Late last year, Henry Repeating Arms finally gave in and released several traditional lever action rifle calibers in a side gate loading platform. Now they’ve continued that line, but with their first side gate shotgun.
This is the same gorgeous gun I gave high praise last year, but instead of .45-70, Henry Repeating Arms has released it in a small smoothbore .410.
The first thing about the Side Gate Lever Action .410 that gets everyone’s attention is the brass receiver. The gun comes right out of the box with an almost mirror shine. It’s polished enough to make photographs a challenge. The good news is that if you are ever lost in the wilderness, your Henry could double as an aircraft signal mirror.
I’ve experienced the same thing with this gun as I have other brass framed Henry repeaters. Set it down on a table and, no matter what other guns are there, everyone goes to the Henry first. They are beautiful firearms and just some of the best examples of large-scale American firearms craftsmanship available.
Like everything else but the caliber, the sights are the same on the .410 bore shotgun as the previous side gate rifle I reviewed. The front sight is a bright white bead, locked into the barrel with a set screw.
The rear sight is the excellent adjustable semi-buckhorn sight as the other rifles. It has a white diamond just below a cutout, and then wider ears above. Align the white dot at the 6 o’clock position in the small notch for accurate fire, and anywhere inside the big ears for fast close up shots on moving targets. It’s a great system.
The brass receiver is drilled and tapped for mounting optics. I’m sure this is simply a holdover from the rifle models, as there is little use for glass on a .410.
The trigger pull on this particular shotgun measured a bit lighter than the previous side loading rifle in .45-70 I reviewed last year. This .410 shotgun’s trigger measured at 4 lbs. 10.8 oz. as an average of five pulls on a Lyman digital trigger scale.
Like the other Henry rifles, the shotgun employs 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.
The hammer is well textured, and doesn’t fall particularly heavy. In the case that you change your mind about the shot, there was no troubling bringing the hammer back down carefully on a loaded chamber.
One of the biggest challenges with .410 firearms is ammunition availability and price. If your local guns stores are anything like mine, you’ll see shelves of boxes full of 12 gauge birdshot, maybe 4 boxes of .410 birdshot, and 10 boxes of .410 handgun defensive ammunition.
As this is the way of the world, I was only able to put together 120 rounds of birdshot from a few different brands for this review. This was #6, #7, and a #9 clay load. I also put 15 rounds of slugs and 10 rounds of the Winchester PDX defensive load through the gun.
As expected, there were zero issue in loading, firing, and unloading with the shotgun during the review. Everything fed just fine and I never had a hang-up with the lever. I’ve gotten pretty familiar with the Henry guns over the last 10 years, and reliability just isn’t a concern.
Like the Henry side gate loading rifles, the .410 side gate shotgun has the best of both worlds for loading and unloading. For fully loading or unloading, rounds enter and exit the magazine near the muzzle. Henry puts a large knurled knob style release there and a cutout in the magazine tube.
The spring assembly can be a bit delicate, and if you drop it on something hard and sharp, it could dent or bend. Just don’t take it fully out of the gun and that’s not likely to happen. If it does, new one’s are fairly inexpensive from the Henry website.
I much prefer the magazine tube loading. It’s simple and safe. But if you only have to load one or two rounds, the loading gate is the quicker option. Customers clamored for a side loading gate for years, and now their wish has been granted, all the while keeping existing customers like myself happy by keeping the magazine tube loading function intact.
Unlike many of the previous rifles, the side loading gate Henrys all come with a well engraved buttstock and fore-stock. I’m once again impressed with how far machine engraving has come.
Machine engraving used to be shallow, without different depths in the pattern, and didn’t do well on curved parts. No longer. The engraving in the little smoothbore’s walnut is both beautiful and functional, and really sets off the brass receiver and accents.
When I got this gun out of the box, I thought the action wasn’t quite up to the buttery slick bar set by other Henry rifles I’ve reviewed. I tried it next to my older Henry .45-70, and it didn’t quite meet up. I then took into account that I’ve gone through quite of few of the 100-round ammo boxes in which I keep the .45-70 ammunition, and hadn’t fired a single shot yet with the .410.
After a little Lucas Oil and a couple dozen cycles, the lever worked more like I was expecting. There’s just something about the smooth workings of a good lever gun.
The Side Gate Lever Action shotgun sports the same brass fore-stock ring as well as a solid brass butt plate. Unlike the .45-70, the mild recoil of the .410 means that the metal never bites into the shoulder.
As it is a 7 lb. .410 bore, there’s very little recoil with this shotgun. Even the most sensitive shooter would have no difficulty firing a full 6-round magazine of shells without flinching.
Low recoil is one of the places the .410 really shines. This feature often relegates the .410 to a child’s gun. That wasn’t its original purpose.
One of the smallest shotgun bores, the centerfire .410 is almost 150 years old and the .410 as we know it now is well past the century mark.
Like many cartridges, this one was developed by the British and touted as a “garden gun.” Don’t let that fool you into thinking this was a matronly sidearm for snakes found in the tomato patch.
The .410 shotgun was widely carried around the farm and in the field as a small game getter, putting grouse and hares in the pot. When it came over to the states, the game taken expanded to squirrel, jackrabbit, dove, quail, and even occasionally larger game at short ranges.
