Contest Entry: Gun Review – Henry Big Boy Steel in .45 Long Colt

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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.

BigBoy_Steel-closeup2

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.

BigBoy_Steel-closeup1

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.

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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.

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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.

Specifications:

Action: Lever
Caliber: .45 Colt
Length: 37.5″
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
MSRP: $850

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.

comments

  1. avatar David Thompson says:

    I just bought a Big Boy Steel in .357/.38 special. Put a red dot on it. (I’d never put a red dot on a classic Big Boy. It just seems wrong.)

    This is the funnest gun I own.

    1. avatar BDub says:

      That sounds awesome. I haven’t given up on finding a good pump though, which I prefer to lever-action.

  2. avatar Art out West says:

    With this type of gun, the lack of a loading gate is a deal breaker. I view this rifle as (1) defensive weapon (2) fun plinker (3) hunting rifle.

    The lack of a loading gate is no problem for plinking or hunting. I’ve got two tube fed .22s (w/o loading gates), and love them.

    I see this gun as a defensive tool (like my AK and pump shotgun). Therefore, you need to be able to do tactical reloads with it. The loading gate allows you to keep topping off, while shooting and is one of the main benefits of the lever action rifle.

    1. avatar Phil LA says:

      I agree. I view it the same way, and have tried out a 16″ Rossi 45 LC. But the Rossi felt “half-assed” compared to the Henry. I guess I’ll wait until I can afford the Uberti.

    2. avatar Stinkeye says:

      I definitely agree. I’ve long thought that a 16″ lever-action rifle in .357 Mag is a nearly ideal home defense weapon for most people. Short, handy, much easier to learn to shoot than a handgun, far less recoil and noise than a shotgun. The .357 out of a longer barrel is a serious short-range cartridge. If you think you’ll need more than ten rounds, strap a few loosies onto the stock with a shell holder and you can top off the magazine as needed. Practice is cheap with .38 Specials (especially if you reload). It’s a gun that will fit a wide range of body types and sizes (folks with short arms and/or small hands can have a problem reliably running an “adult size” pump shotgun), and it’s legal even in places with stupid “assault weapon” laws.

      Lastly, they’re so damn much fun to shoot, their owners are much more likely to practice with them!

      1. avatar Mark N. says:

        According to Ballistics by the Inch, the .357 and .38 each max muzzle velocity oout of a 16″ barrel. At 17″, velocity falls off a couple hundred fps, and recovers half way with 18″ barrels. I have to assume it is all down hill from there, yet most manufacturers make a 20″ barrel. I have to assume this is for the magazine capacity (10+1 instead of 8+1).

    3. avatar Steve says:

      Sorry, but you can actually speed load a round into the Henry faster than you can any of the side port loading guns. How? The same way you do with a pump shotgun….open the breach, drop a round in, close the breach, fire. I’m not sure what situation you envision yourself in that you would need more than 10-11 rounds of .45 Long Colt, but realistically they don’t exist except in the minds of zombie apocalypse crazies.

    4. avatar Henry says:

      i would think your right it is not and offensive weapon, get a shotgun or large cal pistol for that, but as a nice hunting gun for states where you have to use a straight wall cartridge it is great. I reload so its nice to be able to load both pistol and rifle with the same rounds. have a henry steel and love that gun!!!!

      1. avatar LawDawg-45 says:

        It can most certainly be a defensive weapon ! If you don’t think you can fumble rounds under stress with a loading gate…you’re a fool. Most of us will have a revolver chambered in the same caliber for home or ranch use. Hell, for the price, you could buy two or three of these and teach the family. Not my first choice for defense, that would be an ar type, but 10 – 11 rounds of 357/45 colt/44mag, or 41 mag ? paleez people, get real. plenty of defensive firepower !!!!

  3. avatar uncommon_sense says:

    Can you shoot .45 Long Colt +P loads out of it? At that point it matches .44 Magnum ballistics (both bullet weights and muzzle velocities). Shooting full power .44 Magnum loads out of a 20 inch barrel means you can easily drop deer out to 150 yards and actually out to 200 yards if you can compensate for the rapidly dropping bullet between 150 and 200 yards* … although you might need a scope at ranges beyond 100 yards.

    * A full power .44 Magnum 240 grain semi-jacketed soft point bullet should still be moving at something like 1150 fps at 200 yards when launched from a 20 inch barrel.

