The Ri­fle That’ll Get You Home

RECOIL OFFGRID - - Front Page - By Mike Sear­son

One of the most iconic “sur­vival ri­fles” or “prep­per ri­fles” of the past 60 years has been given a face-lift and em­bed­ded into a sur­vival kit of its own by Henry Re­peat­ing Arms. The ri­fle in ques­tion is the AR-7, and it’s cur­rently man­u­fac­tured as the Henry U.S. Sur­vival AR-7.

You may have seen it in its orig­i­nal form in one of three James Bond movies — From Rus­sia With Love, Goldfin­ger, and On Her Majesty’s Se­cret Ser­vice — or heard about it from some­one who owned one over the past six decades since its in­cep­tion. That can be good or bad, de­pend­ing upon the par­tic­u­lar ri­fle in ques­tion. The lat­est ver­sion from Henry ap­pears to have greatly im­proved upon the ba­sic model.


De­signed in the 1950s by Eu­gene Stoner of Ar­malite, the AR-7 Ex­plorer was based heav­ily upon Stoner’s ear­lier de­sign known as the AR-5. The AR-5 was a take-down bolt-ac­tion ri­fle cham­bered in .22 Hor­net, in­tended as an air­crew sur­vival ri­fle for downed pi­lots.

The con­tract was filled, but the ri­fle was never is­sued to the Air Force be­cause they had plenty of M4 and M6 Air­crew ri­fles in in­ven­tory. Most were given to U.S. For­est Ser­vice types.

The tool­ing at the plant al­lowed Ar­malite to de­velop the take-down con­cept as a semi­au­to­matic .22 LR ri­fle for civil­ian sales. Al­most all of the parts ex­cept the bar­rel liner and take-down screw were alu­minum.

Stoner’s goal for the AR-7 was to have a ri­fle that could be dis­as­sem­bled into four com­po­nents: ac­tion, magazine, bar­rel, and stock. Ad­di­tion­ally, these com­po­nents could be stored in­side the butt­stock.

The orig­i­nal ver­sion was a com­pletely Mil-spec ri­fle, when the term truly meant some­thing. How­ever, con­trary to pop­u­lar opin­ion, the U.S. Air Force never adopted it, much like they never adopted the AR-5. There were three ba­sic vari­ants, based on the color of the stock: brown/ or­ange, swirly camo, and black. The ri­fles were first sold in 1959.

In 1973, Ar­malite sold the de­sign of the AR-7 to Char­ter Arms, which pro­duced the ri­fle un­til the mid 1990s. They re­tained the ba­sic black ver­sion and added vari­ants in wood­land camo and a hard chrome-plated ver­sion, known as the AR-7S.

By 1995 or so, the ri­fle was made by Sur­vival Arms of Co­coa, Florida, which we be­lieve was a re­brand­ing of a divi­sion within Char­ter to set them off from the par­ent com­pany. Around 1998, the ri­fles were made by AR-7 In­dus­tries, LLC of Meri­den, Connecticut, and a year or two later by Henry Re­peat­ing Arms Co. of New York. We've heard that Ar­malite bought out AR-7 In­dus­tries in 2004, but have yet to see a new AR-7 man­u­fac­tured by them.

Henry’s Changes

A few sig­nif­i­cant changes were made by Henry Re­peat­ing Arms to the orig­i­nal AR-7 de­sign. The big­gest was made to the stock. Rather than us­ing a slick fiber­glass de­sign as found on the orig­i­nal, Henry added a more tex­tured matte fin­ish, with grooves in the grip area that of­fer im­proved han­dling char­ac­ter­is­tics. They re­designed the in­side to store three mag­a­zines in­stead of one, with the third left in the magazine well.

Orig­i­nal AR-7s fea­tured an alu­minum bar­rel with a steel liner for weight re­duc­tion pur­poses. Henry opted for a plas­tic-cov­ered steel bar­rel. The front sight is a high-vis­i­bil­ity plas­tic or­ange insert that we found more ef­fec­tive than the orig­i­nal metal blade sights, par­tic­u­larly when shoot­ing as the sun was go­ing down.

Lastly, they added a rail for the user to mount a scope as an op­tion. It’s a 22 tip-of f type, not a Pi­catinny rail, and if you de­cide to add op­tics we recommend you leave the ri­fle in its as­sem­bled con­di­tion as op­posed to tak­ing it down, be­cause you’ll lose your zero.

Range Test

When shoot­ing an AR-7, the shooter needs to keep in mind it isn’t a bench-rest pre­ci­sion ri­fle. It was de­signed as a last-ditch bug-out or get-home ri­fle, mostly in­tended for tak­ing small game, prized for its abil­ity to be stored and car­ried in a small pack­age. We de­cided to run it side by side with an orig­i­nal Ar­malite model. As men­tioned pre­vi­ously, we’ve al­ways felt Ar­malite was the best man­u­fac­turer for decades.

Dur­ing our test and eval­u­a­tion we used three ammo types: CCI High Ve­loc­ity, Gemtech Sub­sonic, and CCI Mini-Mag High Ve­loc­ity Landry edi­tion. We had a few mal­func­tions with the Gemtech sub­sonic when used in the Ar­malite ver­sion. We had none, how­ever, with the Henry. The other two CCI am­mu­ni­tion types func­tioned flaw­lessly in both ri­fles.

