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Old August 6, 2010, 03:38 PM   #1
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Henry Big Boy .38/.357 Impressions

This is not an expert review, just my impressions of the Henry .357/.38 Big Boy lever action rifle.

My wife (Stargazer65swife) picked this gun out after a previous threads discussion:

The new rifle was purchased just this week. I was in the kitchen doing dishes when my wife slunk in carrying a big long box into the dining room, with a guilty look on her face. Following her in, she put the box down on the table and showed me a brand new Henry Big Boy:

The first thing you notice is that this is a fine looking gun. Nice rich walnut furniture, with brass buttplate, receiver, and banding. This is a flagship Henry rifle. You can get even fancier ones with engraving and personalization, but the construction is still the same. This is our second Henry rifle, one of my sons has an entry level .22 lever. In their styling, the two rifles are similar. However, even a casual glance shows these two rifles are a world apart in construction. My son's .22 is a fine little gun and loads of fun, but you do notice the cost saving measures. His .22 has a painted aluminum receiver, and there are plastic pieces here and there. This is not the case with the Henry Big Boy, there is no plastic and no economy paint jobs on it. As well there should not be, the big Henry costs five times as much as the entry level .22. Indeed, after handling the Big Henry, the .22 seems like a toy. Which bring me to the next point, handling the rifle.

When you pick up the Big Boy, you notice it's weight immediately at a hefty eight and half pounds. This is a lot for such a short carbine. I've handled the equivalent Marlin, and it is supposedly two pounds lighter. The difference is not subtle, and I would say that is probably accurate. There are two reasons for the difference that I can tell. First off, the Henry is an Octagonal barrel rifle. If you've never looked at one of these, you need to do so to appreciate it. Comparing it to a regular barrel is like comparing household copper tubing to industrial schedule 80 steel pipes. It is one heavy piece of barstock. The second reason that I think it's heavier is the receiver material. The receiver is a solid brass alloy, not an electroplate over steel. To be rated for the pressure, I believe they had to make it thicker and heavier than if they had just used steel. This presumably is a trade-off for using a flashier looking, but weaker metal than steel. Now on to the shooting!

Range Report:
The next day Mrs. Stargazer and I packed up and headed off to the range with her new toy. For ammo we brought two boxes of Winchester white box .38 specials and one box of Magtech .357 magnums. Starting off with the .38s my wife loaded it up. This Henry loads like my son's .22, from the front of the tube. The tubular magazine holds 10 .357s, so it obviously holds more .38s than that. I'm not sure how many, we just loaded it ten at a time anyway. If you want to load it one at a time, you can just shuck them in the ejection port, we had no trouble doing that. Sighting the target, my wife starting blasting away.

Shooting .38 special target loads through a long barrel (20") is pretty sedate. It's not that much louder than a .22, just a deeper sound than the crack of a rimfire. So how does all the extra weight affect the experience? Well it pretty much absorbs all the recoil from the .38s such that you don't feel any. Other than the sound and the smell of gunfire, when you pull the trigger it's more like the gun is magically emitting bullets rather than shooting them. Shooting .357s is loads of fun. The sound is impressive but the recoil is pleasant. You could shoot them all day without pain if you can afford it. I had a limbsaver in case one of us needed it, but found it completely unnecessary. The weight of the barrel is great for helping you maintain it in a steady position. Other than gravity wanting to pull the barrel down, once you get it on target it wants to stay in the same position.

The action worked smoothly for us, we had no feeding hiccups. We spent the whole time firing from a standing position, no support. Doing that for a while however, you do start to wish the gun was lighter. If Mrs. Stargazer shoots frequently, she may end up with two more big guns (attached to her shoulder). The sights are quite good on the Henry, which is one of the reasons my wife said she picked it over the Marlin. I don't remember the differences myself in that regard. One drawback for the Henry though is if you want to mount a scope, you have to buy an adapter for about thirty dollars, and have a gunsmith install it. We found it to be very accurate. My wife (an inexperienced shooter) shot this target at 50 ft, 10 shots from a standing position and no rest, her first time out with it:

Overall impressions are that this is a fun little carbine with lots of general applications. It seems like it would be up to the task for anything whether it's hunting, plinking, or target shooting. You can shoot cheap .38s, or expensive .357 magnums depending on what you want to do with it. I believe it would make a nice long gun for HD as well. I don't know much about stopping power or penetration in Jell-O and such, but ten .357s, hopefully well placed, should cause enough trauma that an intruder will hopefully run off smarting. Another plus is that the octagonal barrel makes a decent club if they don't.

So why pick a Henry over it's competitors? Well, that depends on you. For example, compare it to a Marlin. The Marlin costs less, is lighter, and if I remember right, you can put a scope on it right out of the box. It may be the more practical choice, and for many that probably seals it. There are other competitors as well like the legendary Winchester. Rossi makes one that costs even less than the Marlin. I've never seen one so I don't know what it's like. On the other hand the Henry really is a looker, and if you like that traditional look, you will definitely want it on display if possible. Henry is a small 100% American company with (I've heard) great customer service that we haven't had to use. Supposedly the President of the company gets personally involved if you ever have a problem. This is our second Henry, and both have been extremely accurate right out of the box. That may attest to quality in the manufacturing process, but again this is subjective and I don't have any statistics or comparisons.

In this particular case my wife picked the gun she liked the most, on her own, and you can't beat that reason with a stick (or a heavy gun barrel).
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stargazer65 is offline  
Old August 7, 2010, 06:43 AM   #2
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Doesn't surprise me. I have one also, sadly, economic difficulties have me selling it.
PM me if interested.
Rmac58 is offline  
Old August 7, 2010, 07:37 AM   #3
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I've been thinking about a 357 mag lever gun for some time. The Henrys look really nice and people speak well of them. I'm suprised to hear they cost more than the Marlin. The Marlin I looked at was in SS with a laminated stock that one was pretty steep. However, it was sold the next day before I could get back and try and negotiate a trade.

But as you said they are heavier than the Winchester of Marlin (at least they felt that way in the store when I looked at them. The deal breaker for me is the loading mechanism. I really prefer the receiver loading method of the Winchester and Marlin guns. If the Henry loaded from the receive I might have bought it. Good luck with yours.
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Old August 7, 2010, 08:50 AM   #4
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Love that gun and love Henrys in general.
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Old August 7, 2010, 09:46 AM   #5
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Nice report I feel much the same about my Big Boy in 44 Mag. Nice shooting by your wife. I guess we know who wins the arguments!
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