When I found out that RF had purchased a few lever guns, consummating his love affair with the cowboy classic, I considered it a grand sign and a symbol of his budding Texania. That’s a verbose way of saying it put a big ol’ smile on my face. I grew up with a Winchester Model 94. And by grew up I mean . . .
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have that gun. I’m told it was rolled up in a blanket underneath my crib.
I lived way, way out in the country as a child, our driveway was measured in miles, and before I was out of elementary school I was walking around the woods hunting with my own gun and my own dog. It was heaven on earth for a boy. Pretty soon that gun was the old Winchester 94 in .30-30, and it was the only center fire rifle I would own for more than 20 years.
After I got out of the Army, my first rifle purchase was, oddly enough, another lever gun in .357 Magnum to go along with my Ruger Blackhawk in the same caliber. My love for the lever gun didn’t stop. It didn’t even slow down. Long before my first AR, or even my first bolt gun, I’d killed dozens of deer and hundreds of pigs with lever guns. I got a Marlin guide gun in .45-70, and then a series of Henry rifles in different calibers. When it came down to the prettiest of any of the modern lever guns, and the easiest to shoot, the Henrys won the day every time.
My love for the .30-30 was cemented one Christmas morning, probably some 20 years ago or more, when I got lucky and took two 8-point bucks with one shot. I was laying down, sighted in on a fat doe when one of those 8-pointers harassed her into leaving. I waited around to get another shot at her, but when she never showed up again, I finally shot him instead.
He dropped 10 yards from where he was hit. On the way up to him, I could hear some rustling in some Agarita bushes a good 50 yards away. I walked over to inspect it, and to my surprise, there was another 8-point on the ground, my bullet having taken him through the spine while he was laying down. I had quite a bit of butchering work to do before Christmas lunch that day!
I keep both of their skulls together now, staining one dark and bleaching one white. With that much horn on the wall and that much meat in the freezer, my confidence in the .30-30 was solid.
So when RF asked me if I wanted to review on one of his Henry .30-30s, I told him I could write it without firing it, as I had hundreds of rounds through them already. But, oddly enough, I don’t have a Henry in .30-30 right now, so I didn’t miss the opportunity to put some rounds through his.
A little history lesson on the .30-30 . . .
That cartridge has probably taken more deer than any other cartridge in America. The only thing that could possibly hold a candle to it is the .30-06, and even then I still think the .30-30 just beats it for pure time. After all, it was invented in by Winchester in 1895. If that seems like a while ago, it was a full 25 years AFTER Benjamin Tyler Henry had patented his lever action rile.
The .30-30 got its name because it was a .30 caliber (.308) round loaded with 30 grains of smokeless powder. It was good enough back then, quickly replacing the venerable .45-70 in popularity, and these days it’s even better. Cheap and easy to reload, my hand-loads push a 150 grain round nosed bullet at 2,150fps out of a 20″ barrel. At 100 yards I’ve got 1,103 fps of energy, 778 fps at 200 yards, and I’m not pushing the maximum load at all. With new Spitzeresque rounds like the Hornady LEVEREvolution and some glass, or great eyes, a good shooter could push the old .30-30 all the way out to 300 yards.
As for the rifle itself, I said I had already gotten to love the Henrys above the other new lever guns, and this one didn’t disappoint. The model RF handed me had a polished brass receiver and a 20-inch octagonal barrel, walnut stock and fore grip, with a brass barrel band and butt plate, adjustable semi-buckhorn rear sight and a brass bead front sight. The receiver is drilled and tapped for a Weaver mount, but I’ll be heartbroken the day my eyes get so bad that I have to mount glass on this rifle.
That’s because it’s gorgeous just as it is. Literally every person I showed it too said “wow.” Every one. My 11-year-old son asked me roughly four billion times if it was his Christmas present. It was admired by young and old alike, including some serious operators who operate operationally.
With an Accuracy International .338 Lapua Magnum and this rifle sitting on a table, no one’s eyes went to the AI first. And everyone picked up the Henry. It gleams like Gollum’s ring and everyone who sees it has to get their hands on it and cycle it a few times, just to see how it feels.
It feels great, too. I put just a touch of RemOil in the receiver before I did anything and the action cycled like wet ice on wet ice. Loading the rifle is the simplest of all the lever guns. You twist and pull the release the tubular magazine’s stopper/plunger. Insert five rounds, one by one, push the stopper/plunger back in and twist to lock it. Cycle the action and you are ready to fire. You can add another round for a total of six in the gun if need be.
Not ready to fire? Carefully lower the hammer. The weapon is effectively “saved.” To unload the rifle, you can either do what every other lever gun does and simply cycle through all the rounds by working the lever, or you can pull the stopper/plunger and pour out the rounds in the tubular magazine. You’ll only have to cycle the round in the chamber.
