Thursday, March 10, 2011

Oh, Henry

Per Fearsclave's request, I give you my first rifle, the Henry lever-action or, as I like to call it, my Bat Masterson Goes Squirrelin' rifle:

From Firearms

With single-action Ruger* and Morgan dollar. For scale.

I'd made a New Years resolution to gain basic proficiency with a rifle, and this seemed like as good an iron to start with as any. The Henry isn't a high-end bankbreaker, but it feels like quality. (You owners of plastic-and-stainless guns can keep your "corrosion resistance" and "reliability in adverse conditions" and "significantly decreased manufacturing costs". I'll oil my gun daily, fret about getting it wet, sacrifice accuracy when humidity warps the stock, and like it.) The lever action is nice and smooth, and the gun is much more accurate than I am.

Speaking of which. The sights.

Never one to let the practical get in the way of the superficial**, I rejected the less expensive round-barreled Henry with the modern, click-adjustable sights, choosing to pay more for a much less convenient arrangement. This rifle uses an old-fashioned sight that's adjustable for elevation by moving a stepped wedge under it, and adjustable for windage by loosening a screw and thwapping it with a hammer.

From Firearms

I'm hoping to get it properly sighted in on the next range trip in a few days. Kentucky windage gets old really fast. You can also just see a scope mount on top of the reciever, which is a nice touch. It's a handy thing to have, but is subtle enough not to ruin the rifle's old timeyness. The front sight on the "more practical" version was a simple and effective plastic post in a protective tube of sheet metal. The front sight on this version is a brass bead on a little dovetailed pedestal. There was really never any contest.

From Firearms

The loading process is a bit fiddly. There's no loading gate, like I'd expect from a centerfire levergun. Instead, you turn a little nut at the front of the magazine, withdraw a brass magazine rod until it clears a little cartridge-shaped cutout, and drop in cartridges until the magazine is full. Push the rod back in, turn the nut, and you're ready to shoot. This fiddliness is fine for bunnies and targets, but would be an issue if you're planning on using it to pick off slow undead (robust tradition of anti-zombie leverguns notwithstanding). The long tube holds 15 rounds of .22lr; I haven't tried loading it with .22 shorts yet.

From Firearms

The "safety" is in fact a half-cock notch on the hammer. After chambering a round, you hold the hammer, press the trigger, and lower the hammer until it catches, almost all the way down. I wouldn't say I'm thrilled about pulling the trigger on a loaded gun to make it safe, but it does give the rifle a very simple and uncluttered design without any superfluous buttons and switches.

From Firearms

All in all, I'm very pleased. This is a substantial rifle with a heft to it, making the little .22 rounds basically recoilless. It feels good in my hands, and operating the lever action after each shot makes it hard not to feel like a Campbellian cowboy. It makes me want to roam the high plains on my steed, drifting from dust-choked town to dust-choked town, the scourge of cattle-rustlin' gangs of squirrels and cans across the West.

If I don't learn to shoot reasonably well with this, it won't be the gun's fault. The current plan is to get to where I'm comfortably proficient with this rifle, then move up to a pistol-caliber centerfire levergun that I can shoot ot our indoor range (most likely in .357/.38). After that, I'm probably not adding anything more to the battery until we have a house. Then I can start thinking about making room in the budget for a proper rifle and membership at an outdoor range.


Oh, and did I mention Henry rifles are made in Bayonne, New Jersey? How can you not love a good rifle made in Jersey? It's like an abused rescue dog that won't leave your side.

[* - One political note I'll bury down here--these two old-fashioned guns are about as inoffensive as you can get: the Ruger is a slow-firing, slow-reloading revolver, and the Henry is a manually operated rimfire repeater suitable for bunnies at best. both are mainly of interest to recreational shooters and people who like paying extra for obsolete technology. And the Brady Campaign, which insists it doesn't advocate gun bans, has supported bans on both of these in the last few years. They supported DC and Chicago's bans on all handguns, and they support Carolyn McCarthy's proposed ban on all magazines that can hold more than ten rounds, criminalizing the Henry, whose fixed tube magazine can load 15. "Common sense restrictions" indeed.]

[** - If you value the practical above the superficial, neither Henry will offer you much. A plastic stocked 10/22 is faster shooting, faster loading, and cheaper to boot.]


  1. My marlin bolter has a plastic front sight in neon orange. I find I can barely acquire the damn thing - it's much too thin to be way in the hell out at the far end of the barrel. I think I'm going to either have to pay to replace the sights, or put some glass on it.

    I need to adjust the sights, to boot, and I don't think I can do so. The rifle is quite precise, but PoI is up and to the right of PoA. Nice tight groups there, though

  2. Ian, those Marlin bolt-actions are really nice; I was tempted by one before settling on the Henry. Is there any chance the sight would be easier to acquire if you painted it black?

    James, thanks much. Glad you enjoyed.

  3. Possibly. Though the shallow-v rear sight doesn't excite me either.

    And I haven't found a good way to adjust the rear sight down (following the rule of Front Opposite, Rear Same).

  4. What caliber is the Rooger in?

    And be sure to twirl it over the bed or the couch. This way, when you drop it, it won't get banged up. Ask me how I know.

  5. It's a .357. Not as hardcore as a .45 Colt, I know, but it was worth it for the availability and economy of ammo, and for the sake of compatibility with the family's other .38 revolvers. I wouldn't want to rely on a single-action revolver for self defense, but damn if the thing doesn't aim itself.

    I'll keep my drop-zone in mind if I ever decide to become a world-famous gun twirler.

    Incidentally, two things I've been meaning to mention to you:

    First, where did you get your gun leather? I'm not planning on taking up CAS any time soon, but it'd be nice to have a holster--preferably a one-gun rig that could add a second down the line.

    Second, this vintage ad just popped up on Modern Mechanix, and reminded me of your vintage photo series:

  6. Nothing wrong with .38/.357 combo, that's what I got for my Roogers. Factory ammo is still affordable......

    .....if you ever have trouble cocking it, check the basepin.....sometimes it slips forward.

    I forgot where I got my first bunch of gun leather, it only cost about $150 for two holsters and a belt, but I know you can get stuff from Cabela's and Sportsman's Guide without breaking the bank.

    wimmin loves twirlers....ask me how I know....

  7. Thanks much. I'll keep that in mind.