The Envy of Hunting Camp
The Henry Big Boy Color Case Hardened Side Gate .44 Magnum
Beautiful. That was my first impression of the Henry Big Boy Color Case Hardened Side Gate rifle in .44 Magnum. That was everyone else’s impression too. Lately, I’ve felt like the keeper of the best-kept secret in lever actions — the Henry Big Boy is available with true color case-hardening. I’ve seen beautiful rifles before. My Palma gun’s stock is composed of several different colors of wood stacked and glued together, and my silhouette rifle is red with blue splotches – a colorful but patriotic pattern.
This Henry is different. Its beauty stems not from layers of color but an aura of authenticity, elegance, and Western Flair. Lever-actions are forever associated with cowboys, saloons, and the untamed West (even though, at one point, my home state of Ohio was considered just as unruly.)
Inspired by the Hunt with a Henry campaign, I decided to try it. I patiently awaited hunting season and the opportunity to “bloody” my .44 Mag. Though it may sound vulgar, I first heard this expression from a dear friend. He told me several times about a .45-70 that has spent its entire life on the cusp of fulfilling its destiny as a hunting rifle. The inaugural hunt decades ago ended in an early retreat due to an impending Western snowstorm. Never before had I considered a firearm “born” to hunt — but I decided my Henry was meant to, and I was determined to give it the opportunity. The first challenge was finding ammunition. The .44 Mag was my safe queen for much longer than I liked. Luckily, Hornady came through and was able to supply some .44 Mag 240 gr. XTP ammunition to aid in the quest.
Lessons in Levers and Gunsmithing
Though I appreciate iron sights, I quickly decided I wanted a scope on my hunting rifle to take advantage of longer shooting times. In Ohio, you can hunt 30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset, but shooting light is much earlier for those with traditional irons. I already knew I wouldn’t have a shot past 100 yards or so, and I wanted a simple duplex reticle. Given this, I wouldn’t need a larger power scope, and I needed a scope with a lower power setting for a greater field of view. I decided on a Bushnell 1-4×24 4500 Elite and set to work mounting the Picatinny scope mount on the Henry.
Rule #1 – Make sure everything’s tight.
Rule #2 – When you think it’s tight, check it again.
I learned Rule #2 well and took it to heart after several trips to the range in the days leading up to Ohio’s deer gun bonus weekend. On the first trip, I was thrilled. The stout round grouped well, and I zeroed it quickly. I wanted to spend more time on the gun—so I kept shooting. Every shot I took scored worse and worse, flying inches outside the original group at 50 yards. I thought I was flinching or committing some other rookie mistake. Because I know better, I also considered another possibility: something was loose. I touched the scope, and to my chagrin, it wobbled. While the scope was securely mounted in the rings, the base was a teeter-totter. I returned home and went back to work. This time the base was going on with Loctite. In a comedic gold learning experience —I still managed to mess something up even with most of the right tools. While I’m very accomplished in rifle competition, I still have a lot to learn and am not the most mechanically inclined.
Asking questions of friends and mentors, reading books and articles, and tools from Brownells are helping me get there, but mistakes are par for the course.
When my dad asked what I tightened the screws with, I held up a tiny screwdriver set. I didn’t have a small enough bit to fit my torque wrench — or so I thought — and I feared stripping the screw, so I went for what I thought was best. Shapes have never been my strong suit. It turned out hand-tightening was not nearly enough, and I did have the correct bit after all, it just fit more tightly than I thought it should.
This time we applied small amounts of blue Loctite into the threads on the scope base. I cleaned the surrounding areas and put my gun in the safe overnight. The next day I decided to dash down to the range between work projects. I opened my safe, grabbed the .44, and pulled on the lever to check the gun was clear. It wouldn’t move. Puzzled, I moved the gun into the light. It had worked flawlessly the day before. After several futile attempts to work the lever, I gave up until evening.
Thinking perhaps the scope base screws had restricted the bolt, we removed those first. All the screws were the same length, so nothing was out of order there. The lever still wouldn’t budge. It finally came loose with some elbow grease. I laughed out loud. The Loctite had dripped through the threads and literally glued the bolt into the action. Whoops! Luckily it was an easy fix thanks to the design of the Henry Big Boy. Unlike some other lever guns, disassembly for breech cleaning isn’t an all-day affair.
This rifle has taught me a great many things in the short time I’ve had it. Besides how to glue a gun together, it’s reiterated the importance of a steady rest. Cheap portable ones are easy to transport, but an unsteady rest undermines the true accuracy of a firearm. I’ve since remedied this issue, achieving approximately five-shot 2” groups at 100 yards — more than accurate enough to kill a deer. I also learned I couldn’t shoot small groups all day with this gun. After about ten shots or so, the shots would begin to “walk” across the target until I let the barrel cool down.
Spoiler alert – my Henry has yet to be bloodied, but hunting with it really showed me the benefits of hunting with a lever.
- You can load the ammo in the magazine and walk to your location without one in the chamber. Cycling the action will load one into the chamber. If you choose, you can safely raise the hammer and lower it when ready to take a shot. This affords you several safe ways to transport the gun.
- A lever action is quick to cycle. I had previously hunted with a single-shot rifle. This meant lost time on follow-up shots if needed.
- There’s just something about hunting with a lever-action that transports you to an earlier time.
What really sold me — and everyone in hunting camp — on this rifle, in particular, was the color-case hardening. Not only was it beautiful but subtle. My dad and his buddies all admitted they will be giving Henry a second look now that they know the Big Boy comes in something that won’t be reflective in the woods. Even my scope mounting mistake has turned a few heads, educating me and those around me about the ease of cleaning this lever gun.