Every now and then, there’s an ideal confluence of traits that come together in a single package that just sings out to the consumer. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it’s hard to resist the siren’s call. Such is the case with Henry Repeating Arms’ new Big Boy Silver rifle.
Henry produces high-quality lever-action rifles based on designs you would find in the Old West rather than in modern conflicts around the world. The company is famous for its use of brass receivers, as you might find with the Golden Boy, Big Boy and its big-bore 45-70 hunting rifle.
But with the rifle we received for review, Henry decided to change things up a bit and let “silver” get a foothold in its products.
The first thought I had when I took the Big Boy Silver out of the box was, Now, this is a rifle! The heft of the Big Boy surprised me: It came in at 8.7 pounds, which is considerable for a long arm that shoots .357 Magnum. But it’s a good weight; it feels substantial. Most of that weight comes from the expertly finished walnut stock and the show-stopping, 20-inch octagon barrel. There’s no polymer to be found here.
The overall design and execution of the Big Boy Silver is appealing on so many levels. First, I’m a silver bug, and the Big Boy’s finish was the first thing that drew my eye. Rather than a nickel plating, the “silver” receiver is actually made of an alloy of aluminum and bronze, which is touted by Henry as being a bit tougher than its brass receivers. The same material is used for the barrel band and butt plate.
“The overall design and execution of the Big Boy Silver is appealing on so many levels.”
So, rather than wearing through over the years, the “finish” goes through the entire thickness of the metal, and it is a simple matter to polish it up to get it to look sparkling-new again. The finish of the wood and the blued, octagon barrel are exquisite. The fit of parts along the entire rifle is exceptional. It’s a true heirloom piece you’ll want to pass down through the generations, and you almost look forward to the character marks that will appear through use to remind you of each outing and your time spent with it on the trail.
THE PISTOL-CALIBER RIFLE
From a prepper’s or survivalist’s standpoint, there’s a lot to be said about the versatility of a pistol-caliber carbine, especially one in .357 Magnum. Henry also offers the Big Boy Silver in .45 Long Colt and .44 Magnum, but we requested a .357 Magnum model for the review for some very specific reasons. Revolvers are not being purchased quite as often as semiautomatics these days, and over time, this will lead to fewer available rounds to be scavenged. This is particularly true with .45 Long Colt and .44 Magnum, which tend to be the choice of enthusiasts or niche users. The .357 Magnum round is still fairly ubiquitous and can still be found in the homes of many gun owners.
A heavy .357 Magnum load can be used for hunting or defending against just about any game or predator one would encounter in the woods throughout most of the United States. In the Western states, there are some larger animals that would require a more substantial round. But, for the most part, the .357 Magnum round, fired from a rifle, will keep the family fed—and safe, as well.
As a self-defense handgun caliber, the .357 Magnum round still generally reigns as king of one-shot stops—all things considered. Certainly, there are more powerful and bigger handgun cartridges on the market, but you have to balance those characteristics against shootability for the average person and the ability to quickly fire follow-up shots. The .500 S&W is vastly more powerful than the .357 Mangum, but quick, defensive, follow-up shots with it aren’t attainable by John Q. Public—and concealed carry is pretty much a non-starter.
And, yes, I won’t lie: There’s a certain romance to being able to switch ammunition from handgun to rifle as the old-time waddies used to do, but there’s a practical aspect, as well: Being able to fire the same cartridge from a pistol and a rifle streamlines the type of ammunition that has to be carried. It’s also efficient for reloading.
Additionally, pistol-caliber ammunition is generally cheaper than rifle rounds; of course, this is dependent on the type of ammunition being used. But, comparing apples to apples in regard to quality, true rifle rounds tend to be more expensive for both practice and real-life scenarios.
There’s a lot that can be accomplished with a pistol-caliber rifle before having to step up the power level.
“The finish of the wood and the blued, octagon barrel are exquisite. The fit of parts along the entire rifle is exceptional.”
Once we got the Big Boy Silver outdoors and doing its intended job, the initial shooting impressions were very positive. The lever action was quite smooth and reliable. We did have a couple of hang-ups when chambering rounds, but I believe that was from short-stroking the lever. That’s on us, not the rifle. Rather than loading from a side feed gate, the magazine tube is loaded from the top after removing the inner tube and magazine.
Although the Big Boy had some weight to it, it was still easy to shoulder and manipulate. I liked the alloy base plate that helped the rifle shoulder more quickly—as opposed to a rubber butt pad that can catch on clothing. And even the heaviest .357 Magnum loads fired from the 8.7-pound rifle had just the slightest recoil, so a cushioned butt pad isn’t necessary.
“… the “silver” receiver is actually made of an alloy of aluminum and bronze, which is touted by Henry as being a bit tougher than its brass receivers.”
We had a good variety of quality ammunition on hand to try in the Big Boy, and I was personally impressed by the overall results. Buffalo Bore Ammunition provided us quite a large selection to experiment with, and other companies—SIG Elite Performance Ammunition, Hornady and Black Hills Ammunition—also made contributions to the test process. Testing was done from the bench at 50 yards, using only the factory semi-buckhorn sights. I’ll echo what seems to be the general consensus from lever-action owners: I found it difficult to get precision shots at that distance with the semi-buckhorn sights.
However, this isn’t an issue with Henry, because most lever-action rifle manufacturers supply this type as the factory sight. The trigger had a very nice and clean break, with a pull of just 3.5 pounds—making accurate shooting an easier affair. One thing to note is the lack of a manual safety. The Big Boy is considered on “safe” once the hammer has been decocked and completely lowered. This is due to the inclusion of a transfer bar safety, and there is no half-cock position. Because of the distance and type of sights, we chose to report the best of three five-shot groups for each round to help compensate for human error. The standout five-shot group during three range sessions was 1.13 inches, and that was obtained with the Buffalo Bore 158-grain J.H.C. load. The second-best group followed closely at just 1.32 inches, and that was with the SIG V-Crown 125-grain JHP load. There were individual groups of different ammunition that measured less than 2 inches, but after averaging the results, the Henry seemed to prefer the Buffalo Bore loads the most. There was less deviation among results—hinting at more-consistent practices with loading each round.
• Action type: Lever-action rifle
• Caliber: .357 Magnum (.45 Colt/.44 Magnum available)
• Capacity: 10+1
• Length: 38.5 inches
• Length of pull: 14 inches
• Barrel length: 20 inches
• Stock/forend: American walnut
• Finish: Polished
• Weight: 8.7 pounds
• Buffalo Bore 125-grain J.H.C.: 2,218 fps
• Buffalo Bore Outdoorsman 180-grain Hard Cast LFN-GC: 1,804 fps
• Buffalo Bore 158-grain. J.H.C.: 1,875 fps
• Black Hills 125-grain J.H.P.: 2,058 fps
• SIG Elite Performance V-Crown 125-grain J.H.P.: 1,797 fps
• Hornady 158-grain XTP: 1,687 fps
Note: Measured at 10 feet from muzzle; .357 Magnum loads
• Buffalo Bore 125-grain J.H.P.: 1.56 inches
• Buffalo Bore Outdoorsman 180-grain Hard Cast LFN-GC: 1.63 inches
• Buffalo Bore 158-grain J.H.C.: 1.13 inches
• SIG Elite Performance V-Crown 125-grain J.H.P.: 1.32 inches
• Black Hills 125-grain J.H.P.: 1.94 inches
• Hornady 158-grain XTP: 1.88 inches
Note: Best of three five-shot groups from the bench at 50 yards
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the January 2017 print issue of American Survival Guide.