Everyone knows that a firearm can be a vital tool in the world of survival. It serves many purposes and can be a lifesaver in a number of different settings. But carrying a whole lot of weight is a real consideration in an emergency situation, and spending a ton of money isn’t all that attractive either, so we suggest you choose something that lightens your load but not your wallet.
COORDINATION IS KEY
Coordinating your firearms to use the same ammo is one way you can save money and weight. I decided to look at a number of firearm formats that enable you to combine both your pistol and rifle ammo.
My first pair up is based strictly on ammo, specifically, the .357 Magnum and .38 Special. As is widely known, you can fire both cartridges out of the same firearm designed to shoot the .357 Magnum. Using the .357/.38 Spl combo not only allows you to conserve on ammo but provides you with a variety of ammo for different purposes.
There are a number of revolvers out on the market chambered in .357; for example, I own an old collector’s Colt .357 Magnum. As there is no shortage of revolvers but only a few rifles, I chose the Henry Big Boy for this pairing. This sturdy lever gun really benefits from the .357/.38 cartridge combo.
The rear marble-style open sights are fully adjustable for windage and elevation. As you can see, the Big Boy is American-made.
“Coordinating your firearms to use the same ammo is one way you can save money and weight.”
LEVER ACTION, SOLID ACTION
The Henry Big Boy lever-action rifle comes chambered in a number of calibers, but the one I own fits into my revolver rifle combo set at .357 Mag/.38 Spl. The Big Boy by Henry Repeating Arms holds 10 rounds of either .357 Mag or .38 Spl. It comes with a 20-inch-long, octagonal barrel and a straight-grip walnut stock. (I find that the straight-grip models make excellent fast-game guns as they shoulder much more quickly.)
The rifle has an overall length of 38.5 inches and weighs in at 8.68 pounds. Although 8 pounds may sound like a lot to carry, it’s not really, especially as it’s a well-balanced gun with extremely low recoil. The receiver is made from solid top brass and Henry offers an optional scope mount, but for tightbush use on quick game, I recommend using iron sights.
You don’t need to be a cowboy to shoot a lever action. This action is solid and fast, which is ideal should you need a follow-up shot. Matching the lever action up with a revolver gives you a great hunting and self-defense resource combination no matter what the threat.
“Although 8 pounds may sound like a lot to carry, it’s not really, especially as it’s a well-balanced gun with extremely low recoil.”
The Big Boy features adjustable marble sights that are great for shooting in tight bush. A large number of game is taken in North America at between 50 and 150 yards, and frankly, not a lot of people are good enough to be shooting much past that, even with optics.
If you want to put meat on the table, you are much safer taking a solid shot than blasting away at a distance, which would likely end up chasing much of the game away. The Henry Big Boy is tube-magazine fed, which means you load it from the tube and not a receiver loading port like some lever actions.
Once I shouldered the Big Boy, I found it to be quick, lively and more accurate than this old boy’s eyes would permit. Well made, the thick octagonal barrel has a 1:38 RH rate of twist, and the heavy barrel offers very little vibration that would negatively affect your shot. This gun looks great, feels great and shoots great. It’s a reliable, solid piece of kit.
BEST OF ALL WORLDS
I would have no problem pairing the Henry Big Boy up with any revolver to make a winning wilderness survival combination carry. The Henry rifle’s history was formed in part by helping settle the frontier, so it seems a natural fit. With the Big Boy, you get what you need in a rifle: It shoots a good selection of ammo to deal with various-sized game, it can protect you and it’s accurate and dependable. You just can’t ask for much more.
Some may wonder, why use the .357 Magnum and .38 Special combination and not others like .44 Special and .44 Magnum? You could use .44 Mag/.44 Spl, but there are a number of reasons I chose the .357 Mag/.38 Spl combo. First, the cost of .44 Magnum is higher than .357 Magnum and certainly higher than .38 Special. This means I would have to spend a lot more to get a lot of practice in and commit the gun to my muscle memory. When you’re using a firearm that could save your life, practice is crucial. Second, there is a wider range of bullets available with the .38 Special and .357 Magnum cartridges.And last, the grain count in the .357 Mag/.38 Spl bulletsis from 110 to 158, so when I am hunting game and don’t want to splatter all over God’s green acres, I can use a lower-velocity, lower-grain .38. If I have a large animal I am trying to take down over distance, I can kick in with a 140-grain .357 Magnum round. With the variety of ammo available for the Henry Big Boy, you can cover both hunting and self defense.
Hornady’s LEVERevolution ammo is a game changer for the .357 Magnum round in a lever action. Using a tube-fed magazine used to mean you had to use blunt-tipped ammo, but with the dawn of ammo like LEVERevoltion, you get more power down range, which translates into greater bullet expansion.
The Hornady design uses an elastomer flex-tip technology that allows these tipped rounds to be used in tube magazines. The flex tip also creates a bullet profile that has a lower coefficient, which creates a flatter trajectory. Overall results give you a more accurate, harder-hitting .357 Magnum round, which can translate into food on your plate. Matching your ammo to the job at hand is easy with the range available for the .357 Magnum and .38 Special rounds. LEVERevolution takes your range up a notch, and you still have moderate recoil and a devastating down-range effect. You can also match up other rounds for various game and duties: Hornady’s 110 grain FTX Critical Defense round will handle smaller game and, out of your revolver, will act as a defense round against cougars, mountain lions and coyotes. The Federal Premium Ammunition Hydra-Shok is another good ammo choice.
The Hydra-Shok round delivers excellent accuracy and expands for a devastating impact. At 158 grains, there isn’t a lot of game in North America that could walk away from a hit like that. The damage caused by the 158-grain .357 Magnum Hydra-Shok is capable of putting a man or beast down. For practicing, I use a lot of Federal FMJ and I’d employ those for hunting very small game. Depending on the revolver you match up with the Henry Big Boy, you’ll need to decide what you get the best results from so you can see how versatile firearms chambered in .357 can be.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the April 2014 print issue of American Survival Guide.