Henry Big Boy Steel .45 Colt Rifle
By Randy Smith
Chambering a lever action carbine or rifle in what is traditionally thought of as a handgun cartridge is certainly nothing new. The Winchester Models 1866, 1873 and 1892 were and are popular throughout the world. Cartridges, such as the original 1873 .44 Winchester (.44-40), still enjoy a wide following for hunting and other sporting purposes. The .45 Colt cartridge, although not adopted as a carbine round in the 19th Century, is chambered in nearly all short action lever actions today. More modern revolver rounds, such as the .357 Magnum, .41 Magnum and .44 Magnum enhance the performance of these handy carbines and are excellent for short range deer and predator hunting. These rifles and carbines are popular because they are light, compact, quick handling, low recoiling and accurate.
I have taken many whitetail deer and feral hogs with all of these rounds using historical replica and original carbines at ranges out to 90 yards without a problem. Few deer or hogs have gone more than a few steps before going down after well placed heart and lung hits. I have not experienced a serious wounding of any deer with these rounds, because the vast majority of shots were taken at 70 yards or less.
Any of these rounds, including .45 Colt, .357 Magnum, .44-40, or .44 Magnum, will do the job if the hunter does his part. The hunter must get close, carefully place his shot and use adequate bullets. I advise using a jacketed bullet in the .357 Magnum, but a lead bullet will work well for whitetail deer in the other three rounds.
The Marlin Model 1894, Rossi Model 92 and Winchester Model 1873, 1866 and 1892 replicas are the most popular choices for modern hunters. Originals of most of the Winchesters have become valuable collectors items and are seldom seen in the woods today. That's fine, because the replicas are just as good as the originals and a hunter can still enjoy the challenge of deer hunting, 19th Century style. In fact, that is why I enjoy hunting with any of these rifles.
Deer hunting is not very interesting or difficult for me when it involves long range sniping with a high powered rifle. I like the challenge of the still hunt, the thrill of the stalk and the element of surprise that comes from woods whitetail hunting. Several states have enacted new deer hunting regulations that allow straight-walled cartridge use, because of their (relatively) limited range potential.
Henry Repeating Arms of Bayonne, New Jersey is a relatively new company (despite its historic name) to enter this market and is enjoying increasing popularity. Beginning with an excellent .22 lever action two decades ago, the company has dramatically expanded its offerings. They now offer classic style, tubular magazine, centerfire lever action rifles in .44 Special/.44 Magnum, .38/.357 Magnum, .45 Colt, .30-30 Winchester and .45-70 Govt. Henry has even recently unveiled a detachable magazine lever action, the Long Ranger, in .223, .243 and .308 Winchester that should compete favorably with the Browning BLR. Henry has built its reputation by manufacturing attractive, innovative, reasonably priced, dependable and 100% American made lever action rifles.
I have owned three examples of Henry rifles, a Classic .22, .45-70 Steel and, most recently, a Big Boy Steel chambered in .45 Colt. I have shied away from Henry's very attractive and popular brass framed models, preferring a more subtle matte steel finish for hunting.
I don't believe that a brass framed rifle will greatly affect or hamper a deer hunter, as is so often claimed. I have never witnessed any deer reacting to, or spooking from, shiny surfaces while hunting with brass receiver 1866 Winchester replicas or some heavily brass ornamented muzzleloaders. The same can be said of the stainless steel rifles I have used. I just prefer the subtlety, economy and weight advantages of an all steel rifle and there is a lot to like about the Henry Big Boy Steel.
The Big Boy Steel model is available with either a 20 inch or 16.5 inch carbine barrel. Carbines are supplied with a large loop lever. Available calibers include .38 Spec./.357 Magnum, .41 Magnum, .44 Spec./.44 Magnum and .45 Colt. The rifle that is the subject of this review has a 20 inch barrel and is chambered for the .45 Colt cartridge.
