THE NEW ORIG­I­NAL HENRY RARE CAR­BINE

THE “AS­SAULT RI­FLE” OF THE OLD WEST

Gun World - - Contents - By Jeff Quinn

A Con­fed­er­ate gen­eral called it “the ri­fle you could load on Sun­day and shoot all week.” Henry Re­peat­ing Arms Com­pany’s “New Orig­i­nal” is true to the 1860 pat­tern lever-ac­tion—the “as­sault ri­fle” of the Old West.

The his­tory of the most Amer­i­can of any ri­fle de­sign be­gins with two of the most-fa­mous names in re­volver his­tory: Daniel Wes­son and Ho­race Smith. Their ef­forts in de­vel­op­ing the Vol­canic Re­peater, a lever-ac­tion pis­tol, led to the de­vel­op­ment of the Henry lever-ac­tion ri­fle—the pre­de­ces­sor of the Winch­ester legacy.

The team of Smith and Wes­son pa­tented the tog­gle-link ac­tion in 1854. It was used in the Henry and early Winch­esters, in­clud­ing Mod­els 1866, 1873 and 1876 ri­fles. When the Vol­canic Re­peat­ing Arms Com­pany folded, it left a Con­necti­cut shirt-maker and ma­jor in­vestor named Oliver Winch­ester hold­ing what was left of the in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty and tool­ing.

FROM MAK­ING SHIRTS TO BUILD­ING RI­FLES

When Oliver Winch­ester took over con­trol of the Vol­canic Arms Com­pany in late 1856, he moved the op­er­a­tion to New Haven, Con­necti­cut. He did two things that would al­ter the his­tory of firearms in the world: He changed the name of the com­pany to The New Haven Arms Com­pany, and he hired Ben­jamin Tyler Henry as his shop fore­man.

Henry had worked with the ba­sic de­sign ear­lier, hav­ing been shop fore­man in the Rob­bins & Lawrence fac­tory and pro­duc­ing the Jen­nings de­sign. Henry went to work on im­prov­ing the Smith & Wes­son Vol­canic de­sign to fire a .44-cal­iber rim­fire car­tridge. Oliver Winch­ester was so im­pressed with the im­prove­ments de­signed by B.T. Henry that he named the ri­fle af­ter him; and the Henry Ri­fle was born.

THE HENRY GOES TO WAR

The Henry ri­fle was a real game-changer. There were other re­peat­ing ri­fles and car­bines in­tro­duced about the same time, such as the Spencer (which was built in much higher num­bers and adopted by the Union Army), but it had a lower ca­pac­ity and a slower rate of fire. The Henry was never of­fi­cially adopted by the United States Army. How­ever, when the Army headed south and in­vaded The Con­fed­er­ate States of Amer­ica, many Henry ri­fles were pur­chased by well-fi­nanced in­di­vid­ual sol­diers, and a few units had sev­eral in their pos­ses­sion dur­ing the war.

The Confederates re­ferred to the Henry as “that damn Yan­kee ri­fle that you load on Sun­day and shoot all week.” It held 16+1 car­tridges; to put that into con­text, the Army stan­dard is­sue at the time was still a sin­gle-shot muz­zle-loader. The sol­dier

with a Henry could fire all 16 rounds about as fast as (if not faster than) a sol­dier with a muz­zle-loader could reload and get off a sec­ond shot. The Henry was the as­sault ri­fle of its day.

It was ex­pen­sive to make and ex­pen­sive to pur­chase, but it was rev­o­lu­tion­ary in its rate of sus­tained fire com­pared to the muz­zle-load­ing mus­kets in use by both armies dur­ing the War Be­tween the States.

THE CAR­TRIDGE

The Henry ri­fle fired a rim­fire car­tridge com­monly known as the .44 Henry, or .44 Henry Flat. Al­though other loads were pro­duced, most com­mon was a 216-grain bul­let of .446-inch di­am­e­ter loaded with black pow­der to ap­prox­i­mately 1,125 fps.

Com­pared to a mil­i­tary mus­ket ball of the era, the .44 Henry car­tridge was not too im­pres­sive. How­ever, hav­ing 16 of them in the mag­a­zine al­lowed an in­fantry­man to lay down a lot of fire­power. And, in a war sit­u­a­tion, a wound will take a man out of the fight, along with who­ever has to as­sist that wounded sol­dier off of the bat­tle­field.

