feature By: Jim Dickson | May, 23
From the time the 45-70 Government was first adopted by the U.S. Army in 1873, it has been a cartridge desired by American hunters. For 150 years it has retained its popularity. Small wonder. It is accurate out to 1,000 yards and works splendidly on the biggest bear and moose. Some Alaskans who have used both it and the 375 H&H magnum on bear and moose, declare that they are equal in knockdown power. Despite this, it is by no means overpowered for deer and dispatches them with equal ease and efficiency. If you are deer hunting and run afoul of a big mean wild boar or bear having a 45-70 instead of a smaller caliber can be a lifesaver. If you are a subsistence hunter and have to settle for small game for your dinner, one day you will find that the 45-70, with the right load, doesn’t ruin all the meat on small game like a high-velocity magnum does. You can eat right up to the bullet hole.
Recoil with the 45-70 is not a problem so long as the rifle is of sufficient weight. U.S. Army Ordnance figures showed that a 9.3-pound M1873 Trapdoor Springfield has 14.5 foot-pounds of free energy recoil compared to an M1903 Springfield of 8.69 pounds with 14.98 foot-pounds of free recoil. Please note that both of these rifles had sufficient weight and 1¾-inch wide buttplates that spread the recoil out over a larger area than slim sporter buttplates, so felt recoil is even less. Drop the weight and narrow the buttplate and you will feel proportionately more recoil. Remember that a wide steel buttplate does more to dampen felt recoil than a rubber recoil pad on a narrower stock.
Unlike most lever-action rifles on the market today, the Henry rifles are all made in the U.S. That can be a bigger deal than most folks realize. Not all foreign-made guns are up to U.S. standards.
When I picked up the test rifle at Reeves Ace Hardware in Clayton, Georgia, they said that everyone is wanting these Henry Rifles and they can’t get enough of them in. I can believe it. The rifle was everything I had hoped for. It came to the shoulder effortlessly and pointed accurately. The octagonal barrel held steady on target. The precisely-fitted mechanism functioned as slick as greased glass. This rifle is highly-polished inside and out. The case-hardened steel receiver promises a long and trouble-free shooting life. It seemed perfectly suited for brown bears in the Alaskan alder thickets or deer in Georgia.
Most men take a bolt-action rifle off their shoulder to work the bolt because of the long bolt throw coming back towards their eye and the short factory stocks. The length of pull on an army issue M1903 Springfield is only 12.7 inches. The army had some instances of men hitting themselves in the eye with the cocking piece of the bolt. With the proper practice, this can easily be avoided. With a lever action, the shooter can keep the gun on target while working the action easier than with a bolt-action rifle. The bolt only comes back 2¾ inches measured from the bottom of the bolt compared to 7¼ inches for the M1903 Springfield bolt. That’s a huge difference when something is coming back toward the eye. When working the action of the Henry without taking your eyes off the sights, the bolt stays a comfortable distance from the eye. The importance of this for fast shooting cannot be overstated.
The simple down then back up movement of a lever action is also inherently faster than the up, back, forward, then down movement of working a bolt action. Hence the lever guns legendary reputation for speed of operation. The Henry has a large trigger guard and lever loop that even bulges out to facilitate use with gloved hands. That’s vital to Alaskan and other cold-weather hunters. Henry rifles are made in Wisconsin so they are no strangers to cold-weather hunting.
The short bolt throw toward the face and the speed of operating the lever have kept the lever action popular throughout the years.
The Henry is a beautifully made rifle with exquisite fit and finish inside and out. It has a classic 22-inch long octagonal barrel with a 1:20 twist and a modern design mechanism for reliable service. Unlike most lever-action designs that had to be cleaned from the muzzle with the eventual damage to the ends of the rifling that may entail, the Henry can be cleaned from the breech so there will be no loss of accuracy over time. If you are going to clean it from the muzzle, get a muzzle guide from J. Dewey Mfg. Co. to protect the ends of the rifling. It can be cleaned from the breech without disassembly by using either a bore snake or a pull-through.
If deciding to disassemble the gun to clean from the breech, open the action and then unscrew the lever screw and drop the lever out. Then pull the bolt out the back. Be sure to do this while the gun is laying on its left side to keep the ejector in place, otherwise it will fall right out when the bolt is not holding it to the inside of the receiver. If the ejector gets loose, it can be a pain to put it back in.
