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Allen Fire Arms' Henry rifle a rapid fire replica!

Generally, when we modern shooters use the term, "replica," in conjunction with firearms, we tend to think of a muzzle-loading flintlock or percussion gun. However, with the popularity in recent years of teh reproduction of the early self-contained metallic cartridge arms, we are finding that a replica does not necessarily mean that the firearm is strictly a front-loading, black-powder-only proposition.

Now nostalgia-oriented firearms enthusiasts can enjoy a vast variety of the most popular guns from the adventure-packed pages of history. Most of these metallic cartridge reproductions are made to handle currently available factory ammunition--generally in the same caliber as the vintage arm it replicates, although some of these 20th century repros started life as rimfires, and are now offered in centerfire chamberings which produce similar ballistics.

Allen Fire Arms' replica of the famed Henry rifle is just such a gun. Back in October of 1860, when the Henry was originally introduced, it was chambered for the .44 Henry Flat, a rimfire round designed especially for this rifle. The Henry rifle itself only lasted about a half-dozen years, before it gave way to an updated version, initially called the "Improved Henry," and later dubbed the Model 1866 Winchester, Originally, the .44 Henry Flat (.44 RF) cartridge utilized a 200-grain lead bullet backed by about 26 grains of black powder. This loading was housed is a rimfire, copper case that measured .815-inch long.

With the introduction of the Model 1873 Winchester, came the .44 Winchester Center Fire cartridge (.44 WCF). This slightly more potent round was designed for the '73 Winchester in an attempt to beef up the highly successful, but not very powerful, .44 Henry Flat rimfire cartridge. Like the .44 RF, the original .44 WCF was loaded with a 200-grain lead bullet, but instead of 26 grains of black powder, the charge was upped to 40 grains. Because of its powder charge, this round was nicknamed the ".44-40", a byname that has stuck with this cartridge, and has actually overshadowed the load's original destination to become the accepted term in modern times.

Since the .44 Henry Flat rimfire was dropped from production around 1934, it was only natural that the .44-40 cartridge was chosen to chamber the replica Henry. After all, if the Henry rifle had been manufactured longer, it is conceivable that it would have been offered in this same chambering. However, the greater powder charge of the .44-40 over the old .44 RF required a longer case length. The original rimfire Henry rifle's under-barrel magazine accepted 15 rounds. With the addition of one more cartridge in the chamber, the Henry quickly earned the nickname the "Sixteen Shooter." Of course there is the often told story of this repeater's other sobriquet, given to it by those Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, who faced its then unheard of firepower. Armed with slow loading, single-shot muzzle-loading rifle muskets, these "Johnny Rebs" christened this rapid fire lever gun, "That Damned Yankee rifle that you load on Sunday and shoot all week."

Because of the slightly longer case of the .44-40, only a dozen centerfire cartridges can be loaded into the replica Henry's magazine, thus wiht another round "up the spout," the Allen Fire Arms version becomes a "Thirteen Shooter!" However, here's where the major differences end. this reproduction is the most faithful duplication to the original Henry this gun handler has seen to date. According to Lee Allen, president of Allen Fire Arms, this carbon copy was patterned from a mid-production-vintage original Henry rifle. During the testing of this replica, I borrowed an original Henry rifle from local collector, John Bruchman. I was empressed at the detailing that had been carried through on Allen's modern version. In fact, from a short distance away, it was quite difficult to tell John's 1860's Henry apart from the Allen Fire Arms 1980s rifle. The only giveaway was in the worn finish of the older gun.

Like its predecessor, Allen Fire Arms' Henry has a polished brass frame. The buttplate and magazine guide are also of brass. The 23-1/4-inch octagon barrel, lever, lever catch, and all screws are finished in a beautiful charcoal blue. While this type of blueing is not as lasting as the modern blue/black finish, it is the proper coloration as found on the firearms of the mid-19th century, so as the metal parts lose their finish through wear and use, the gun will maintain an honest-to-goodness old-time look. Personally, I find this very appealing. It is one more subtle detail that gives me that feeling of handling an original arm. The trigger and hammer of the Allen Fire Arms Henry are blued on the front and back surfaces while the sides have been polished bright. The original-type single leaf folding rear sight is also charcoal blued. The 3/16-inch thick blade front sight is made of German silver. The rifle's stock is nicely figured, straight-grained walnut, and has the appearance of stocks I've seen on vintage arms in excellent condition. One of the detail touches found on Allen's Henry is the addition of a charcoal blued, barrel-mounted sling loop, and a sling swivel which screws into the left side of the stock. Also, a tool compartment, with a flip-up lid, has been integrated into th buttplate.

Succinctly stated, this replica is downright handsome! But, this rifle isn't just another "pretty face", it handles as well as it looks. The levering is smooth, but positive. THe trigger pull is a tad heavy at 9 pounds, but it does break crisp and clean. Loading is accomplished in the same way that the original Henrys were. First, the spring-fed magazine guide is raised toward the muzzle, to the point where the barrel is shrouded. This top section of the tube is then turned to the rifle's right side, thus preventing the guide from returning. Cartridges are then lowered, bullet end up, into the under-barrel magazine. Once loaded, the shrouded muzzle is then turned back into place and the guide is lowered into the magazine.

When it comes to practical performance, this gun has got what it takes. Actually, during my shooting tests of the Allen Fire Arms Henry, I had an opportunity to handle several rifles. I can honestly report that each rifle I tested was good looking, accurate, and smooth handling. Incidently, these rifles are manufactured in Brescia, Italy, by the well-known firm of A. Uberti. I noticed that the early production Henrys were finished with the modern blue/black blueing; however, since Uberti has perfected the antique-type charcoal blued finish, later production arms are sporting this handsome look.