THE CONFEDERATES

RE­FERRED TO THE HENRY AS “THAT DAMN

YAN­KEE RI­FLE THAT YOU LOAD ON SUN­DAY AND SHOOT ALL WEEK.”

The Henry ri­fle was a hit among sol­diers who had ac­cess to them. Af­ter the war, as with the weapons used by sol­diers in any war, the Henry tran­si­tioned well to civil­ian life.

HENRY GOES WEST

Af­ter the war was over and the dust had set­tled, many gun man­u­fac­tur­ers folded shop. With sur­plus Spencers and other re­peat­ing ri­fles avail­able as cheap war sur­plus, many com­pa­nies just could not com­pete.

The Henry sur­vived. It played a sig­nif­i­cant role in the set­tling of the Amer­i­can West fol­low­ing the war.

For those who could af­ford one, it of­fered a lot of fire­power, com­pared to other read­ily avail­able weapons. Along with other Winch­ester lev­er­guns, the Henry played a role in the de­feat of Custer’s 7th Cal­vary at the Bat­tle of the Lit­tle Big Horn in June 1876. By that time, Winch­ester ri­fles had been up­graded with King’s patents for an im­proved mag­a­zine and the ad­di­tion of a load­ing gate, but the Henry still served well on the bat­tle­field in the hands of the Amer­i­can In­di­ans—as it con­tin­ued to do with farm­ers, ranch­ers and oth­ers who headed West dur­ing the lat­ter part of the 19th cen­tury.

A man or woman alone on the prairie needed fire­power in the face of fight­ing off en­e­mies—of­ten out­num­bered, with­out a friend for sev­eral miles. Be­ing able to fire a rapid suc­ces­sion of lethal shots was a mat­ter of life and death. While no pow­er­house, the Henry was also used to take game for the pot. The Henry ac­tion proved smooth and re­li­able and of­ten meant the dif­fer­ence be­tween abun­dance and star­va­tion.

THE HENRY TO­DAY

The Henry Re­peat­ing Arms (HRA) Com­pany made a name for it­self in the lat­ter part of the 20th cen­tury and con­tin­ues to do so thus far in the 21st. HRA has been pro­duc­ing firearms for two decades now. It was ini­tially es­tab­lished in Brook­lyn, New York, and is now head­quar­tered in Bay­onne, New Jer­sey, with an­other man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­ity in Rice Lake, Wis­con­sin. Henry ex­cels at mak­ing smooth-run­ning .22 rim­fire lev­er­guns.

While other Amer­i­can man­u­fac­tur­ers have given up on .22 lev­er­gun pro­duc­tion, Henry Re­peat­ing Arms has stepped in to fill that gap that des­per­ately needed fill­ing. It now also makes some ex­cel­lent cen­ter­fire lever-ac­tion ri­fles cham­bered for the .327, .357, .41 and .44 Mag­num car­tridges; .45 Colt; .223, .243, .308, .30-30 and .45-70 car­tridges; as well as a Mare’s Leg pis­tol, in both rim­fire and cen­ter­fire ver­sions.

MADE IN AMER­ICA ... OR NOT MADE AT ALL

The slo­gan of Henry Re­peat­ing Arms is, “Made in Amer­ica or Not Made At All.” That phi­los­o­phy is re­flected in both the prod­ucts and the at­ti­tudes of those run­ning the com­pany. I have many times had the plea­sure of meet­ing with top ex­ec­u­tives of Henry Re­peat­ing Arms and have never met a finer bunch of pa­tri­otic Amer­i­cans any­where in the in­dus­try. They build their ri­fles, pis­tols and shot­guns us­ing Amer­i­can la­bor and with Amer­i­can wal­nut, brass and steel, and they take great pride in do­ing so.

A few years ago, HRA started pro­duc­ing its “The New Orig­i­nal Henry” ri­fle. While to­day there are mod­ern pro­duc­tion meth­ods avail­able that could have cut pro­duc­tion costs—such as mak­ing the mag­a­zine tube and bar­rel from sep­a­rate pieces of steel—Henry didn’t take those short­cuts. It pro­duced the “The New Orig­i­nal Henry” as it should be pro­duced: made from ma­te­ri­als su­pe­rior to those of the 19th-cen­tury orig­i­nals but build­ing the ri­fles true to form.

