Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Field Test: Henry .45-70 lever action rifle

Courtesy of Henry Rifles, Riton USA, and photographer, blogger and friend of long standing, Oleg Volk, who put the 'package' together, over the past few months I've been evaluating Henry's .45-70 lever action rifle.  It's been an interesting journey.

I've long been interested in the .45-70 Government cartridge.  It dates back to the early 1870's, when it was developed for the US Army's Springfield Model 1873 'Trapdoor' rifle.  It was a slightly smaller evolution of the earlier .50-70 Government cartridge, offering better ballistics than its predecessor.  In its original loading, a 405 grain lead projectile was propelled by 70 grains of gunpowder to a muzzle velocity of almost 1,400 feet per second.  That remains the 'base' standard for the cartridge, but in certain modern firearms (including Henry rifles), a much 'hotter' version of the round can be fired, giving greatly improved performance against dangerous game such as grizzly bear.  The .45-70 has thus experienced a resurgence in popularity among North American hunters and professional guides.  (Indeed, Marlin's short Model 1895 .45-70 lever action rifle was named the 'Guide Gun' for this reason.)

I asked Oleg to arrange a review of Henry's Model H010 .45-70 lever action rifle, which is very similar to Marlin's Guide Gun in terms of size and intended purpose.  (Click the image for a larger view.)

It holds four rounds of ammunition, more than sufficient for hunting and defense against dangerous game provided the user aims accurately.  It can handle the most powerful modern rounds in the cartridge (up to and including the deservedly famous Garrett Hammerhead, Superjack and Exiter loads).  Other criteria for choosing the Model H010 included its steel receiver, which is dark and doesn't reflect sunlight.  Bright, reflective objects, such as the polished brass receiver of the Model H010B, can warn game that you're coming in time for them to take evasive action.  Also, the H010 has a recoil-absorbing rubber pad on the rear of the stock, unlike the H010B, which has a solid brass buttplate.

From painful personal experience on two continents, I know that a metal buttplate and hard-recoiling ammunition make for a very uncomfortable combination.  I'm sure the H010B is entirely tolerable with standard-pressure rounds, but I planned to test some of the hotter Garrett loads as well, which made the rubber recoil pad of the Model H010 a necessity.

Initial impressions of the Henry were very positive.  The woodwork is properly fitted to the rifle, with no annoying gaps betraying careless mass-production without adequate quality control (something that has annoyed many owners of other brands of firearms in the past, including myself).  The action was tight but smooth, right out of the box.  The rifle weighs 7.08 pounds, almost the same as Marlin's 7lb. Guide Gun.  That's enough to feel heavy after having to carry it for some distance;  but, when dealing with hard-recoiling ammunition such as I planned to use, the weight would be an advantage in soaking up the kick, so I wasn't averse to that.

This rifle doesn't have a frame-mounted reloading 'window', such as that found on Winchester and Marlin rifles.  Instead, a brass tube is withdrawn from the magazine, revealing a window in the bottom of the magazine tube (circled in red below) through which rounds are inserted base-first.

The brass tube is then reinserted, compressing a spring which holds the rounds tightly in position, ready for loading when the lever is operated.  This is slower in operation than a frame-mounted reloading 'window', but isn't necessarily a drawback unless rapid reloading becomes necessary.  Under normal hunting use, that won't be a factor . . . but I must confess, I prefer the option to 'shoot one, load one' offered by competing rifle designs.  That's an individual thing, of course, and didn't prevent this rifle being every bit as usable for hunting as any other.  I didn't feel the lack in practice.

Riton USA was kind enough to provide one of their Model 5 1.5-6x42 telescopic sights, with an illuminated reticle, for this test.

I'm a relatively small-time shooter, not a professional reviewer, and my budget has not (until Riton's generosity) allowed me the luxury of buying illuminated-reticle scopes.  I found this one made a dramatic difference in low-light shooting.  It provided a crisp, clear point of aim that helped the reticle stand out against a target at dawn and dusk, or in heavy overcast conditions.  The low-power scope was perfect for the .45-70 round, which isn't a long-range proposition.  I'd feel confident making shots out to 200 yards with this rifle and scope combination.  (Yes, I know the .45-70 has been tested at over a thousand yards, but that's not going to happen on your average hunt!)

The scope was initially mounted on the rifle using conventional 30mm. rings.

However, this positioned the scope too far back to be comfortable.  Accordingly, I remounted the scope using Monstrum Tactical 30mm. offset rings on top of an EGW Marlin Picatinny Rail Scope Mount.  This economical combination positioned the scope further forward, making the rifle much more comfortable to shoot.  I also installed a hammer extension, making it easier to cock the hammer beneath the scope's rear overhang.  The rear sight had to be removed from the barrel to fit the scope, of course, but that's common in such rifles.

As for ammunition, I tested the Henry using Hornady's excellent 325gr. FTX LEVERevolution rounds, plus a box of Garrett Hammerhead 420gr. super-hard-cast big-game loads.  The latter kicked much harder than the Hornady rounds, but I felt absolutely confident that they'd stop anything I was likely to encounter in my neck of the woods, up to and including the big boars sometimes found here.  That's a comforting feeling.

