Henry H015B20 Brass 20 Gauge Shotgun - "Bringing Quality Back Into the One-Shot Field Gun"
By Chuck Hawks and the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
Until 2017, Henry Arms had never offered a shotgun, choosing to specialize in rifles and particularly lever action repeaters. For 2017, Henry kicked over the traces and introduced two new shotguns. These included a lever action .410 bore repeater, based on their .45-70 rifle action, and a totally new single shot, break-open design. It is the latter that is the subject of this review.
Many older shooters, including myself, were introduced to shotgun shooting with a single shot gun. Break-open, single barrel guns were manufactured and sold under many brand names and were very common from the introduction of center fire shells through the middle decades of the 20th Century. National retailers, such as Sears, Montgomery Ward and Western Auto, must have sold millions of these inexpensive house brand shotguns. (I still get e-mails from readers asking about such guns.) Cheap repeaters eventually gained market share with entry level shooters, despite their poor handling qualities, and single barrel shotgun sales declined.
After Winchester and most other major US manufacturers withdrew from the single shot market, Harrington & Richardson and its subsidiary New England Firearms (H&R and NEF brand guns) remained as the primary American manufacturer of single barrel guns, until the Company went out of business in 1986 and the factory was razed. These H&R and NEF guns were not fancy, but they generally worked.
In 1991 a new company, Harrington & Richardson 1871, was formed to manufacture H&R and NEF brand guns to the original designs. The single barrel shotguns were economy models fitted with hardwood or plastic stocks. Late in 2000, Marlin acquired H&R 1871 and in December 2007, Marlin (including H&R 1871) was acquired by Remington. By 2015, Remington had ceased manufacture of all H&R guns. This was, essentially, the death rattle of the American made single barrel shotgun.
Now, we have the Henry H015 series shotguns, which should not be confused with earlier guns of the type. These are much classier than the economy guns of yore.
Henry H015 series break-open shotguns are offered with a steel frame and pistol grip walnut stock in 12 gauge, 20 gauge and .410 bore, or 12 gauge and 20 gauge with a brass frame and straight hand walnut stock. Being suckers for pretty guns, we naturally opted to review the brass framed version in our favorite bore, 20 gauge. Whether steel or brass framed, the mechanics of the Henry H015 series guns are identical.
As far as we can ascertain, this Henry single shot is made entirely from steel, brass and walnut. There is no plastic, or even aluminum alloy, used in its construction. Henry's ad slogan, "Bringing quality back into the one-shot field gun," appears to be literally true. What a pleasant change from the usual advertising hyperbole. Equally true is Henry's Company motto: "Made in America, or not made at all." The H015B20 is made entirely in Henry's new Rice Lake, Wisconsin factory and is so marked on the barrel.
Then, there is the Henry guarantee, direct from the owner of the Company, Anthony Imperato: "Henry owners have my personal guarantee to make certain that they are 100% satisfied with their purchase of our firearms. If you are going to spend your money on a Henry, I can assure you we will do whatever it takes to make sure you are happy that you bought a Henry." - Anthony Imperato
Henry also offers single shot rifles that are based on the same basic action as the single shot shotgun. The instruction manual included with our test gun was actually the rifle manual, which applies to all H015 series firearms.
Our first impression upon lifting the new H015B20 shotgun from its box was this is a high quality gun. At 6 pounds 14.8 ounces per our digital scale, it is a medium weight 20 gauge gun and it feels solid, without being burdensome.
Its decent weight helps to control recoil, as recoil energy is inversely proportional to gun weight. (For example, if you increase the weight of a gun by 20%, you reduce recoil by 20%.) Many 20 gauge guns, particularly those with 3" chambers, are too light for the power of the shell they shoot. The mass of this Henry is a good balance between ease of carrying and recoil moderation.
The balance point is about 1-1/2" behind the hinge pin. Because the receiver is longer than most double gun receivers, this puts the center of gravity almost exactly between the hands when the gun is shouldered.
It is also the most attractive single shot field gun we have ever reviewed, or owned. The gun's clean lines, straight hand walnut stock, brass frame and traditional brass buttplate combine to make it the best looking production gun in its class and belie its relatively low price. You can pay a lot more for a lot less quality in a new shotgun.
This is an adult size shotgun with a 14" length of pull. Most women and young shooters of shorter stature will need a shorter stock for proper fit. We recommend they consider the steel framed version of the Henry single shot, which comes with a conventional rubber recoil pad that makes shortening the stock relatively easy. The brass framed gun's brass buttplate not only has a slight concave curve, it extends over the top of the stock heel, which makes shortening the stock a difficult proposition.
While on the subject of a shorter stock, we suggest Henry introduce a youth/compact version of the .410 and 20 gauge steel frame guns with a LOP around 13", to accommodate shorter shooters. Actually, we would be surprised if such a gun were not already in the works, as the marketing gurus at Henry are pretty astute.
The H015B20 is a fairly conventional single barrel, break-open shotgun. Its external, rebounding hammer must be manually cocked before the gun can be fired. The hammer must also be cocked to aim down the barrel; uncocked it blocks the shooter's sight line.
The hammer spring puts a lot of force on the hammer, more than actually required to reliably fire shells. This makes it harder than necessary to thumb cock, particularly since the hammer spur is rather small. A wider hammer spur and a lighter hammer spring would be useful improvements.
