While we're all familiar with at least some of the ongoing shooting community debates (9 mm Luger vs. .45 ACP, AKs vs. ARs, revolvers vs. semi-automatic pistols, etc.), it's interesting to note where folks choose to drive stakes in the ground within particular firearm niches. In the lever-gun community, one of the defining features that folks seem to really care about is whether the rifle is fed its ammunition though a loading gate on the side of the receiver, or via a port in the magazine. As is often the case, both systems have their advantages and limitations.
Side-gate loading is fairly quick because it does not require the removal of the magazine liner. Rounds are fed through a spring-loaded gate into the tubular magazine located under the barrel. The magazine can be topped off with a round or two at a time in the field, just like a pump-action shotgun. It also has the advantage of allowing the rifle's operator to maintain a shooting stance while loading (with a bit of practice). However, there is no easy access to the inside of the magazine for unloading or cleaning in the field. Each round must be chambered and then ejected in order to clear the rifle at the end of the day.
Tube-fed lever actions have receivers that are closed on both sides with loading ports cut into the magazine near the rifle’s muzzle. A tubular brass liner, which contains the magazine spring and follower, is twisted then pulled out of the magazine completely, or just far enough to expose the port for loading. It’s a simple, reliable system that allows easy access to the magazine for cleaning or repair. Removing the liner allows unfired rounds to be dumped out instead of cycled through the action when it's time to wrap up a shooting session. The trade off is that these rifles are slower to refill in the field because the liner has to be manually removed and replaced each time fresh ammunition is dropped into the magazine.
When Henry Repeating Arms was founded in 1997, the company opted to build their rifles with closed receivers and tube-fed magazines. Don't forget that even though the mechanism was different, the original Henry rifle was loaded through the magazine.
This year Henry is changing the lever-gun game with the new Side Loader. For the very first time in this company’s history, a rifle features a right-side loading gate in addition to the removable magazine-tube liner. Now lever-action fans can enjoy the best of both loading methods in a single platform. Available chambered in the venerable .30-30 Win.(H024-3030) or the straight-walled .38-55 Win. cartridge (H024-3855), these first two rifles are dressed up for their premier in polished brass with custom floral-pattern stock checkering. Here is a closer look at the .30-30 Win. version.
Manufactured in Bayonne, N.J., the Side Loader's receiver is made from solid hardened brass which is stronger and more durable that the brass receivers of yesteryear. The brass barrel band and buttplate share the same highly polished mirror shine.
Just a quick wipe down of the receiver with a clean cloth (no polish) to remove finger prints and gun oil was all that was needed for the crisp reflection you see here. The top of the receiver has been drilled and tapped so a Weaver 63B aluminum scope mount can be attached. This particular mount features a central channel that allows the iron sights to be used when no optic is installed.
The 20" long round profile barrel is constructed of blued steel and outfitted with a white bead front sight and a fully adjustable Marbles semi-buckhorn style rear sight. If you examine the rifle for polymer components you won't find any. Even the magazine follower is blued steel, just like the rest of the appointments and controls. The magazine holds a total of five rounds, and sling swivel studs can be found on the shoulder stock and barrel band.
The straight-grip shoulder stock and for-end are American Walnut with a rich, dark natural finish. Henry went the extra mile this time with plenty of stock checkering that incorporates floral designs. One of my favorite touches is the way the custom checkering wraps around the grip of the shoulder stock. This same attention to detail is seen on the underside of the fore-end.
Henry's tube-fed .30-30s are listed as having a five-round capacity, meaning the magazine itself can hold up to five rounds. Once the first of those five rounds has been chambered by cycling the lever, there's really no safe or practical way to top off the magazine since the loading apparatus is down at the business end of the gun.
But the Side Loader can be considered to have a 5+1 capacity. After cycling the first round into the chamber, another cartridge can be safely fed into the magazine through the receiver. The Side Loader can be carried safely with a round in the chamber thanks to the hammer's transfer bar safety. The transfer bar drops down below the firing pin when the hammer is resting in the fully forward position against the frame. This prevents the rifle from firing unless the hammer is fully cocked and the trigger is pressed.
The Side Loader was test fired at the TNT Guns & Range subterranean 100-yard indoor range. I've found that bench rests designed for AR platforms work quite well for lever guns. The air space intended for standard-capacity 30-round magazines leaves plenty of room to swing the lever. All testing was conducted with a Nikon Monarch 3 Custom XR Turret 4-16X 42 mm scope with Leupold PWR medium rings.
Henry lever guns have a reputation for smooth-cycling levers and triggers. The new loading gate fits right in with the other features. Fresh cartridges load smoothly into the action with modest amounts of pressure and no pinching or nibbling of the finger tips. I'll admit that it was much easier to conduct the rifle test without having to take the rifle out of the rest for each reload. The single-action trigger broke cleanly with a perfectly pleasant 4 lbs. 11 ozs. of trigger pull.
This is a hunting rifle, so I stuck to quality hunting loads for formal and informal testing. Winchester provided the three loads used for formal five five-shot group testing at 100 yards. I was expecting five group averages somewhere around 1.80" based on my test of Henry's All Weather .30-30 a few years ago. However, this rifle tapped out tighter groups with the Winchester ammunition.
Winchester's 170-gr. Power Max Bonded rapid-expansion hollow point printed a best single group of 1.64", with a five group average of 1.75". The polymer tipped 150-gr. Ballistic Silver Tip turned in a best group of 1.27", with an average of 1.35". The tightest shooting load of the test was the 150-gr. Super X Power-Core all-copper hollow point. This load yielded a best single group of 1.07", with an average of 1.21".
Henry Repeating Arms' Side Loader .30-30 is a shining example, literally, of the company's continuing drive to diversify its product catalog while keeping customers happy. With its polished brass, decorative checkering and smooth operation, this rifle is just as shootable as it is showy. For those who prefer Henry's more utilitarian models, or other caliber options, never fear. It's my understanding that this handy new receiver-mounted loading gate will be an available feature for more Henry models before too long.
Specifications: Manufacturer:Henry Repeating Arms Model: H024-3030 Side Gate Action: Lever-Action Rifle Caliber: .30-30 Winchester Receiver: Hardened Polished Brass with Right Side Loading Gate Barrel: 20" Round Profile, Blued Steel Magazine: Tubular with Cartridge Loading Gate and Removable Brass Liner Front Sight: Ramp with .062" Ivory Bead Rear Sight: Fully Adjustable Semi-Buckhorn with Diamond Insert Optic: Drilled and Tapped for Weaver 63B Scope Mount Forend: American Walnut, Custom Checkering Barrel Band: Polished Brass Lever: Blued Steel, Standard Profile Shoulder Stock: Straight Grip American Walnut, Custom Checkering Butt Plate: Polished Brass Trigger: Single-Action Trigger Pull: 4-lbs. 11-oz. (As Tested) Safety: Hammer Mounted Transfer Bar Overall Length: 38.3" Length of Pull (LOP): 14" Weight: 7-lbs. 8-ozs. Capacity: 5+1 Twist: 1:12 RH Rifle Grooves: six Accessories: Owner's Manual, Lock Suggested Retail: $925