Review: Big Horn Armory Model 89 Black Thunder

posted on September 7, 2023
Black Thunder Right

The lever-action rifle is almost uniquely American. It has been around for more than 150 years. Thousands of books, movies and television programs have been made featuring lever-action repeating rifles and carbines, and, as such, it has become a mainstay in the American psyche. Today, there is virtually a cult of lever-action rifle aficionados, and their presence in online chat rooms and forums remains robust. Concurrently, there is no denying the popularity of so-called “tactical” firearms. It almost seems that many believe it is not possible to survive a gunfight without at least a couple of Picatinny rails on their firearms. Several lever-action rifle manufacturers have bought into this and make versions of their long-standing lever guns with rails, composite stocks, threaded barrels and such.

Big Horn Armory Model 89 Black Thunder left-side view black gun lever-action rifle

A recent example of this comes from Big Horn Armory’s Black Thunder, a tactical version of its superb Model 89 lever-action rifle chambered in .500 Smith & Wesson Magnum. The Model 89 was launched in 2012 featuring an action based upon the Browning-designed Models 1886 and 1892. It is, in fact, sized right between these two rifles, hence the Model 89 name.

Big Horn Armory Black Thunder lever-action rifle tang showing stamping bull company name and location wood stock black finish on white background angle gun

This latest iteration features a 16" threaded barrel made from with a beast of a muzzle brake designed by Big Horn Armor’s owner, Greg Buchel. It has four Picatinny rails attached, one Picatinny-style scout scope mount on top and three more 2.5" circumferentially around the M-Lok tip on the fore-end. The beefy receiver is finished in Hunter black or matte, as are all metal parts on the rifle. Sights are a Skinner Sights ghost-ring aperture for the rear and a Marble white-bead front sight. That receiver, as well as all the metal parts in it, are made from 17-4 PH stainless steel surface hardened to Rc82 by a nitriding process and continue to be manufactured by the stock removal method on CNC machinery. As such, the fit and finish remain near perfect. The fore-end and buttstock are U.S.-made black laminate to which a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad is attached, and it is finished with a synthetic satin clear coat. Magazine capacity is six rounds because of the shorter barrel and magazine.

Big Horn Armory Black Thunder rifle parts barrel muzzle brake sight closeup metal

I’ll confess that I wasn’t looking forward to shooting this rifle with this muzzle brake, because I have had some unpleasant experiences with brakes. My trepidation was unfounded. I took extra precautions by doubling up on the ear pro—my custom plugs and ear muffs. I used the same tactics when I took a Smith & Wesson .500 Magnum to Africa. If you think I am being a pansy, you haven’t had to deal with the hassle of hearing aids. Anyway, BHA’s muzzle brake was very effective in taming the .500 S&W Mag. recoil, even with the 500-grain Hard Cast Buffalo Bore loads. Simply holding the butt firmly and squarely to my shoulder, the fore-end never got close to jumping from my Sinclair rifle rest.

Black Thunder receiver lever-action rifle closeup hammer skinner aperture sight picatinny rail wood

The precision invested in building these rifles, from the CNC-machining of the parts to the care-in-hand assembly lavished on these rifles at the company’s facility in Cody, Wyo., produces a rifle of rather remarkable accuracy, given the reputation of lever-action accuracy. To be sure, these are not benchrest competition rifles, nor was that the intention. Average group sizes were just a smidgen more than 3" at 100 yards, making this rifle a pretty reliable 200-yard medium- to large-game or self-defense gun. I suspect that better accuracy could be acquired by a shooter with younger eyes or attaching an optic to the top Picatinny rail.

Top-down view into rifle action lever-action Big Horn Armory Black Thunder .500 S&W Mag. cartridge green background outdoor lighting

One of the reasons that lever-action rifles and carbines remain popular after a century and a half in production is their inherent handiness and efficiency of delivering successive shots. The Dark Thunder is just 36" long and at 7 lbs., 12 ozs., making it an ideal truck gun, especially considering its overwhelming power. This rifle and its .500 S&W Mag. chambering is capable of handling bullets as light as 200 grains on up to 700 grains for those occasions where one might want to shoot through the length of a T. rex or stop a truck.

Big Horn Armory Black Thunder rifle accuracy ballistic chart testing specifications velocity group size bullets ammunition .500 S&W Magnum

The Dark Thunder is, no doubt, an impressive piece of shooting machinery. Pulling it out of a scabbard will certainly garner the attention of those around you, especially with that 0.50" hole in the muzzle. This quality of workmanship and power comes at a price. You won’t find it in the bargain bin of a big-box sporting goods store either. The MSRP of $4,699 will likely put it beyond the reach of many, but for those who will not settle for anything but the very best, it is worth it.

Man outdoors rolling hills background green table shooting lever-action rifle big horn armory black thunder truck bed blue muffs ballcap grass

Big Horn Armory Model 89 Black Thunder Specifications
Manufacturer: Big Horn Armory
Chambering: .500 S&W Mag.
Action Type: lever-action, repeating, centerfire rifle
Receiver: stainless steel
Barrel: 16” stainless steel
Finish: matte black
Rifling: 1:24” RH
Magazine: tubular; six-round capacity
Sights: fully adjustable Skinner aperture rear, bead front; Picatinny-style Scout scope mount
Trigger: 6-lb., 6-oz. pull
Stock: laminated walnut (black)
Length of Pull: 13 3/4"
Length: 36"
Weight: 7 lbs., 12 oz.
Accessories (available at extra charge): hot wood maple stock or laminate stock available; sling swivels; fiber-optic front sight; butt stock cheek piece
MSRP: $4,699.00


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