I was sitting in a bear blind in mid-may in Quebec, offering silent praise for whoever invented screens. The black flies were nearly unbearable, but when the bear showed himself all my insect concerns went away. Wrestling the muzzle of the rifle out of the small window for the shot was another issue altogether.
I took the bear cleanly, but immediately started thinking about a shorter rifle for situations such as this, as well as for the follow-up in the thick brush. A bear blind isn’t the only place with confining dimensions; there have been several deer blinds in various places across Texas where longer barrels can pose an issue, not to mention trying to maneuver a rifle in a pop-up blind.
I was at the Dallas Safari Club Convention, chatting with the excellent crew from Heym—my Model 89B double rifle in .470 NE is among my favorite rifles ever—when a different sort of double rifle caught my eye. While Heym is famous among both dangerous-game hunters and professional hunters and guides for their classically-styled side-by-side double rifles and wonderfully balanced bolt rifles, this over/under double stood out from the crowd of rifles at the booth.
“And, just what is that?” I asked Chris Sells of Heym USA. “That is our Model 26B, a petite little double rifle. This one’s chambered in .45-70.” Well, he had my attention, and my mind immediately went to the thick woods of the Northeast, the brushy willow thickets of Quebec, and other short to medium range hunting situations where the venerable cartridge would be right at home. “We regulate our .45-70s with the 325-grain Hornady LeveRevolution ammo; it gives a bit of flexibility to the package,” Sells related as he handed the rifle—with the beautiful walnut fashioned in the Bavarian style—over to me. The slender lines of the forend, the balance of the light little rifle, and—perhaps one of the most important features to me—a length of pull long enough to suit my frame; all these added up to an instantaneous attraction to the svelte rifle.
While the Heym 26B is considerably lighter than its side-by-side cousins the 88B and 89B, and though a bunch of that weight is shed by using an aluminum receiver, it is a well-thought-out design. Equipped with a single, non-selective trigger, firing the bottom barrel first, and extractors (non-ejectors), this rifle offers a great blend of portability and shootability. The steel barrels are mated to the receiver via a steel hinge pin, and rest against a steel plate on the face of the receiver. There are fluorescent front and rear sights, an orange bead on the front and a lime green line on the rear sight for fast target acquisition—though the rear sight sits halfway down the barrels, this system is designed for fast shooting on driven hunts—and Heym offers a proprietary scope mounting system which quickly attaches and detaches from the receiver, returning to zero each time.
I asked Chris to send the rifle for a spring hunt—I was scheduled to head to the great state of Alaska in May for a black bear hunt in the thick coastal areas—but then the COVID-19 disaster struck, so the best I could muster was some good range time to put the 26B through its paces. The rifle arrived with a classic low-power scope: the Leupold VX-3i 1.5x-5x-20mm. This scope is the industry standard for dangerous game work, and I like for any rifle where eye-relief may pose an issue. So, in addition to the excellent Hornady LeveRevolution, with the 325-grain FlexTip bullet, I grabbed a couple other similar loads: the Federal Fusion 300-grain bonded-core softpoint and the new Federal HammerDown 300-grain bonded-core softpoint, as these are close enough to the regulation load to give decent accuracy. And give decent accuracy they did.
Sitting at the bench with the Model 26B, I was amazed at a couple of different things. First, the rifle’s recoil was more than manageable; I’ve shot quite a few different .45-70s, from single-shot Sharps-style rifles, to the heavier Model 1886, to the lightweight Marlin lever guns, and the Heym Model 26B wasn't terrible at all, even from bench positions. Once I got off the bench, shooting offhand, from shooting sticks and kneeling, the gun was absolutely enjoyable to shoot.
Second, the Heym Model 26B is wonderfully accurate, printing an up and a down (as opposed to a right and a left) within an inch at 100 yards, and it did it with all three ammunition types. While the 300- and 325-grain bullets are on the lighter side in .458-inch-diameter, they are perfect for deer, black bear and similar sized game, especially with a bonded core. Velocities were consistent as well, with the Hornady stuff traveling at 1,965 fps, the Federal HammerDown at 1852 fps and the Fusion cruising at 1824 fps, averaged for six shots each on my Oehler 36P chronograph.
I grabbed my Lyman digital trigger scale to see where the 26B’s trigger was breaking, and the results definitely correspond to the accuracy of the rifle; the trigger broke at 2 pounds, 14 ounces for the bottom barrel, and reset to break at 3 pounds, 4 ounces for the top barrel. From any position, the Bavarian stock, with its gentle, curving drop along the comb, fits very well, with no stock slap and a proper check weld.
Did I find anything to gripe about? Well, personally, yes.
Rather than a traditional tang safety (as most Americans are used to on our O/U shotguns) the Model 26B is equipped with a “Handspanner.” Although it resembles as an over-sized tang safety, the Handspanner actually provides the shooter with the ability to cock and de-cock the rifle. That is to say that with the rifle loaded, it is possible to carry the rifle un-cocked; with no tension on the firing pins. Yes, there are still two cartridges in the chambers, and yes, the rifle is effectively loaded, but it is still inert—until the Handspanner is pushed forward (as one would do to take your O/U from “safe” to “fire.”) This movement of the Handspanner forward actually cocks the rifle and makes it ready to fire. Decide not to fire? No problem. Simply push the Handspanner slightly forward again, and it will release the tension from the firing pins and de-cock the rifle.
Being completely honest, I don’t personally like it. It takes considerable effort to cock the rifle, and while I absolutely enjoy a double rifle for dangerous game work, I don’t feel this rifle is well-suited for that application because of the time and effort it takes to operate the cocking mechanism. It takes too much effort to cock the rifle to be suitable for dangerous game. In all fairness, however, this is also not a rifle that was designed for dangerous game. The 26B was built to be short, lightweight, compact and to be carried 100 percent safely while “loaded,” but is was made with driven-hunting in mind, not Cape buffalo.
All things considered, I came away from my experiences with the Heym Model 26B a happy shooter. It is a rifle which handles well, carries efficiently, is seriously accurate, and is handsome enough to hand to your friends to admire. The wood-to-metal fit is what you would expect on a well-made European rifle—a little “proud”—as to provide for the possibility of a refinish or two in the future.
I wouldn’t hesitate to take the 26B on a European driven hunt, or into the deer woods, and I think that the rifle absolutely shines on black bear hunts. There’s really no arguing with the .45-70 Government as a cartridge—it has been serving hunters well since 1873—and in the Heym Model 26B it gets an entirely different lease on life. This rifle represents a healthy investment, even if remarkably affordable in comparison to Britain’s double guns, yet will serve you well around the world. I'm a 26B fan.
• Rifle: Heym Model 26B over/under double rifle
• Barrels: 22” Krupp steel
• Stock: two-piece walnut with checkering
• Length: 39”
• Weight: 7lbs., 1 oz. w/ scope and mount
• Sights: iron sights, optional scope mount (tested Leupold VX-3i 1.5x-5x-20mm)
• Length of Pull: 14¾”
• Chambering: .45-70 Gov’t (tested), 7x57R, 7x65R, .30-30 Win, .308 Marlin, 8x57R, 9.3x74R
• MSRP: starting at $5,500; heymusa.com