Gun Review: Henry Repeating Arms Golden Boy

Don’t tell my kids, but I toured Europe on a BMW K100RT motorcycle. The “flying brick” was utterly reliably and Germanically comfortable (tough yet firm). When I returned to base, I looked for something suitable for intra-automobile London commuting AND long-distance tours. I bought a series of motorcycles, from extreme sports machines to urban two-strokes. They were all great bikes, fondly remembered. None lasted more than six months. And then I bought a Harley Davidson Fat Boy. It was slow, loud, ill-mannered, unreliable and woefully lacking in the braking department. And it was the best donorcycle I ever owned. That two-wheeled dinosaur had charisma. Charm. Personality. Presence. It even had nickname. Ditto the Henry Repeating Arms Golden Boy, or, as my family has come to call it, Franny.

I’m not saying that the Golden Boy is a bad gun. Far from it. It’s a thoroughly modern piece in exactly the way that the Harley wasn’t; the gun’s well-made, well-finished and didn’t skip a beat in over 500 rounds of firing. It had no major idiosyncrasies that demanded attention or compromise. OK, one. But I am saying that the Golden Boy’s primary appeal is not rational. How could it be? It’s gold for God’s sake.

I’m not a fan of gold. At the risk of sounding like a snob, gold is for people with less taste than dinner at an English boarding school. Gold is trashy and flashy. It says, oi! You! Look at me! I’ve got money! Money that I made five minutes ago, that I’ll squander on an entire range of tacky, faddish, expensive and nasty crap. What are YOU looking at?

Did you know that NBA Wizards B-baller and firearm felon Gilbert Arenas brought a golden handgun to the Verizon Center locker room? Or that the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun was released in the middle of the Disco Era, and starred the worst of all possible Bonds (Roger “Death by Arched Eyebrow” Moore). Yes, the nickname we’ve bestowed in the Golden Gun refers to the movie’s eponymous villain, Francisco Scaramanga. But we were being ironic.

Need I say more? Why not?

Gold is for people who are paranoid about an economic collapse—and too stupid to realize that guns, bullets, defensible shelter, fresh water, 8000 MREs and enough batteries to power a Nintendo DS for ten years are the best “investment” in any Mad Max scenario. Gold is not a high tech material like platinum or carbon fiber; with a bit of heat and a hammer, you’re good to go. Although Gordon Murray used gold in the engine bay of the coolest car ever made, gold is old-fashioned. Which is, I suppose, the point of the brass-accented Golden Boy.

Lever action rifles are the quintessential “Wild West” long gun. In terms of history, suffice it to say, Wikipedia:

The Henry rifle, invented by Benjamin Tyler Henry, a gunsmith employed by Oliver Winchester in 1860, used a centrally-located hammer rather than the offset hammer typical of muzzleloading rifles, and this hammer was cocked by the rearward movement of the Henry’s bolt. The Henry also placed the magazine under the barrel, rather than in the butt-stock, a trend followed by most tubular magazines since.

For this engineering feat, may the Lord make us truly grateful. For lo, old Hank blessed firearm fanatics with a long gun that’s perfectly practical (unless you’re lying down like a soldier who’s trying to avoid getting shot) and endlessly satisfying. Well, almost endlessly: 15 rounds for the .22 Long Rifle (our test gun), 18 rounds for the .22 Long and 20 rounds for the .22 short.

Load on Monday, fire all week? Yeah, and I bet you can snort just one line of coke too. Anyway, Franny’s magazine capacity ain’t no small thang’, to use the western (Trenton) expression. Not only does she outlast her magazine-fed bolt action or semi-automatic cousins, but reloading the lever action rifle is a lot more fun. Listen to the sound of the bullets sliding in.

Bonus: sliding the magazine tube in and out feels like reloading a muzzle gun. Well, looks like it. If you squint and use your imagination. In fact, I bet the majority of the firearm’s fans fall in love with the Golden Boy because they contemplate the .22 through the rose-colored lenses of imprecise nostalgia. In other words, to consider the Henry Repeating Arms Golden Boy a historical piece of some sort, you have to do a major league suspension of disbelief thing.

