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Outdoor Journal: Lever-action Henry .22 ideal for small game

Outdoor Journal: Lever-action Henry .22 ideal for small game

Sept. 1 is the opening of squirrel season, and I can’t remember the last time I missed it. It’s alwa

When the sun comes up one week from today, I won’t be in my fishing boat as I usually am, but in the woods wherever I can find group of oak trees and/or a corn field near some hardwoods.

Why? Because Sept. 1 is the opening of squirrel season, and I can’t remember the last time I missed it. It’s always been the “kick off” of my fall/winter hunting seasons, and it’s a great time to be in the woods.

One reason for my eagerness to accumulate the main ingredients for my squirrel stew is my recent acquisition of a Henry Octagon Frontier .22-caliber rifle made by Henry Repeating Arms in Bayonne, N.J. This little gun is right out of the old west with its design and the octagon barrel.

My first contact with this com­pany and the gun was at the 2006 Shot Show in Las Vegas, where I spoke with Anthony Imperato, president and owner of Henry Repeating Arms, but it wasn’t until recently in a local gun shop that I actually picked one up and worked the action. I was totally amazed at how smoothly and effortless the lever worked. And when I shouldered it, I was completely hooked. It was then and there that I knew I’d found my new small-game hunting/ plinking rifle.

That evening at home, I checked out the company’s website (www.henryrepeating.com) and found several other things I liked about the Henry. One was right on top of the first page — the American flag and “Made in America or not at all.” The other was a large loop lever accessory I had them add to the gun. It not only looked good, but was perfect for a winter glove.

I also checked out the history of the original Henry rifle, which dates back to 1860, when Benjamin Tyler Henry developed the lever-action rifle, utilizing the backing of a gentleman named Oliver Winchester. Its caliber was a .44 rimfire metallic cartridge, and the Henry held 16 rounds in the tube-loading magazine and one in the chamber. It was said this rifle then gave one Union soldiers the firepower of a dozen men armed with muzzle-loading rifles. And it was called, “That damned Yankee rifle that you load on Sunday and fire all week.”

In 1993, the late Louis Imperato started a factory in Brooklyn to manufacture .22-caliber rifles under the newly created name of Henry Repeating Arms Co. Today, the company is on the waterfront in Bayonne, where it manufactures 24 different models — 20 lever guns, two bolt-actions, one semi-auto and a pump. The calibers range from .22 to .44 magnum and 30-30.

I have to admit that what first attracted me to the Frontier was its good looks. You can’t help but admire the flawless American walnut stock and 20-inch heavy barrel with gold inlaid lettering, logoed butt plate, Marble’s fully adjustable semi-buckhorn rear, with reversible white diamond insert and brass beaded front sight. It’s also grooved for scope mounting. The Frontier will shoot .22 short and long rifle rounds and has round capacities of 21 short and 16 long rifle bullets. It’s 38.5 inches long and weighs 6.25 pounds — definitely a lot of gun for an suggested retail price of $425.

AT THE RANGE

Because this is my first lever-action .22 caliber rifle, I really didn’t know what to expect of it at the range. Prior to getting the Frontier, I found some Internet articles related to the accuracy of lever-action .22s which said that they could be a little bit less accurate than a good bolt gun. The reasoning was because of the lever gun’s two-piece stock and barrel bands. I don’t know exactly how these would affect a gun’s accuracy, but obviously, they hadn’t shot the Henry. I was quite pleased with my day at the range with my new rimfire.

When testing a new gun, it’s a good idea to try several different ammunition brands and determine which one shoots best. However, having almost a full box of Federal Cartridge 40-grain Game-Shok bullets, I decided to try them before buying anything else. My scope choice was also one I’d used on another test gun, and it worked fine on the Henry. It was a 10-inch TruGlo 3-9x40 that really looked good on the gun.

It was late Saturday and raining very hard when I finally got to the range, but I was able to shoot between the raindrops. As always, I fired three rounds at 20 yards from a solid bench rest position to eval­uate the group. The zeroing in process would be next. Well, those first three shots made me quite happy when I was able to cover them with a quarter. Two more shots to adjust the windage and elevation and then I couldn’t resist a half-dozen more that held the same grouping.

With the target out at 50 yards, it required a few minor adjustments to get it dead-on. The majority of my shots at squirrels and rabbits would be at this distance or less. Again, I got an excellent grouping and followed it up with another six-shot volley. I should add that

every round I fired fed perfectly from the tube into the chamber, and I encountered no ejection problems, even later in the day when I loaded it up and rapid-fired all 16 shots.

After shooting my last round at 100 yards, I found the point of impact to be about 51⁄2 inches low, which was expected. As for the centering, there was about a 3 mile-per-hour wind which caused the group to open up a little less than one inch. The remaining rounds were used by several fellow club members who happened to be on the range and took an interest in my Henry.

And believe it or not, on the way home, with no bullets, I spotted a woodchuck sitting on the mound in front of his hole on the edge of a cornfield, a field which I just happen to have permission to hunt. I estimated that his hole was about 40 yards from an old overgrown ATV trail leading in from the road. I could easily make my way quietly and fully concealed to within shooting range of this ’chuck without being seen, but not without bullets. Fortunately, tomorrow was another day.

After dinner, I found the Federal ammunition I’d used successfully at the range and made plans to be in the woods and on that trail, sneaking up to say “good morning” to that woodchuck when he popped out of his den.

It was still dark when Henry and I headed to the field in hopes of getting our first woodchuck. It was rather warm when I entered the woods and loaded 16 Federal .22 long rifles into the gun’s holding tube. I slowly made my way along the trail in the dark, being as quiet as possible. The trail was I little longer than I remembered, and when I was about 50 yards from the field and the end of the trail, I worked my way from tree to tree for my final approach. It was just beginning to get light.

There were several small pines near the end of the trail that I sat down behind, and from there, I was able to clear out a shooting window overlooking the field. The woodchuck hole, which I later found out later was just 41 steps from my hiding position, was right in line. But there was no sign of him.

About 7:30 a.m., while watching two does feeding at the end of the field to my left, I noticed his nose and part of his head sticking out of the hole. I slowly raised the gun to my shoulder and rested the forend on the branch. He was caut­ious, but eventually the rest of him mater­ialized.

I carefully pulled back the hammer to the firing position, placed the crosshairs on the back of his neck and gently squeezed the trigger. The Henry had taken its first woodchuck. I think the last time I shot a woodchuck with a .22 caliber rifle was in the late 1960s.

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