Oh good people, ask and you shall receive. Henry Repeating Arms, after many years of many requests from clamoring customers, has gifted us all this Christmas with a side gate loading lever action rifle. It’s gorgeous. It works perfectly. It’s accurate. And this new Henry .45-70 Government chambering is capable of taking any animal on earth.
Henry has released this rifle in several calibers, including .30-30 Win, .35 Rem, and .38-55 Win, along with the .45-70 Govt, all with the same hardened brass receivers, engraved wood, and brass butt plates.
Right out of the box, what steals the show is that receiver. Like many other Henry rifles I’ve reviewed and owned, it glows with a light all its own.
There’s really just something about a brass gun. I’ve noted before, I can have any gun laying about — an MP5, an M16, a GLOCK or a Wilson Combat 1911 — but if a brass-framed Henry is next to them, everybody notices it first.
The receiver has a bit more than a satin polish to it, not quite a perfect mirror finish. That said, if you wanted to have the most “cowboy” shave ever, a straight razor and the flat side of the Henry receiver for a mirror would get the job done just fine. If you wanted to signal aircraft and create the perfect fingerprint magnet, about 30 seconds on a buffing wheel and you’d have your wish. Interior is almost as smooth as the exterior.
Unlike the Henry lever guns it, this receiver now sports a side loading gate. Those of you more familiar with Marlin and Winchester firearms, as well as almost everything but a modern Henry and the original Henry rifle, will be immediately familiar with this “new” feature.
Unlike the Marlin and the Winchester, you can still load the Henry rifle through the far end of the magazine tube. But now, you can also load it, one round at a time, through the loading gate in the receiver.
The real beauty of this system is that you can load through the gate and still unload through the magazine tube, ending the need to cycle (and then find) every single round ejected by the gun. It has everything the modern Henry rifles are known for, as well as the loading gate of the “Improved Henry” of the Winchester 1866. It really is the best of both worlds.
I’ve verified that the richly engraved American walnut stocks of the Henry are machine engraved. There’s just no way they would be able to produce these guns in America at these prices otherwise. That said, man, machine engraving has come a long, long way.
The Henry stocks are deeply checkered with the engraving encircling the bottom of both the buttstock and fore stock. The fore stock engraving includes scroll accents as well as the Henry logo prominently displayed.
Not only is the engraving attractive, but it serves to give the shooter a great grip on the rifle under any weather conditions.
This rifle includes a similar sight setup I’ve reviewed on several other Henrys. The semi-buckhorn ramp adjustable rear sight has a bright white diamond insert. There’s a teeny tiny notch just above it.
The bright white front bead sits right inside it. Put the diamond insert directly under the front bead and the bead under the target and you have a great combination for precise shooting.
That set-up affords accurate firing at long distances, but you can use the wider ears of the rear sight for fast shots close up, or on running game. The wide ears above and insert below also allow you to have what is essentially two sight pictures and two zeros, one for close and one for far away.
The top of the receiver is drilled and tapped for a Weaver style base for the use of a telescopic optic. I’d hate to ruin the lines of this gun with such a set-up, even temporarily, but I also recognize that everybody’s eyes aren’t the same. Heck, mine certainly aren’t what they used to be. Getting old ain’t for sissies.
The trigger is also the same as I’ve felt on other big bore Henry rifles. It breaks well at just over 5 lbs. That’s a little heavy for me, but I love a light trigger, and it’s right in line with similar style rifles.
I learned — or I guess I should say re-learned — an important lesson with this rifle. If something feels off, something’s off.
When I was dry firing this gun, the trigger was 5 lbs on my Lyman scale and working great. But the first time I took it out, the trigger was incredibly hard to pull. I would squeeze and squeeze, nothing would happen. Then the gun would go off.
I stopped shooting and contacted Henry to see if anyone else had that issue. They said no one had. I went a few rounds with them on it, and they were very polite and responsive, suggesting I send the gun in. I didn’t want to send the gun in.