For one thing, Henry Repeating Arms is out of Bayonne, NJ. You can’t get any less Wild West than that. (Or can you?) For another, what Westerner in his right mind would own a lever action rifle whose mid-section requires its own felt sleeve to keep it from getting scratched? Maybe somebody at the top of the food chain (whom no one would dream of calling a sissy boy) that wanted to impress his less-educated underlings with something glittery and blatantly impractical.

But definitely not Lucas McCain, the eponymous Rifleman whose working class hero shtick entranced millions of proto (if potential) lever action rifle lovers. In that sense, Franny is an ideal quasi-historical rifle piece for shootists who wouldn’t think twice about buying a retro-mod automobile (i.e. an old design with modern technology). Or engraving words on the back of a Rolex.

What the Golden Boy lacks in authenticity—a term reserved for the minority of gun owners who recognize or care about such things—it gains in operation. Levering the Golden Boy is far more satisfying than any antique lever action rifles I’ve ever fired. It’s as smooth as Carlos Santana’s guitar solo in the song of the same name. It’s as smooth as a river rock. It’s as smooth as the inner thigh of that girl I met when I was— It’s smooth.

Thanks to the mag capacity and first-class machining, levering Franny is endlessly, viscerally satisfying—in a way that Playstation warriors could never imagine. The trigger action matches the camber’s case ejection – reinsertion. It requires just the right amount of effort and travel. Though nose-heavy in the way of such guns, the Golden Boy is a joy to behold, a pleasure (to have and to) hold, and a delight to shoot.

Yes, but what is this thing for? Shooting things obviously, which it does easily and cheaply. But anything that requires a prone position would . . . scratch the gun. And there’s another bright shining fly in the ointment: the Golden Boy’s butt plate. It’s made of the same silky smooth brass that adorns the rest of the weapon. So it slips around on your shoulder. I like checkered butts and I cannot lie. If a rifle’s accuracy is important—which it is—you don’t want a stock that keeps slip sliding away.

It’s a deal killer for me. But then I’d lost me around the third paragraph (even though I now admit that I have a gold tooth). If it were my money, I’d own a cheaper blued-steel version with a scope. (Installing a scope on The Golden Boy would be like putting spinners on an Aston.) That’s a more “honest” and practical gun to my (ever-weakening) eyes, and more effective. While we’re at it, I’d rather something Henry in a larger caliber. But then I believe in the big bang theory of firearm fun, and I can afford the ammo.

That’s a consideration that takes us to an, perhaps “the” important fact: Henry Repeating Arms .22 lever action rifles are awesome youth rifles—as my daughter demonstrates in the video that begins this review. And I use the word “awesome” here in its original, standing mute in front of God’s power (rather than “that hair clip is awesome”). Watching said genetic inheritor learning to shoot on Franny was one of the most sublime moments of my life. I reckon a youth model Henry .22 lever action rifle would offer the real golden moments.

Then again, this.

The man with the golden gun. Sweet. If you like that sort of thing.

Specifications:

Model: H004
Action type: Lever action repeater
Caliber: .22 Short, Long and Long Rifle
Capacity: 16 rounds -.22LR
21 rounds
Barrel length: 20″
Overall length: 38 1/2″
Weight: 6.75 lbs.
Stock: American Walnut
Sights: Adjustable Buckhorn rear, beaded front
Finish: Brasslite receiver, brass buttplate and blued barrel and and metal barrel band
MSRP: $515.00

RATINGS
(Out of five stars)

Style * * *
Gold’s not my thing, but the basic lines define a classic lever gun.

Ergonomics (carry)  * * * *
Nose heavy, as these things are. Over the shoulder, militia style or hanging down. Bonus star for the feel of brass.

Ergonomics (firing)  * * * * *
No appreciable recoil (obviously). Trigger well-weighted, well-judged. Lever action as smooth as your favorite smooth metaphor, if not smoother. The most physical satisfaction you can get (in this genre) with your clothes on. Unless you shoot naked.

Reliability * * * * *
Hundreds of rounds without a catch. Except for duff ammo (listen to the sound of the last shot in the last video). Ejects crap cartridges with ease, although we did use a barrel light after that one.

Customize This *
Nope. Can be done, but don’t.

OVERALL RATING * * *
Great gun. Shame about the finish. Or not, depending on personal preference.

Summary
A “conversation piece” that you can take to the range and fire. And fire. And fire. Etc.

Henry Repeating Arms provided the weapon tested at no charge.