As the resident tactical ninja over at Guns America, you might think it strange for me to be reviewing a lever-action rifle. Not even a little bit. In fact, I think lever guns are among the most underrated of all weapons. They are my usual recommendation for people who live in less-than-free states, for a variety of reasons. A lever-action is light, quick handling, and fast shooting with some training. It will outreach a shotgun, packs a relatively high capacity, and with the usual line-up of calibers is absolutely lethal. And this week’s loaner model has the lethality part in spades: Big Horn chambers the Model 89 in 500 Smith and Wesson, 100% guaranteed to put a hurt on anything with a heartbeat.
Now I have a little bit of a confession to make: There is only one gun I have ever picked up to shoot and not at least finished the cylinder. And that gun was a S&W .500 revolver, the carry model with the 3.5 inch barrel. After 2 rounds I was done and I would never care to try again. Some people really enjoy super powerful handguns, but it is not my cup of tea. Right around .44 Magnum I stop having fun, and after .454 Casull I don’t want to play anymore. I’m not going to dispute the effect I think a .500 S&W would have on a target, at all. I just don’t want to spark it off in a hand cannon. So it was a stroke of brilliance for Big Horn Armory to cram that into a much better platform—a rifle.
Big Horn Armory does a lot of things right with a winning attitude to boot. The model 89 isn’t a gun changed to fit a modern cartridge, it is a new lever-action platform designed in-house for the 500. The gun is entirely built in the USA, including all of its components. At first, I was unsure if I should be the one slated for this review since the rifles offered by Big Horn are stunningly beautiful. I tend to be hard on equipment, and nothing I have ever tested has returned in the same state I received it in. So I called the owner of Big Horn in case he wanted a more gentlemanly gun writer from our staff. He told me, “We don’t build safe queens son. We build guns to be used.” Nuff said. That is my kind of party.
When the Model 89 came in, I was blown away by how amazing it looked in person. This gun is a work of art, no question. But it is also hard to miss the gaping hole they call a bore. All the guys at the FFL shop kept looking at the barrel to make sure it was real. If a .45 ACP looks like throwing ashtrays down the hall, this thing chucks asteroids.
Every detail of the 89 is perfect. From the Walnut stock to the aperture rear/ post front sight—not a machine mark or marred screw was to be found. The trigger was crisp and smooth—a bit of a surprise after some of the lever-actions I have shot.
While I like the traditional look of the gun, I also like a bonus feature built in. The model 89 is red dot ready from the factory. Don’t get me wrong, the iron sights work great. But I think at this point, most of us would concede we are faster with a red dot. Also, in the places we are likely to really want a lever-action, a magnified scope would be too much. The package I got in for review came with a SIG Romeo 1 and mounting plate, which takes the place of the rear sight. Two Allen keys and you are in business.
Now, this is the part of the review where I should be telling you all about how the action is brilliant. But unfortunately, I am not a cowboy gun expert. I don’t know a falling block from a Rolling Rock, and to pretend otherwise would be doing you a disservice. But I will tell you how the 89 performed.
Out of the box, the action was a little tight. I don’t think that should be unexpected, given the price tag. When we think of really well put-together guns, a perfect level of tightness between moving parts is part of that. After about 20 rounds, the 89 did really smooth out, and I would expect it to get progressively better for another 200. The recoil impulse was actually a bit higher than I expected for a pistol cartridge, but then, 440 grains at 1700 feet per second is no joke. It felt about like a 12 gauge slug from a pump action. Enough you don’t want to shoot hundreds of rounds in a day, but nothing near actually painful. And it is rather reassuring that anything on the receiving end will stop bothering you.
The 89 weighs in at 7 pounds, which does make it light and agile. When I had the motions right on the action, it ran very fast. Turns out lever gunning is a perishable skill, and it has been years since I shot one. If you already have the skills or take the time to train them, this gun will throw some lead in a hurry.
Accuracy was well within the acceptable realm, and probably better in reality than my test results. I was getting a little recoil shy by the time I shot groups and it still turned in 3 nearly touching with the red dot. I have no doubt we would see some improvement with that on a fresh day or taking the time and expense to find the load the 89 likes best.
Now one thing figures and stopwatches can’t calculate is also part of the Model 89 experience. That missing thing is fun. I haven’t had as much fun with a gun as the 89 provided in a very long time. As a fan of lever-actions, it has given me a renewed interest in learning to use one well. The raw power of the .500 S&W finds a happy home in this rifle. Should you find yourself walking through the valley of the shadow of death, you shall fear no evil if this is rifle is on your shoulder. Once the Model 89 cranks off, you’ll be lucky to find any.
Visit Big Horn Armory to learn more about Big Horn’s Model 89 by clicking HERE.