The first time I heard of a Henry rifle was on a Louis L’amour book on tape probably 25 years ago, while my family and I were on a road trip. A character in the book was meting out frontier justice on whomever. The imagery of circled wagons defended by lever-action Henrys will forever be in my mind. Henry began making lever-action rifles in 1860, when they were first patented by Benjamin Tyler Henry. There is an infamous pic from the Civil War showing a group of Union cavalrymen posing with their Henry rifles, shown below. The story of the Henry rifle is the stuff of legend and is inseparably connected with American history. Henrys found themselves on both sides of the Civil War and both sides of the Indian Wars.
Most, if not all of you, are familiar with lever-action rifles. That lever mechanism revolutionized shooting and helped usher in the era of “repeating arms”. So, I won’t bore you with its storied history, although it is very much worthy of study. Likewise, I doubt any of you are unfamiliar with the performance and abilities of the .44 cartridge, which between 600 and 1600+ ft/lbs of energy depending on your load preference, hits like the Hammer of Thor. The combination of these two are found in the Henry Big Boy Rifle, which I had the pleasure of reviewing.
In writing a review, I want to tell you what you can’t find out by looking online. I’m going to spare you from merely showing pictures of the groups I can shoot (which are amazing, by the way). I want to tell you, inasfar as I can, what it’s like to own one and the reasons why you should – or shouldn’t.
After experiencing this rifle – and I intentionally didn’t say own, possess, shoot, hold, etc. because handling it is an experience – I have an incredible urge to own one. Here’s why:
Appearance: The gun is beautiful in every way. The attention to detail and craftsmanship are truly remarkable. The brass butt plate is perfectly fitted onto a flawless straight-grip American walnut stock (which is perfectly stained and without blemish), which seamlessly transforms into the brass receiver, polished to a mirrored finish, giving way to a pleasantly heavy octagon barrel. The barrel and magazine tube are, of course, couched in another flawless walnut hand guard, held together with a polished brass band. At the receiver, the rifle is perfectly balanced. The blued octagon barrel hearkens back to an earlier era, which despite the incredible attention to detail makes the gun look as though it could have been manufactured in any of three centuries. The trigger is incredibly crisp and the lever mechanism is very smooth and makes for fluid operation. The craftsmanship of this rifle cannot be overstated or adequately described. Needless to say, on looks alone, the Henry Big Boy .44 would be a jewel in any collection.
Functionality: Assuming you know how a lever action works, the real question that will predominate among all that don’t already own a lever-action is relevance. In this age of abundance, bolt action rifles and semi-autos are readily available. In this context, how and where would this particular rifle fit in? What niche would it fill? Here are a few of the scenarios I think the Henry Big Boy .44 is good, great or perfect for.
• Hunting: (especially hog hunting) – Did I mention the gun is a .44? A .44 to the dome will drop a hog in a hurry, I’m here to tell you. There aren’t that many rifles I am aware of that carry 10 rounds of .44. I’d like to mention, at this very moment when writing the article, I spent no less than five minutes thinking about bacon, which I’d like to harvest with this very rifle. The receiver is drilled, tapped and ready for a scope. I would have no issues whatsoever with mounting a red dot to this gun and taking it into the woods to shoot anything this side of a whitetail.
• Home Defense: For similar reasons to hunting, the Henry Big Boy .44 would be great for home defense in many situations. Hear me out for a minute, because I know just about everyone currently using other weapons for home defense is already racing to the bottom of the page to post a comment about how inadequate this rifle would be compared to their weapon of choice. For the record, I have an M4, a Benelli m2, a Sig 229 and a Judge by the bed for home defense, but after having the opportunity to experience this rifle, I’m rethinking. With 10 rounds readily available, and a median of 1000 ft/lbs of energy per round, you could rapidly and accurately lay down 10,000 ft/lbs of energy, which is the equivalent of saying “Get off my property” in every language – simultaneously. This alone demands respect and makes the Big Boy worthy of consideration as a home defense weapon. It would be a great addition beside the nightstand or above the fireplace.
• Cowboy Action Shooting: I’m going to defer to the experts on this one, because I’m not involved in this particular shooting sport. However, as previously mentioned, the lever is incredibly smooth and the trigger is very crisp. This certainly isn’t going to hurt if shooting a match. The ammo compatibility is also a factor, considering the Big Boy is chambered in .44, .45LC and .357. Plus, there’s a video on Henry’s Big Boy page of a Cowboy Action shooter nailing 10 targets in approx. 13 seconds. Combine that with the energy any of the available rounds produce and you’re definitely knocking steel targets down with the first hit.
• Recreational Shooting: The Great Ammo Famine of 2013 is down-right disheartening and frustrating. However, of the few calibers I see that always seem to be in stock (where I am it’s 10mm and .44), .44 always seems to be defiantly standing out on the otherwise empty shelves. I’ve considered getting guns that match whatever ammo is available. Regardless, the point is that in my neck of the woods, .44 remains available, which would certainly allow for recreational shooting. After experiencing the Big Boy for the time that I have, I’d feel comfortable using it in almost any shooting environment.
Conclusion: There’s a couple of things this gun isn’t. Among other things, it’s not semi-auto and it doesn’t have a detachable magazine. The beauty is it isn’t trying to be. The Henry Big Boy isn’t masquerading as something it isn’t. Trust me, as soon as you pick up this rifle, you know exactly what it is: a quality American-made rifle, the kind that has won battles and by its mere presence discouraged others. It’s the kind of rifle your father and his father would be proud to own. It’s been there and done that before you and I were ever born and will still be there a long time after we’re gone. This rifle sets a standard. With the Big Boy, Henry got it right – as close to perfection as you can get. Rarely do you see a masterpiece that possesses such versatility. Henry did it. If you’re in the market for a rifle, the Big Boy deserves your attention and consideration.