Henry Big Boy Color Case Hardened .357 Mag. Rifle
About a dozen years ago, many of the major firearms companies began to substitute cheap materials and processes in their centerfire rifles to reduce production costs and increase profits. Advertising hype accompanied each change, claiming to improve accuracy and performance. In their race for the bottom they, "compromised quality, reliability and longevity." (Chuck Hawks' words, with which we completely agree.)
These rifles remind us of the flood of cheap military rifles that flooded the U.S. Market following WW II. They were safe enough to shoot, but that is about the only positive comment one could make about them. While it is true that some were sporterized to make them more aesthetically pleasing, they were still clunky military weapons, generally produced at the lowest possible price.
The new "innovative" centerfire rifles, such as the Ruger American, Savage Axis and Remington 783, are destined to become dust collectors, doorstops and curios. They have taken undesirable--from the rifleman's standpoint--production shortcuts to a new low that we would not have imagined possible. Note that we are not talking about AR-platform rifles, which may be ugly (in our opinion), but are generally functional.
Before the Internet trolls decide to attack us as paid shills, they should know that we are not paid by any company, Internet site or magazine for our reviews. Jim and I are comfortably retired in New Mexico. Our only agenda is truthful information presented in a factual manner with our personal experiences included. If folks do not like that, they can fire us from our unpaid volunteer job and not read our reviews.
For over twenty years, one American arms company has refused to compromise quality for the sake of a few dollars. That company is Henry Repeating Firearms, lead by Anthony Imperato. From the introduction of their first Golden Boy to the recent introduction of the color case hardened Big Boy, they have maintained the quality of their firearms. The Henry motto, "Made In America or Not Made At All" should be modified to include "Quality Firearms Built With Pride at a Fair Price."
The Henry Big Boy has been around for many years, chambered in .357 Mag./.38 Special, .44 Mag./.44 Special and .45 Colt. It is available in both brass frame and steel frame versions and has become popular with cowboy action shooters, as well as hunters. However, there were some of us who wished the Big Boy was available with a color case hardened receiver.
Call it nostalgia, or a dream of times long gone in the Old West, the desire for a color case hardened Big Boy would not go away. After some extensive market research, Henry agreed and decided a color case hardened Big Boy was overdue.
During their research, Henry personnel determined that color case hardening was as much of an art as it was a science. There were only a few folks in the United States who possessed the necessary skill to produce quality color case products. They found one of the best in Texas, where else?
Bobby Tyler and his wife Paige run a small custom shop called Tyler Gun Works in Friona, Texas. Bobby is featured on the current cover of Brownell's catalog. His case coloring is some of the best in the business. Henry contracted with Tyler Gun Works to color case harden the frames and fore end caps for the Big Boy.
Color case hardening processes date back to the late 1700s. The two methods of real case color hardening (as opposed to applying faux colors) commonly used on firearms are sodium cyanide and bone charcoal. They are designed to heat treat the metal for maximum use and durability.
Advances in metallurgy have allowed firearms manufacturers to produce their components at the optimum hardness. Hence, any color case process applied to those components must ensure that the original hardness and integrity are retained.
Tyler's color case process utilizes temperatures near 1200 degrees with five different compounds. His method ensures that the original hardness of the receivers remains intact, while producing a durable case color finish to the metal.
A second method, not used by Tyler, is commonly referred to as the "bone and charcoal pack" and involves temperatures upwards of 1600 degrees. This method would re-harden the metal and compromise the original strength. This technique is unacceptable for most modern firearm components.
There is a third method, which is considered a cheap case color. It involves the use of an acid wash to lightly color the surface of the metal. This process has no penetration and does not alter the hardness of the metal. Acid-wash coloring is not as durable as true case coloring produced with a furnace process.
Case coloring in Tyler's shop is state-of-the-art and vastly superior to that produced over a hundred years ago. Our conclusion is that Tyler's case color on the Big Boy will last indefinitely, just like the bluing on Henry's receivers and barrels.
We selected a Big Boy in .357/.38 caliber for wild hog and whitetail hunting in south Texas. It will also be a great plinking gun, as the recoil is minimal with .357 loads and even less with .38 Special practice ammo.
The Big Boy Color Case rifle is one of the most beautiful rifles we have seen in years. The deep bluing finish of the barrel is complimented by the flawless case colored receiver.