Ac­cu­racy was another story. The Ar­malite AR-7 shot much big­ger groups at the same dis­tances. At 50 yards they were over 3.5 inches and at 25 yards about 2.75 inches with both am­mu­ni­tion types. Poor er­gonomics, a 40 -plus-year-old bar­rel that has seen a lot of shoot­ing, and a heavy trig­ger are all cul­prits here.

We shot the best groups with Henry’s AR-7 with the CCI HV am­mu­ni­tion — three eight-shot groups, mea­sur­ing from 1.25 to 2.45 inches at 50 yards.

These groups could eas­ily be tight­ened up with a rim­fire ri­fle scope mounted to the rail. Note that if you break the ri­fle down, you’ll have to re­move the scope.

Henry’s trig­ger isn’t par­tic­u­larly heavy; we just found the take-up to be a bit longer. Again, it isn’t in­tended to be a match-grade ri­fle, it's a very min­i­mal­ist sur­vival gun.

The Kit

Given the fact that bush pi­lots in Alaska, the Is­raeli Air Force, boaters, campers, and truck driv­ers have been stow­ing these lit­tle ri­fles for decades, so can the modern prep­per. Since it was orig­i­nally in­tended as a sur­vival tool for pi­lots, Henry re­cently em­bel­lished its of­fer­ing to in­clude some other im­ple­ments suited for a cri­sis to of­fer a "Sur­vival Pack."

In ad­di­tion to the ri­fle, the Sur­vival Pack ver­sion comes with a ny­lon bag made by Allen that stores the ri­fle bro­ken down as well as a starter sur­vival kit. In­cluded, among other things, is 100 feet of MIL-C-5040H Type III green camo para­cord.

In case you can’t find any small game to feed your­self, a Da­trex 1,000-calo­rie emer­gency food packet, con­tain­ing four 250 -calo­rie bars of all-nat­u­ral in­gre­di­ents, and sealed in a poly­mer foil pack­age, cer­ti­fied to stay fresh for a min­i­mum of five years, is also in­cluded.

While the Da­trex bars may be a bit of a nov­elty, another im­ple­ment Henry added to the Sur­vival Pack with a large de­gree of prac­ti­cal­ity is a Life Straw Per­sonal

Wa­ter Fil­ter rated to re­move 99.9 per­cent of wa­ter­borne pro­to­zoan par­a­sites and 99.9999 per­cent of wa­ter­borne bac­te­ria, from up to 264 gal­lons of wa­ter.

An ESEE Fire Steel is another part of the kit as well as an H&H My­lar Emer­gency Hy­pother­mia Blan­ket mea­sur­ing 84 by 56 inches.

Ad­di­tion­ally, Henry in­cluded a Buck Ri­val fold­ing knife with a 2.75-inch stain­less steel blade, black ny­lon han­dle, pocket clip, and a thumb stud for one-handed open­ing. While it may not be your first choice for a knife, it clips eas­ily to the in­side of the pouch, so you know it’ll be there if you need it and are other­wise separated from your typ­i­cal EDC knife or you need it to skin game.

As is typ­i­cally the case in an emer­gency, you or some­one you’re with may be in­jured. Rather than in­clude a worth­less 100 -piece first-aid kit with 99 ad­he­sive ban­dages and a cot­ton ball, Henry in­cluded a SWAT-T black stretch, wrap, and tuck tourni­quet that dou­bles as a pres­sure ban­dage and elas­tic cov­er­ing wrap.

We have to say that Henry in­cluded a very de­cent starter kit in a pack you can stow in your car, truck, boat, UTV, air­craft, or RV that takes up about the same space as a floor jack and is per­haps one-third the weight.

Fi­nal Thoughts

We've been fans of the con­cept of the AR-7 ri­fle for decades. They're use­ful, com­pact ri­fles, so long as you don't hold it to the stan­dards of a match-grade ri­fle or even a weekly plinker. Shoot it once a year, clean it, oil it, and put it back into stor­age so it’ll be ready in an emer­gency.

One of the fea­tures we would have liked to see in the 21st cen­tury ver­sion of this ri­fle is a threaded bar­rel in or­der to add a lightweight rim­fire sup­pres­sor. The con­cept of a sys­tem that in­cludes some prag­matic emer­gency items along with the ri­fle it­self is pretty cool though. We could ar­gue all day about what else Henry could've thrown in there, but the ad­di­tion of ammo, a small lighter, or a sig­nal­ing de­vice for pi­lots would've made it even cooler.

Poor qual­ity con­trol by other man­u­fac­tur­ers over the years cou­pled with mis­con­cep­tions about its pur­pose has sul­lied its name in some cir­cles, but there's some­thing to be said for the unique de­sign that has yet to fall out of fa­vor.

It’s an in­ex­pen­sive, mod­u­lar ri­fle that suits a va­ri­ety of pur­poses. And if the con­tents of the kit aren't your thing, you're free to build it out the way you want.

Here you can see Henry's lat­est ren­di­tion next to one of the orig­i­nal Ar­malite ver­sions.

A key fea­ture of the Henry AR-7 is that its com­po­nents can be dis­as­sem­bled and stored in­side the stock.

Now be­ing of­fered by Henry as a com­plete pack­age, the Sur­vival Pack in­cludes the ri­fle, two eightround mag­a­zines, para­cord, tourni­quet, my­lar space blan­ket, fire steel, Life Straw, Da­trex food bars, and a Buck fold­ing knife.

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