The Henry Big Boy Steel is a hefty, compact, seven pound lever action with a straight hand stock, tube feed magazine and open sights. The Henry Big Boy action is basically an improved Marlin 336 type mechanism.
The stock and forearm are of dark, checkered, American black walnut with a forearm end cap, rather than a barrel band. Fit and finish of wood and metal are excellent throughout, especially when compared to current Marlin or Rossi rifles. The Henry is much more affordable than the beautifully made (in Japan by Miroku) Winchester Models 1873 and 92.
The Big Boy Steel has a thick ventilated recoil pad. Sling swivel studs are standard. The HD12C has a matte-finished blued steel frame and is drilled and tapped for scope mounting. As is the fashion of all modern Henry rifles, there is no side receiver loading gate. Rounds are loaded into the feeding tube in the manner of tube feed .22 rifles.
The front sight is a dovetail mounted front blade with a brass bead. The semi-buckhorn rear sight is drift adjustable for windage and has a stepped elevator for gross elevation adjustment and a sliding white diamond insert for fine adjustment. The insert offers either a U or shallow V notch by reversing it in the rear slot. The insert is held in place with a single screw. I advise that you have a good jeweler's screw driver on hand to adjust the sight. The sights on my example were set at the extreme bottom and needed to be adjusted upward so that I could take full advantage of the elevation ramp for shooting at various ranges.
The proper way to set a slot style insert sight is to place it a bit high with moderate screw pressure on the insert and gently tap the insert down before final tightening. You can get very precise adjustments with this method, without the frustration of the insert moving too much.
I have read a lot of complaints from writers and reviewers about the quality of open V sights. My reaction has been that probably the shooter needs to take the time to learn how to use and appreciate open sights. They are very effective for short range carbines, such as the Big Boy Steel.
I prefer the bottom notch on the elevated ramp to sight dead on at 50 yards with a .45 Colt rifle. The second notch is usually dead on at 75 yards and the third notch is dead on at 100 with most 250-255 grain .45 Colt factory loads. 100 yards is about the maximum effective range of the .45 Colt cartridge, even when fired from a rifle.
Sure, it is possible to make a killing shot beyond 100 yards, even though the bullet's remaining energy is well below the 800 ft. lbs. generally regarded as the minimum for Class 2 game. However, you can do it so much better with other rounds, such as the .30-30, with a greater degree of confidence and much less chance of wounding game.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with using a scope for hunting. The Henry Big Boy Steel is pre-drilled and tapped for Marlin 336 type scope bases. Use a low magnification scope that will mount as close to the receiver as possible, since the stock is designed for use with open sights.
I have scopes on my .308 Marlin Express rifles, .223 Browning BLR and .35 Remington Marlins. I have receiver (peep) sights on a .444 Marlin and .358 Winchester BLR to take advantage of specific hunting situations and range demands. However, all of my .30-30 .45-70, and .45 Colt rifles wear standard open sights. They are quick on target and, unlike a telescopic sight, mechanical sights do not affect the carbine's excellent balance and handling qualities.
The worst offenders regarding balance and handling are those elevated scope rings intended to raise the scope to allow iron sights to be used through a sight tunnel beneath the scope. These leave the scope hovering precariously overhead. A traditional lever action carbine becomes top heavy and difficult to control and the shooter will have to break cheek contact with the stock to use the scope.
A compact red dot electronic sight is another viable option for a hunter not willing or able to use iron sights. I advise that you steer away from Vernier sights for whitetail hunting. These sights are designed for long range shooting adjustments and are unwieldy in the woods. They provide no practical advantage for short range revolver cartridges.
The Henry Big Boy uses Henry's rebounding hammer system, so there is no need for an extra safety as found on Rossi, Winchester and Marlin rifles. The traditional half-cock hammer notch is also gone and totally unnecessary. With a modern Henry rifle, the trigger must be pulled all the way back for the hammer to make contact with the firing pin. The Henry hammer is user friendly and, unlike a manual safety, cannot be inadvertently left on when the rifle is needed for a quick shot.
