It is said that “Out of darkness, comes light.” In 1861, dark was certainly the case for the modern US firearms industry. The United States was in the midst of a bloody civil war turning brother against brother in the name of preserving the Union. Cap and ball technology ruled the battlefields in traditional fashion.
Enter the light in the form of a man by the name of Benjamin Tyler Henry and his patient for the first successful lever action repeating rifle. Designed in 1860, this innovative design based on the Volcanic Repeating Pistol was one of the turning tides in the war between states. Touted as “the rifle you load and Sunday and shoot all week,” the Henry rifle put the firepower of ten riflemen in the hands of one soldier. Although the rifle was designed a year before the war started, it wasn’t until 1863 the Union Army was approved to start purchasing the Henry rifles. Essentially the Henry Rifle played a huge part in restoring order to the nation and ending the darkest era of American history.
Manufactured by the New Haven Arms Company, the Henry rifle evolved into the Winchester Model 1866. After the war, the push to settle the west was in full swing with cowpunchers, outlaws and lawmen. The one tool everyone seemed to favor was the Winchester lever action rifle. Coined the gun “the gun that won the west,” the Winchester further evolved to one of the most used hunting rifles ever created while the design distanced itself from the Henry name year after year. Sadly, today’s version of the Winchester is made in Japan instead of its beloved United States.
The Modern Henry Rifle
In 1993, Louis Imperato started a factory in his hometown of Brooklyn, New York under the recreated name, Henry Repeating Arms Company. The new company’s mission was to make high quality, affordable .22 rifles in the form of lever action, bolt and pump action designs. Now under the leadership of Anthony Imperato, the company offers a wide range of calibers and rifles based off the same simple three designs. Perhaps the most important and highly stressed feature of these new Henry rifles is the fact they are made in the United States. The company motto even goes so far as to say: “Made in America or not at all!”
True to their beginnings, the company’s bread and butter are their second-to-none American crafted .22 rifles. The Henry Repeating Arms Company has not been without their troubles, but has shown they are survivors. Shortly after the Imperato family moved the company to Bayonne, New Jersey, the factory was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in October of 2012 as the massive storm ravaged the coast of the eastern United States. After a brief revival of the Brooklyn plant, the company was able to properly get settled into New Jersey once again.
In the late 1990s, my father and I decided to purchase a pair of lever action .22 rifles to plink in the back yard with. It was love at first sight and continues to be a tradition held by my family to this day with over a dozen rifles owned by the total Swanson clan at this point. Going with the robust 20” octagon barrel of the company’s brass framed Golden Boy series, the Golden Boy Silver was produced with a nickel plating rather than brass finish. After admiring this model for some time now on the Henry website as model H004S, I had to try one. After a few emails, back and forth with the friendly folks at Henry Repeating Arms corporate office, I was able to land a test sample within a couple of weeks.
Once the test sample arrived at my local gun shop, I immediately drove down to admire its clean lines and classic appearance. If you have never held a .22 lever action rifle from Henry, I will do my best to describe it. Retailing at around $599 US, it is not the most cutting edge high tech design. It’s not a tacti-cool .22 caliber AR platform rifle with 30 round detachable magazine. It’s far from it! These days, those are a dime a dozen and leave little to the imagination. What a Henry rifle “IS” falls more in line as that pause everyone on the side walk takes when a beautifully restored classic car rolls through the intersection on a Sunday afternoon. Style and classic innovation come to mind when you hold a Henry rifle and the Golden Boy Silver rifle was no different.
Measuring 38.5 inches in total length, the rifle offers a sturdy, compact rifle that drives from target to target when shooting a gallery of targets with the upmost ease. Unlike its Winchester cousin, the Henry stays true to its roots with the lack of a loading gate on the side of the receiver. As with the original Henry rifles, loading is done by means of a cut out towards the muzzle end of the magazine tube. Maximum capacity of the Golden Boy Silver model with .22 Shorts is 21 rounds or 16 rounds for those who prefer the harder hitting .22 LR.
