Henry .45-70 Side Gate
Lever Action

Beauty And Brawn For Serious Shooting
26

“That’s the stuff dreams are made of,” John Wayne whispered softly inside my cranium.

As a practicing Hopeless Romantic, I couldn’t help but think of John Wayne’s penultimate words from Big Jake as I opened the nondescript white cardboard box. I was definitely channeling Richard Boone’s bad-guy character “John Fain” while unsealing what I believed would be a treasure even better than the one found in the Sierra Madre.

Unlike Boone/Fain, I wasn’t confronted by piles of worthless newsprint, disappointment and a great comeback growled by The Duke. Instead I saw a golden glow, peeking from behind a black flannel wrap, coming from a singular lever-action rifle. Hoisting the fine metalwork and carefully finished walnut from the box, I couldn’t help but think about a 12-year-old budding writer who would have given his life savings — $12.95, mostly in nickels — and his lucky fishing pole to even touch such a special-looking firearm so steeped in the old west persona, if not history.

This gun actually inspired such a moment of wistfulness within an aging soul and I couldn’t wait to see if reality matched the dreams.

Two For One

The Side Gate Lever Action is one of the new models in the growing Henry portfolio, a reworking of their classic lever-action model. As fans of the Henry rifles are already aware, all of their previous guns sport removable-tube magazines which have both benefits and drawbacks. With this newest iteration, Henry has added the classic side-gate loading port typically found on Winchester rifles to leverage the advantages of both types of loading systems.

The new Side Gate Lever Action, packed with big-bore power and carbine-handling,
offers two ways to load — fast and faster!

From The Top

In 1860, after three years of work, Benjamin Tyler Henry unveiled the rifle bearing his name. It was a rimfire lever-action chambered for the .44 Henry black powder cartridge and held 16 shots. Shooting a 200-220-gr. cast lead bullet, the rifle was based on the earlier “Volcanic” rifle built by famed gunmakers Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson. The Volcanic was itself a modification of Lewis Jenning’s patented design which — you guessed it — was based on the earlier Volition Repeating Rifle designed by Walter Hunt of New York. Not ironically, the largest stockholder of the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company was one Oliver Winchester, who apparently learned a thing or two about rifle manufacturing in the process.

Winchester obviously went onto fame and fortune while the Henry rifle ended up in history’s dustbin of “almost.”

The Henry was adopted in small numbers by Union troops, particularly cavalry, in the civil war and later played a role in the Indian Wars of the western U.S. along with a few skirmishes overseas. Confederate General John Mosby is credited (among others) with saying “It’s that damn rifle they can load on Sunday and shoot all week.” Apparently many Native American warriors loaded their Henry rifles on Sunday, June 25, 1876 when they used them quite effectively at the Battle of Little Bighorn over the next two days.

The doors at the New Haven Arms Company closed and manufacture of the Henry rifle ceased in 1866 after approximately 14,000 guns were shipped.

Today’s Company

The modern Henry Repeating Arms Company was started 136 years later in 1996 by Louis Imperato from Brooklyn, New York. The company has no affiliation or lineage to Benjamin Tyler Henry or his New Haven Arms Company but Imperato liked the name and history so he trademarked it for his new gun company.

Louis Imperato passed away in 2007 and the company is now headed by his son Anthony. It has grown into the leading builder of lever-actions and is one of the top five firearm manufacturers in the U.S. with plants in Bayonne, New Jersey and Rice Lake, Wisconsin. The company currently makes a wide variety of .22 rimfire, centerfire rifles, shotguns, commemoratives and even a replica of Benjamin Henry’s original namesake.

Aside from good looks and a reputation for quality at a reasonable price, the guns are popular with U.S. shooters because of Henry’s dedication to the company motto of “Made in America or Not Made At All.” The company is also known for their extensive line of commemoratives and support of non-profit organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America.

Take Enough Rifle

Our test rifle was chambered for the shoulder-thumping .45-70 round. Originally adopted by the military in 1873 it still does considerable business today among people who mess around with the “bitey” stuff in North America — bear, cats and hogs — which is why the “guide gun” concept is often executed as a short-barrel lever-action in this caliber. A guide gun gives you over 2,000 grains of large-caliber persuasion in a quick-firing, reliable, easy-to-manipulate weapon for close quarters encounters where the hairy beasties do their most resolute mayhem. It’s also just the ticket for extra-large hooved mammals such as elk or moose at shorter ranges, especially in places where visibility is measured in single-digit arm-spans.

General accuracy is fair-to-middling in most guns while the only thing the cartridge isn’t really good for is long-range shots unless you’re adept at geometry. Typical bullet drop is about 50″ from 300 to 400 yards and really starts to “rainbow” from there. Aside from .45-70, the Side Gate Lever Action is also available in .30-30 Winchester, .38-55 Winchester and .35 Remington, making it an eminently suitable carbine for medium-sized game.

