The takedown rifle has been around at least since the bicycle rifles of the turn of the 20th century. Hunters valued light-weight rifles that could break down into pieces. This allowed for ease of transport to and from the destination. Plinkers could ride to the edge of town and pop glass bottles without having a gun strapped over their backs. Boaters, campers, and others saw the appeal in a rifle that could take up little space but come in handy in case of need. In other words–a survival rifle, one that can be used for signaling, dispatching small game for food, perhaps even for self-defense against predators, four-legged and otherwise.
The thoughts and theories of surviving with a rifle have long since been co-opted and spun into products to fit this niche need. Prepping and survival involving firearms is a trendy, mainstream subject today–hence the products to fuel it. While AR-15 and AK type rifles get most of the press, perhaps the most ideal choice for everyday survival in the absence of help is the .22 rifle.
I am in the .22 caliber camp for a number of reasons. I don't mean to turn this into a discussion of why one would select a .22 rifle but the fact remains that people do. Though any .22 rifle will work, products designed for ease of packing are ideal. So I got to asking myself that blanket question, what gun is better?
The two most obvious choices are the Henry Survival Rifle and the Marlin Papoose–two well-established rifles by well-established American brands. The Ruger 10/22 Takedown is a newer and perhaps stronger contender. Certainly, the 10/22 Takedown is better in many ways but it loses out to the other two rifles in size and weight. These are obvious factors when loading out for a weekend adventure but even more important once you found in a prolonged ordeal. So, in the end, the Ruger was off the list and I purchased both the Papoose and the Henry to see which one is better.
Marlin came out with their Model 70 PSS in the 1980s as a take-down magazine-fed version of the firm's legendary Model 60–the most popular 22 rifle made. A Papoose you will find today will come with a fairly standard composite stock with sparse checkering at the pistol grip and on the butt. Otherwise, the rifle has a matte aluminum receiver and stainless-steel appointments including the bolt, the magazine release, cross-bolt safety, sling studs, and the barrel. The rifle packs disassembled in a soft, foam padded case with one seven-round magazine and a spanner wrench to tighten the barrel nut for assembly.
Note: I did not use the spanner wrench for assembly but snug fit the barrel nut finger tight.
The Henry Survival Rifle is an updated version of the famed Armalite AR-7 and from now on I will refer to this rifle as an AR-7. Eugene Stoner initially developed a similar rifle for the United States Air Force in the 1950s and soon marketed a semi-automatic 22 LR version to the civilian market. After an unsuccessful stint with quality issues under Charter Arms ownership, the rights to the AR-7 passed to Henry Repeating Arms about twenty years ago. Their rifle has a composite stock where the guts of the rifle–the barrel, aluminum receiver, and up to three magazines may be stored. There are no extras to come with this rifle. The receiver is fastened to the stock via a captive bolt in the pistol grip. The barrel nut is screwed over exposed threads, like the Papoose and the rifle is ready to go. The barrel is made with a steel sleeve and a polymer shroud. The bolt, telescoping charging handle, safety, and trigger are made of a black-finished carbon steel. The AR-7 ships with two eight-round magazines.
Marlin Papoose Specs:
- Weight: 3.25 pounds
- Barrel Length: 16 1/4 inches
- Capacity: 7 rounds standard, 25 rounds aftermarket
- Fiberglass reinforced synthetic stock
- Weight: 3.25 pounds
- Barrel Length: 16 1/8 inch
- Capacity: 8 rounds
- ABS Plastic Stock
Pros and Cons Out of the Box
I went into this contest favoring the Marlin. Out of the box and assembled, the Marlin feels like a more substantial gun despite weighing as little as the AR-7. The gun is packed in a navy-colored soft case. The barrel is about as long as the AR-7 but it is all stainless and utilizes Marlin's Micro-Groove rifling which should make it more accurate than the polymer shroud/ steel liner setup on the Henry. The Marlin rifle comes with sling studs while the Henry does not.
The Marlin has the refinement of the famous Model 60. A crisp action, a bolt release, and a natural cross-bolt safety. The sights are dovetailed onto the barrel and feature a rear notch and an orange plastic front post protected by a hood.
The one big upside of the Henry is the ability of the AR-7's parts to fit inside of the buttstock. Also, there are no extra tools included nor needed to assemble the piece when needed.