Although suitable for the young and inexperienced shooter to learn on, the limited power and shot string of the .410 shotgun takes experience and talent to make the little bore shine.
On the shooting sports side, skeet is the game great shotgunners can play with the .410, and you’ll need to be awfully fast and sharp to compete in sporting clays with a .410 bore.
The side gate lever action shotgun chambers only 2 1/2″ shells, not 3″. That has nothing to do with the strength of the action, but the mechanism of a lever action gun. The action depends on the ammunition having relatively little change in length, and the 1/2″ between the two sizes is just too much for a lever action to function well. (Author’s edit: Although Overall Length does have a significant effect on lever action reliability, as Jeff the Griz points out in the comments below, the 2 1/2″ shell length restriction likely has more to do with the receiver’s length, which was borrowed from the .45-70 Government and the other original Henry side gate lever action rifle cartridges.)
Of course, if you aren’t paying attention to your ammo boxes, you can insert a 3″ shell into the loading gate. What you can’t do after that is cycle the bolt.
The shell will remain partially inside the magazine. Don’t fret, the gun doesn’t need to be disassembled. Simply turn and extend the tube loading nut at the muzzle end of the magazine, upturn the gun and the round will fall out. (Ask me how I know.)
Unlike the single-shot Henry .410 which ships with a full choke, the lever action shotgun comes in a cylinder bore. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, depending on how you want to use it. I have heard of folks shooting turkey using a .410 and a full choke, but I would find success with that manner unlikely.
The birdshot spread was about what we would expect from a cylinder bore shotgun. As shown in the photo above, at 25 yards shooting #9 birdshot, the pattern measured 26″ at the widest points and the wad did not strike the target.
Moving closer to 10 yards, the pattern is not much larger than a handbreadth, and you can see where the wad hit the target below the point of aim and a bit to the left.
Finding .410 slugs in this crisis economy proved to be difficult. I visited three different stores and could only find a total of four boxes or 20 rounds. These were the Remington Slugger 1/5 oz. 2 1/2″ rifled slugs.
I’ve ordered more slugs from various internet sources, but in the meantime, I shot what I had. Mounting the Henry in a Caldwell Stinger shooting rest, I shot three strings of 5-round groups at a steel target at 50 yards. The average of all three groups equaled 5 1/4″.
I saved one 5-round box as a comparison to shoot in the .410 combination gun of my youth. Interestingly enough, it shot a single 5 1/2″ group, about the same as the Henry. Given that the Savage has four more inches of barrel and a corresponding sight radius, I’m betting the limiting factor was the round itself.
As it is, 5-ish inch groups are good enough for the .410 slug. I’d put the maximum range for a slug like this on smaller pigs or our small Hill Country deer at no farther than 50 yards.
I say 50 yards not because of accuracy, but pure energy delivered. The slug above generates about 650 ft/lbs of energy at the muzzle. To compare it to something a little more modern, that’s a hot load from a 10mm handgun. On our 90 lb does, that’s good enough, and fine for coyotes and the average pig, too. Just don’t think of the .410 slug as just a smaller version of the 12 or 20 gauge slug. It’s a much smaller, much less lethal cartridge.
The Henry Side Gate Lever Action .410 brings the small smoothbore back to a level of beauty and refinement it deserves. It’s a gorgeous gun, well made right here in America. I’m seeing them on the market priced between $850 and $925. For a lot of people, that will feel like a lot for a “kid’s gun.” If that’s what it was relegated to, I’d agree.
But that’s not what this gun will be relegated to. The lever action .410 makes clay busting a challenge and the entire shooting experience fun. Within the limitations of the cartridge, it’s a capable firearm in the hands of an expert, and a great way to learn and shoot in the hands of a beginner.
And dang, it’s so pretty.
Specifications: Henry Side Gate Lever Action .410 Shotgun
Action Type: Lever Action Shotgun
Caliber: .410 Bore
Chamber Size: 2 1/2″ Shells
Capacity: 6 Rounds
Barrel Length: 19.8″
Barrel Type: Round Blued Steel
Rate of Twist: Smooth/No Choke
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
Embellishments/Extras: Regular Lever. Swivel Studs.
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style and Appearance * * * * *
The most gorgeous new .410 on the market today.
Customization * *
There’s no choke system and no extras or embellishments offered from the factory at this time. Like the other side loading models, the receiver comes ready to mount optics.
Reliability * * * * *
Runs any 2 1/2″ shell just fine.
Accuracy * * * * *
I’m not sure how to measure the accuracy of a cylinder bore shotgun with rifle sights, but it performed to the highest extent reasonable for the ammunition loaded in it, regardless of shot size or slug.
Overall * * * * *
It’s hard to categorize this gun because the Henry Side Gate Lever Action .410 is in a class all its own. Marlin makes a limited number of 1895 based shotguns in .410, but really, there’s just no comparing the two. The more expensive Marlin falls far short of the all-American made Henry’s appearance, round count, and overall quality. Henry set out to, in their words, make “the perfect .410 shotgun.” Perfect would (somehow) include an interchangeable choke set, but they got pretty close.