To prevent recoil/back thrust from eventually damaging the brass frame, there is a steel breech block that fits flush in the face of the standing breech of the brass frame. An under-bolt locks the action closed, leaving a clean breech face for convenient loading. The trigger, trigger guard and all internal parts are steel.
There is no external safety and none is needed, as the gun cannot fire unless the hammer is first cocked. The frame mounted firing pin is positively retracted by a spring. An interlock system prevents opening the action with the hammer cocked, or closing it with the hammer cocked.
The action is opened by means of a convenient top lever. The top lever is ambidextrous. It can be pushed to the right or to the left to open the action, making the H015B20 equally convenient for right or left handed shooters.
A non-selective ejector kicks out fired hulls, or unfired shells. Right out of the box, we had a couple of fired shell cases (fired in other guns) stick in the chamber, but an initial barrel/chamber cleaning solved the problem. Once the ejector starts moving, it really accelerates. Unfired 2-3/4", 7/8 ounce shells land about six feet behind the shooter and fired hulls or snap caps sail twice as far.
The trigger pull was inconsistent, measuring between 5.75 and 7.5 pounds for 10 consecutive pulls per our RCBS pull scale. There is a noticeable catch in the pull at about the five pound point. Obviously, the internal trigger/sear engagement needs to be smoothed and a lighter trigger spring installed. This should have been done at the factory and we strongly suggest it be done on all subsequent production guns. (Our test gun is one of the initial production run.) Heavy trigger pulls promote flinching.
Unlike most break-open guns, this is not a take-down gun. The fore end is screwed to the barrel lug, preventing dismounting the barrel from the frame without tools. The full width, steel hinge pin is replaceable, should that ever become necessary.
To field strip the gun, open the action and use a 3/8" or slightly smaller hardwood, plastic or brass dowel to tap out the hinge pin from either side of the frame. Pull the barrel forward (not upward) out of the receiver; the ejector release pin must pass cleanly through the slots in either side of the receiver. To reassemble, reverse the procedure.
The 26", polished and blued barrel is "plain," meaning without a raised rib. This lowers the retail price, an important factor for a single shot gun. However, we would like to see a "H015-20-VR" field model, with a steel ventilated rib, introduced in the future. We think a vent rib would be a worthwhile addition. After that, the next logical step would be a "H015-12-VRT" Trap Grade VR model with a checkered walnut stock, hand worked action, extractor (rather than ejector) and a 30" barrel. Just saying.
The H015B20 is supplied with a single, flush mount, Modified choke tube (approx. 0.020 constriction), which is of the RemChoke type. Henry claims this choke, "delivers a versatile shooting pattern for shooting at 25-45 yards, ideal for squirrels, rabbits, pigeons, doves, partridges, grouse, pheasant and wild flushing quail at medium range." We have also found it a good choice for informally shooting clays from a hand or manual trap.RemChoke pattern choke tubes are available from Remington dealers and other sources, including flush mount and extended tubes from Briley, Carlson's Choke tubes, Trulock Chokes and other premium manufacturers. We ordered additional "Pattern Plus" flush mount choke tubes in Improved Modified (0.025 constriction), Skeet 2 (0.015 constriction) and Improved Cylinder (0.010 constriction) for our test gun from Trulock Chokes.
As is often the case with Henry firearms, and especially those with brass frames, the stock wood is considerably fancier than the typical production gun's "Standard" grade walnut. Our test gun has dark, well defined grain structure and contrasting fiddleback. We'd call it "Moderately Fancy," or A Grade black walnut. The butt stock is attached to the receiver with a draw-bolt, which is a stronger system than tang screws.
The lines of the forearm and butt stock are smooth and rounded, with the forearm flattened on the bottom. They match the shape of the receiver without any distracting lines, grooves, etc. There is no factory checkering on the brass framed guns, although the steel framed guns' stocks are checkered. 22 lpi cut checkering would be a nice addition to the brass framed guns.
The length of pull is 14" and the comb is commendably high with little drop at heel, allowing a firm cheek weld and a sight line slightly above the barrel, which is as it should be for a break-action gun. The stock design fit our average size male shooters (5' 8" to 6' 0") well.
We did our test shooting with standard 2-3/4" (low brass) field and target loads, using #8 and #9 lead shot. Unlike some new guns, the Henry opens and closes smoothly; it will drop open from gravity alone. There is commendably little side-to-side play when the action is open.
As with any break-open gun, it is best to hold the top lever open when closing the gun. Do not slam the gun closed, ease it closed gently to prevent excessive wear on the hinge pin.
As Henry Repeating Arms states, "These shotguns are not intended to be budget entries - our standards are high and you can count on them for the long run." Taking advantage of the relatively simple, single shot, break-open design allows Henry to sell these guns for hundreds of dollars less than a cheap repeating gun with a hollow plastic stock, unpolished finish and hybrid plastic/aluminum/steel action parts.
The H015B20 carries and handles much better in the field than such cheap "shooting machines," looks much nicer and will last for generations. Pride of ownership is included in its moderate price. (2017 discount retail price around $425.) Offhand, we cannot think of a better field gun for the money.
Note: An expanded version of this review incorporating shooting results is located on the Product Reviews index page.
Copyright 2017 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.