The Henry 45-70
While I normally cover the tactical and CCW guns, I do have one other group I always snatch up if the opportunity presents itself. I guess you could call them 1866 tactical guns, and be correct. I’m talking about lever actions of course, including this week’s Henry in 45-70.
From a practical standpoint, I find that lever actions still have a place. They are so well balanced and handle so quickly, it would surprise you if you grew up on an AR. I didn’t shoot one more than a handful of times until I was already full-grown, and a soldier to boot. But I still came away impressed. With some practice, they also provide a remarkable rate of fire.
If you unable to use a magazine fed semi-automatic rifle where you live, you have to think about effective alternatives. This whopper of a lever gun would absolutely be my choice of a defensive tool. It also has the advantage of not looking particularly scary to the neighbors, though it should. These are the guns that won the West. They are also an excellent choice for hunting, offering a viable alternative to bolt actions in several regions. They will throw a monstrous bullet if need be, as illustrated by our 45-70 model this week.
But practicality aside, I tend to like lever actions for altogether different reasons. For me, and I’m sure many of you, they inspire a nostalgia I don’t get from anything else. You physically can’t pick one up without thinking about Rio Bravo. No matter how old I get, a handy lever blaster makes me feel like a kid again. And that alone is worth the price of admission.
Henry is by far the leader in lever-action rifles today, if not in volume then certainly in quality. The company’s motto is one I can absolutely get behind. Made in America. Or not made at all. This is of particular importance in this type of firearm, besides supporting the economy of the home team. A great many “Cowboy Guns” of new manufacture are cheap overseas junk. No disrespect to foreign guns, I own many. But there is a massive difference between “German Engineering” and “Paki pot metal firing pin.” Sadly, as popularity has declined, many guns in this category are made to be looked at.
Henry, however, doesn’t play like that. These guns come with a lifetime warranty, and they are meant to be used. While they also make a few single shots and the AR-7, the lever-action is a way of life for them. The guns might be beautiful, but they aren’t supposed to be safe queens. This company wants you to not just own the guns, but shoot them.
And the 45-70 in for review reflects that. While in the past Henry has stayed true to the original tubular magazine loading system, this year they switched it up. By customer request, they now offer side loading gate models. I’m not a lever gun purist, so I like this change a lot. It means when I’m pretending to be John Wayne, I can load like John Wayne.
The rifle itself is a beauty, with well thought out checkering on the wood furniture. Not only does it look good, but it offers just the right amount of grip for less than ideal field conditions. Something I did not know prior to this review, the receiver is actually brass to match the butt pad. Not brass over steel. Just brass, tempered in a proprietary hardening process. This gives it the same strength as steel, with a deep touch of class.
The sights are a semi-buckhorn rear, adjustable for elevation and windage, with an ivory bead front. The 20-inch barrel offers an excellent mix of capacity and handling, holding 4 in the tubular magazine in this caliber.
The action is smooth, right from day one. No break-in required here, though I’m sure it actually improves with time. The trigger is crisp and clean, with a break weight on par with most bolt actions. The new load gate system works well and is sure to be a hit. The one reminder you aren’t in the Old West is the orange follower in the tube, to show with certainty when it is empty. But I find that a happy bit of modern, so no harm no foul.
When it comes to rifle caliber lever actions, I only turn to one place to feed it. Hornady Ammunition, of course, with the famous LEVERevolution. First introduced in 2006, LEVERevolution gave the older rifle rounds a new lease on life.
The only problem with lever-action rifles, from a ballistic standpoint, was the tubular magazine. Due to the rounds stacking one in front of the other (like a shotgun), you couldn’t use pointed bullets. You might get away with a pointy nose bullet resting on the primer of the round in front of it for a while, but it’s generally a bad idea. Therefore, lever specific calibers always before had rounded or flat-nosed bullets.
Flat-nosed bullets are fine across the room but don’t fly quite as well at range. 3rd-grade aerodynamics is pretty hard to miss with that one. Hornady, however, solved this problem with gusto. The LEVERevolution line features a soft flexible tip. It negates the problem of setting off primers in the tube but still has enough rigidity to make the bullet fly like a modern rifle bullet.
For testing, Hornady sent both the 325-grain FTX and 250-grain Monoflex. 325 grains moving at over 2000 fps is nothing to sneeze at. We first set out to do some accuracy testing, which is about the only thing sketchy in our review. I am always going to do an accuracy test. But I also know enough about myself to tell you that the group I can shoot with irons, is not the mechanical absolute of the rifle.
To get the best group possible, I did set conditions up in my favor. I shot off my Eberlestock backpack, with new attached rifle rest. Also, Hornady is my gold standard for accuracy, especially in lever gun calibers. But still, it isn’t exactly like using bipods and a 30 power scope. The Henry turned in just over 2 MOA average, which is, in my opinion, is plenty for hunting or defense. And I’m also sure that it would do better if you happen to practice all the time with these type of iron sights.
On a more fun front, we blasted a pile of 45-70 at some paper. While the recoil in this caliber is stout, especially with a full-power factory load, it isn’t unpleasant. I would direct the recoil sensitive to something a bit smaller though, like Henry’s 30-30. The 45-70 is manageable, but you aren’t going to be at the range all day with it.
I am a fan of this new Henry, and I think you will be too. If you need a bear stopper by the back door, the 45-70 model is hard to beat. This heirloom-quality rifle is a bargain at $1045, and your great-grandchildren will still be using it.