Henry’s Small Game Rifle
Is A Lever-Lover’s .22
By John Taffin
Anyone who has spent much time shooting—and certainly every gunwriter—has been asked “If you could only have one gun, what would it be?”
Twenty years ago when I did my first book Big Bore Sixguns, I turned in my completed manuscript and thought I was finished. However, the editor would not let me get away without answering this question. My answer was to narrow it down to a type—namely a 7-1/2-inch big-bore single-action sixgun with adjustable sights. Some prime examples? The Colt New Frontier in .45 Colt or .44 Special, the Ruger Flat-Top Blackhawk .44 Magnum and the Ruger Old Model .45 Colt. But that was then and it seems like a long time ago, a time when I would be likely to wandering sagebrush, foothills, forests and mountains on a regular basis. But this is now and my top choice is a bit different.
It’s hard to argue with a .22 rifle. You can certainly defend hearth and home with a good .22 and also, when off the beaten path, be able to feed yourself. Add to this the fact ammunition (once readily available at very reasonable prices) takes up very little space. A .30 caliber ammo can will hold 3,300+ rounds of .22 Long Rifle. The Taffin Tradition since my oldest married in 1981 is to give a .22 rifle as a wedding present. Two grandkids collected last year and another one is scheduled for this year. What could possibly be more relaxing than spending a warm summer afternoon shooting a .22 with family or friends?
The Henry .22 Small Game Rifle (bottom) compared to Henry’s .44 Magnum Big Boy (top).
A .22 rifle and a supply of .22 Long Rifle ammo make for an enjoyable afternoon afield.
The first firearm I ever purchased for myself was a .22 levergun. Now 60 years later the latest is also a .22 levergun, a Henry Repeating Arms .22 Small Game rifle. There are many .22 rifles available, however, if you want a levergun, choices narrow significantly. Browning still offers their slick little BL22 and Marlin at least catalogs a 24-inch barreled Model 39A (which at this writing seems to be unavailable). The first offering is a foreign product imported by Browning while the Marlin, at least when it is produced, is an American product. At one time Winchester offered the high-quality, American-made Model 9422, however, this one is now long gone and only available on the used market. The choice of an American-made levergun comes down to one of the Henry Repeating Arms .22s. Currently, Henry catalogs seven different rimfire versions in .22 Long Rifle, .22 WMR and .17 HMR.
Their Small Game Rifle is, as we have come to expect from Henry, a lever action with a very smooth operation when it comes to the ejecting and loading, plus a smooth trigger pull which registered 3-3/4 pounds on my scale.
But the big reason I went for this particular model is because of the sight setup. Instead of the typical .22 levergun rear sight, this one has a factory-installed Skinner peep sight. For me, the peep, matched up with the bead front is much easier to hit with. Eventually I’ll fit a slightly taller front sight as with my eyes, hold and ammo, it shoots a couple inches high, and this is an easy fix.
This particular Henry model has a 16-round capacity, an octagon barrel, and a slightly different type of lever loop. The same year I was born, a young fellow by the name of John Wayne starred in the classic movie Stagecoach and used a Winchester 1892 with a large loop lever so he could twirl the carbine.
The Henry can be successfully employed on both varmints and small game at close range.
This same type rifle was used by Chuck Connors (as Lucas McCain) in TV’s The Rifleman series. I’ve never found this lever to be useful for anything except looks and it is also much harder to operate than a standard lever configuration. But Henry has split the difference with an abbreviated loop. It’s both distinctive, attractive and easy to operate.
With its 20-inch barrel, the rifle weighs just slightly over a handy packin’ 6 pounds. As with most .22 leverguns, it loads through a slot in the underside of the magazine tube. You turn the inner magazine tube slightly to unlock, pull it forward far enough to expose the cartridge cutout in the magazine tube, and then drop cartridges base-down through the cutout one at a time. Once you’ve filled the tube, push the inner tube back in, lock it in place, and you’re ready to go. A flick of the lever and cartridges feed easily into the chamber. I had no problem whatsoever as the operation with all the ammunition brands I used was totally flawless.
With the Skinner peep sight, in my hands this rifle’s best groups are right at 1 inch for 9 shots at 25 yards. The most accurate loads proved to be the CCI MiniMag at 1,281 fps, CCI MiniMag HP (1,264), and Winchester’s “333” bulk pack .22s (1,268). After spending quite a bit of time with some larger bore rifles weighing close to 10 pounds, the Henry .22 felt exceptionally light and easy handling. It would certainly serve very well for close-range use on small game and varmints.
Small Game Rifle
Maker: Henry Repeating Arms
59 E. 1st St.
Bayonne NJ 07002
Type: Lever action
Caliber: .22 LR
Barrel Length: 20 inches
Overall Length: 38.5 inches
Weight: 6.25 pounds
Sights: Skinner peep rear, gold bead front