By: Mary and Dr. Jim Clary
About a dozen years ago, many of the major American firearms companies began to incorporate innovative changes (substitute cheap alterations to reduce production costs and increase profits) into their line of centerfire rifles. The usual advertising hype accompanied each change claiming to improve performance and reliability. In their race for the bottom, they “compromised quality, reliability and longevity” (Chuck Hawk's words with which we completely agree).
These rifles remind us of the flood of cheap military carbines that flooded the U.S. Market following WWII. They were safe enough to shoot, but that is about the only positive comment one could make about them. While it is true that some were “sporterized” to make them more aesthetically pleasing, they were still military weapons produced at the lowest possible price.
These “innovative” centerfire rifles, like the Ruger American, Savage Axis and Remington 783, are destined to become dust collectors, doorstops and curios, as have most of their WWII counterparts. They have “taken undesirable--from the rifleman's standpoint--production shortcuts to a new low” that even we could not imagine as possible. Our readers will note that we are not talking about AR-platform rifles, which may be ugly (in our opinion), but are generally well made and functionally superb.
Before the internet trolls decide to attack us as paid shills, they should know that we are not paid by any companies, internet sites or magazines for our reviews. Jim and I are comfortably retired in New Mexico. Our only agenda is truthful information presented in a factual manner with our personal experiences thrown in for the human touch. If folks do not like that, they can fire us from our unpaid volunteer job and not read our reviews.
For over twenty years, one American company has refused to compromise quality for the sake of a few dollars. That company is Henry Repeating Firearms, lead by Anthony Imperato. From the introduction of their first Golden Boy to the recent introduction of the color case hardened Big Boy, they have maintained the quality of their firearms. The Henry motto, “Made In America or Not Made At All” should be modified to include “ Quality Firearms Built With Pride of Workmanship at a Fair Price”.
The Henry Big Boy has been around for several years, chambered in .357 Magnum / .38 Spl, .44 Mag / .44 Spl and .45 Colt. It is available in both brass frame and steel frame versions and has become popular with Cowboy Action shooters as well as hunters. However, there were some of us who “wished” that the Big Boy was available with a color case hardened frame.
Call it nostalgia or a dream of times long gone in the “Old West”, the desire for a color case hardened Big Boy would not go away. After some extensive market research, Henry agreed and determined that a color case hardened Big Boy was overdue.
During their research, Henry personnel determined that color case hardening was as much of an art as it was a science. There were only a few folks in the United States who possessed the necessary skill to produce quality color case products. They found one of the best in Texas, where else? Bobby Tyler and his wife Paige run a small custom shop called Tyler Gun Works in Friona, Texas. Bobby is featured on the current cover of Brownells' catalog. His case coloring is arguably some of the best in the business (we think it is the best). As such, Henry contracted with Tyler Gun Works to color case harden the frames and fore end caps for the Big Boy.
Color case hardening processes date back to the late 1700s. The two main methods involve very high temperatures in a furnace. They are designed to heat treat the metal for maximum use and durability. The “type” of metal determines the temperatures used in the color case process.
Advances in metallurgy have allowed firearms manufacturers to produce their components at the optimum hardness. Hence, any color case process applied to those components must ensure that the original hardness and integrity are retained.
Tyler's color case process utilizes temperatures near 1200° with five different compounds. His method ensures that the original hardness of the receivers remains intact while producing a durable case color to the metal.
A second method, not used by Tyler, is commonly referred to as the "bone and charcoal pack" and involves temperatures upwards of 1600°. This method would re-harden the metal and compromise the original strength. This technique is unacceptable for most modern firearm components.
There is a third method which is considered a cheap case color. It involves the use of an acid wash to lightly color the surface of the metal. This process has no penetration and does not alter the hardness of the metal. As such, acid-wash case coloring is not as durable as case coloring produced with the furnace processes.
Case coloring in Tyler's shop is state-of-the-art and vastly superior to that produced over a hundred years ago. Our conclusion is that Tyler's case color on the Big Boy will last indefinitely, just like the bluing on Henry's receivers and barrels.
We selected a Big Boy in .357 Magnum/.38 Spl calibers for wild hog and whitetail hunting in south Texas. hardening It will also be a great plinking gun on the range. There is, however, one problem: Most of the current ammunition manufacturers have watered down their .357 Magnum loads. You read that right. They have reduced the powder to make the round more acceptable in small frame revolvers. Because of their reduced loads, many of the commercial .357 Magnum loads are not suitable for hog or whitetail hunting. We will address that problem after we discuss this new addition to the Henry “family”.
The Big Boy Color Case Henry rifle is absolutely one of the most beautiful rifles that we have seen in years. The deep bluing finish of the barrel is complimented by the flawless case colored receiver.
The wood to metal fit of the American walnut stock and fore end is superb. It would be totally acceptable in a custom gun and is outstanding for a factory firearm. We are not sure how they do it; but, whatever means they are using.... keep it up. While we are on the stock.... the Big Boy has a real American walnut stock with a nice figure and deep color. No cheap painted hardwoods here.
The laser cut checkering does exactly what checkering is supposed to do... provide a more positive grip for the shooter. That is such an improvement over the stamped faux checkering on so many firearms on the market today. The only way that I could tell that it was not hand checkered was that it was too perfect... no slight over cuts or slips.
There are no plastic parts in this gun. This lever action rifle brings back memories of the Old West, like Geronimo and Annie Oakley. Ok, I'm getting a bit nostalgic, but that is what this gun does. As with firearms of that bygone era, this Henry has been manufactured with great care and owning one is a source of pride.
