By Max Simpson
My first rifle was a .22 Henry lever action and a Marlin in .357 was the first centerfire rifle I shot. Unfortunately, by the time I was searching for a lever gun in a pistol cartridge, the options were limited. Winchester was no longer making rifles in the U.S. and Marlin was suffering teething problems from a factory relocation. An 1873 by Uberti was appealing, but a bit out of my price range. Rossis were inexpensive but disassembly of the 1892 action was daunting. There were just too many little slotted screws. I tend to favor guns made in the U.S., which didn’t work in favor of a Rossi or Uberti . . .
The Henry Big Boy Steel is made in the U.S., readily available in .45 Long Colt (the chambering I was most interested in) and shares the same simple field stripping as a Marlin. The Big Boy has some features I wasn’t a big fan of; the rifle is rather heavy due to its 20-inch octagon barrel and lacked a loading gate. With its brass receiver it’s almost too nice looking to be comfortable with taking to the range time after time. I would always be concerned with putting a scratch in it.
Henry has had steel framed rifles in .30-30 and .45-70 for some time, then earlier this year they released the Big Boy Steel in the same pistol calibers as the original Big Boy.
The Big Boy Steel weighs seven pounds, about a pound and a half less than the brass framed versions, and has a list price $50 lower than the Big Boy. It has a rubber butt pad and beautifully checkered wood furniture.
The action is superbly smooth and taking out the bolt for cleaning only requires removing a single screw. There is no mechanical safety on the rifle, but it does have a transfer bar in the hammer and a multi-part firing pin that’s not in firing position unless the action is fully closed.
Like the Big Boy, the Big Boy Steel lacks a loading gate in the frame and loads similarly to a rimfire with a tube magazine. This is a feature that made me hesitant to commit to a Henry rifle, but the removable inner magazine tube has its advantages. The arrangement is quite handy and after the tube is opened, each round is easily fed into the cartridge-shaped opening in the magazine tube.
A rifle with a loading gate in the receiver has a bit of a learning curve for figuring out how to properly feed cartridges. And even with practice, it’s possible to fumble with loading. The removable tube also allows the shooter to empty the rifle without having to cycle every cartridge through the action.
The Big Boy Steel comes with the same semi-buckhorn rear sight and brass bead front sight as many other Henry models. These are more than adequate for shooting out to 50 yards, but start to struggle with smaller targets at 100 yards. There’s enough elevation adjustment at the rear sight to get a good 100 yard zero with .45LC and windage is adjustable by drifting either sight.
It isn’t hard to get fist sized groups at 50 yards and the groups open up considerably at 100 yards, which isn’t surprising given the relatively slow loads I typically use. Accuracy at longer ranges could be helped with a set of peep sights with a narrower and flat-topped front sight blade.
Also new to Henry’s lineup this year is a .22 lever action with factory installed Skinner peep sights, so a Big Boy Steel with peep sights out of the box wouldn’t be surprising in the future. The receiver is drilled and tapped so putting a good set of peep sights on the rifle would be an easy task.
Overall the Big Boy Steel is a more practical rifle than the original Big Boy. It has a handy weight and comes with sling swivel studs installed. The rear stud is actually one of the few knocks on the rifle. The hole through the stud was too small to accept a standard sling swivel. Fortunately it was easy to unscrew the stud and replace it with a spare meant for a shotgun stock.
The Big Boy Steel would be an effective defensive rifle in states where ARs are banned. Fully loaded with 2,500 grains of lead on tap, the Big Boy Steel is a formidable weapon as long as you can get the job done in 10 shots. The rifle would also be ideal as the first centerfire for a new shooter to experience, especially if they’re learning on a .22 lever action. With slower .45LC handloads such as the starting load of Trail Boss the recoil is very soft.
Caliber: .45 Colt
Barrel Length: 20″
Weight: 7 lbs.
Stock: American Walnut
Sights: Adjustable marble semi-buckhorn rear with diamond insert and brass bead front
Finish: Blued steel
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style: * * * * *
The Big Boy Steel is a beautiful rifle with fine checkering and excellent wood-to-metal fitting. It lacks the eye-catching brass receiver of the other Big Boy models, but is a fine rifle in its own right.
Accuracy: * * * *
The standard sights are more than adequate, but the rifle would benefit from a good set of peep sights. For a pistol caliber carbine, accuracy is excellent.
Ergonomics: * * * * *
At seven pounds the Henry is quick-handling while still having enough weight to be stable shooting offhand.
Reliability: * * * * *
The Big Boy Steel has had no failures of any kind.
Customization: * * *
Peep sights and scope mounts are available and the rifle can accept a variety of slings.
Overall: * * * * 1/2
The Big Boy Steel is a superb rifle all around. Accuracy may be limited by the factory sights and the pistol caliber chambering, but it has an excellent action and is a lot of fun shooting offhand out to 50 yards. The rifle is mechanically simple, easy to clean and would be an effective defensive rifle if it had to be.