When Henry Repeating Arms announced their Long Ranger series, a box-fed lever action rifle chambered in .223, .243, and .308, I asked for one in .308 Winchester. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. If the Henry shot well, I figured a 20″ barreled lever gun in .308 would be about the perfect all-around American hunting rifle. I was not disappointed.
This rifle had me at hello. Without a round fired, I was impressed and intrigued. After some time handling and dry firing the gun, I got Andy Wickstrom, the General Manager at Henry on the phone, asking “Why this rifle?”
I wanted to know why the departure from the traditional — and successful — lines of other Henrys. It’s a rare thing to get a no bull answer from a company, but I got none from Mr. Wickstrom. They made the Long Ranger because customers asked for it. And Henry figured they could make money selling a good product that customers demanded. A plan for success if ever there was one.
But the plan wasn’t quite so easy to make a reality. First, there’s Henry’s hard and fast rule that everything be made in America had to stand. Then they had to re-think everything. They didn’t want to build the same gun as the competition, but they also wanted one that’s recognizable as a Henry. Familiar grips, but modified. Familiar touches on the finishing, but with different applications, a smooth action but with an entirely different mechanism, and a totally redesigned trigger.
They started with the three calibers people most often asked for with plans for more down the road. So far, so good. Wickstrom said they have more demand than they can keep up with. Henry’s adding machine capacity. Sales of the Long Ranger are booming, and after putting 250 rounds through it, I can see why.
This model shipped dry, so before I could really put it through it’s paces I sprayed a little of RAA’s gun oil into the action. I was well rewarded with a truly butter smooth cycle. A smooth working action is the hallmark of most of the Henrys I’ve tested, and this one is no different. Except it is. If anything, it’s better. The action springs open and then quickly engages the exposed hammer to drive the bolt reward on a gear. In fast action, that puts the bolt about a thumbs width from my nose if I’ve kept a good cheek-stock weld. But that weld is easy to maintain with this gun, as the action is so easy to cycle. I can cycle the gun with just my pinky finger without any pause or start. In fact, with the hammer back, if you point the rifle in the air and “break the seal” on the action, the rifle will open completely on it’s own with just the weight of the bolt. That bolt, by the way, it’s chromed steel with a 6-lug rotary head.
You’ll note there is no external safety. If you want to safe the weapon after cocking, gently release the hammer down. Similar to the traditional Henry lever guns, the Long Ranger employs the well proven in-hammer sliding transfer bar as a safety. When the trigger is pulled, the rifle will go off, and that’s the only time.
The magazine fits flush into the bottom of the action and is released with a black, flush fit round button. The magazine to metal fit was excellent, and the magazine falls out with any solid push of the button. There was no wiggling or odd angles to get the magazine to sit or release. Just a press on the slightly curved bottom of the magazine and an audible and tactile click lets you know its locked in. The gun ships with one magazine, but I’d certainly buy another. The trigger is a huge improvement of many other lever guns, and is just as good, if not better than most of the bolt action rifles in this price range. It has just the teeny tiniest bit of over-travel, and then breaks cleanly, at what I’d guess to be between 3 and 4lbs.
I’ve taken some points off Henry rifle’s in the past for good, but not great furniture. I won’t be able to do that for the Long Ranger. It’s not AAA Fancy grade, but it is well figured and the model tested is at least a Fancy A grade American Walnut and closer to AA. The grip areas of the stock and forestock are deeply checkered with a simple pattern. The wood to metal fit is very good, but not perfect. On the particular model I received, the shoulder stock fit is perfect, but the forestock to end cap fit is not. I’m being particularly picky here, and if you hadn’t fit end caps to rifle stocks yourself in the past and become a neurotic nerd about it, you’d probably never notice. That stock also includes a quality recoil pad and sling studs already mounted.
