Henry Lever Octagon - Frontier Model .22 WMR Rifle
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
When one of our regular readers suggested that we review a Henry Lever Octagon - Frontier Model .22 Magnum rimfire rifle and Anthony Imperato, President of Henry Repeating Arms Company (www.henry-guns.com) agreed, we jumped at the chance. Our previous experience with Henry guns has been very positive and we have a weakness for lever action rifles, especially models with octagon barrels. This trim rimfire proved to be no exception; the Guns and Shooting Online staff immediately fell in love with the traditional looking (but thoroughly modern internally) Henry Lever Octagon.
It is an attractive little rifle. The metal alloy receiver and forend band are finished gloss black and the barrel, magazine tube, lever, hammer, trigger, sights and most other steel parts are polished and blued. The two-piece stock boasts a traditional slender forend and a trim, straight hand buttstock. These are made from matched, straight grained, black walnut finished with a semi-gloss finish and there is a black plastic butt plate. Overall, the rifle has a slender, business like appearance. It is clearly a serious hunting rifle.
The modern Henry lever action uses a solid top receiver and an external hammer with a traditional "1/4 cock" safety notch. Ejection is to the right side through an oval port. The bolt is held closed by the lever mechanism and incorporates a long claw extractor. A fixed ejector is machined into the receiver. The loop lever operates through about a 70-degree arc.
We measured the trigger pull as varying between 2.0 and 2.5 pounds on our RCBS Premium trigger gauge, which is unusually light for an out of the box rifle. Unfortunately, even though commendably light, it had considerable gritty creep.
The tubular magazine hung beneath the barrel holds eleven .22 WMR cartridges. It is easily loaded by simply inverting the rifle, partially withdrawing the brass inner magazine tube and dropping the cartridges into the loading cutout.
The rifle is equipped with a Marbles semi-buckhorn open rear and a brass bead front sight mounted in standard 3/8" dovetail slots. The rear sight comes with a reversible white diamond insert. It can be drifted laterally in its dovetail to adjust for windage and has a step-elevator for elevation adjustment. These iron sights represent an upgrade from those provided on the standard Henry Lever .22 Magnum rifle. The top of the receiver is grooved to cut glare and dovetailed to accept standard "tip-off" scope mounting rings.
The latter is a good thing, as we are not fans of open iron sights, especially on a flat-shooting .22 WMR rifle. We mounted a Sightron SII 3-9x36mm AO scope in dovetail rings for the purposes of this review, although this same rifle was also used in our "Rimfire Riflescopes" comparison article (see the Rimfire Guns and Ammo and/or Scopes and Sport Optics pages) that we were working on at the same time, so it ultimately wore a number of different scopes.
The Sightron SII is one of the finest (and most expensive) rimfire, centerfire and air gun riflescopes on the market. It boasts excellent optics, an extended range adjustable objective, a fine crosshair reticle and accurate ¼ MOA click adjustments. It is even supplied with a deep lens hood to prevent glare. It is an excellent and very versatile scope, perfect for a deluxe bolt action rimfire such as the Anschutz Model 1502 D HB previously reviewed with this scope, although a little large for a rifle as slender as the Henry Lever Octagon. The scope and rings brought the weight of our loaded Henry Lever Octagon up to 7 pounds.
Here are the catalog specifications for the Henry Lever Octagon rifle:
Naturally, we were anxious to get the Henry to the range. Fortunately, within a couple days of its arrival we got a break in the rainy Oregon winter weather and were able to seize the opportunity.
As usual, we did our test shooting at the Izaak Walton outdoor rifle range south of Eugene, Oregon. This facility offers covered bench rests and 25, 50, 100 and 200 yard target stands. The weather was chilly and overcast with a high temperature of about 42 degrees F. (It started raining again just as we were leaving the range.) After preliminary sighting-in at 25 yards, we moved to 100 yard targets for the final zero, for which we used CCI 22 MAX-MAG HP+V ammunition.
We had five .22 WMR loads on hand for this review. These included: CCI 22 MAG V-MAX, shooting a 30 grain polymer-tipped spitzer bullet at a MV of 2200 fps; CCI 22 MAX-MAG HP+V, shooting a 30 grain JHP bullet at a MV of 2200 fps; CCI MAXI-MAG HP, shooting a 40 grain JHP bullet at a MV of 1875 fps, Winchester Super-X JHP, shooting a 40 grain JHP bullet at a MV of 1910 fps; and Federal Game-Shock, shooting a 50 grain JHP bullet at a MV of 1530 fps. These are all hunting loads intended for use on small game and varmints (CXP1 class game).