The ramp front sight offers a traditional-style white bead. Below the barrel rests the
knurled tube-magazine loading knob for loading and unloading.

The ramp-style semi-buckhorn rear sight has both course and fine adjustment for elevation.
The receiver is also factory-tapped for the optional Weaver 63B scope mount.

The Details

On first and second glance, the modern Henry center-fire rifles appear mechanically similar to a Marlin 336. Not currently having a Marlin 336 at hand to dissect, I resorted to the infamous gun experts of the internet where I learned the Marlin and Henry actions are exact duplicates and in no way similar, so take your pick. Based on subsequent research with some of our own expert staff writers, they’re awfully close mechanically, which isn’t a bad thing by any stretch.

Our test gun weighed in at a shade over 7 lbs. and the fit and finish are excellent, above-average compared to other mass-market competitors and something for which Henry is noted. The only flaw was a slightly “boogered-up” action screwhead on the left side, something more noticeable due to the overall finish quality. The deep wraparound machine-engraved checkering is especially nice. The action was fairly smooth out of the box with only an occasional bit of resistance at the last 1/4″ of the cycle. Trigger pull was short and quite crisp, averaging just a hair over 4 lbs. in 10 pulls using my Lyman digital trigger pull gauge.

The gun sports a 19.8″ round steel barrel with an ivory-bead front ramp backed by a deep semi-buckhorn rear sight. There is no safety but an internal transfer bar keeping the hammer from the firing pin unless the trigger is pulled.

Accuracy was on par with most .45-70s (usually considered a 2-4 MOA gun) — a 1.9″ five-shot group at 50 yards on a gusty day from a portable table and sandbags with Hornaday’s 325-gr. FTX LEVERevolution rounds. I was also pleasantly surprised with myself after managing a 4.2″ group of five rapid-fire shots offhand at the same distance.

Recoil was — as expected — “noticeable” with the Hornady, Remington Express and Sellier & Bellot 405-gr. soft points though it was actually pleasant to shoot and grouped well with some old Ultramax 405-gr. Cowboy Action rounds I found at the bottom of the ammo closet!

Our gun came with a high-quality Henry Weaver 63B scope mount to fit the four pre-drilled holes atop the receiver. If you’re using one of the other smaller calibers offered it would be a useful accessory. However, I felt topping a .45-70 carbine with a scope would be a little bit like putting a canoe rack on a Porsche 930 — doable, but not in keeping with the spirt of things.

The added side-loading gate offers the ability to top off the four-round magazine
without taking the gun from your shoulder.

Loading’s The Thing

All in all, the gun looks great, is tight but well-fitted mechanically and performs as expected. As noted, the big difference between this and other centerfire Henry models is the seemingly redundant side-loading gate.

Henry rifles have previously used a tube magazine, much like my well-used Marlin Model 60 — twist the knob under the muzzle, pull out the brass loading tube, add cartridges and re-secure the whole assembly. This makes it easy to unload after a day at the range and isn’t excessively time consuming when reloading, but it definitely involves removing the gun from your shoulder. This has been one of the main kicks against otherwise using the high-quality Henry .45-70s as dangerous-game rifles or in cowboy competitions.

The wraparound machine-engraved checkering is deep, beautiful and offers
a comfortable yet positive grip surface.

Why It Matters

Confronting dangerous game at tag, you’re it! distances is where the simple side gate loading port can make a big difference to your life insurance agent and next-of-kin. With a little practice, you can reload or top off your four-shot magazine without even taking the gun from your shoulder, keeping it ready for whatever mayhem life throws your way. Such things are impossible when using a tube-reloading system and therein the Henry side gate models can now enter consideration for “serious” work. I suspect this option will probably be added to Henry’s All-Weather Lever Action and the all-steel Lever Action .45-70

Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful!

I’d say the only potential issue with this gun for field use is the fact it’s simply too pretty! With the hardened brass receiver, deep bluing and crisp checking of its well-grained walnut stocks, it’s a gorgeous gun. However, the Side Gate’s great aesthetics certainly won’t prevent the gun from working well over the long haul.

The brass receiver is supposedly as durable as steel and the gun uses other parts from Henry’s tested line of .45-70s. Therefore, if you won’t lose sleep over possibly marring the golden receiver or otherwise screwing up the head-turning good looks, the Side Gate will make a great field companion, especially when you need “big medicine” in dicey situations. In more civilized settings, it will certainly draw positive attention at the range or a cowboy action match.

Beauty, brawn, a reliable pedigree and a fair price — what more could you ask? Regardless if you are a cynical big-game hunter or a hopeless romantic, it’s easy to fall in love with the Henry Side Gate Lever Action! MSRP: all calibers are $1,077.

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