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Henry Rifles have been around since 1860, but this rifle bears very little resemblance to the original. Other than having a brass-colored alloy frame and, of course, being a lever action, this is a completely different animal. Actually, the action on The Henry Big Boy Carbine has more in common with a Marlin. These are not bad things, and from a functional and useful perspective, they are very good things. The Original Henry Rifles were quirky and that is part of its historic charm. If you would like to read more about the New Henry Original you can find a review I wrote with my father at this link.
The Pistol Caliber Carbine
There is nothing new about a pistol caliber carbine. As soon as reliable cartridges were being made, manufacturers and consumers were looking for a good pistol and rifle combination. Take a look at two iconic guns that came to market in 1873: A lever gun from Winchester, which was an evolved original Henry, and the Colt Single Action Peacemaker. It didn’t take long for Colt to start building revolvers that would chamber the Winchester cartridges.
So other than the convenience of only having to carry one type of ammunition, is there really any significant usefulness of the pistol caliber carbine? I say “yes,” when it is used within its limitations. These are not going to be a reach-out-and-touch-someone at long distance rifles. But, they are great at 150 yards or less and will hit hard at that distance and do so in a compact package with low recoil.
The Henry Big Boy Carbine
Henry offers the Big Boy Carbine in three chamberings. They are available in .44 Mag., .357 Mag. and, .45 Colt. The .44 Mag. and .357 will both also chamber the .44 Special and .38 Special, respectively. Other than caliber, the Big Boy Carbines are all pretty much identical. The all have an MSRP of $899 but will be found for less in stores. Here are the specification on the .44 Mag. Henry Big Boy Carbine, which is what the review gun is chambered in.
- Caliber: .44 Mag./.44 Special
- Barrel: 16.5 inches
- OA Length: 35 inches
- Weight: 7.76 pounds
- Stock: American Walnut
- Action: Lever-action
- Finish: Brass-colored receiver, blued steel
- Capacity: 7
- MSRP: $899.95
Obviously, a rifle that looks good, and sounds good on paper also has to function to be worth its salt. The review Henry Big Boy Carbine is a pleasure to shoot. The recoil is mild even with the magnum loads, and the Marbles sights are easy to get on target, especially with the contrast of the front brass bead.
Loading the Henry is a little different and can be a bit of a pain until you get used to it. When Winchester added the side loading gate to the lever action rifle, the stars, planets and universe aligned, dogs and cats moved in together and Congress got along and passed meaningful legislation. Okay, that is a bit of a stretch but it was the best improvement to happen to the lever gun since, well, the invention of the lever gun.
But the Henry does not use the side-loading gate. It does give you a cleaner and smoother looking profile on the receiver than a rifle with side-loading gate. The Henry instead uses the tubular magazine under the barrel, but it loads from the muzzle end by twisting and pulling up the brass tube and plunger. It is a simple enough operation but when pushing the plunger tube back down after loading it can catch on a cartridge rim. With a bit of wiggling and pushing, the tube will pass. It is quirky and slower than a side loader but is still functional.
In the Field
This is a gun that belongs in the field. A bit heavy, it weights about a pound more than a 94 Winchester, but not so heavy to be cumbersome. Especially in .44 Mag, the Henry Big Boy Carbine would make a great brush gun. I am talking about thick underbrush whitetail hunting in the South and other places where your shots will be under 100 yards and more like 40 at the most. And also where those shots will be through brush and briars that are more likely to deflect a lighter bullet.
This rifle, in .44 Mag., could also be a contender in bear country. A 240-grain Federal Hydra Shock is moving about 1,650 feet per second out of a 16.5-inch barrel. That is right at 1,400 ft-lbs.of energy from the muzzle. Not too shabby. Especially when you have 7 more rounds on tap if you are carrying one in the chamber.
At the Range
This is not really a range rifle. I do not mean that in a negative way, but this is not the type of rifle that is fun to poke holes in paper with from 100 yards. For one, working the lever when it is in a sled in a royal pain. But that aside, it is capable of respectable groups. From 100 yards, with the stock iron sights, I was able to wring groups just under 2 inches. Of course, the hole a .44 projectile leaves in a target is almost a half inch. The bottom line here is that this rifle is more than capable as a short-range, hard-hitting carbine. That is what this rifle is meant to be and it delivers that. And 2 MOA is still well within the kill shot zone on a whitetail at 100 yards.
It is pretty easy to see that I like this rifle. I am a confessed lover of things that are old and things that are nostalgic of old things. This is what the Henry Big Boy Carbine is. It is not really an historic firearm, but it has some looks of one with a more modern (ok, it isn’t that modern) action. It does have its quirks, the loading being the biggest one. The side-loading gate is the easier to use of the two loading systems. But remember that the iconic “Gun That Won The West” is now made in the East. If you want a new, well-made, American-made lever gun, Henry is where it is at.