by Richard Mann - Saturday, February 18, 2017
Most Americans—even city folk—have a little cowboy in ’em somewhere, an alter ego just waiting to escape. There was a time when multiple manufacturers made lever-action .22 rifles to help treat this condition. Those days are gone, but all is not lost. Fortunately, Henry Repeating Arms turns out fine-shooting and reliable lever-action rifles to help us find the cowboy in us all.
Now America’s leading builder of lever-action rifles, Henry is also one of the top five long-gun manufacturers in the United States. The company has not forgotten the joy of a rimfire lever-action rifle, and proof is the Frontier Long Barrel. The rifle gets its name from its 24-inch octagonal barrel and recreates the classic “rifle” configuration popular during the turn of the 20th century. The Frontier Long Barrel is available in two chamberings—.22 LR and .22 Mag.—with or without a threaded muzzle. The .22 LR version I tested is compatible with .22 Short, Long and Long Rifle cartridges.
With its 7-pound heft and 14-inch length of pull, this is an adult rifle. However, with the balance point right between your hands and just under the rear sight, the rifle feels much lighter. Like a good lever-action rifle should, it seems to come alive when you pick it up. The Frontier Long Barrel is fitted with a classic semi-buckhorn rear sight that adjusts for elevation via a stepped elevator and for windage by drifting its base in its dovetail notch. The extended 21.25-inch sight radius, and added weight of the long octagonal barrel, seemingly allows the brass bead front sight to hang on the target. When shooting the rifle offhand you feel like you cannot miss.
The American walnut stock on my sample is plain with little figure, and fit and finish are good. Henry saves some weight (and cost) by using a machined aluminum receiver and barrel band. Both are finished in black and match the polished, blued-steel barrel nicely. Though unadorned, the rifle is attractive and reminiscent of a time long past.
The Frontier Long Barrel has an integral 3/8-inch dovetail in the receiver for scope mounting. (Rings and a hammer extension are available from Henry.) However, I fired the test rifle for accuracy with four different loads using the open sights. That’s how the rifle comes out of the box, and for the purists among us, that’s how a lever-action rifle should be fired. Even with the old eyes that were looking across the sights, several 50-yard groups approached the 1-inch mark. At that distance the brass front bead covers about 5 inches of the target. Still, when shooting offhand at the same distance, it was commonplace to ring a 4-inch steel target as often as nine out of 10 times. Squirrels and such at moderate rimfire ranges would not stand a chance.
Out of the box the rifle’s point of impact was about 4 inches low at 50 yards. That was quickly and easily corrected with the rear-sight elevator. I fired 200 rounds through the Henry, and there was only one stoppage. For some inexplicable reason one of the Federal AutoMatch cartridges did not want to feed. A little intervention with a pocketknife quickly sorted this out, and the rifle was running free and easy once again.
Without question the Frontier Long Barrel’s most notable feature was the trigger. It broke as crisp as a winter morning in the Appalachians, without any discernible take-up. Pull weight was right at 3.5 pounds! A trigger like this on a lever-action is as rare as a hound dog that won’t chase anything but a raccoon.
Aside from the trigger, which felt as close to perfection as a Timney, the traditional, half-cock hammer safety might be the most appreciated feature. Litigation-fearing firearm designers subscribe to the notion that a lever-action rifle needs an additional push-button or tang safety. Not Henry. Load up the Frontier Long Barrel, work the lever, place the hammer on half-cock, and go hunting. If you need to shoot, just cock the hammer and pull the trigger. If the need passes, hold the hammer with your thumb, press the trigger, and lower the hammer to half-cock—just like your inner cowboy says you should.
With a retail price of less than $500 the new Frontier Long Barrel affordably emulates the lever rifles of old. It should provide lots of reliable and accurate fun on the range. When chasing squirrels in a stand of hickories or jackrabbits on a prickly-pear flat, it should also help create memories that last a lifetime. You might be surprised to learn that a lifetime is also how long Henry Repeating Arms guarantees its rifles.
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