“The Original Henry” 44 WCF Lever Action Rifle, Made in the USA by Henry Repeating Arms

by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Boge Quinn

January 30th, 2014


Click pictures for a larger version.









Ladder rear and blade front sights.



Magazine spring follower.





All new Henry serial numbers begin with BTH, in honor of the rifle's inventor.



Open-bottom magazine tube is integral with the barrel.













When Oliver Winchester took over control of the Volcanic Arms Company in late 1856, he moved the operation to New Haven, Connecticut. He did two things that would change the history of firearms in the world. He changed the name of the company to The New Haven Arms Company, and he hired Benjamin Tyler Henry as his shop foreman. Henry went to work on improving the Volcanic design to fire a 44 caliber rimfire cartridge, and the Henry Rifle was born.

I can imagine at that had this occurred today, some politician would go on a rampage about “why does anyone need sixteen cartridges in the magazine?”, but thankfully, people were smarter 154 years ago than they appear to be today. The Henry was a real game-changer. There were other repeating rifles and carbines introduced about the same time, such as the Spencer, which was built in much higher numbers and adopted by the Union Army, but had a lower capacity and a slower rate of fire. The Henry was never officially adopted by the Union, but many of them were purchased by well-financed individual soldiers, and a few units had several in their possession during the war. The Confederates referred to the Henry as “That damn Yankee rifle that you load on Sunday and shoot all week”. The Henry was the AR-15 of its day. It was expensive to make, and expensive to purchase, but was revolutionary in its rate of sustained fire, compared to the muzzle-loading muskets in use by both armies during The War Between the States.

The Henry also played a significant role in the settling of the American West following the war. For those who could afford one, it offered a lot of firepower, compared to other readily-available weapons, even the much more prevalent Spencer war surplus carbines and rifles. Along with other Winchester leverguns, the Henry played a role in the defeat of Custer’s 7th Calvary at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in June of 1876. By that time, Winchester rifles had been upgraded with King’s patents for an improved magazine and loading gate, but the Henry still served well on the battlefield in the hands of the American Indians, as it continued to do with farmers, ranchers, and others who headed West during the latter part of the nineteenth century.

The Henry is one of the most highly-prized and sought-after rifles for well-heeled firearms collectors today, with original rifles selling for many thousands of dollars. Italian replicas of the Henry have been available from importers in the US for several years, but the Henry is once again being built in the United States, after an absence of 148 years, by the company that bears the Henry name; the Henry Repeating Arms Company of Bayonne, New Jersey.

While the original Henry was chambered for the 44 Henry Rimfire cartridge, which used a 216 grain bullet (pointed or flat-nosed) loaded over 25 grains of black powder (or 26 grains), that cartridge is long out of production. The new Original Henry rifle is chambered for the 44 WCF centerfire cartridge (44-40), with only the changes needed to fire the newer cartridge. The 44 WCF was introduced by Winchester along with the 1873 Winchester rifle, and has endured the test of time, being popular for many years as a rifle and handgun cartridge. Most ammunition sellers today list the 44 WCF as a handgun cartridge, and it is frustrating to look online for the ammunition listed under rifle cartridges, as it is usually listed under the handgun ammunition sections. However, the 44 WCF was introduced in 1873 as a rifle cartridge, and it will always be a rifle cartridge, even though it works well when fired from a revolver.

The Henry Repeating Arms Company has been around for several years now, initially in Brooklyn, NY, and now in Bayonne, NJ with another manufacturing facility in Wisconsin. For their first few years, they focused upon building some smooth-running rimfire lever action rifles, along with the Henry semi-automatic Survival Rifle, a rimfire pump rifle, a full-sized 22 magnum bolt action, and the Mini-Bolt 22, the latter being scaled for smaller shooters. I bought a Henry 22 magnum Levergun for my Dad about a dozen  years ago, and bought my grandson a Golden Boy 22 Long Rifle Levergun two years ago for Christmas. Both are excellent rifles, and made in the USA. Henry Repeating Arms Company also now makes some excellent centerfire lever action rifles, chambered for the 357 and 44 Magnum cartridges, the 45 Colt, 30-30, and 45-70 cartridges, as well as a Mare’s Leg pistol, in both rimfire and centerfire versions.  Their latest rifle introduction is the one featured here: “The Original Henry”, offered in a limited-edition engraved model, or the slick-sided standard rifle shown in the photos here.