Accuracy was good for a lever-action rifle (which is never as 'tight' as a bolt-action rifle, in my experience, although perfectly adequate for field use).  Even with my ageing eyes, from a braced standing stance I could hold a 2½-3" group at 100 yards with the Hornady FTX rounds, and a 3½-4" group with the Garrett Hammerheads (for which I blame the much greater recoil of the harder-hitting cartridges).  I'm sure that if I'd shot seated, using a rest, I'd have shrunk the size of those groups by an inch or more - but then, that's hardly a fair test of a field hunting rifle.  I prefer to test them under the same conditions as those in which they'll be used.  I loaned the rifle to a younger friend, with better eyesight, to take on a field hunt, and he was able to record sub-2" and sub-3" groups respectively with the same loads.

The rifle proved very well balanced in my hands, and was easy to bring to my shoulder for snap shots at fleeting targets.  I think it may be the best hog-hunting combination in heavy brush that I've yet used.  The cartridge is more than powerful enough to take down the largest hog, even the big, tough, bad-tempered, cross-bred combination of feral pigs and Russian boars that some idiots sportsmen were foolish enough to introduce to Texas last century.  I plan on taking the rifle out again during the coming months, to see if I can stock up on wild pork.  I'm pretty sure this cartridge and rifle combination will perform as well on deer as any other lever action rifle, but they may be a bit heavy for typical whitetail.  I daresay they'll be better suited to larger breeds, given the .45-70's power.  I think the classic .30-30 remains the quintessential whitetail cartridge.

The use of this rifle and scope were arranged by Oleg Volk, who took the photographs above.  My grateful thanks to him, as well as to Henry Rifles and Riton USA for making them available to test.  Based on my experience, I'll gladly buy both companies' products in future.  I already own several Henry .22 rifles, which I've used for training and plinking for years.  I hadn't used Riton scopes before, but then, they're a relatively new company, established in 2013.  Based on this evaluation, I'll be giving careful consideration to their products for future use.  The test scope performed like a champion.



Glen Filthie said...


Just an FYI - that optic's a little overweight for a compact rifle. Leupold makes an excellent VXIII compact variable for these carbines.

Anonymous said...

Still wouldn't feel safe myself with "the most powerful modern rounds" in .45-70 with any lever gun. Some of the niche market European-made boar/moose/bear loads are pretty scary, pressure wise (and require "interesting" legal paperwork due to consumer-safety regulations)...

But, if you're just crazy enough to want a "double elephant" rifle, at least the brass and training ammo is cheaper that way. Very heavy bolt actions are also known to exist.

Old NFO said...

Good review, and agreed on the recoil pad vs. steel buttplate!!!

Uncle Lar said...

Not bad for a cartridge that's been around since 1873.
Reloading manuals list three levels of power for the .45-70.
Lowest is one intended for weak actions such as the original Trapdoor Springfield, duplicating the initial black powder loading of 70 grains. Which when in service was reduced to 55 grains for use in the lighter Springfield carbines carried by the US cavalry.
Intermediate loadings can be used in the modern lever actions by Henry and Marlin as well as certain break action single shots, and are adequate for any North American game with the proper bullets.
And there is an upper power loading intended strictly for bank vault actions like the Ruger #1 and a few custom single shot rifles. These loads approximate the same power level as that of the .458 Winchester Magnum and have been used to take African elephants.
While the Army did develop a .45-70-500 load effective in volley fire out to 3,000 plus yards, ballistically speaking the .45-70 trajectory strongly resembles that of a rainbow, so for modern usage should be treated as a short to intermediate round. While effective out to great distance, that arc makes extremely accurate range judgement a critical factor much past 150 yards.

Anonymous said...

In a moment of stupid (sadly, one of many), I sold my beautiful Marlin .45-70, and I now plan on replacing it with the case-hardened Henry.
You might want to try the Remington 405-grain loads. Very easy on the shoulder and plenty punch enough for game.
- Charlie

Borepatch said...

Great review. Reminds me that my first love was with a Winchester, although since the eject is straight up it's trickier to mount a scope.

And I shot the .50-90 once, in a reproduction Sharpes. Fun.

Richard Blaine said...

I rather like my Marlin 1895 Cowboy. I will say 430-grain bullets moving at a bit over 1700 fps have a noticeable recoil.

I keep trying to decide if I should put a scope on it. The thing is - 150 yards is a pretty long shot around here, so it's not like it's necessary - other than my (also) failing eyesight. I think if I get one, it'll probably be the Leupold VX-2 1.5-4x28 Scout Scope.

TRX said...

There's some interesting information if you google "Sandy Hook .45-70 test." Various sites have copies of a 1977 article from Rifle Magazine detailing the 1879 field test.

And there's fun at the Box Of Truth site, where test #48 showed what a Trapdoor-spec reload could to to "bulletproof" glass... and test #4 against ordinary stuff.