WESSON & HARRINGTON RIFLES FROM H&R 1871.
roud reminders of our shooting heritage, today Harrington & Richardson rifles, under the H&R 1871, Wesson & Harrington and New England Firearms labels, are single-shots that all come from the same factory in Gardner, Mass. The Harrington & Richardson is available in the Ultra Varmint Rifle in .223 chambering, a special favorite with varminters who often spend much more for a scope than for the reasonably priced $255 rifles. This same rifle in the Ultra Hunter Model is offered in .243, .308, .25-06 and even in .357 Maximum. For an extra $35 you can have the Comp Rifle in either .270 or .30-'06.
Switching to the New England label, the Handi-Rifle, which definitely is a most handy rifle, is offered in .22 Hornet, .223, .243, 7x57, 7x64, .30-30, .270, .280, .308, .30-'06, .44 Mag. and even .45-70. All of these sell for less than $225 and deliver accuracy that is far above the selling price.
Great Rifles, Great Prices
We tested the Classic Series, the Wesson & Harrington Buffalo and Target Rifles. The Buffalo rifle is offered only in the frontier chambering of .45-70, with a 32" heavy barrel, overall length of 52", and a weight of 9 lbs., even though it seems to weigh less. Both the forearm and the buttstock are good-quality black walnut while the receiver is case-colored.
No sights of any kind are provided; however, the barrel is drilled and tapped for a Weaver base, and dovetailed for a front sight. The rifle features an exposed hammer action, which opens by pushing a lever on the right side of the hammer. Ejection of fired cases is strong and positive. The Buffalo Classic was scoped with a Weaver base and Weaver scope.
The Wesson & Harrington Target Rifle is available only in a 28" heavy barrel version chambered in .38-55, which just happens to be the original chambering found in Winchester's Model 1894. It preceded the legendary .30-30 by one year. In fact, the .30-30 is basically nothing more than a slightly shortened .38-55 case necked down to .30 caliber. The .38-55 was originally a black powder cartridge while the .30-30 entered the world as a smokeless powder round.
The .38-55 also has a modern relative in the .375 Win., which is basically the .30-30 necked back up to .38 caliber. If you have been following this you know that the .375 Win. case is slightly shorter than the original .38-55. It is also constructed of heavier brass than the .38-55.
Factory rounds for the .375 Win, are loaded to a much higher pressure than the .38-55 and as such are also much more powerful and should never be used in .38-55 chambered rifles. The upside is that the .38-55 can be used in many .375 Win, rifles.
The appointments of the .38-55 Target Rifle are the same as those found on the Buffalo Classic, operation is the same, and they both have a case-colored metal buttplate. With the .38-55 chambering, this buttplate was no problem; however, it certainly got my attention with heavy loads in the .45-70. While the Target Rifle arrived without sights, it did have a Weaver base already in place.
Going The Distance
Both of these rifles fill several niches. There is a special version for use in long-range events in SASS cowboy action shooting, they make very reasonably priced hunting rifles, and they are great fun for shooting cast bullets. This is especially true of the Target Rifle in .38-55, which features easy shooting qualities and superb accuracy with cast bullets.
The only factory jacketed-bullet load in .38-55 is Winchester's 255 gr. JFP. Although it travels at a very sedate 1,280 fps to accommodate its use in guns that are over 100 years old, it shoots superbly in the Wesson & Harrington, grouping three shots in 7/8" at 50 yards and 1 1/4" at 100 yards.
Switching to cast bullets turned out to be a good news-bad news proposition. The bad news is if the bullets are plain based they probably will not shoot very well in the Wesson & Harrington .38-55. However, switching to gas check bullets, in this case RCBS's #37-250 FNGC, turned this .38-55 single-shot rifle into the proverbial tack driver. We have only tried two loads with this bullet, but the results are spectacular.
With 33 grs. of H4895, muzzle velocity is 1,827 fps, and three shots at 100 yards grouped into 3/4". Using 30 grs. of RE-7, the muzzle velocity is virtually the same at 1,832 fps, and the groups shrink even more to 1/2".
We spent considerable time shooting the Buffalo Classic as the .45-70 was originally intended -- with black powder. Black powder loads with 405 and 500 gr. bullets stayed under 3" at 100 yards. Meister Bullets new 405 gr. plain-based cast bullet lubed with the black-powder-friendly SPG lube was pleasantly surprising. This lube is soft and keeps black powder fouling to a minimum.
What? We're Not Serious?
Most serious black powder rifle shooters run a patch through the bore after each shot. We wanted to see what kind of results we could get by firing 10 shots without cleaning. Using 67.5 grs. of Elephant Brand FFg black powder under the Meister Bullet's 405 gr. plain-base bullet gave a muzzle velocity of 1,242 fps. At 50 yards the first five shots grouped into 1 1/2", the next three shots opened the group to 3" and the last two shots keyholed on the paper.
Switching to 65.8 grs. of Swiss FFg resulted in 100 fps more muzzle velocity; however, the fouling was worse, as the first five shots grouped into 3", the next two shots opened the group to 3 3/4" and the last shot was off the paper. So it is obvious that for many uses we could get at least five good shots without cleaning using either powder.
Some exceptionally good-shooting factory loads in the .45-70 Buffalo Classic were Black Hills 405 gr. FN at 1,300 fps and a three-shot group at 50 yards of 3/4"; and Federal's 405 gr. FN at 1,250 fps and a group of 1 1/8". The Meister 405 gr. bullet over 28.5 grs. of Accurate Arms XMP 5744 came in at 1,455 fps and a group of 7/8"; Beartooth's 405 gr. gas checked bullet over the same charge gave the same muzzle velocity and shrunk the group ever so slightly to 3/4".
The Right Bullet
In the past it has been difficult if not impossible to find machine cast, reasonably priced bullets that would shoot well in the .45-70. Most versions offered came with one inadequate grease groove filled with a hard lube that basically accomplished nothing. Oregon Trail has corrected this with three new .45-70 bullets: a 350 gr. with two grease grooves, a 405 gr. that now has three grooves and the 500 gr. version that carries grease in four grooves.
The Oregon Trail 500 gr. bullet was used with four different powder charges all giving excellent results. Accurate Arms XMP 5744 loaded to 26 grs. gave a muzzle velocity just under 1,300 fps and placed three shots in 1 1/8"; 44.5 grs. of their XMP2495 upped the muzzle velocity to 1,500 fps and yielded a grouping of 1 1/2". The same results were obtained with 35 grs. of RE-7.
Best results were with 36 grs. of IMR 3031 for slightly over 1,300 fps and a three-shot group of 7/8". With a 500 gr. bullet any of these loads should give excellent penetration.
For heavy-duty use with the Buffalo Classic .45-70, Buffalo Bore's 430 gr. LBT clocks out at 2,050 fps, Garrett's 530 grs. Hammer Head does right under 1,600 fps, and our handloads using 405 gr. cast bullets are right at 2,200 fps. All of these are very serious hunting loads.