Ahh, Christmas, that magical time of the year. Nothing beats the joy and pride a parent feels when they pick out that perfect gift and see their offspring open it up on Christmas morning. Their first bicycle, a well-oiled baseball mitt, a … Who the hell am I kidding? The latest edition of “Call of Duty” plus a live internet link for the X-box. Done. However, there’s one old-fashioned present that still rocks – their first rifle! A finely crafted, bolt-action single shot .22 rimfire will be a prized possession for years to come, or until they’re old enough to want something else. So . . . then what? What do you get your progeny some years down the road?
A second .22 rimfire rifle, full-sized this time. Oh sure, they’ll want a deer rifle, a shotgun, an AK-47 and a Glock (well, my kids anyway). But there’s a simple calculus available to help settle the issue. A 12-year-old boy, a .22 rifle, and an all-day outing will cost less in ammo than a movie and popcorn. Try that with any other firearm.
Since the “first rifle” Christmas was done years back, I worked the grandparents this time around and suggested they send cold hard cash. Armed with Grandpa’s loot, we set out the very next weekend (New Year’s) for a very conveniently timed gun show. After forcing my off-spring to at least look at some other (slightly used) rifles, I relented. We stood at a dealer’s table to examine a Henry.
My son had burned up the internet on rifle research, and plainly wanted nothing else. So, Henry it was. Now there are more than a few horse-traders in my lineage and certain things are expected of the men in my family. So I stepped up and brought my mad bargaining skills to the table. After furious negotiations, I managed to obtain this fine rifle for . . . full list price.
Bear in mind that this was roughly three weeks before the presidential inauguration, 2009. Apparently no one was discounting prices. I forget the final tally, but it was in the neighborhood of $300. It currently goes for $325 and change today.
After agreeing on price, I reached for my wallet, only to be handed a clipboard and pen, and told to go stand in line. Say what? I’ve been hitting gun shows since the 1980’s. I’ve never had to stand in line to make a cash purchase. But there we were, me, my brother, and my 12-year-old with an itchy trigger finger, cooling our heels for another 45 minutes. Instant criminal background check my rear end.
So what did we (he) get for ~$300? A very handsome, western-styled level action rifle. Any fan of John Wayne will immediately recognize the profile and Winchester influence on this piece. It has a nice heft and solid feel to it, enough so that it will never be mistaken for a toy. Wood quality was good, fit and finish acceptable. Action a tad bit rough, but hopefully it will smooth out over time.
Still, there was just some tiny bit of something nagging me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, other than to say “it’s not a Winchester.” Am I being a brand snob?
Well, the Henry website does talk at length about the origin of the Henry rifle, way back during the War Between the States. This implies a true link between a company in operation back in 1865 and today’s Henry Repeating Arms. Not so fast. Not so fast!
Back in my youth, I lusted after a Ruger 10-22, followed by a Winchester, a Remington, and (if nothing else) a Marlin 925 (as above) for my Christmas present. That Marlin currently resides in my parents’ closet, a bit worse for wear. Henry just didn’t make the list. As far as I can remember, they might have made a weird little .22 survival gun back then, but certainly no lever action.
I think there’s some remnant of the old Ivers Johnson company in their lineage, but the current lineup of lever-action rifles only dates back to the early 1990’s. Still, they claim to be 100% American made, so, okay then
Our first outing saw my son consistently keeping all rounds inside a 5” target at 25 yards. I managed one 3” group before he insisted on getting his rifle back. A little disappointing to me. I was shooting tighter groups with my Savage, so I don’t think it was me.
I then compared the sights between the two rifles and saw that the Henry went with plain flat steel with a notch in back, and a thick square post up front. While certainly functional, the sights just didn’t give the finely detailed sight picture I wanted. Plus, come on, this is a Wild West piece. How about some fancy buckhorn on the back and a post with brass bead on the front?
I did get another chance with the rifle, at 50 yards, and also got a rough 3” grouping. I think the gun will shoot better, I just didn’t have the groups at the time to prove it. One year later, with scope, 1.5” at 50 yards.
I also noticed the boy had more than several failure to feed issus. I had zero, so we discussed moving the lever with more authority. Once he started racking it with force, the failures went away. Otherwise a perfectly functional rifle that has probable sent close to 1500 rounds downrange so far.
Safety note, it’s very easy for young ones (and older guys too) to place hands, arms, and other body parts over the end of the barrel while reloading. I had to issue several reminders before we settled on dropping the lever to leave the action open before reloading the tube. Never reload one of these with a round still in the chamber, and pay attention dammit to the muzzle direction.
The Henry Repeating Arms Lever Action .22 is a very nice piece and a fair value. But there are plenty of other .22’s for the same price (or less). You’d pretty much have to want a lever-action to pick it over, say, a Ruger 10-22. Assuming that, you got a good rifle that’ll last a lifetime.
For myself, I’d probably spend some time searching the used market for a real Winchester. Or maybe cough-up some extra cash and get a Browning. Both are admittedly at a much higher price point. But I already own multiple .22’s and multiple lever actions, so my Jones has already been covered.
You ask my now 14-year-old and he’ll tell you: the Henry’s the best rifle in the gun cabinet. And I think plenty of other 14-year-olds would agree. After all, I’m still planning on getting that Marlin from my parents’ house someday and cleaning it up. Turns out that was a pretty fine rifle, too.