Serious students of lever-action rifles know that the Henry Model 1860 rifle wasn’t actually the first lever-action rifle, as some may believe — but it was the first commercially successful one.
Designed by gunsmith Benjamin Tyler Henry and produced by the New Haven Arms Company, the Henry rifle arrived in time to see limited but effective use by some Union elements during the Civil War. It also made a terminal impression upon 7th Cavalry troops under General George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Archeological evidence indicates that some 60 Henry rifles were employed by the Lakota and Cheyenne warriors during Custer’s final indiscretion. The guns also served as the basis for the famous Winchester lever guns which were to follow.
While those original Henry rifles now command high collector prices, today’s Henry rifles are obviously more advanced and vary considerably from the originals. None differ more than the new Henry Big Boy X rifle, which reflects a modern refresh of the iconic lever-action rifle design, boosting performance and versatility to entirely new levels.
Even a quick glance tells you this is not your granddaddy’s lever rifle. For starters, the Henry’s wooden stock has been replaced with a streamlined black synthetic one that I rather like with one very minor exception. The forend and pistol grip areas have molded-in stippling, but the rifle could benefit from a bit deeper stippling to improve wet-weather handling. Notably, the forend has M-Lok attachment points at the 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock positions, and there’s a short Picatinny rail section at the 6 o’clock spot, allowing you to attach accessories such as lights or lasers for specific defensive or hunting purposes. The stock also has integral sling mounting points and a substantial rubber recoil pad – not that I needed it much in a test gun chambered for the 357 Magnum handgun cartridge. The gun is also available in 45 Colt and 44 Mag./44Special.
Atop the rifle’s 17.4-inch barrel you will find fixed, high-visibility fiber optic sights (green up front and red to the rear). While the front sight is fixed, the rear sight is fully adjustable for windage and elevation. The top of the receiver is drilled and tapped for mounting a scope base or optics rail. The rifle’s muzzle is threaded (5/8×24) to accept a suppressor, and has a knurled, screw-on thread protector. The overall length is just 36.3 inches, which makes the rifle compact, handy, and a good choice in tight cover. All of this translates into a gun that you can set up the way you want, whether you intend to use it as a woods rifle for deer or as a fast-action repeater for defending the castle. The gun will perform admirably in both roles.
Unlike predecessor Henry rifles chambered for handgun cartridges, the Big Boy X uses a loading gate in addition to the iconic Henry loading tube, giving you a choice in how you load and unload the gun. I found I really liked the loading gate and preferred to use it when loading, but I also liked the convenience of unloading the gun using the loading tube rather than having to cycle all the rounds through the action. I was able to load rounds through the gate without issue, although I did have to use some force as the tube filled up and I approached the capacity limit of seven rounds. I expect this will become a little easier and with time.
A couple of things that became immediately obvious in testing were recoil – or the lack of it – and how quiet the gun is compared to most rifles chambered for centerfire rifle cartridges. In 357 Mag., the gun is really a soft-kicking joy to shoot, and with such mild recoil, you can trigger follow-up shots as fast as you can work the action and aim.
Operating the action is a smooth and instinctively simple process, made easier by the use of a larger-than-normal loop in the lever. Cycling is, in a word, slick. When you close the action, the lockup is satisfyingly solid and tight. In testing, the gun had no issues. Everything fed, fired, and ejected without a single mechanical hiccup.
The gun has no manual safety but relies on a transfer bar mechanism that prevents the gun from firing unless the trigger is pulled. If the hammer is in the process of being cocked and is accidentally released and dropped into the fired-and-down position, before it is fully cocked, the gun will not fire. This means the gun can be safely carried fully loaded with the hammer in the fired-and-down resting position. Of course, rifle scopes can sometimes get in the way when you’re trying to cock or uncock the hammer of a lever gun, so I equipped the rifle with Henry’s proprietary hammer extension, which makes it a lot easier to manipulate the hammer. As with many lever guns, the lever has to be fully closed for the gun to fire. Unlike some of those guns, the over-sized lever on this rifle stays put once you close it, and it’s unlikely to be bumped out of position inadvertently.
Fit and finish on this rifle is quite good and a definite step up from some lever guns I’ve owned. The flat-sided receiver has a matte black finish, while the barrel, lever, and outer magazine tube have a bit of luster to them.
Some have reported the Big Boy X rifle’s trigger pull to be excessively heavy, but I did not find that to be the case. The trigger on my test gun broke consistently at an average pull weight of around 4 pounds, which is not bad for a lever gun. It did have a bit of creep, but that was consistent and predictable. With a slow trigger squeeze, I found I could take up the small amount of creep before the trigger stacked and broke, operating it much as I would a two-stage trigger.
Several reviewers who tested this gun for accuracy using the rifle’s fixed fiber optic sights or a red dot-style sight only tested it at 50 yards and got three-to-five inch groups. Since I plan to use the rifle on a deer hunt, I mounted a Leupold VX-3i 3.5-10×40 scope on the gun, using a one-piece cantilevered base and ring set from Talley, and set out to see what the rifle could do at 100 yards with three .357 Mag. loads I had on hand.
The results were a pleasant surprise. All three loads tested turned in average groups measuring 2-3 inches, and a couple of loads produced best groups measuring less than 2 inches. I consider that to be very good accuracy for a short-barreled lever gun pushing handgun cartridges at that distance – and certainly accurate enough to take deer and hogs within an acceptable range.
Velocities, as you would expect, are considerably higher out of this rifle than from a 357 Mag. revolver. With handguns, 357 Mag. speeds can top out at about 1,200 fps with 158-grain bullets and 1,500 fps with 125-grain bullets. For those same-weight bullets launched from the Big Boy X, velocities were 1,714 fps and 1,975 fps, respectively. A slight accuracy advantage went to Federal’s new HammerDown load with a heavier 170-grain bullet that stepped out at 1,666 fps.
These results, especially with the HammerDown load, convinced me that this gun will be deadly on deer out to a little beyond 100 yards. Handgun bullets, even when pushed to higher velocities in a rifle barrel, begin to drop like a rock and shed energy quickly past 100 yards, so it’s best to limit shots on game to not much more than that.
It’s worth noting that Federal developed the new HammerDown ammo working in collaboration with engineers from Henry to optimize the ammo for performance in lever-action guns. In addition to using Gold Medal primers and nickel-plated brass cases for smooth feeding, HammerDown ammunition is engineered to provide superior terminal performance with a molecularly bonded bullet that expands reliably while penetrating deeply. Teamed with the Henry Big Boy X rifle, it could just be a marriage made in heaven – or hell, depending on your perspective as either the sender or receiver of the bullet.
I expect this rifle and ammo combination will be deadly on deer within a reasonable range, and I intend to put both to the test soon on Texas whitetails.
Henry Big Boy X Rifle
Caliber: 357 Magnum. Mag., as tested
Action Type: Lever action
Finish: Blued steel
Stock: Black synthetic
Sights: Adjustable fiber optic fixed, drilled and tapped
Barrel Length: 17.4 inches
Overall Length: 36.3 inches
Weight: 7.3 pounds
Henry Big Boy X Rifle 357 Magnum
|Load||Avg. Velocity (feet per second||Avg. Group 100 yards||Best Group 100 yards|
|Federal HammerDown 170 gr.||1,666||2.19||1.83|
|Hornady American Gunner 125 grain XTP||1,975||2.25||1.89|
|Winchester Super X 158 grain JHP||1,714||3.04||2.73|
Note: Accuracy measured with three-shot groups in wind 5-12 mph at 100 yards. Velocity measured as a three-shot average with a Competitive Edge Dynamics M2 chronograph.