To load cartridges, the magazine's loading tube is freed by pushing down and twisting the knurled knob at the front of the magazine. This frees the brass inner magazine tube, which is then pulled far enough out of the outer steel magazine tube to clear the cartridge loading cut-out in the outer tube. Then, simply drop fresh cartridges into the magazine and slide the inner magazine tube back into place. Make certain the loading tube is correctly latched in its retaining slot. Otherwise, you may have your loading tube launched like a Roman candle out the end on the first shot.
The magazine can be unloaded by simply removing the inner feeder tube and dumping the cartridges, rather than having to cycle each round through the action. Don't forget to ALWYAS reinsert the magazine tube and work the lever a couple of times to eject any cartridge in the chamber or on the lifter arm. This system is an advantage in Oklahoma or California, for instance, as it is illegal to transport a loaded rifle in a vehicle.
The Henry Big Boy Steel can be partially disassembled for barrel cleaning from the breech in the same way as a Marlin 336. Removing the lever screw allows the lever to be withdrawn and the firing pin assembly to be pulled from the receiver housing. Be sure to retrieve the ejector spring, which lies in a run and is mounted in a small hole on the left side of the receiver.
I measured the trigger pull on my Big Boy at slightly over three pounds with no creep or appreciable over travel. That's very good for a modern hunting rifle. Some of my lever action rifles demand nearly six pounds of pressure on the trigger and I have used models, such as the old Winchester 88 and a Ruger 96, that had horrible triggers.
At seven pounds, the 20 inch barreled version of the Big Boy Steel is a relatively heavy rifle, weighing as much as many .30-30's with a 20 inch barrel. The center of gravity is located far enough back that the barrel does not seem awkward, nor is the rifle unwieldy. The Big Boy Steel Carbine is about a half-pound lighter with its 16.5 inch barrel and oversize lever. I prefer the weight of the 20 inch barrel, as it helps steady the rifle for off-hand shooting.
In addition, the extra weight, combined with the generous recoil pad, will help control .44 Magnum recoil. The .44 Magnum cartridge is probably the best choice for serious deer hunters, as it develops much greater power and a flatter trajectory than the .45 Colt and throws a heavier projectile than the .357 Magnum.
I shoot a .22 or .45 Colt lever action rifle almost every day on my farm, rain or shine; usually not more than three or four rounds at a time to stay sharp with open sights at various ranges. Few people in today's world have that luxury, but this is why I chose to live here.
I have hundreds of .45 Colt cartridges, ranging from light cowboy action loads to serious self-defense and hunting loads. I have a Rossi Model 92 with a 24 inch octagon barrel that I am confident with, because of so much practice. The same can be said of my Henry .22 Classic. Both rifles are accurate and fun to shoot. The Henry HD12C fits right in that mold, plus it is better configured than the Rossi for brush hunting.
To be good with open sights at various distances you must practice, learn to judge distance and shoot from various positions, not just a shooting bench. There is much more involved for successful hunting than simply shooting tight groups from a bench. An open sight lever action will not compete successfully against a scoped bolt action at the shooting range, but in the deer woods a handy lever action will often prove to be superior.
From a solid rest the Henry will cloverleaf several loads at 50 yards and shoot inside three inches at 100. Again, the open sights are the limiting factor and I have to use an orange target dot at 100 yards.
When hunting, I seldom take an offhand shot beyond 70 yards and will quickly look for anything, the side of a tree, rocky outcropping, fence post, or the hood of my vehicle, to steady my rifle. Given the chance, I will assume a sitting or kneeling position. The result is that I seldom miss with any open sight rifle.
The Henry Big Boy Steel is a well built, solid performer and can be an ideal choice for home defense, target shooting and short range big game hunting. If you do your part, I have no doubt the Henry will do its.
Note: A complete review of the Henry Big Boy .357 Magnum Rifle can be found on the Product Reviews page.
Copyright 2016 by Randy D. Smith and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.