    1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      First, there is no standardized “+P” load for .45 Colt. Second, the name for the round is “.45 Colt,” not “.45 Long Colt.”

      SAAMI calls out a MAP (Maximum Average Pressure) rating for the .45 Colt of 14,000 PSI. This is quite low by modern standards, but it is set this low so that a .45 Colt cartridge, loaded into an older revolver won’t turn it into a grenade in the shooter’s hand. For comparison, a .44 RemMag has a MAP of 36,000 PSI, and a .357 Mag has a MAP of 35,000 PSI. Modern bottleneck rifle cartridges (eg, a .30-06) add on at least 10K PSI onto pressures like the .357’s. Lever action rifles of the classic Browning designs (ie, not the 1895) should be able to handle higher pressures than the standard .45 Colt, but they have limits as well, and with some modern powders, it may be possible to exceed pressure limits of Browning levergun designs with a large case like the .45 Colt’s.

      A shooter interested in pursuing hotter loads in the .45 Colt should study the reloading manuals carefully, understand the issues in developing hotter-than-spec .45 Colt loads, and segregate his/her ammunition so loaded from any other .45 Colt ammo, so that none of the higher pressure rounds can ever find their way into the chambers of old Colts and S&W’s that cannot handle the newer powders and higher pressures.

  4. avatar PeterC says:

    I have the .44 Magnum/.44 Special Big Boy, and I actually like the tube feed feature, having pinched my finger in the loading gate of my Marlin Model 1895 on several occasions. The Henry’s tube magazine, at least in my .44, actually holds more rounds than stated in the specs.

  5. avatar Puyallup Devil_Doc says:

    A minor quibble. There really is no such thing as a .45 “Long” Colt, it’s just a .45 Colt. As far as comparisons to .44 mag, I will recall what was said in my Lymans #49.. “..shooters requiring .44 mag performance should buy a .44 mag..”. Standard .45 colt loads (not buffalo bore) are in the low to mid 900fps range. Add a velocity increase of around %20 for the longer barrel, and you’re already pretty darn close to the MV of a .44 mag. If the frame can handle +P loads like Buffalo Bore, you’re looking at one hell of a potent brush gun. My only complaint would be that I couldn’t take advantage of the ballistic tip Hornady bullets out of a magazine fed gun. But then again, a 200 gr SP/HP or even a boolit would still pack enough punch for deer sized animals out to 100 yds or so.

    But yeah, I’d like to know what Henry has to say about +P loads as well..

    1. avatar Tom of Toms says:

      The .45-70 BigBoy will handle a 420gr +P load from Garrett Cartridges, but not the 540gr load, so they are obviously building the guns with the +P shooters in mind to some degree. I imagine it won’t be long before Garrett and Henry test the new 45C/454 loads as well.

      http://www.marlinowners.com/forum/45-70-govt/147655-info-garrett-p-cartridges-henry-rifles.html

      44 vs 45 C? 45 C sees generally lower pressures, and the ability to use extreme bullet weights with factory barrel twist-rates, and given that plentiful frames exist to take the 44Mag-level-beating and then some, why not? A 45 Redhawk or Super Redhawk using the 365 or 405 gr Garrett load is essentially replicating .45-70 ballistics. But, can you comfortably fit a .45-70 under your coat?

      Now you can.

      Your snub-nosed BFR DID NOT COUNT.

    2. avatar Mark N. says:

      Hornady Leverevolution fixes that problem. Ballistic tip designed for tube fed magazines.

    3. avatar Mark N. says:

      I’d wonder about those heavy loads too, since AFAIK, Henry is still building rifles on the 1866 design, which was originally the .44-40 black powder cartridge. The Winchester ’92, however, uses the same basic design as the famous ’88 (both designed by John Browning) that has a very strong action The Rossi is a ’92and has a 16″ barrel that is apparently optimal for max .357 velocities. It is pretty hard to find a rifle in .357 these days, although .45LC are common, and what’s out there new is $1100 and up.

  6. avatar tdiinva (Now in Wisconsin) says:

    The tube magazine has been the defining characteristic of Henry repeaters since they were introduced during the Civil War. One of those “damn Yankee guns that you load up on Sunday and fire all week.”

