The Hobby Gunsmith

Product Test-

Henry Big Boy and Golden Boy

The original Henry repeating rifle had a long and excellent history.  This first successful lever action repeating rifle entered into production by Oliver Winchester's New Haven Arms Company in 1862, which was just in time to be used in the Civil War.

   The Henry was named after Benjamin Tyler Henry who was responsible for redesigning the Jennings rifle and ammunition for Oliver Winchester.  The gun fired a newly designed .44 rimfire cartridge that was loaded into the magazine tube at the end of the barrel by retracting a spring loaded cartridge follower and then twisting the end of the magazine tube to open the end of the tube.  With the end of the magazine tube opened, the ammunition could be slid backwards into the magazine tube.  The original Henry became known as the rifle you could load on Sunday and shoot all week.

   Most Henry rifles were built with a brass receiver, but some were built with iron receivers.  The gun served well during the Civil War and the name of the company was changed to the Henry Repeating Arms Company in 1865 and changed again in 1866 to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company .

   The last official duty of the Henry rifle was to be a transition rifle for the model 1866 that entered production in 1867.  The original Henry design was improved by Nelson King by adding a loading gate to the right side of the frame.  It is believed that only a limited number of Henry rifles with loading gates were made in 1866.

   The Winchester identity took hold of the lever action rifle market and the 1894 Winchester is still in production today.  The original Henry rifle is still being reproduced by Italian arms companies that specialize in reproduction firearms.

   The new Henry Repeating Arms Company specializes in manufacturing modern lever-action firearms that retain some of heritage of the original Henry rifle.  The company's Golden Boy is a full-size brass framed .22 caliber lever-action rifle that is well know for its fine craftsmanship.

  The newest member of the Henry family is the Big Boy in .44 magnum caliber.  The Hobby Gunsmith had an opportunity to test both the Big Boy and the Golden Boy.  Figure 1 shows the Big Boy and the Golden boy together as a matched pair.

Figure 1.

   A careful examination of the Big Boy reveals a very modern lever action gun design that retains some similarities with its namesake.  The receiver, butt plate, and the forearm ring are made of brass while the barrel is a heavy octagon with rich bluing. 

   The highly polished brass receiver has no loading port on the side.  The magazine is loaded by slightly twisting the knurled  magazine end cap and sliding the follower assembly out of the magazine.  The cartridges are placed in the cartridge hole in the magazine tube where they slide down toward the receiver.  The loading port on the magazine tube can be seen in Figure 2.  Its cartridge shape reveals the brass magazine follower tube and looks a bit like a bullet attached to the tube.

Figure 2.

   The brass receiver tends to resemble the Winchester Model 1866 from a distance, but the top of the receiver is solid and the ejection port is on the right side.  This arrangement is similar to the Marlin lever guns and helps to prevent cartridges from stove-piping out through the top of the action.

   The bolt is round and resembles the bolt on the AWA Lightning.  The round bolt is guided by a slot recessed on each side of the bolt.  The action is a bit stiff and several distinct links and safety mechanisms can be felt as the lever is cycled. 

   I attribute the stiff action to the newness and the very tight fit of the parts.  In addition, the springs in the Big Boy are smooth and strong to make the gun dependable during most any weather condition while hunting.

   The Big Boy came with very nice wood and the fit was excellent.  I did notice the wood is very slightly raised above the surface of the metal, but the fit between the wood and metal show no visible flaws.  This is one of the best fitted guns I have had the pleasure of handling.

   This height difference between the metal and wood is so slight and consistent throughout the various parts that I feel it was intentional to either allow for future slight shrinkage of the wood.

   One thing that initially bothered me was the shape of the forearm stock.  The new Henry has a forearm stock that is a little heavier than other lever guns between the receiver and the forearm stock retaining ring, but it is a little on the thin side as the stock progresses forward of the brass ring. 

   The thickness of the stock makes the Henry Big Boy look a little bulky at first glance, but the thicker stock became more welcome as I began shooting.  The thickness of the wood prevents the shooter from burning fingers on the barrel while shooting blackpowder loads that tend to heat the barrel.  Another feature of the thicker wood is that it allows the brass ring to be better revealed without putting it where the fingers will hit the ring during the recoil of a .44 magnum load.

Figure 3.

   Figure 3 shows the brass forearm stock ring on the Big Boy and the thicker than normal stock, which is thinner in front of the ring.  The semi-buckhorn sights are clearly visible in the photos.

   The .22 Henry Golden Boy that we tested was very similar to the Big Boy.  The Golden Boy enjoys an excellent reputation as a high-quality rifle, and is the only .22 long rifle I have shot that does not feel like a toy.  In fact, it feels just like a 92 Winchester with an octagon barrel.  The biggest differences between the two test guns are in the smaller caliber, the blued forearm stock ring, and the more consistent forearm stock dimensions.

   The overall impressions of the testers of these guns is that they were two of the most attractive and well-built lever guns we have seen.  Both guns had the unmistakable feel of quality and reliability. 

   The shooters who tested it thought it was a well-built rifle that would belong in their collection.  The tester who normally uses a 73 Winchester did not like the stiffness of the action.  This test gun will probably be pulled apart to see if the stiffness can be smoothed to make the Big Boy feel closer to the remarkably smooth Golden Boy.

  To the Range

   We took the two guns to the Manteca Sportsman's club for field testing.  We even took a twelve year-old boy out for his first time shooting a gun to get his impression of the Golden Boy.

   Our testing of the Big Boy was not very fair because we were only able to obtain some .44 special cowboy loads with semi-wadcutter lead bullets.  The Big Boy did not like the bullets and they tended to get angled and jam while feeding.  The few magnum loads we took with round nose flat tipped lead seemed to feed very well. We plan to test the gun further with better ammunition before arriving at a final judgment on the feeding issues.

Figure 4.

   Figure 4 shows the Big Boy at the range.   Despite the stiffness of the action, there was little discomfort in cycling it without padding the lever.  The photo shows a single smoking cartridge being ejected out the right side.  Cartridge ejection did not throw empty cartridges around as we have seen with other guns.  The empties were found in a pile at the feet of the shooter, which makes brass  retrieval much easier.

Figure 5.

   The Henry Big Boy shoots well for a gun right out of the box.  The gun feels very solid and stable while shooting and the heavy barrel will be liked by many shooters.

   The Golden boy makes the perfect gun for inexpensive practicing.  The .22 caliber gun does not have the feel of a small caliber rifle with its full-length octagon barrel.  The lever action was as smooth as silk and the gun feels much like a race-ready Winchester 92.

Figure 6.

   We let a young shooter try the Golden Boy, but it turned out to be a little large and he would  have been better off with one of the guns intended for young shooters.  It was the adults who tried the Golden Boy and came to appreciate the fun of the .22 long rifle ammunition in a full-size rifle.  The Golden Boy will find itself pressed into service a lot as I make the transition between dry firing and handling a real rifle for speed.  Not having to pick up the brass will be a real plus.

   I would be remiss if I failed to point out that the Henry Big Boy repeating rifle has not been accepted for use by the Single Action Shooting Society for the Cowboy Action Shooting matches conducted under their rules.  The organization did not vote to accept the gun, but neither did they vote to reject it. 

   Although the gun cannot be used in a state or regional match, it may be used in local club matches if the local club allows it.  I have two local clubs that will allow me to shoot this gun at matches and I will report next month on how the gun was accepted at a match.