The problem made no sense to me, but I figured maybe there was something in the action, so I cleaned the gun, yet the problem remained. The problem remained because the same idiot was shooting the gun.
The first day I shot the gun, it was in weather like only Texas can have, 28 degrees and raining. I was wearing oiled leather work gloves. Although it wasn’t raining anymore, it was still cold and I was wearing the same gloves the next day. I wasn’t wearing those gloves when I was dry firing the gun indoors.
Take a look at the photo above. That’s how the lever should look when the gun is ready to fire. Now note the photo below.
The difference is slight, but the rifle is essentially out-of-battery in this state. It’s not supposed to fire that way. This is the state I was getting when I was wearing my thick work gloves, and I just didn’t pay enough attention.
The gun wasn’t firing until I squeezed hard enough for the rest of my hand to sympathetically contract and close the action completely. Then it fired as it should. Once I recognized this and actually closed the action fully each time, I never had the problem again. I put 300 rounds through the gun without issue.
There is no cross-bolt safety, nor does there ever need to be on a modern lever action rifle. Instead, the Henry Side Gate relies on a hammer and a transfer bar to keep the hammer from engaging the firing pin until you pull the trigger. If you don’t want the gun to shoot, don’t cock it and pull the trigger. It’s that simple.
Sling studs are firmly mounted both fore and aft. A rifle this pretty deserves something a little nicer than a nylon strap. Henry offers some on their website, made by Diamond D Custom Leather up in the frozen north that would serve well and look great, and $75 isn’t a bad price at all.
The brass butt plate is functional and beautiful. It protects the stock from chips and abuse, and will last several lifetimes. Henry has removed any sharp edges from it, and rolled the edges a bit so it won’t bite into the shooter during recoil.
That said, this is still a relatively lightweight big bore gun. It’s a .45-70 Government in a 7 lb rifle. With mild loads, such as those that helped wipe out the buffalo in Springfield rifles, the shooter will feel a definite punch, but there’s no issue keeping the muzzle down.
I keep on hand what even I consider a ridiculous amount of Berry’s 350 gr plated flat point round shouldered bullets in Winchester cases backed by enough H4895 to get that bullet to just 1,500 fps.
With this capable combination, I was able to consistently put five rounds in five seconds into a 19″ silhouette at 50 yards from the kneel. A more competent shooter would likely do that much faster. Much of my shooting was done in this manner, and although it did leave me with a bruised shoulder, that’s after a couple hundred rounds over a few days time.
For those of you unfamiliar with the .45-70 Government round, it should be considered at least three different cartridges. Most reloading manuals will have it split into three sections; the trapdoors and early models, strong actions, and the Ruger No. 1 (just in case the T-Rex ever returns). I emailed Henry and asked them about what pressures this rifle was able to withstand, noting the three different general categories.
The Henry representative came back with the perfect answer, and the one I was hoping for.
“Essentially, our .45-70 can handle the same pressures the 1895 action can handle”.
The reason that is the perfect answer lies back in those same reloading manuals where the Marlin 1895 is the standard for “strong” actions.
When shooting the heavier, longer bullets, shooters should take careful note of the overall length of the cartridge in their lever action rifle. Just because a rifle will feed a bullet doesn’t mean you aren’t crushing a bullet into the lands and then back into the case. The potential for increased pressure exists, especially with long bullets that have wide meplats.
Beyond my own home-rolled rounds, I fired an array of brands and styles of ammo from this rifle. Those included the 250 gr Hornady LEVERevolution round, which is easy to shoot and plenty of bullet for black bears, deer, and pigs. I also fired the ubiquitous Winchester 300 gr Hollow Point and the Hornady 325 gr FTX LEVERevolution round.
I had no issues with the fit, chambering, firing or ejecting of any of those rounds. The rifle performed flawlessly. I also shot a few of the heavier grained Buffalo Bore cartridges.
Be prepared for what a heavy 430 gr bullet moving at almost 2,00fps is capable of accomplishing, at both ends of this rifle. That round is generating more than 3,500 ft/lbs of muzzle energy.