Henry updated and improved the original designs to accommodate modern powders and improved steel. They installed a rebounding hammer that cannot touch the firing pin unless the trigger’s deliberately pulled. Speaking of the trigger.... that is the only aspect of this rifle that we found needing improvement. There was enough creep as to be annoying at the range... that should be addressed and fixed; however, the pull weight was an acceptable 4lb. 4 oz. which allowed us to produce some very accurate results on the range. And, of course, this Henry, like all Henry lever actions, cycles flawlessly without jamming.
We used five brands of commercial ammunition in our tests for accuracy. We purchased from Sportsman's Warehouse (Remington, Hornady, Aguila, Sellier & Bellot). SIG provided us with their 125 grain V-Crown ammunition at no charge. We would have picked up more, but not every company makes .357 ammunition suitable for the tubular magazine of the Henry rifle and Sportsman's was not well stocked.
We mounted a Konus Pro 275 3-10 x 44 scope on the Big Boy using a Henry one-piece mount. We bought the Henry one-piece H012 mount designed specifically for the 2nd generation Big Boys. As with our scoped Henry single shot, we installed the Grovtec hammer extension (GHM 283) which makes it a lot easier to cock any scoped hammer gun.
We fired multiple three and four shot groups off our Caldwell Matrix Rest at 75 yards. Fifty (50) to seventy-five (75) yards is the range that most folks will be using the Big Boy for harvesting their game. It will be effective at 100 yards with proper bullet placement, which you should strive for at all ranges.
Comparisons of the velocity and accuracy of the commercial ammunition and our own reloads are listed in the following tables. Some .357 commercial ammunition is acceptable for hunting; however, if you wish to obtain the maximum performance possible with this rifle, it is our recommendation that you reload your own hunting rounds. There are a wide range of acceptable bullets available and multiple powders listed in most reloading manuals. However, there is really only one powder that you should consider: That is Hodgdon's H110 which was developed for magnum loads. If you compare our H110 reloads with Hornady XTP bullets to the commercial ammunition we tested, you will find that H110 reloads are superior.
Velocity and Accuracy Comparison of .357 Magnum Test Ammunition:
H110 Reloads, 125 grain Hornady XTP: Smallest group 1/2"; largest group 1 1/4";
average group size 3/4"
Muzzle – 2195 fps / 1337 ft. lbs.
50 yards – 1938 fps / 1042 ft. lbs.
75 yards – 1816 fps / 915 ft. lbs.
100 yards – 1699 fps / 801 ft. lbs.
Remington/UMC, 125 grain JSP: Smallest group 7/8"; largest group 1-1/2"; average group size 1 1/4"
Muzzle – 2175 fps / 1313 ft. lbs.
50 yards – 1918 fps / 1022 ft. lbs.
75 yards – 1798 fps / 897 ft. lbs.
100 yards – 1682 fps / 785 ft. lbs.
Hornady, 125 grain XTP: Smallest group 7/8"; largest group 1-3/8"; average group size 1 1/4"
Muzzle – 2088 fps / 1210 ft. lbs.
50 yards – 1838 fps / 938 ft. lbs.
75 yards – 1721 fps / 822 ft. lbs.
100 yards – 1609 fps / 718 ft. lbs.
H110 Reloads, 158 grain Hornady XTP: Smallest group 1/2"; largest group 1-1/8";
average group size 7/8"
Muzzle – 1780 fps / 1111 ft. lbs.
50 yards – 1557 fps / 850 ft. lbs.
75 yards – 1456 fps / 744 ft. lbs.
100 yards – 1362 fps / 651 ft. lbs
Aguila, 158 grain SJ SP - Smallest group 3/4"; largest group 1-1/4"; average group size 1.0"
Muzzle – 1750 fps / 1074 ft. lbs.
50 yards – 1530 fps / 821 ft. lbs.
75 yards – 1431 fps / 718 ft. lbs.
100 yards – 1340 fps / 630 ft. lbs.
SIG Elite: 125 grain V-Crown – Not shot for accuracy – low power not suitable for hunting
Muzzle – 1814 fps / 913 ft. lbs.
50 yards – 1587 fps / 688 ft. lbs.
75 yards – 1484 fps / 611 ft. lbs.
100 yards – 1388 fps / 535 ft. lbs.
Sellier & Bellot: 158 grain SJ SP – Not shot for accuracy – low power not suitable for hunting
Muzzle – 1354 fps / 643 ft. lbs.
50 yards – 1198 fps / 503 ft. lbs.
75 yards – 1135 fps / 452 ft. lbs.
100 yards – 1084 fps / 412 ft. lbs.
The specifications of the Color Case Hardened Henry Big Boy are:
Caliber: .357 Mag / .38 Spl (see text for other options)
Capacity: 10 rounds
Barrel Length: 20”
Barrel Type: Octagon Blued Steel
Rate of Twist: 1:16
Overall Length: 37.5”
Weight: 7.0 lbs
Receiver Finish: Color Case Hardened Steel
Rear Sight: Fully Adj. Semi-Buckhorn w/ Diamond Insert
Front Sight: Brass Bead
Scopeability: Drilled and Tapped for Henry Mount H012
Stock Material: American Black Walnut
ButtPlate: Black solid recoil pad
Length of Pull: 14”
Safety: Transfer Bar
MSRP 2018: $1,045
You can pay more and you can pay less for a lever action gun... BUT, it won't be a Henry.
Paying more will get you a foreign-made lever action, carrying an American name. Paying less will get you a couple of American guns but with fewer desirable features and questionable reliability. The bottom line: The Henry is an excellent rifle and well worth the price. Most dealers will give you a reasonable discount price below the MSRP. As such, this piece of “Americana” is worth picking up as a shooter and/or investment for the future.