If I could, I’d carry an eight-gauge shotgun loaded with 00 buck. Unfortunately, that would be like walking into a singles bar with Adeline Mocke. That’s why I pack a snubby .38 or a sub-compact 9mm. I slip the gun in my pocket before heading out the door. Done. In terms of rifles, there’s Henry Repeating Arms’ iteration of the USAF’s AR-7 survival rifle. Or should I say Eugene Stoner’s? The man who brought unto the world the AR also unleashed this go-anywhere rifle. Now brought to you in .22LR by the same folks whose lever guns put Marlin to shame (literally). The eight-shot Henry U.S. Survival AR-7 isn’t the most powerful, modular or capacious rifle, but it’s the long gun you’re most likely to carry when carrying a long gun is a PITA . . .
The Henry AR-7 unique(ish) selling point: the barrel, receiver and magazines can all be stored inside its stock which is watertight. Just like Ivory Soap or John Irving’s Hope, the AR-7 floats. So someone who drops the AR-7 in the water can have the pleasure of watching it float downstream. Still, considering the Henry’s compact size, it’s a perfect boat, truck or OMG the S has finally HTF bug-out bag gun. Or is it?
Assembling and disassembling the AR-7 is LEGO simple. Mind you, it may not be that easy in the middle of the night or under fire. After a bit of practice, I can name that rifle in 20 notes. I mean assemble it in 20 seconds.
After I LEGOed the AR-7 together for the first time, I discovered that the .22LR long gun’s a little awkward to shoulder. The receiver is off-center of the stock. Stoner fans stand down; it isn’t a design flaw. The off-center receiver’s a necessary (and clever) compromise so that all those parts stuff neatly inside the stock.
A more important issue: the AR-7′s trigger. Leaving aside crass sexual metaphors, I’ll simply say that the trigger’s fairly stiff and on the narrow side. Using the go pedal smoothly and consistently is more than a little challenging. Not helping: the AR-7′s sights. The rear blade is adjustable (the plastic post front is not). It’s a more than merely adequate set-up but a long range varmint rifle this ain’t.
Short range, the AR-7 is certainly capable of accurate fire. I was able make soda cans dance at 35 yards with ease. Which is a pretty good indication of the AR-7′s ability to harvest small game—other than the relative sugar content and the soda can’s tendency to stand its ground and take its medicine. It’s certainly a better choice than a defensive .223; any small animal smacked with that round will be tough to reassemble into a nourishing meal.
Since this U.S. Survival AR-7 is a survival tool, I decided to test it under more adverse conditions than I would, say, an Anschütz target rifle. I had intended to shoot the carbine from 35 yards at some paper, then wait until some rain showers came through the area and give it a go in less ideal conditions.
After firing 50 rounds of Remington Thunderbolt through the carbine, the skies opened up with biblical force and attempted to swamp the thing. As most of us won’t be bugging out in central California in the fall during a light breeze, it was a perfect environment to wring-out (so to speak) a survival rifle.
Accuracy was a challenge; the aperture kept filling with water. Still, the little gun chugged along through 350 rounds of mixed, water-logged ammo. On multiple occasions I had to dump rainwater out of the receiver. The AR-7 experienced five failures, all with Remington Thunderbolts.
None of these jams were serious. A tap-rack-bang was more than enough to clear them. Truth be told, operator error accounted for two of the five misfeeds; I put too much pressure on the magazine. That caused the rounds to bind in the mag with enough force to resist the follower spring’s tension.
That’s a remarkable record—when you consider the AR-7′s rotten rep for reliability (a problem that can be traced to its previous manufacturer, Charter Arms). Henry Repeating Arms’ website includes a testimonial from a U.S. Marine that says the gun is “very accurate, and once you find the right rounds, really reliable.” My experience didn’t reveal any ammo finickiness, but you have been warned.
I noticed the eight-round mags lack a removable floor plate. They’re made by folding and welding a flat blank into the general shape of a magazine. This was standard practice on older 1911 magazines and served them well. At least until they got really dirty. Given the few times you’re likely to have to use an AR-7, it shouldn’t be a major concern. Unless it is.
If I were heading to the range for an afternoon of plinking, the Henry AR-7 would not be my first choice. (If we’re talking .22 rifles, I’d reach for my 10/22 with Tech Sights.) If I needed a self-defense rifle, a “proper” AR would be it. Hunting small game? Something else again. (A 15-round Henry Lever Action would be a far better choice). Which leaves me thinking . . .
That the AR-7 is best thought of as a back-up rifle. The go-along-to-get-along rifle that you keep handy in case you can’t get to a better long gun. It’s a small niche but one that the U.S. Survival AR-7 fits perfectly.
Caliber: .22 LR
Capacity: 8 round magazine (comes with 2)
Length: 35″ assembled, 16.5″ when stowed
Weight: 3.5 lbs.
Stock: ABS Plastic
Sights: Adjustable rear, blade front<
Finish: Teflon coated receiver and coated steel barrel
RATINGS (out of five stars):
Ergonomics * * * ½
While awkward at first, this compact carbine has an easy-to-reach magazine release that can easily be activated from either side. The trigger is on the heavy side, but this is a survival tool not a varmint rifle.
Customize This * * * *
There’s a surprising array of accessories available for the AR-7. You can mount an ACOG on the sight rail, effectively septupling the gun’s price and doubling its weight.
Accuracy * * *
Accurate enough, until it isn’t. I’d give the AR-7 a scientifically quantified value of one ‘minute ‘o squirrel,’ which more than meets its designated role. Not bad for a street price around $230.
Reliability * * * * ½
The survival rifle functioned nearly flawlessly despite heavy rainfall which undoubtedly washed out all the lubrication carefully applied by its operator. Just be careful not to grip the magazine too tightly.
Overall * * * * *
The Henry U.S. Survival AR-7 is a rifle of last resort. It does what it was designed to do; the inevitable compromises are down to its intended mission, weight, water resistance and price. But if you know what’s coming and when, there are better choices.