While the orig­i­nal Henry ri­fles of the 1860s were cham­bered for the .44 Henry Rim­fire car­tridge, that car­tridge is long out of pro­duc­tion. As a re­sult, the folks at Henry Re­peat­ing Arms had to make an adap­tion ... by se­lect­ing the next best thing. The New Orig­i­nal Henry Rare Car­bine is cham­bered for the cen­ter­fire car­tridge .44-40 Winch­ester (orig­i­nally called the .44 Winch­ester or the .44 WCF [Winch­ester Cen­ter Fire]). How­ever, com­peti­tors didn’t want “Winch­ester” marked on their am­mu­ni­tion, so they called it “.44-40,” and the name stuck, with only the me­chan­i­cal changes needed to fire the newer car­tridge. The .44-40 was in­tro­duced by Winch­ester, along with the 1873 Winch­ester ri­fle, and has en­dured the test of time, be­ing pop­u­lar for many years as a ri­fle and hand­gun car­tridge. Most am­mu­ni­tion sell­ers to­day er­ro­neously list the .44-40 as a hand­gun car­tridge, and it is frus­trat­ing to look on­line for the am­mu­ni­tion listed un­der ri­fle car­tridges—where it should be—only to find it usu­ally listed un­der the hand­gun am­mu­ni­tion sec­tion. How­ever, the .44-40 was in­tro­duced in 1873 as a ri­fle car­tridge. It has a slightly bot­tle-necked de­sign, and it will al­ways be a ri­fle car­tridge, even though it works well when fired from a re­volver.

THE SOL­DIER WITH A HENRY COULD FIRE ALL 16 ROUNDS ABOUT AS FAST AS (IF NOT FASTER THAN) A SOL­DIER WITH A MUZ­ZLE-LOADER COULD RELOAD AND GET OFF A SEC­OND SHOT. THE HENRY WAS THE AS­SAULT RI­FLE OF ITS DAY.

I presently own both the brass-framed and the beau­ti­fully fin­ished, case-col­ored “iron frame” mod­els of Henry’s “New Orig­i­nal Henry” ri­fles, but I was anx­ious to try out the hand­ier Rare Car­bine ver­sion fea­tured here.

The car­bine has a bar­rel that is about 4 inches shorter than the ri­fle ver­sion; this makes the car­bine a bit eas­ier to han­dle while still hav­ing a mag­a­zine tube that ac­com­mo­dates 10 car­tridges. The car­bine ver­sion is also about a half-pound lighter than the ri­fle ver­sion, which is a wel­come fea­ture on the car­bine that still weighs in at 8.5 pounds on my scale. The over­all length of the New Orig­i­nal Henry Rare Car­bine is only 39.5 inches, and it bal­ances right at the front of the re­ceiver (note: The New Orig­i­nal Henry brass-framed model is also avail­able in .45 Colt).

The Rare Car­bine ver­sion is pro­duced only with the hard­ened brass re­ceiver, which is su­pe­rior to the brass used one and a half cen­turies ago, and has the same ten­sile strength as mod­ern steel. The one-piece bar­rel/mag­a­zine tube is fin­ished in beau­ti­ful, deep-blued, pol­ished steel. The fold­ing lad­der rear and blade front sights are quick and easy to see. Other parts, such as the blued-steel ham­mer, trig­ger and lever, con­trast nicely with the pol­ished-brass re­ceiver and cres­cent

buttplate, and the highly fig­ured wal­nut stock is drop-dead gor­geous. In this era of black plas­tic stocks and painted me­tal, the fit, fin­ish and ma­te­ri­als used on this Henry car­bine are like a breath of pure moun­tain air in a crowded sub­way tun­nel.

While do­ing what I do for a liv­ing, most ri­fle boxes I open con­tain ri­fles that are as cold and black as a politi­cian’s heart, but lift­ing the lid on this Henry box spurred a few mo­ments of pure de­light. The beauty and el­e­gance of a firearm such as this are truly rare among to­day’s stamped, cast and molded mod­ern firearms. This replica of 19th-cen­tury ord­nance is very re­fresh­ing. But, as with any ri­fle worth its salt, the proof is in the shoot­ing.

THE AM­MU­NI­TION

Feed­ing this Henry or any other ri­fle cham­bered for the .44-40 presents no prob­lems. The car­tridge was de­signed for smooth feed­ing, and there is no smoother lever ac­tion than the orig­i­nal tog­gle-link de­sign pi­o­neered 16 decades ago. This am­mu­ni­tion is avail­able in both tar­get-shoot­ing type and hunt­ing-/fight­ing-type loads.

