My mentor back in Mother Corps was fond of saying, “Just because you can doesn’t mean you oughta.” This is probably the advice traditionalist of the lever-action fan club would have given me prior to the start of this week’s project. You may remember about 18 months ago when we took the newest of the Henry lever actions for a test drive. I found the gun an absolute winner, a joy to shoot. And for features, it was lacking in nothing one would expect to find on a high-end rifle circa 1886.
However, I also tend to favor modern equipment. As much as I like the look and feel of a good lever action or wheel gun, I find myself always drifting back to the present day. Which started me thinking- could we add some modern twists to this rifle, without losing its soul?
Fortunately for me, I happen to know some custom gun builders that can both appreciate heritage, and not be afraid to slaughter the sacred cow at the same time. It’s the essence of Idaho distilled into firearm form. Maybe it comes from having both a Type 7 FFL Manufacturing License and bear hunting in the mountains. Maybe its creativity spawned directly from all the potatoes in the soil. I don’t know. Either way, I found some psychos willing to play ball with my vision for the Henry. MCM Firearms of Nampa, Idaho.
Henry, for their part, was also very cool about this project. I mean, not everyone will let you take the proverbial chop saw to their newest design. Willing at least. Henry saw the direction we wanted to go and graciously volunteered the 45-70 for a long-term loan/experimental surgery.
The key goal to the Henry modernization was to keep it looking mostly period correct while adding the most useful upgrades of a modern weapon. With some help from a local custom leather shop, I believe we met that standard.
First and foremost was a change to the sighting system. Iron sights are very dependable, and you can do amazing things with them. No argument here. But, it is also a fact that a red dot has a shorter learning curve to use effectively. Not to mention, a red dot is VERY helpful for those of us with aging eyes. We could’ve opted for a straight-up Picatinny top rail, in fact, Henry makes one. But with the hardened brass receiver, it just didn’t feel right. We also had to make a decision on an optic. An Aimpoint or EoTech, while useful, just felt like too much. As in, they are so large as to be glaringly obvious as out of place.
Therefore, we opted for what I think was a brilliant two-step solution. We chose an RMR, for the small footprint it has. From any kind of distance, you have to look hard at our Henry to even notice the electronic sight on top. The smaller sight also helped with retaining the excellent balance inherent to a good lever action. I have often said, a lever gun points and shoots like nothing else. I would reasonably say it is faster than an AR or anything else, from a low ready position. The RMR helped us keep that quickness while offering a modern aiming solution.
For a mount, MCM really brought out the big guns. Lead machinist Brock Sampson drew up a completely unique Henry height mount, and cut it out of brass. Since the program was already written for the CNC machine, and you can’t buy just a two-inch cube of brass, MCM opted to carry the mount in their store. If you want just an electronic sight mount that matches your brass receiver, you are in luck. Doubly so since RMR footprint is basically at this point an industry standard for micro red dots.
Next was addressing the factory loop. Henry ships with a period correct loop for cycling the action, but some of us watched entirely too much of “The Rifleman” on Nick at Night. It’s a minor thing, but I really wanted to be able to chuck that lever fast. And in my limited experience, a bigger loop helps do so. So MCM built a new one, much closer to Chuck Conners style.
Finally, we wanted something to tame the monstrous recoil of the 45-70 cartridge. 45-70 is a dinosaur killer, no doubt about that. But you feel it a bit from something as light as the Henry, at all of 7.09 pounds. We were going to have to thread the barrel and install a muzzle brake. Two issues came up. One, a muzzle brake REALLY looks out of place on a lever action. And two, if you are going to bother threading the barrel, why not suppress it as well?
We chose the Silencerco Hybrid 46, both for versatility and ease of mounting. While it looks a bit odd, the Silencerco ASR muzzle brake is very effective. And the Hybrid 46 is rated for almost anything, including 45-70 down to 16-inch barrels. Also handy, since we shortened the barrel while we were at it.
Check out the VIDEO of the Henry 45-70 below.
All in all, I was very happy with how the project turned out. Our hybrid Henry retained all of the features we liked to start with while allowing us to use a cheater sight and leave our ear muffs at home. Most important, it wouldn’t look out of place in a saddle bag or hanging above the mantle. If you have a Henry, but you want to get the absolute most out of it, this is a set of modifications worth looking into.