Everything out the model tested I is set up for a scope. Most obviously, there is no front sight and the barrel isn’t cut for one. The receiver is already drilled and tapped and a two piece Skinner rail set comes installed on the rifle. The stock geometry is well thought out and works for a scoped gun that’s meant to be hunted. Although the drop and length of pull is similar to the traditional Henry models, the straight grip is shorter and the comb is considerably higher. The result is that the scoped rifle shoulders quickly and delivers a full view of the scope and reticle to my eye. If I thought I was going to use this gun from a rest most of the time, I would likely opt for the lowest rings I could get. Reaching the hammer wouldn’t be a problem as Henry supplies a hammer spur with each rifle. As it is, snap shooting, or firing from the kneel or off a tree as I’m likely to do, I’d prefer to stick with medium height rings. Your body’s geometry will determine how you set yours up.
For those of you who want iron sights, Henry also makes a version with sights included. For this gun, I’m not interested. A quality scope, in fixed 4 or 6 power will suffice in magnification for hunting, and likely be more durable than you would ever need. I still stand by the old rule of 1X per 100 yards for hunting rifles. I realize that higher magnifications certainly make fine aiming easier, but 10X is as much as I’ve ever wanted for any hunting rifle, and that’s probably more than I actually need. As my eyes diminish with age, that may change. But for now, a fixed 6X is perfect for hunting, and, since I happened to have one laying around, that’s what I mounted on this gun for most of my shooting.
Those of you in the know will by now be asking the obvious, how does it compare to the competition? That competition is fairly limited to Browning Lever Rifle, usually known as the BLR. I’m a big fan of Henry, but I’m also a big fan of the BLR. Why? Because it’s a box fed lever gun, that’s why. In appearance, there are more things in common than there are different. Both are available with 20″ barrels, both are side ejecting, both box fed (that’s the point), both of the originals have straight grips (Browning also has pistol grip versions), both the Henry and the Lightning version of the BLR weigh about the same in .308, and their costs are similar. The huge difference that aficionados will immediately notice, the trigger on the Henry does not move with the action. Another difference, as we will find out later, is that the Henry Long Ranger is significantly more accurate. Of course, one of the biggest differences that you will find is that any BLR made from 1973 on will be made in Japan, whereas every Henry lever gun, this one included, from the stock to the bolt to the barrel, is all made in the USA.
This particular lever gun is as reliable as any bolt action rifle I’ve ever shot. 250 rounds of mixed ammunition revealed no failures to load, eject, fire, etc. The magazine holds 4 rounds, (4+1). It loaded and unloaded easily, and never gave me any issue locking into the rifle. The single flush cut button to release the magazine was easy to push, with or without gloves on, and never gave me any trouble. For the first 215 rounds, I did not clean the rifle in any way. The rifle gave me no problems of any kind, with one exception.
After firing 210 rounds through the gun, and into my second round of accuracy testing, The HPR 150gr TTSX BT cartridge was very tight in the chamber, and was the only round I hand to change my grip and really tug on the lever to get the round to eject. There were no pressure signs on the brass or primer. Measuring the round at 2.705″ it is the shortest round I tested, and although within SAAMI spec, a little over 1/10″ shorter than Barnes lists for that bullet . After 5 rounds, I measured the group, then continued the testing with other rounds. I then cleaned the entire rifle, and tried the round again, with the exact same results. That round was very difficult to eject, no others were. The group with that round was also almost twice as large as some others. I’m intrigued, but the simple answer is that I’ll stay away from that round with this rifle.