The Original Henry, as built by Henry Repeating Arms Company, is a beautiful rifle, as were the ones made in the nineteenth century. On the new rifles, of course, the quality of the strengthened brass and steel is much better than the rifles built fifteen decades ago. The rifle shown here wears a really good-looking piece of American walnut for the buttstock, which is fitted well to the polished brass butt plate and receiver. The twenty-four inch barrel wears an integral magazine tube, as did the earlier rifles, and that unit is built of highly-polished blued steel. This was one of the hardest firearms to photograph with which I have worked in a long time, as it is so well-polished that the surfaces reflect light and images like a mirror. There was a time when all quality firearms made in the US were finished like this, but sadly, new firearms as well-finished as this Henry are hard to find today. The rifle weighs in at just under nine and one-half pounds on my scale, with an overall length of forty-three and one-half inches. The length of pull measures thirteen inches from the center of the crescent butt plate. The trigger pull releases with just under four pounds of resistance on average, with a slight amount of take-up before releasing. The magazine holds thirteen 44 WCF cartridges, and has the traditional open bottom and brass follower. The lever, hammer, bolt, and trigger are polished dark blued steel, as are the screws. The front sight is a naturally-colored steel blade, and the rear is a traditional ladder type of blued steel, useful at moderately long range.

This Henry has a very slick action, as did all Henry and Winchester designs up through the 1876. The brass cartridge lifter design lifts the cartridges straight up from the magazine, and the bolt smoothly pushes the cartridge into the chamber. Ejection is just as slick, and this Henry functions perfectly. Shooting this new Henry was a real pleasure. Recoil is very mild, as the weight of the rifle soaks up most all of it, and it is not painful at all to shoot, even when firing from the bench for several hours. The rifle balances well, just ahead of the receiver, and comes to the shoulder quickly. The only ammo that I could find in stock anywhere were two Magtech loads; a sporting load and a target Cowboy Action load. Both use 200 grain lead bullets, with the sporting load pushing them a bit faster. The sporting load, fired over the chronograph at a distance of ten feet, averaged 1071 feet-per-second (fps). The Cowboy load averaged 1015 at the same distance. My handload, which uses a .429 inch Tennessee Valley 200 grain truncated cone lead bullet over 9.5 grains of Universal powder in Starline cases with a WLP primer clocked an average of 1201 fps at the same distance. The Henry handles these .429 inch bullets as well as it does the traditional .427 inch 44 WCF bullets. Chronograph readings were taken at 541 feet above sea level, with an air temperature of sixty-two degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity of forty-four percent.

Accuracy testing was done from a solid bench at a distance of fifty yards, and the Henry proved to be very accurate. Five-shot groups ran from around the one and one-quarter inch mark, up to three inches, with representative groups shown in the photos, for each type of ammunition tested. This is as good as I can do using this type of sight, and I am certain that with better eyes and a better shooter, these groups would tighten up, at least a bit. Still, I was well-satisfied with the accuracy exhibited by this new Henry rifle.

I am glad to see the Henry in production once again in the USA, built by a company for whom I have a lot of respect. Their motto is, “Made in America, Or Not Made At All“. The new Original Henry rifle has a suggested retail price of $2300 US, which is, in real dollars, less expensive than the Henry of 150 years ago. A private in the US Army in 1860 made $11 per month. A new Henry at that time would cost him almost three months pay. A newly-enlisted soldier in the Army today can buy a new Henry for about half that in comparable base pay. There are also a limited number of engraved Henry rifles, serialized from 1 to 1000 that have a suggested retail price of $3495 US. Number 1 has been donated to raise money for the NRA. All Original Henry serial numbers begin with the initials BTH, in honor of Benjamin Tyler Henry, the inventor of the rifle. The one shown here is serialized BTH01602, and will not be going back to Henry Repeating Arms. It is one of the classiest rifles I have ever owned. I have several rifles which are lighter, more-powerful, flatter-shooting, and faster to fire, but they are tools. This new Henry stirs my soul. I plan to keep this rifle for a long time, and to take it to the NRA Whittington Center in June for the Shootists Holiday, and try out that ladder sight at long range.

Check out the extensive line of American-made Henry firearms and accessories online at www.henryrepeating.com.

For the location of a Henry dealer near you, click on the DEALER FINDER at www.lipseys.com.

To order the Original Henry online, Click on the GUN GENIE at www.galleryofguns.com.

Jeff Quinn

NOTE: All load data posted on this web site are for educational purposes only. Neither the author nor GunBlast.com assume any responsibility for the use or misuse of this data. The data indicated were arrived at using specialized equipment under conditions not necessarily comparable to those encountered by the potential user of this data.  Always use data from respected loading manuals and begin working up loads at least 10% below the loads indicated in the source manual.

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Click pictures for a larger version.









Accuracy testing from Target Shooting, Inc. Model 500 Rifle Rest.



This is as good as the author can do shooting open sights at 50 yards.







Loading is done by twisting the magazine tube and dropping cartridges into the magazine.