal Premium Vital Shok Swift A-Frame hunting 180-gr. jacketed hollow points yielded a best group size of 1.09", with an average of 1.27". Hornady's LEVERevolution polymer tipped 140-grain FTX load yielded a best single group of 1.67" and an average of 1.85".
The American-made Henry Big Boy revolver-cartridge carbine is the definition of a satisfying lever gun to shoot. Its classic lines and high-quality finish make it a treat for the eyes. The smooth action, crisp trigger, and modest level of felt recoil feel good to the hands and shoulder. The top-notch accuracy is a boost to the ego, while the flexibility of being able to using a wide variety of .38 Spl. and .357 Mag. loads means that finding ammunition won't be an issue. But keeping the ammunition after you buy it is a different story. Having this rifle on hand is likely to make it all disappear posthaste.
Henry Big Boy .357 Mag. Lever-Action Rifle
Manufacturer: Henry Repeating Arms
Model: Big Boy Rifle (H006M)
Action: Lever Action
Caliber: .357 Mag./.38 Spl.
Stock: Straight-Grip American Walnut
Barrel: Blued Steel, Octagonal
Receiver: Solid Brass
Front Sight: Brass Beaded
Rear Sight: Adjustable Marble Semi-Buckhorn
Barrel Length: 20"
Overall Length: 38.50"
Length of Pull (LOP): 14.50"
Weight: 8.68 lbs.
Capacity: 10 Rounds
Twist: 1:38" RH
Rifle Grooves: Six
Accessories: Owner's Manual, Lock
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