The overall length is 41.1 inches, the length of pull is 14 inches, and the weight is 8.1 pounds. There is a four-shot tubular magazine. The front sight is a brass bead, while the rear is the classic lever action semi-buckhorn with a diamond insert. The rifle comes drilled and tapped for a Weaver 63B scope mount. The trigger pull is sharp and clean measuring 4.6 pounds on a Lyman trigger pull gauge from Brownells. Swivel studs are included and you can also buy the sling swivels from Brownells. The wood is nicely checkered and there is a black rubber recoil pad. The only safety is the transfer bar, so the hunter doesn’t have to worry about taking the safety off when confronted by a grizzly bear in the Alaskan bush country at a range of a few feet.
While the mechanism is simple in design and function, in that it does not have a rotating bolt, it does require precise machining in order to operate smoothly and reliably. For example, if the magazine spring is too strong and the relationship is improper between the cam surfaces of the lever and the cam surfaces of the cartridge carrier you can end up with one round fed into the cartridge carrier and another round sticking out of the magazine jamming the gun tight. The gun must then be unloaded by removing the magazine tube plug and the rifle can only be used as a single shot until an expert gunsmith works on it. I had this happen a while back with a brand new rifle made by another company.
The action is simple in operation. When the lever is pushed down, it simultaneously pulls the bolt back out of battery to eject a previously fired empty case and return the hammer to the firing position. It also allows space for the next cartridge in the magazine to get positioned on top of the carrier. As the lever is pulled back up the carrier tilts at an angle so the bolt can push the new cartridge along the carrier into the chamber. When the lever is fully closed, it pushes up the locking bolt to hold the bolt in place for firing. Pressing the trigger allows the hammer to fall on a transfer bar that then makes contact with the firing-pin assembly driving the firing pin into the cartridge’s primer. The transfer bar is only operated by the trigger pull and the hammer cannot make contact with the firing pin without it.
The Henry can be loaded through the Kings Patent side loading gate or by removing the end of the magazine tube and dropping the cartridges in. For anyone who has ever had the sharp edges of a side loading gate wear on their thumb, this is a most welcome innovation. It also facilitates unloading as you no longer have to cycle all the rounds through the action. I really like this feature as I shoot a lot and my thumb suffers after side-loading a lever action after a while.
Do not be put off by 45-70s bullet drop figures. Previous generations accurately estimated ranges and successfully made long-range shots. Today, we have laser rangefinders so there is no excuse for not knowing the correct range. You just have to adjust your sights accordingly. If I were going to do long-range shooting with iron sights on this rifle, I would mount a Buffington rear sight from a late model Trapdoor Springfield on it and use the 405-grain loads that closely duplicate the original load. For normal hunting it shoots plenty flat. The actual range most deer are taken at in the U.S. is under 100 yards. In the thick bush country of the Alaskan interior that will be a long shot down a river bed as they don’t call it the Alaskan bush for nothing.
I set up a target at 100 yards, settled the rifle into the Bullsbag shooting rest, and commenced firing off my ammunition.
Recoil was about the same as a 180-grain 30-06, but the Taylor Knock Out Values were quite different with the 405-grain 45-70 having 34.3 at the muzzle and 25.7 at 300 yards and the 180-grain 30-06 having 20.8 at the muzzle and 15.7 at 300 yards. The 45-70 offers much more power than the 30-06 with similar felt recoil, which makes it an effective game killer.
While the 30-30 is the most popular lever-action caliber, I have always preferred the extra power of the 45-70. The bigger hole means I don’t have to track a heart shot deer as far and I have a bigger blood trail to follow. If I run into a bear or an oversized wild hog, I have ample stopping power to deal with it no matter how close the encounter. As a former Alaskan trapper, being able to stop a big bear in the thickly wooded Alaskan interior is important to me.
There have been many 45-70 lever actions made over the years, but I think this Henry may well be the best of the lot. I highly recommend it. It makes a splendid hunting rifle for all North American big game.
I had 240 rounds of 45-70 ammunition to test-fire the 45-70 Henry with consisting of four types:
• 120 rounds of Remington Core-Lokt 405-grain SPCL, the good old reliable Alaskan bear-stopper load. This one almost exactly duplicates the original 45-70 load
of 1873, the one that made the 45-70s reputation.
• 60 rounds of Hornady LEVERevolution 325-grain FTX with the pointed softnose cone giving it a superior aerodynamic shape for long-range use. This is the one for elk and other game taken at long range. It was specifically designed to be used in modern lever-action guns with tubular magazines.
• 40 rounds of Federal 300-grain SP HP Power-Shok, a load that has become very popular among deer hunters.
• 20 rounds of Federal 300-grain Hammer Down, the new load that Henry Rifle Co. and Federal developed together to feed flawlessly through lever actions.