That HPR round scored a group size of 1 3/4″. That’s a five shot group from 100 yards, all bagged up, as all of my accuracy testing was. For the accuracy testing of this rifle, I pulled the 6X fixed scope off and instead used a Vortex Viper 6-24X scope, set at the 24X setting. I took two days to do the accuracy testing, and I took whatever time it took to pull the trigger. Not exactly hunting conditions. That 1 3/4″ was the worst of the group, and frankly, good enough for most hunting. But the gun did much better with other rounds. Using Remington’s 168gr Hog Hammer round topped with the Barnes TSX bullet, the gun scored an average of 1.25″ after 4 five round groups. The inexpensive and commonly available Federal Premium 168grain SMK cartridge scored an extremely consistent 1″ group after fully 10 five round groups. It actually slightly outperformed, by a tenth of an inch, the hand load that I built to replicate that round. That was all done on a filthy dirty bore. The five shot group was particularly telling on this rifle, as many of my three shot groups were well under one MOA. But 100 yard five shot one MOA groups with factory rounds from a lever action rifle is outstanding. After learning about what went into the manufacturing of the rifle, I wasn’t surprised that it shot well. I was expecting 1.5 to 2MOA. I was not expecting a Minute of Angle rifle in western guise.
There may be a few of you who, like me, want to know how far we can really push this lever gun in terms of precision. For me, once a barrel is floated and the action is bedded, two things we don’t need to worry about in this rifle, I move immediately to load development. After all, half your accuracy is in your round. Not wanting to skew the results, I did half of the shooting of this gun with a hand load that fairly closely matches the Federal Premium Sierra Match King round, but with the Sierra Game King bullet, because I have thousands of them. I didn’t include those results in my accuracy testing, but they scored very close to the store bought round. I am very interested in what effect COAL will have on this gun. The magazine will fit a round with a Cartridge Overall Length (COAL) of 2.875″, which is beyond the maximum length (2.810″) listed for the .308Win. I don’t know what the bolt-face-to-lands distance is for this rifle, nor do I know what a precise method of determining this in a lever action rifle, but I’m betting it’s less than magazine length for the Long Ranger. The .308 is a forgiving round for the reloader, and a little trial and error with COAL during your load development is likely to yield some rewarding results.
Although that accuracy from the bench is great, this rifles real joy is from other positions common in the field. At only 7lbs, with a 20″ barrel, this really is a walk all day and shoot all day rifle. It’s handy in the brush, but can reach way out there down power line cuts and into the fields when you need to. If you need fast follow up shots on sounders of running pigs, this rifle will do it. One of the true do-it-all affordable rifles.
Model Number: H014-308
Action Type: Lever Action Rifle
Caliber: .308 7.62X51
Capacity: 5 (4+1)
Barrel Length” 20″ Round
Weight: 7 lbs.
Stock” Straight grip checkered American Walnut with butt pad
MSRP: $1014.95 (Found online for $50 to $100 less)
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style, Fit, and Finish * * * * *
I freely admit that this gun gets an extra star in this category because it is not an AR or a bolt action rifle. Its different, and love it for that. Henry stepped out on a limb and actually made something new for them, something few manufacturers seem to be willing to do. But standing on it’s own, the bluing is well done, the checkering is both functional and appealing, and the wood is far better than I would expect at this price range. Little features, like how well the round magazine release blends into the flat receiver, as well as the finish of the bolt, and the checkering and quality of the wood itself really shows they were paying attention.
Accuracy * * * * *
I have a few bolt guns. I’ve sold a bunch, so I probably have under two dozen now. Of all of them even remotely in this price range, only one, the Ruger Hawkeye Predator in 6.5 Creedmor can match this lever gun in out-of-the box accuracy, and it cost about $100 more and weighs a pound more.
Reliability * * * * 9/10th
It may not seem fair to take anything off for what amounts to a sticky bolt, but there’s perfect and there isn’t. But to be perfectly clear, 250 rounds went into the gun, 250 rounds fired, and all of them fired well. I’m betting that’s more than most people will fire out of the gun in years of shooting, which is a shame.
Overall * * * * *
It shoulders fast and points like a stick. It’s MOA accurate and so darn pretty. And the best part: it’s not a bolt gun or an AR. I shoot a lot of guns for TTAG. Most of the time, it’s an assignment, and it’s work. This gun, this gun was interesting, affordable, and effective. Usually, I’m happy to turn a gun back into the office and get my next assignment. This one is different. This model is a must have for me, and it will be hanging above the door real soon.