Although I am a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to classic firearms, I really appreciate Henry taking a cue from the Winchester evolution of the rifle by adding a wood forearm to their design. This allows for a more forward position of the support hand and prevents burned fingers over long strings of shooting. The rich American walnut stock and forearm has a deep stain set off by the dark bluing of the barrel and beautiful nickeled receiver, butt plate and matching barrel band. It wasn’t until the first time I gathered the rifle and my hunting gear together, I noticed the stock’s grain and finish perfectly matched my hand built hunting knife from Two Rivers Knife Co. The way these items looked together could only make me smile. Combined with a beautiful and ultra-soft Native American leather rifle sheath from Northwest Traders (www.nwtrader.com), it was love at first sight to say the least. For over 15 years or more, the Henry lever action line of rifles has proved itself to not just me but my family as well in accuracy, reliability, and durability time and time again. I couldn’t wait to shoot this rifle to say the least.
Never one to let a new firearm sit around and collect dust, the rain held off long enough for me to spend the next morning on a private range. I loaded the Henry rifle up with my favorite load from CCI in the form of their mini-mag ammunition. As I leveled the rifle to send the first 16 rounds down range to check the sights, I was very pleased with the “heft” and balance. Despite the weight of the barrel, the rifle’s overall weight of 6.75 lbs was distributed comfortably between my support hand and shoulder when shooting. After working the butter smooth action to chamber a round, the lever locked back in place and with slightly less than 5 lbs of pressure on the trigger, the first shot rang out. The brass bead of the front sight lined up quickly with the white diamond in the center of the semi-buckhorn rear sight. I rapidly worked the action and sent two more shots 10 yards down range towards the small red bulls-eye target. All 3 shots could be covered with a dime but were about an inch and a half low. A quick elevation adjustment to the rear sight and the next 3 shots punched a single jagged clover leaf hole in the center of the target.
Once the rifle was sighted in, the next round was a bit more challenging and fun. I decided to start shooting playing cards affixed to the target. One by one, I focused on the various suites and attempted to place a round through a heart, spade, diamond or club. With a bit of drift in my shots as the round total started to reach around 50 – 60, I quickly wiped out the barrel with my trusty Bore-Snake by Hoppe’s 9 and I was back on target.
While not a substitute for a complete break down and cleaning with a traditional rod and jags, the Bore-Snake is a caliber specific, rope infused with brass bristles. Basically the user drops the brass weighted smaller end down the barrel from the chamber end and pulls the increasing diameter Bore-Snake through from the muzzle end. The Bore-Snake scrub and wipe build up out of the chamber and bore on the go. When shooting lead and copper, this is a great piece of equipment to keep with your favorite frequently shot firearm.
To move things out and take advantage of the Golden Boy Silver rifle’s great balance, I decided to shoot a bit off hand at distance. Setting up a few 3 inch metal spinner targets by Champion Targets, I was able to “ring steel” within 3 shots at 50 yards. As with other Henry .22 caliber model rifles I have shot in the past, this one is very capable to hold “minute of squirrel” out to 75 yards using quality ammunition and a steady rest.
A Friend for Life
So called “experts” have filled shelves full of books describing how to shoot properly and which firearms are the best, but it’s this writer’s opinion, you don’t just shoot a Henry rifle, you experience it! How many books have that to say about their “perfect” firearm? The Golden Boy Silver by Henry Repeating Arms Company is another in fantastic line of rifles which all serve as a great way to teach a new shooter the skills needed to safely enjoy firearms and to constantly offer new challenges to more experienced ones.
One great example is the “Slicing the Deck” challenge my father and I have enjoyed for years. Starting with placing two playing cards 3 feet apart with just the edge of each card visible, the shooters fire at their assigned card to see who can split their card in half first. As a testimony to all of Henry’s .22 rifles, this trick has been done time and time again by our family with every one of the rifles in their catalogue. Learning this skill building challenge will not only sharpen your abilities but provide hours of fun that can be used for family entertainment or team building events.
If you have noticed a “family” theme in this review, that’s because the core of all Henry’s products is to continue the proud traditions and wholesome values the shooting culture provides their family to yours. There have been countless hours and thousands of rounds spent on the range with our ever growing our family over the years having fun and bonding with Henry Repeating Arms rifles. Just the past 3 years alone have seen the birth of our daughter Betsy Grace and her baby sister, Emma Rose to my wife, Candace and I, ensuring another generation will join in that fun. I’m not sure what age our daughters will take an interest in shooting their first shots, but I can tell you that when it happens, there is a Henry rifle waiting for them. If you’re an avid shooter or just a devoted family man interested in finding a great past time for your loved ones, check out Henry Repeating Arms’ line of rifles and logo gear www.henryusa.com and 1800GunsAndAmmo.com to order your Henry rifle adventure.