On the firing rangeM these guns shot as one would expect an 1860s Henry to. Generally, when familiarizing myself with a test gun, I like to do some informal plinking to get the feel of a gun

During several testing sessions, where couple of Allen Henry rifles were shot at length, I found that they all have a ten dency to shoot about 5 to 7 inches high. THis is primarily due to the authentic 1860s-type front and rear sights provided with these arms. The "V" notch in the rear sight is so small--like the originals--that it is sometimes difficult to tell where the front sight is in relation to the rear. Of course, the solution to this problem is to deepen the rear notch to provide a more positive sight picture. However, I wanted to see what this gun would do in its "stock" configuration. Even though though it took me a little longer to be sure of my sight picture with these old-timey sights, I was still able to tally up some pretty impressive scores on paper. For example, at 50 yards, using Winchester and REmington factory amnunition, benchrested five-shot groups hovered around the 2-3/4-inch mark; none exceeded 3-1/4 inches. My best five-shot group at 50 yards was obtained with Winchester ammo and measured a tidy 2-1/8 inches i n the "9" and "10" rings. At 100 yards, my shots were all falling within five to seven-inch spreads, and were for the most part centered in the black. Again, these Henrys seemed to prefer the Winchester fodder and the top score at that distance was a pleasing five-shot spread of just 3-1/4 inches in the "9" and "10" rings.

In the course of firing these Allen Henrys, I tried out some handloaded black powder rounds I had loaded up for an 1883-vintage .44-40 Peacemaker Colt. Although they functioned perfectly in each arm, accuracy suffered noticeably. Because these Henrys are rifled for modern factory .44-40 ammo, which is copper jacketed, the rifling is much shallower than that of an 1860s Henry, which is cut deeper for pure lead bullets. Cast pure lead bullets don't stabilize as well in shallow rifling grooves, thus accuracy suffers. However, for plinking at shorter ranges, accuracy on moderately sized targets posed no problem with my black powder loads. If you plan on reloading for your Henry though, I suggest you carefully work up the proper combination of bullet and powder charge for your specific rifle. As with other metallic cartridge replicas, I feel a hard lead, such as a No. 2 alloy bullet, will generally prove to be the cast bullet fan's best bet.

In the past months that I have been playing with the Henry, I noticed a couple of humorous "phenomenons" that are unique to this rifle's design. First, during competition at one of the "End Of Trail" single-action and Old West firearms competitions (see G&A's February issue's feature story by Dave Arnold, entitled "Shootout at the End of the Trail") I watched a competitor who was using a Henry replica in one of the matches. The fellow had commented that he had never fired the rifle before, and when he begaan shooting it in rapid fire fashion, of course the magazine guide would travel toward the receiver with each levering of a new cartridge in the chamber. Suddenly, the man realized he was levering, but there were no cartridges being fed into the chamber. The much disgruntled, and excited, rifleman knew darned well he had only fired about five or six rounds, yet his Henry would not feed! As the "Cease Firing" signal of the timed event he was shooting in was sounded, a couple of his "friendly competitors" informed him that unlike the later Winchesters, with their wood forearms--and no external magazine guide--one had to occasionally change the position of his own forearm in shooting the Henry. What had happened was that the guide had traveled to his support arm on the barrel assembly, and because of his hand, it could travel no further, thus the cartridges would not feed! It's a sure bet that this modern-day frontiersman now knows how to handle a Henry rifle in "the heat of battle!"

The second phenomenon occured with yours truly. While benchresting the Henry replica, I would lower my bearded cheek deep down on the gun's stock for a precise sight picture. Often after firing the rifle, I would snag my hairy facial adornment on the repeater's sling swivel. No big deal, but it caused me to wonder how many men through history have experienced just such a hitch. Of course this doesn't pose any problem when shouldering the rifle during normal shooting, but when in a lowered position such as from a bench--or perhaps behind a log or some other field-type rest that could have been used in any of a number of real-life incidents in history--one's facial hair can get caught in the sling swivel. From the many photos I've seen of those old-timers, they had beards that make mine look anemic! Like I said, it's a minor point, but sometimes it is just such trivial things that decide fate.

The introduction of the Henry rifle was a major milestone in the evolution of firearms development. Ironically, even though its chief rival, the seven-shot Spencer rifle was actually patented several months before the Henry, and it far outsold The New Haven Arms Co.'s sixteen-shooter (The Spencer Repeating Rifle Co. produced around 140,000 military rifles, carbines and civilian sporting rifles during its brief existence), this first repeater died a sudden death. While the Henry, on the other hand, who's manufacturers could only boast of a production run of about 14,000-plus rifles, was the inaugural model of the most popular series of lever-action rifles the world has ever known. Such credentials would surely qualify the Henry rife as the first truly successful repeating rifle, and the granddaddy of all lever guns!

Because of its low production, an original Henry is a several-thousand-dollar collector's piece today, and in the .44 Henry Flat Rimfire chambering, shooters are out of the question. The Allen .44-40 replica retails for $549 in either the 24-1/4-inch barreled rifle, or a 22-1/4-inch barreled carbine (there were no known original Henrys made in carbine configuration). Allen also offers the Henry "in the white," with a polished steel barrel and furniture, rather than the charcoal blue model. This should be of interest to engravers and do-it-yourself gunsmithers.

For further details on the Henry replica, or any other of Allen Fire Arm's fine line of reproduction firearms and accessories, send $3 for a fully-illustrated catalog to: Allen Fire Arms, Dept GA, 1107 Pen Road, Santa Fe, NM 87501.
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Author:Spangenberger, Phil
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Jul 1, 1984
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