I ac­quired some of each and also used a mod­er­ate hand­load of Tite­group pow­der un­der a cast lead bul­let. Black Hills Am­mu­ni­tion pro­duces some fine-shoot­ing tar­get loads, which are fa­vored among com­pet­i­tive shoot­ers, and I laid in a sup­ply of the ex­cel­lent Buf­falo Bore fullpow­ered am­mu­ni­tion for the heav­ier loads.

SHOTS FIRED

Shoot­ing the Orig­i­nal Henry Rare Car­bine was a real plea­sure. Re­coil is mild, even with the fullpow­ered Buf­falo Bore am­mu­ni­tion. The weight of the car­bine ab­sorbs re­coil very well. The trig­ger was crisp and pre­cise, re­leas­ing with just un­der 4 pounds of re­sis­tance. I fired the Henry on pa­per to mea­sure ac­cu­racy at dis­tances of 25 and then 50 yards. I rested the car­bine atop a Tar­get Shoot­ing, Inc. Model 500 ri­fle rest, and ac­cu­racy was lim­ited only by my vi­sion. There is no easy way to mount a scope atop this Henry, but us­ing the ad­justable rear sight was suf­fi­cient—and au­then­tic.

De­pend­ing on the am­mu­ni­tion, the Rare Car­bine could place its shot on the 50-yard tar­get very well, with an av­er­age for five five-shot groups at 2.03 inches from all six loads tested. I was well-sat­is­fied with the ac­cu­racy per­for­mance of the Henry, be­cause that is as good as I can do with open sights when shoot­ing any ri­fle.

As ex­pected, func­tion­ing was flaw­less. Car­tridges fed from the 10-round mag­a­zine smoothly and fired with­out a hitch. Ejec­tion was also flaw­less. Henry—both orig­i­nal de­signer Ben­jamin Henry and Henry Re­peat­ing Arms—got this one right.

The New Orig­i­nal Henry Rare Car­bine is a ver­sion of the Henry that should have been built 16 decades ago but never was. All of its de­scen­dants were built in car­bine ver­sions, but never the Henry ... un­til now. GW Black Hills 200-grain Round­nose Flat­point lead ammo per­forms out­stand­ingly and comes in a cool, retro, Old West-style box.

I

The highly fig­ured, fancy-grade Amer­i­can wal­nut stock is drop-dead gor­geous.

The Henry has a bar­rel-band blade front sight.

The beau­ti­fully pol­ished brass re­ceiver is made of spe­cially for­mu­lated hard­ened brass and has the ten­sile strength of mod­ern steel.

The .44-40 (left) is usu­ally mis­taken fora pis­tol car­tridge but is, in fact, a ri­fle car­tridge. Note the sub­tle bot­tle­neck com­pared to thestraight-walled .45 Colt. The first re­volver cham­beredin .44-40—the Colt Fron­tier SixShooter—didn’tcome out un­til 1878. (Photo: RobbMan­ning)

The tog­gle-link ac­tion is about as smooth-feed­ing as it gets.

The clas­sic lad­der rear sight is flipped up for long-range shoot­ing. (Photo: Robb Man­ning)I

The au­then­tic, old-style ham­mer pro­vides re­li­able ig­ni­tion. In the half­cock po­si­tion (shown here), it serves as asafety.

The author, fir­ing the Henry Orig­i­nal Rare Car­bineI

The clas­sic lad­der­style rear sight in the“down” po­si­tion.

The tog­gle-link ac­tion: Cy­cling the lever for­ward ejects a spent case (if there’s one in the cham­ber) and cocks the ham­mer, and the mag­a­zine spring forces the next round into po­si­tion on the fol­lower. When the lever is cy­cled back, the fresh round is cham­bered, and the breech is closed.

Like all Henry Re­peat­ing Arms firearms, this Rare Car­bine is “Made in Amer­ica or Not Made at All.” (Photo: RobbMan­ning)

The lever lock can be twisted 90 de­grees so that it locks the lever in place. Here,it is shown in the “un­locked” po­si­tion.

To load, press the brass fol­lower all the way for­ward and then turn the bar­rel sleeve clock­wise, as shown. The Rare Car­bine holds 10 rounds of .44-40. (Photo: Robb Man­ning)

Buf­falo Bore Am­mu­ni­tion is both pow­er­ful and ac­cu­rate.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.