  7. avatar Andy says:

    I’d like to see that cartridge with “2500 grains of lead on tap.” I don’t think I could shoot that. 🙂

    1. avatar Mark N. says:

      He means 10 rounds, 250 grains each

  8. avatar Bill Kohnke says:

    Henry’s are very nicely made and have smooth actions. Offering the 20″ round barreled “Iron Henry” in a cowboy round is a nice touch, but there are three more improvements I’d recommend as factory options: a protective wing Skinner rear sight mounted on the receiver and aligned with a high-viz partially hooded front sight, a 16″ round barrel, and a side loading gate in addition to their traditional tube. This last feature would give you the best of both worlds.

    1. avatar Mark N. says:

      Except that perhaps Henry has never made a side loading gate…

  9. avatar John L. says:

    Two things kept me away from Henry lever guns to date. The first was lack of a loading gate, but I can be convinced that’s not an issue.

    Second, a number of firearms cleaning solvents and CLPs have additives to deal with copper fouling. You DO NOT want to get any of that on a brass bodied receiver. I’d be afraid of messing up that great finish.

  10. avatar Mike Davis says:

    What does it mean – contest entry? Just by posting here are we entered to win one of these rifles?

    1. avatar BDub says:

      Contest is for article submissions.

  11. avatar Former Water Walker says:

    Nice review-and I have a case of “lever lust”. +1 for 357/38-ideal for home defense and badazz in 357. As a major bonus I can shoot 357 at all the local indoor ranges. Sadly all I can afford is a used Rossi…

  12. avatar LCB says:

    I was looking for a .357 lever action and considered the Henry Steel. But the lack of the loading gate stopped me cold. Found a Rossi on dah internets and bought it from a dealer in Iowa. Turned out to be an older Rossi that was made very, very well. The action isn’t as smooth as a Henry, but for deer hunting (only pistol calibers allowed in my state) it’ll do…

  13. avatar Chris T from KY says:

    Thanks for the review. I’ve been considering a 45 colt lever gun because I already have a .410/45 judge revolver. I do love my first rifle, the Henry 22 lever action.

  14. avatar Mark N. says:

    I wish it had a blued or case hardened receiver. These new matte finish guns (which must be much cheaper to produce) are just plain ugly.

    1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      As I’ve mentioned several times here at TTAG, the polished/blued finishes cost money. Real money. Because there’s no way to automate much of the polishing on most guns. In order to keep your edges crisp, details defined, etc, you’d need to design the mother of all robot arms and some highly specialized belt grinders/sanders, rotary grinders with friable stones, etc.

      Well, that doesn’t appear to be happening anywhere in the firearms industry, and since hand polishing is mostly a lost craft outside the injection molding die industry, you’ll increasingly see classic reproductions made with a bead-blasted finish under a hot blue or phosphate layer. It’s sad, but when I tell people here at TTAG what price level it takes to make a modern blued steel gun, they squawk like ruptured ducks.

      Skilled labor costs money – and most people seem unwilling to pay for it. I believe this is because most people are blissfully unaware of how the Federal Reserve has deliberately eroded the value of the US dollar over the last 40 years. 40 years ago, $1000 would buy you one heck of a nice rifle. Today, you get an OK rifle with a finish that would not have been acceptable 40 years ago on any rifle that wasn’t military surplus.

  15. avatar aweds says:

    Is all the fuss over a loading gate worth it? I mean, after 10 +1 rounds of .357 you can still load individual cartridges through the ejection port to keep firing single shots as needed until you can pull the tube magazine. It’s basically a side loading gate for emergency situations.

  16. avatar Timothy says:

    I’m glad that Henry is trying to put out some lower cost rifles and rifles that I would actually use, not just look at.

  17. avatar Calvin says:

    Well, here I go again, reading all the way thru a thread after doing a search to find out if I can load heavier than “cowboy” .45 Colt/Long Colt (to distinguish it from a .45 acp) in a Henry.

    I read where now there is no such thing as a long Colt and some guys are mad about the lack of a loading gate. Then we are told we have to get a .44 magnum if we want to shoot heavy loads. Still no mention of shooting heavy loads in the Henry or not. I’m surprised noone referred to the tube magazine as a clip & then see someone go jumping on that.

    Seriosly, does anyone know for sure? Can I safely shoot stuff like I could shoot in a Marlin rifle like a 336?

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