I find this method far superior to other guns that load only through a side loading gate. First, it’s safer; the weapon doesn’t have to continually be put in the “fire” mode with the hammer back over and over again as you cycle the action. Just leave the hammer down and dump the rounds.
Yes, your fingers will have to be close to the muzzle, but leave the hammer down and that’s not a problem. That hammer isn’t going to magically cock itself, and that trigger doesn’t fire unless you make it fire. There’s a solid firing pin block and the weapon can’t go bang with the action open.
It’s also just a lot easier without having to cycle all of the rounds. If you load five rounds and don’t shoot all five – which is the way it usually is when hunting – most of the time you end up ejecting rounds into the dirt or grass or mud, then having to find them and clean them up. If you’ve expended all of your rounds and you still need to load another quickly, simply open the action, insert a round into the breach, and close the action, like you would for a pump action shotgun.
Now, usually when I test a semi-auto pistol or an AR, I put at least 500 rounds through them to guarantee reliability. For this test, I decided that 100 rounds would be plenty, and probably way more than required. Heck, I know a lot of people who have never put 100 rounds through their .30-30s in total.
My old Winchester 94s are under 7 lbs., and without a butt pad. The Henry is a bit heavier, at 8.3lbs, and again no butt pad. But man that little bit of weight feels a whole lot better on the shoulder. Doing the math, this gun has about half the recoil of my Savage 110 in .30-06, and is a lot more enjoyable to shoot. So, with 100 rounds in hand…to the range!
As I do when I hunt, I spent most of my time shooting the Henry Repeating Arms .30-30 lever gun from the kneel. I also shot leaning against a tree, as well as using various stumps and cedar tree branches as a rest. From all of these positions, striking a 5″ steel plate at 100 yards wasn’t a big challenge. I hate shooting from the prone – a back injury has made this pretty painful for me – but the rifle itself shoulders and is supported fine from this position as well.
Even without a steady rest, shooting solely from the kneel, I have 100 percent confidence that I could take pretty much any animal in the lower 48 with this rifle with one round, save only the biggest of the brown bears. And if I was shooting in a blind, or off a solid rest, I know I could make those deer, black bear, and pig shots out a lot farther.
Shooting off bags, I got a consistent 2 1/4 inch group at 100 yards. But, as noted above, the caliber is fully capable of sufficient energy well past that. Is the rifle? Yes. Shooting off a front bag only, at 200 yards, I was hitting 5 1/2 inch five-shot groups. And a few of them were better.
Note: you’ll have a solid 6-inch or so drop at that range if you’re sighted in at 100. That group gets you in the vitals, and the limiting factor for me at least wasn’t the rifle or caliber, it was my eyes. If I want to guarantee getting into a 6″ target, 200 yards is about all my eyes will handle with open sights like these. A double ghost ring can take me farther, but I lose them entirely in low light. With a scope I have no doubt this is a 300 yard gun. And that’s from a cartridge invented 120 years ago shot from a gun invented 145 years ago.
In short, the Henry Repeating Arms .30-30 lever gun is a beautiful, accurate, reliable rifle. At around $800 on the street it’s an heirloom quality piece for a sensible price. As RF would say, what’s not to love?
Action Type: Lever
Capacity: 5 rounds
Barrel Length: 20″
Weight: 8.3 lbs.
Stock: Straight-grip American walnut with buttplate
Sights: Fully adjustable semi-buckhorn rear with brass beaded front
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style * * * * *
An American classic. The American classic? Could be.
Fit and Finish: * * * *
The brass is a high polish all around and just gorgeous. The details are all just right and the wood is great. Great, but not incredible. Really, I’m taking a star off for not having breathtaking wood, partly because I want Henry to make one of these with breathtaking wood.
Accuracy * * * * *
For an open-sighted gun with semi-buckhorn sights, it shoots as well as my eyes will let it. An absolute deer slayer inside 200 yards just out of the box.
Ergonomics * * * * *
This is an 8.3 lbs .rifle that’s 39″ long. It’s easy to walk with, easy to maneuver in a blind, and super easy to hold and shoot in any position. It’s a brush gun that’ll be good when you get out of the brush and have to take a 200 yard shot across a clearing.
Reliability * * * * *
All 100 rounds were shot, and maybe my shoulder is a little worse for the wear, but the gun isn’t at all. A good clean and shine-up and it looks as good as new, and not a single hiccup of any kind. This rifle’s usefulness will likely outlive yours, and certainly mine.
Customize This: * * *
Overall * * * * *
The gun ran as long as rounds got cycled and a trigger got pulled, and it shot well enough for anything in the Texas hill country. It’s with a heavy heart that I’ll be handing this one back, but I know it’s going to a good home.