The wood to metal fit of the American walnut stock and fore end is superb. It would be totally acceptable in a custom gun and is outstanding for a factory firearm. While we are on the stock, the Big Boy has a real American black walnut stock with a nice figure and deep color. No cheap painted hardwoods here.
The laser cut checkering does exactly what checkering is supposed to do, provide a more positive grip for the shooter. It is also decorative and looks great. The only way I could tell it was not hand checkered was that it was too perfect. There are no slight over-runs or slips.
There are no plastic or aluminum parts in this gun; it is all steel and walnut. This lever action rifle brings back memories of the Old West, of Geronimo and Annie Oakley. Okay, I am getting a bit nostalgic, but that is what this gun does. As with firearms of that bygone era, this Henry has been manufactured with great care and owning one is a source of pride.
The Henry Big Boy action incorporates a rebounding hammer that cannot touch the firing pin unless the trigger is deliberately pulled. Speaking of the trigger pull, it is the only aspect of this rifle that we found needed improvement. There was enough creep as to be annoying and this should be addressed and fixed. The pull weight was a barely acceptable 4 pounds 4 ounces; three pounds would be more appropriate for a rifle of this quality and price. However, we were able to produce some very accurate results on the range. Like all Henry lever actions in our experience, the test rifle functions flawlessly.
We mounted a Konus Pro 275 3-10x44mm riflescope on the Big Boy using a Henry one-piece H012 mount designed specifically for the second generation Big Boys. As with our scoped Henry single shot, we installed a Grovtec hammer extension (GHM 283), which makes it a lot easier to cock any scoped hammer gun.
Shooting the Big Boy
There is one problem worth mentioning at the outset. Many of the ammunition manufacturers have watered down their .357 Magnum factory loads. You read that right. They have reduced the powder to make the round more acceptable in small frame revolvers. Because of these reduced power loads, many commercial .357 Magnum offerings are not suitable for feral hog or whitetail hunting. You must carefully choose your ammunition for your intended purpose.
We used five brands of commercial ammunition in our accuracy testing. From Sportsman's Warehouse we purchased Remington, Hornady, Aguila and Sellier & Bellot factory loads. SIG Sauer provided us with their 125 grain V-Crown ammunition at no charge.
We fired multiple three and four shot groups using a Caldwell Matrix Rest at 75 yards. A .357 Magnum carbine shooting full power hunting ammunition should be effective at 100 yards on deer and wild hogs, with proper bullet placement.
Comparisons of the velocity and accuracy of the commercial ammunition and our own reloads are listed in the following tables. Some .357 commercial ammunition is acceptable for hunting. However, if you wish to obtain the maximum performance possible with this rifle, we recommend you reload your own hunting rounds.
There are a wide range of acceptable bullets available and multiple powders are listed in most reloading manuals. However, our favorite powder for full power .357 Magnum reloads is Hodgdon's H110, which was developed for magnum revolver loads. (Winchester 296 is the same powder under a different name.) If you compare our H110 reloads using Hornady XTP bullets to the commercial ammunition we tested, you will find the H110 reloads are superior, although the Remington factory load we tested came close.
Velocity and Accuracy Comparison of .357 Magnum Test Ammunition
H110 Reloads, 125 grain Hornady XTP: Smallest group 1/2"; largest group 1-1/4"; average group size 3/4"
Remington/UMC, 125 grain JSP: Smallest group 7/8"; largest group 1-1/2"; average group size 1-1/4"
Hornady, 125 grain XTP: Smallest group 7/8"; largest group 1-3/8"; average group size 1-1/4"
H110 Reloads, 158 grain Hornady XTP: Smallest group 1/2"; largest group 1-1/8"; average group size 7/8"
Aguila, 158 grain SJ SP: Smallest group 3/4"; largest group 1-1/4"; average group size 1.0"
Reduced power factory load chronograph data - Not suitable for hunting Class 2 game
SIG Sauer 125 grain V-Crown
Sellier & Bellot 158 grain SJ SP
You can pay more and you can pay less for a .357 Magnum lever action carbine, but it won't be a Henry. Paying more will get you a foreign made lever action. Paying less will get you a couple of American guns, but with fewer desirable features.
The bottom line is the Henry Big Boy is an excellent rifle and well worth the price. Most dealers will give you a reasonable discount below the MSRP price. This piece of Americana is worth it, as a shooter and/or an investment for the future.
Note: This review is mirrored on the Product Reviews page, where a review of the #H006M brass frame Henry Big Boy .357 Mag. rifle may also be found.
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