Bob Frye: Lever-action shotguns liven things up
It must have been the cowboy movies.
Some were in color, some in black and white (yeah, that was really a thing). A few featured singing — the ones my dad liked — while others were grittier. In most, the defender of good righted a wrong.
But all were similar in some ways.
The heroes all wore wide-brimmed hats and spurs, shot straight and generally came out on top, if sometimes with scars.
And they all carried lever guns.
Oh, those lever guns. I loved them then, and I love them now, from their look to the way they feel in the hand.
So when Henry Repeating Arms — celebrating its 20th anniversary — announced it had come out with a pair of .410 gauge lever-action shotguns, I couldn't wait to try one.
It didn't disappoint.
There are two versions. One has a 24-inch barrel, single front bead sight and the ability to accept various screw-in choke tubes. The other has a 20-inch barrel, buckhorn sights and a fixed cylinder choke.
I tested the latter, and boy was it fun.
The guns are limited to shooting 2¾-inch shells. They load into the tube under the barrel by pulling out a rod and dropping them into a slot a few inches from the muzzle.
Like all Henry lever guns, this one cycled beautifully, feeding shells in and out without a single hiccup. That was true even when firing quickly, This gun has little kick, so it was easy to shoot it, work the lever and shoot again, five times in a row, all while keeping it on the shoulder and on target.
That was a blast, if a bit expensive (the empties pile up fast and furious, and before you know it you need to buy more ammo).
It was accurate, too.
I ran No. 9 shot through the gun to see how it would pattern. Out to 20 yards for sure, and perhaps to 25, it performed well enough to think you could take squirrels and rabbits pretty consistently.
Neither model right now comes with a plug — some states require shotguns to have no more than three rounds while hunting — but Henry reportedly is working on that.
The gun did well firing slugs, too. At distances you might shoot, say, a compound bow, it consistently punched holes in 2-inch groups. You surely could take a deer with this at such ranges.
This gun's also a winner when it comes to looks. It has an American walnut stock with checkering on the fore end and pistol grip. There's a rubber butt pad, too. It's pretty heavy duty, especially for a .410, but not ungainly.
There's one consideration, though. Price.
The 20-inch barrel version retails for about $750, the 24-inch barrel version for about $800. They're not necessarily overpriced, but before buying one, consider your reasons.
If you're primarily interested in getting a .410 for a youngster, with every thought that they'll outgrow it later, or are looking for a “barn” gun to kill rodents, there's surely something plainer and cheaper out there, too.
But if you want a handsome shotgun, unlike most everything else you'll find, that shoots just fine, well, then this one is hard to beat.
And if it makes you feel a bit like a cowboy, that's OK, too.