Those readers who have been around TFB for any time know how much I enjoy lever action rifles. That said I’ve had the privilege to review my favorite lever action the Original Henry from Henry Repeating Arms.
For simplicity sake from this point I’ll just refer to the Original Henry with brass receiver as the Henry. Before talking about the Henry I tested let me give you some history behind the rifle and the major contribution it made to the advancement in rifle design upon it’s release in 1860.
Working with other well known individuals in the firearms industry of the time Benjamin Tyler Henry was asked to design a rifle to handle the new ammunition coming out at the time as well as increase the rate of fire. In short Mr. Henry settled on the toggle link system first used in the Volcanic handgun. Mr. Henry changed the design a bit to handle the new and more powerful (for the time) round which became the .44 Henry rimfire. Of course the Henry receiver was enlarged to handle the new cartridge as well as strengthening the internal parts.
When the Henry repeating rifle hit the market in 1860 it was just in time for the American civil war. The government purchased a few of the rifles for the troops but no where near the numbers to make a difference. Individual northern troops purchased Henry rifles with their own money and went to war. At that time the soldier had at his use a rifle that held 15 rounds of .44 rimfire which fired a 200 grain bullet at an average of 1200 FPS. After the southern troops met this rifle in combat they referred to it as the “Damn yankee rifle you load on Sunday and shoot all week”. In fact one squad of union troops could equal the firepower of an entire company using the standard issue rifle.
Once the war was over many of those troops who owned Henry rifles moved west to start settlements. Others purchased the Henry before setting out with their families to settle the western territories and protect their families as well as hunt game to support the families needs.
All of the lever actions that came after the Henry owe the Henry credit for their internal workings and at least for the general way a lever action operates. If one looks at an 1873 Winchester action they are darn near identical in many ways. The 1873 was chambered in several calibers one of which was the brand new 44-40 cartridge. The Henry was modified to use this new round which increased it’s power and all around usefulness.
Let’s jump forward to the last couple of years and the current Henry Repeating Arms Company. Most of the readers are familiar with the 100% American made line of Henry rifles and the popularity they enjoy. I’d always wondered why Henry never made an Original Henry to compliment the extensive line currently offered. Well that changed not long ago and now the shooting public has an identical to the original Henry rifle in 44-40 centerfire. You actually have two choices now which is the specially hardened brass (as hard as today’s steel) receiver model and the Iron Framed Original both of which are chambered in 44-40.
Most of you who aren’t involved in Cowboy shooting or just love lever actions like myself may not know very much about the 44-40 round. Let me say it has more power than you might think. Now the current Cowboy loads tend to be rather mild however for those that reload you can safely load a 200 grain lead flat point bullet to yield a speed of 2000 FPS and energy of 1777 foot pounds. Out to 150 yards the 44-40 can be used in the Henry rifle to take most any game in the US as long as you do your part and make a good shot.
The Henry Original I received for testing is just absolutely gorgeous. In fact I consider it just about the best looking lever action rifle there is. With well chosen Missouri Walnut buttstock, brass butt plate, brass receiver and the deep blue octagon barrel finish it really is a work of art. As you can see in some of the photos the Henry has two side plates so you can access the internals. Unless you get very close these plates are so well fitted you can’t even see the line between the plate and receiver body. All around the fit and finish is outstanding. I can’t say for certain how much hand work went into creating the Original but to get this kind of fit there must be a good deal of it!
The Henry loads and operates much like the lever action .22 you may have had as a kid. The rifle is loaded by raising the brass tab in the magazine all the way to the top moving it over a short amount then turn the last few inches of the barrel shroud to the right. This action exposes the opening in the magazine. The shooter then drops each round base first in the magazine until the magazine is full which takes 13 rounds. The barrel shroud is then moved over to line up with the barrel then the brass tab is lowered onto the top round. As the rounds are fired the brass tab moves down giving the shooter a reference to how many rounds are left.
The hammer has a half cock notch but none of the obnoxious new safety devices that have been so common on new guns. When you move the lever forward the carrier moves down a small amount and a round is dropped into the carrier. As you pull the lever back into firing position the carrier is raised along with the live round. Next the bolt moves forward pushing the live round into the chamber and engaging the extractor to the bullet rim. After firing the brass ejects up a couple of inches or more depending on how hard you work the lever and tosses the brass straight back and to the right in one handy pile.
At first I intended to do a few week test but that changed to a several month test after I had a couple of persons who informed me the action of the Henry was weak and wouldn’t hold up to much shooting especially handloads. I didn’t buy that for a minute so over the past few months I’ve shot many hundreds of rounds of factory rounds as well as handloads of my own creation. Let me just say the action is as snug as it was the first day on the range and the accuracy is very good indeed. I’ve run it fairly hard and the Henry has taken everything I’ve thrown at it.
On the range I’ve taken some sessions with several targets and shot fast from 25 yards to 50 yards. Other range trips I simply setup at the 100 yard bench and shot for accuracy on steel targets. As you may note in the photos the front sight is silver and easy to see. I was able to shoot 100 yard ten shot groups with these iron sights that I could cover with the palm of my hand. I consider that very good for iron sights at that distance without a rest. I also setup a steel target at 300 yards and using the Henry rear ladder sight also set at 300 yards. I was firing prone using a backpack as a rest. With some of the more anemic factory loads I had to move the sight to 350–400 yards. With my handloads I was hitting steel with the sights set at 300 yards. I was hitting steel nine times out of ten with a mild wind coming from 5 o’clock at approximately 10 mph. I honestly didn’t think the rifle would shoot so well at that distance but it did and it sure was fun hearing that target ring.
The Original Henry Rifle .44-40
Model Number H011
Action Type Lever Toggle Link System
Capacity 13 rounds
Barrel Length 24.5″
Weight 9 lbs.
Stock Fancy American Walnut Buttstock with Hardened Brass Buttplate
Sights Folding Ladder Rear, Blade Front
Finish Hardened Brass Receiver
The Iron-Framed Original Henry Rifle .44-40
Model Number H011IF
Stock Fancy American Walnut Buttstock and Case Colored Steel Buttplate
Receiver Case Color Receiver
To sum things up I was very happy with the performance of this rifle as well as the 44-40 round. Again this is a beautiful piece of work and a rifle anyone who owns one should be very proud to have in their collection.
For more history of the henry rifle I highly recommend this book. A search on Amazon or ebay should give you results.