I only had 3 of these rounds left from a previous shooting session with a different Henry .45-70 rifle, and that was fortunate. Out of a fairly lightweight lever action rifle with a metal butt plate, three rounds seated on the bench was all I wanted to shoot.
Like the other Henry rifles I’ve reviewed, there’s plenty of accuracy potential with this new side-gate loading rifle. There’s really no reason it should be any different than the other Henrys, and it’s not.
This particular rifle absolutely loved the Hornady 325 gr FTX round. The maximum case length of the .45-70 Government cartridge is 2.105″. Not a single five-round group of the 20 I fired for accuracy testing scored a group larger than the case length at 100 yards.
This surprised me so much that I did it again with a second box of the same lot on another day, with the similar results.
Two-inch groups, with any set-up of irons, is about as good as my eyes will accomplish (I got new glasses!). This rifle will likely do even better with magnified optics. Given the level of precision possible with that bullet and this rifle, it’s difficult to overstate the capability of that combination on game.
With the same set-up, both the 250 gr Hornady round and 300 gr Winchester round scored well, but nowhere near the 325 gr Hornady round. The Winchester cartridge scored the worst, with an average 3.6″ five round group over four shot strings. The 250 gr Hornady round scored better, right at 3 inches.
All accuracy shooting was accomplished seated at a bench at 100 yards with the rifle held in a Caldwell Stinger shooting rest and factory iron sights. The rifle or barrel were not cleaned during the testing.
The Henry website says this rifle is suitable for Elk up to 125 yards. A competent marksman with this rifle will put a bullet inside an Elk’s vitals at over twice that distance, and with some commercial rounds, it will still be generating over 1,000 ft/lbs of energy when it gets there.
I said for years that if Henry ever went to a side loading gate, they’d lose me as a customer. I know I wasn’t the only one. Henry called my bluff, but accommodated me and shooters like me at the same time.
With their side gate lever action rifle, Henry has, again, listened to their customers, and if anything, blown away our expectations. I have no doubt they’ll put this combination into other styles. They have set an extremely high bar for beauty, reliability, and accuracy for themselves, or anyone else to follow.
Specifications: Henry Side Gate Lever Action Rifle
Model Number: H024-4570
Action Type: Lever Action Rifle
Caliber: .45-70 Government (.30-30Win, .35Rem, and .38-55Win also available.)
Capacity: 4 Rounds
Barrel Length: 19.8″
Barrel Type: Round Blued Steel
Rate of Twist: 1:20
Overall Length: 38.1″
Weight: 7.09 lbs.
Receiver Finish: Polished Brass
Rear Sight: Fully Adj. Semi-Buckhorn w/ Diamond Insert
Front Sight: Ramp w/ .062″ Ivory Bead
Scopeability: Drilled and Tapped
Scope Mount Type: Weaver 63B
Stock Material: American Walnut
Length of Pull: 14″
Safety: Transfer Bar
MSRP: $1,045 (about $899 retail)
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style and Appearance * * * * *
Er. Mu. Gerd. Look at it. LOOK AT IT!
Customization * * *
There’s typically not much customization for a lever action rifle, and that’s really not the point of this rifle in the first place. You can mount a scope or sling it.
Reliability * * * * *
Cycled fast or slow, with any round and an almost 200 grain difference in bullets, zero issues.
Accuracy * * * * *
It shoots well enough with any round to take game beyond the reasonable ballistic expectations of the round itself. With the right round, the rifle was capable of surprising levels of precision.
Overall * * * * *
Henry has done a phenomenal job with their side-gate loading lever action rifle. Henry is one of the few companies that seems to be really listening to their customers, and then producing quality that exceeds expectations. Kudos to a great American company, yet again producing a great American rifle.
SIDE NOTE: Mr. Anthony Imperato, if you are listening: Long Ranger in .35 Whelen or 9.3X62mm. The one gun to rule them all! Consolation prize: The rifle above with a 24″ Octagonal barrel and a tang mounted elevator sight.