Western Powder Loads for the .357 Mag. Henry Big Boy (and other lever action carbines)

By Mary and Dr. Jim Clary

Western powders
Illustration courtesy of Western Powders.

The Henry Big Boy lever action carbine has been around for many years. It is currently chambered in .327 Mag, .357 Mag., .41 Mag., .44 Mag. and .45 Colt calibers. It is available in brass frame, blued steel frame, color case hardened steel frame and inclement weather versions. It has become popular with cowboy action shooters, as well as hunters. When we recently had the opportunity to test the new Color Case Hardened Big Boy in .357 Magnum caliber for Guns and Shooting Online, we jumped at the chance.

Henry Big Boy Color Case Hardened .357 Mag. Rifle
Illustration courtesy of Henry Repeating Arms Co.

There is one problem with modern .357 Magnum loads: Many of the ammunition manufacturers have watered down their .357 Magnum factory loads. You read that right. They have reduced the powder charge to make the round more acceptable in small frame revolvers, for which the Magnum was never intended in the first place.

Because of these reduced power loads, many commercial .357 Magnum offerings are not suitable for hunting feral hogs, or deer. You must carefully choose your ammunition for the intended purpose. If you are serious about hunting with a .357 caliber carbine, it is better to reload your own ammunition to ensure it is capable of humanely harvesting the intended game.

There are a wide range of acceptable bullets available and multiple powders are listed in most reloading manuals. In our original article, our reloads were powered by Hodgdon's H110, a long time top performer in Magnum handgun cartridges. (Winchester 296 is the same powder with a different name.)

However, several of our readers have asked us to test the performance of three Western powders (11FS, Enforcer and 1680) in a .357 Magnum carbine. We used Rob Behr's new book, Western Powders Handloading Guide, for the following load data. If you do not have Rob's book, buy it, you will not regret the decision. It is loaded with factual information of value to beginners as well as advanced reloaders.

We loaded fifty rounds of each powder using new Starline brass, CCI magnum primers and 158 grain Hornady XTP bullets. Prior to firing for accuracy, all three loads were chronographed to determine their average velocity. The results were entered into the Exbal ballistic program to obtain values at 25 yard increments from 0 yards (M.V.) to 100 yards. Our Zia Rifle and Pistol Range here in New Mexico sits at 5,232 feet elevation.

We fired multiple three and four shot groups using the new Caldwell Turret Rest at 75 yards. A .357 Magnum rifle/carbine shooting full power hunting ammunition should be effective up to 100 yards on deer and wild hogs, with proper bullet placement. Following are the accuracy and ballistic results.

11FS Powder (15.7 grains) w/158 grain Hornady XTP bullet

75 yard Accuracy: Smallest group 1/2 in.; largest group 1-1/4 in.; average group size 7/8 in.

Muzzle: 1,544 f.p.s. / 836 ft. lbs.
25 yards: 1,470 f.p.s. / 758 ft. lbs.
50 yards: 1,400 f.p.s. / 687 ft. lbs.
75 yards: 1,334 f.p.s. / 624 ft. lbs.
100 yards: 1,274 f.p.s. / 569 ft. lbs.

1680 Powder (17.0 grains) w/158 grain Hornady XTP bullet

75 yard Accuracy: Smallest group 1/2 in.; largest group 1-0 in.; average group size 7/8 in.

Muzzle: 1,700 f.p.s. / 1,014 ft. lbs.
25 yards: 1,618 f.p.s. / 919 ft. lbs.
50 yards: 1,541 f.p.s. / 833 ft. lbs.
75 yards: 1,467 f.p.s. / 755 ft. lbs.
100 yards: 1,397 f.p.s. / 684 ft. lbs.

Enforcer Powder (13.0 grains) w/158 grain XTP bullet

75 yard Accuracy: Smallest group 7/8 in.; largest group 1-1/2 in.; average group size 1-1/4 in.

Muzzle: 1,300 f.p.s. / 593 ft. lbs.
25 yards: 1,243 f.p.s. / 552 ft. lbs.
50 yards: 1,191 f.p.s. / 497 ft. lbs.
75 yards: 1,145 f.p.s. / 460 ft. lbs.
100 yards: 1,105 f.p.s. / 428 ft. lbs.

It should be of no surprise to anyone that with proper loads the Henry Big Boy is a real tack-driver. However, with 1680 and 11FS powders, it was so accurate that one has to see the targets to believe it possible from a lever gun shooting pistol ammunition.

(Interestingly, G&S Online has reviewed Henry, Marlin, Winchester and Uberti lever actions in .357 Magnum [see the Product Reviews index page] and they all delivered very good accuracy results. Our conclusion is the .357 Magnum makes a good, short range rifle caliber. -Editor)

The Western 1680 powder ballistic results are quite similar to H110 / Win. 296 maximum loads and 1680 is, by far, the Western powder most suitable for close range deer and feral hog hunts. The Enforcer load, while enjoyable to shoot due to its very light recoil in the Henry Big Boy, is more of a plinking and fun round, rather than a hunting load. It would probably be a good choice for use in a snub-nose revolver.

If you do not reload with Western powders, it is worth giving them a try. They shoot clean, shoot accurately and meter well.

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