“Made in America or Not Made at all” is Henry’s motto. There really isn’t anything more American than a Lever Gun, sorry Mom and your apple pie. The Henry name is steeped in American History. The originals, made by the New Haven Arms Company, was one of the first repeaters to see use in the Civil War. The first Winchester lever action was simply an improved Henry. Although there are no direct ties to the original company, The Henry Repeating Arms Company has been carrying on the tradition of making firearms here in the US of A since 1996.
Yes, I do mean .327
The Henry in this review is a Big Boy Carbine in .327 Federal Magnum. Even though the .327 was released just over a decade ago, there are a lot of shooters who are not familiar with this little cartridge. So, in case this one is new to you too, let us take a quick look at the development and the idea behind the .327 Federal Magnum.
Firearms chambered in .32 caliber are nothing new. For example, the old Winchester 1873 was made in 32-20 more than a hundred years ago. Colt also chambered Peacemakers for the same cartridge. There are also the two Smith and Wesson .32s, the Short and Long. Even John Browning designed a .32 for his autoloading pistols, the .32 ACP. But the .327 takes the little .32 up to magnum levels. It does this in a case small enough that in a revolver you can squeeze an extra round in without enlarging the cylinder. This is the crux behind the development of the .327: getting an extra round in a small revolver and in a magnum cartridge.
I recently reviewed a Ruger Single-Seven and you can check out that review here. The Henry in .327, along with the Ruger, allows us the opportunity to do something that Colt and Winchester made happen back in the 19th Century: carrying a revolver and a carbine in the same caliber.
The idea of having a long gun and a handgun in the same caliber is referred to as “Cowboy Carry”. Not having to buy and tote two different cartridges for your guns was very appealing to the cowboys of the Old West. The same was true for the outlaws and the lawmen of the time as well. When you are living, and possibly dying, from what you could carry in the saddlebags, the ability to keep it simple was a Godsend.
This old idea is still around and it’s still useful. There are a good number of “pistol caliber carbines” on the market today that even use the same magazine as your Glock or other carry pistols. These combos also make a great paring for truck guns. And what is a truck gun other than a modern version of what you might have in your saddlebags?
The review gun that Henry supplied is a Big Boy Carbine in .327 Federal Magnum. Henry states that it will also chamber and fire .32 H&R Magnum. I was also able to have it reliably feed .32 S&W Long, more on that below. Here are some specs on the Henry:
- Caliber : .327 Fed Magnum/.32 H&R Mag
- Capacity: 7 Rounds
- M.S.R.P. :$945.00
- Barrel Length: 16.5″
- Barrel Type: Octagon Blued Steel
- Rate of Twist: 1:16
- Overall Length: 35″
- Weight: 7.76 lbs.
- Rear Sight: Fully Adj. Semi-Buckhorn w/ Diamond Insert
- Front Sight: Brass Bead
- Scopeability: Drilled and Tapped
- Stock Material: American Walnut
- Length of Pull: 14″
- Safety: Transfer Bar
- Embellishments/Extras: Large Loop Lever
Fit and Finish
In my opinion, the fine folks at Henry are making some of the best looking traditional rifles available today. We are talking blued steel and walnut here and in line with the original Henry, the brass frame. This is a striking combination of finishes and colors that screams it is a Henry. It is not just the color combination that stands out on these rifles, the fit and the finishes are very well done.
I hear people say negative things from time to time about the pricing on some of the Henry Rifles. There will probably be a comment or two on this review about this as well. Most of these same people then tell me they have never held or examined one in person. There is only so much that can be conveyed via pictures on the Internet or in the pages of a magazine about the fit and finish on a rifle like this. Functionality aside, this is where the true value of the Henry Rifles is held. If you have never checked one out in person, do so the next time you are at your local gun shop. I think you will see the value in the quality of the materials used and how they are finished.
Of course, the most beautiful rifle in the world would just be a polished turd if it doesn’t work. Fortunately, Henry gives us both. I ran a number of boxes of .327 Magnum through the Henry over a couple of trips to the range. I had zero failures of any kind. The feeding was smooth when working the lever from my shoulder and when lowered to the hip. The extraction was positive with the ejected brass landing 4-5 feet away depending on how hard I worked the lever. On the bench, I would work the lever slowly and gently to keep the brass on the table. Even with the lighter touch, I still had zero issues with the function of the rifle.