The difference in the bullet drop of these loads was dramatic, with the 40 grain bullets hitting about ten inches below the 30 grain bullets and the 50 grain bullet striking even lower. (We probably should have zeroed our rifle with 40 grain bullets for testing to make it easier on ourselves--make a note for next time!) Properly zeroed at 100 yards and fired from a rifle with a scope mounted 1.5" over bore, the 30 grain bullets have a mid-range trajectory (MRT) of about +0.6", the 40 grain bullets a MRT of about +1.0" and the 50 grain bullet a MRT of about +1.6".
Guns and Shooting Online Owner/Managing Editor Chuck Hawks, Gunsmithing Editor Rocky Hays and Chief Technical Advisor Jim Fleck did the shooting for record. We fired 5-shot groups at Champion Score Keeper targets at 100 yards over a sandbag rest. Here are the results:
These are fine shooting results for any .22 WMR rifle. With the ammunition it prefers, this Henry Lever Octagon is the most accurate of the several .22 Magnum rifles we have owned over the years. It is generally believed by those in the know that .22 WMR ammo is not manufactured quite as precisely as the best .17 HMR and .22 LR ammunition and in the past we have owned .22 Magnum varmint rifles that did not shoot as accurately as this Henry Lever Octagon.
Our old .22 WMR favorite, Winchester's Super-X 40 grain JHP load, proved to be the most accurate of all the ammunition tested in the Henry. We were impressed by how well the Henry Lever Octagon shot CCI MAXI-MAG HP+V 30 grain JHP bullets, Winchester Super-X 40 grain JHP bullets and Federal GameShock 50 grain JHP bullets. Not all .22 Mag. rifles will shoot three bullets weights this consistently.
Out of curiosity, we fired the V-MAX polymer-tipped bullet and a standard CCI 40 grain JHP bullet into a stack of nine 7/16" oriented strand boards (OSB) at a distance of about 10 yards. Both bullets managed to expand completely, which is not always the case in OSB. The 40 grain JHP bullet penetrated six boards and stopped in the seventh. It produced a conventional mushroom of about 0.385" diameter at its widest point and weighed 38.0 grains after recovery. The 30 grain V-MAX bullet penetrated five boards and we dug it out of the sixth. It had flattened more dramatically and measured 0.484" maximum diameter. It weighed 27.5 grains after recovery and had left tiny, but visible, lead fragments in the third, fourth and fifth boards. The deformed polymer tip was imbedded in the remains of the lead core. We consider this excellent performance by both bullets in such a hard test medium. Both bullets would have created catastrophic wounds in a CXP1 class animal, with the 30 grain bullet probably having a little more "red mist" effect.
We were also impressed, as usual, by the exceptional smoothness of the Henry lever action. These are truly "feel good" actions to operate. Cartridge feeding from the magazine is quick and certain and the ejection of fired cases is positive. The Lever Octagon's barrel is somewhat heavier than a 20" round barrel, which gives the rifle a slightly weight forward balance and assists steady holding and accurate shooting from field positions. Its "adult weight" is also a plus, while not being burdensome. It will make a fine small game hunting rifle.
On the negative side, Rocky found the trigger pull inconsistent and difficult to control. Chuck and Jim were not particularly bothered by the trigger, although initially it had a fair amount of not particularly smooth creep before let-off. Sometimes you could gently pull through the take-up until you felt the trigger catch at the very end of its preliminary travel and then "wish off" the shot with slight additional finger pressure, but not always. This inconsistency is what bothered Rocky, who was trying to shoot the Henry like a match rifle.
Jim and Chuck were using a conventional "surprise break" trigger pull, not trying to anticipate the shot, but simply ignoring the creep and gently increasing pressure on the trigger until the rifle fired. This proved fairly easy to do because of the trigger's light pull and was a more satisfactory technique. We suspect that the trigger's take-up will smooth with additional use. In fact, by the end of this review and the concurrent "Rimfire Scopes" article, it already had and was consistently releasing at 2.0 pounds.
In conclusion, we liked the Henry Lever Octagon - Frontier Model .22 Magnum rifle and will be keeping it for our personal use. As mentioned previously, we have already used it in our "Rimfire Riflescopes" comparison article. It is a modern "adult" rimfire hunting rifle that is affordable, reliable, handsome, accurate and smooth operating. Its traditional styling and octagon barrel merely add to its appeal. We recommend it highly.
Henry rifles are 100% made in the USA and the Company is doing a lot of things right. Their lever action rifles typically come with a better grade of walnut than competing rifles and cost less. They also come with a simple limited lifetime warranty: if you ever have a problem and it's Henry's fault, they will fix it immediately and at no charge. Nothing could be clearer, or fairer, than that. Henry RAC's corporate motto is, "Made in America and priced right." They really are.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
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