I also ran some .32 S&W Long through the Henry. Now Henry does not list this cartridge as being compatible with the gun, they only list the .327 and the .32 H&R Mag. But other than length, the .32 S&W Long is the same size and is safe to fire in revolvers chambered for .327. The shorter .32s would feed and fire in the Henry. I would, however, use caution before moving back to the longer cartridges. When I cleaned the Henry after about 20 rounds of the .32 S&W, I did find a good amount of carbon and powder residue in the part of the chamber left vacant by the shorter cartridge.
Even with the hottest loads of .327 from Buffalo Bore, the recoil from the Big Boy is very mild. To compare the recoil to more common calibers, I would put it between a .22 Magnum and a .38 Special out of rifles of similar weight. This is also what I found to be the case with the .327 in the Ruger.
The trigger breaks at just under 5 pounds. There is no take up before it breaks, and it is clean and crisp. The first dozen or so times that I worked the action it did feel like there was a bit of grit. This quickly smoothed out with use.
Loading the tube magazine on a Henry is not like your typical lever action. There is no loading gate like on a Winchester, Marlin or most other lever guns. To load the Henry, you twist the end of the tube by the muzzle and pull inner magazine tube up. This is simple enough to do and does have an advantage when it comes to unloading. Most other lever actions require you to unload by working the lever to chamber and eject each round. With the Henry, you can remove the inner magazine tube and dump the rounds out the end and then eject the round that was chambered.
The Henry Big Boy is a SASS approved lever action and so is the .327 in theory. A set up in .327 would make a good SASS combination for a recoil sensitive shooter. However, I do not believe there is a Cowboy Action load currently available from a factory for the .327. SASS regulations call for a max speed of 1,000 fts out of a revolver and 1,400 ft out of a rifle. All of the factory loads for .327 I am aware of exceed these speeds. But it can easily be done with custom reloading.
When you fire a pistol cartridge from a rifle length barrel you should see increased velocity with the extra time for the powder to burn in the longer barrel. However, cartridges loaded for short barrel handguns use faster burning powders. If the powder burns completely before the projectile leaves the muzzle, the velocity can actually start to drop due to friction. I give examples of both with the Henry.
With Jamison Brass and Ammunition 78 grain, I averaged 1630 fts out of the 16.5” barreled Henry. The same ammunition in the 4.62” Ruger was 1270. When I moved to a 130 grain Keith SWC from Buffalo Bore I only saw a jump of about 50 fts. These were at 1605 fts in the Henry and 1558 fts in the Ruger. Of course, 130 grains moving at this speed is nothing to sneeze at.
I have a theory on why the 130 grain was only moving a touch faster. The 130 grain bullet is taking up more of the case than the smaller 78, more case taken up with bullet means less room for the powder charge. When there is less powder to burn, it is obviously going to burn up faster. My guess is that the Buffalo Bore has a full powder burn somewhere between 12 and 14″ in the Henry. I could prove this theory by cutting the barrel down an inch at a time and seeing the results. But that would mean making a SBR and getting a not so friendly visit from our friends at the ATF. But luckily for us, someone else has already done this!
Ballistics By The Inch (BBTI) has worked out three different .327 loads in their tests. They are showing only about 100 fts gains between a 12” barrel and an 18”. One of the loads, 115 gr Speer Gold Dot, actually slows down between 16 and 18 inches. The 16.5 inch barrel on the Henry is, of course, the length it is so it does not require all the extra cost and paperwork to have a short-barreled rifle. If one were inclined to go the SBR route with a .327 rifle, I think the 12-13” range would be the sweet spot.
Handloading .327 for the Henry could also provide unlimited options. I do think with a different powder, to take advantage of the longer barrel on the Henry, that there could very well be some more velocity to be gained. But then if you are loading different ammunition for the rifle than what you are going to use in the revolver, we just defeated the idea of the Cowboy Carry.
The Henry Big Boy Carbine in .327 Federal Magnum is a very well made and functioning lever gun. I have shot a number of Big Boys in other pistol calibers and have found them all to be reliable and exhibit the same great level of fit and finish as this one. So the question is if the .327 Federal Magnum is right for you? I am a fan of the .327 for what it offers in a revolver, that being the extra round. When it comes to the carbine in the same caliber, the extra round is not a factor. The answer lies with the Cowboy Carry Concept. If this is something you are a proponent of, and like what the .327 offers, then Henry Big Boy Carbine should be at the top of your list.