It does not hurt that the Henry comes with two eight-shot magazines instead of the single seven-rounder shipping with the Marlin.
The sights are crude and consist of a leaf peep rear sight built into the receiver and a front sight made of orange polymer.
The action has only one control, a safety catch behind the bolt. Otherwise, the gun relies on a simple blowback action, like the Marlin, except the bolt of the AR is huge by comparison and uses a charging handle that folds into the bolt for storage.
Both rifles have built-in 3/8 inch scope rails for mounting optics, however, the Henry cannot be stowed with the optic attached while the Marlin can. Eight round magazines are standard for the Henry and finding larger magazines has been downright difficult. However, ten and twenty-five round magazines for use with the Papoose and other 795 generation Marlin rifles has been easy.
On The Range
For several months I tested both rifles under a number of different weather conditions and with a variety of 22 LR ammunition to include:
- CCI Blaser 40 grain lead
- CCI Mini Mag 40 grain HV
- CCI Stingers 32 grain HV hollow-point
- Winchester Western 36 grain HV hollow-point
- Federal Automatch 40 grain lead
Take-down rifles are a compromise. A solid rifle will be more accurate, mechanically. But that doesn't mean a take-down isn't capable of great accuracy–or at least accuracy in terms of what is needed to accomplish a particular goal. I set the goal as small game hunting or defense while doing such things inside fifty yards. I stayed at this range because the Henry cannot be stowed with a scope so both rifles were shot with the stock sights. At twenty-five yards, I was shocked that the Henry easily outshot the Marlin in seven-shot groups. The margin wasn't large, especially with CCI Blaser ammunition, but it was noticeable. Both rifles grouped at an inch or under at twenty-five yards and three-four inches at fifty yards. However, the Marlin initially grouped to the left after a sight-in only a few days earlier. I found that the rear sight, which lay exposed on the barrel with no handguard, had been knocked out of alignment somehow–likely on the car ride to the range. A few taps of a hammer and I was back hitting the bullseye, but that flaw was worth noting and one I could only find while at the range.
While both rifles did fine in terms of accuracy, but what about reliability? I had a few light strikes using CCI Stingers in the Marlin while the AR-7 choked several times per magazine with Federal Automatch. Both rifles cycled the flat-nosed Winchester ammunition perfectly and I ran through a box of relatively low-powered CCI Suppressor 45 grain subsonic ammunition to see if these auto-loaders would choke. They did not. The use of subsonics may be useful in a scenario where it is undesirable to hear the crack of higher-powered 22 ammo. Both rifles were relatively trouble free, but the Marlin had fewer malfunctions overall.
This isn't a practical category of testing but the AR-7 is famous for its ability to float. The buttstock has many hollows and is relatively water tight so if the gun goes into the drink for a moment, it could be retrieved. I threw the assembled AR7 into the drink along with the Marlin in it's case. Both floated but if that Marlin were assembled and without its case, it would surely sink. Both guns were soaked and muddy. That made for another category of testing–field stripping for cleaning.
Two after a date with a not-so-friendly drainage pond left the AR-7 with spots of rust on the bolt and charging handle. It was a gritty mess but thankfully all one must do to field strip the gun is to put a finger against the bolt from the inside the chamber, yank out the charging handle, and dump the bolt, recoil spring, and the polymer guide out. The Marlin requires an allen wrench to loosen the bolts sandwiching the receiver and stock together. From there the charging handle is pulled back and the bolt lifted up with the fingers. Then the handle is pulled away so the recoil spring, rod, and bolt can come out. This is a little more involved than the AR-7 but the Marlin had no rust to worry about despite still being soaked.
And the Winner Is?
Like I said previously, I went into this little test expecting the Marlin Papoose to win. I put seven hundred rounds between both rifles, tested them in hot and humid conditions–and later at freezing with plenty of water, cow dung, and who knows what else. In the end, the Henry Survival Rifle despite its uninspiring feel and lack of features is the winner by a small margin.
The most obvious advantage of the AR-7 is it's ability to collapse and store into its own buttstock. Whether this takes up less room than the padded case arrangement of the Papoose is up for debate The actual weight difference between the two rifles is marginal. The sights on the AR-7 are a little easier to read, especially in lower light and are not as prone to being bumped out of alignment, which is what happened with our Papoose. I would make the case for some Locktite after sighting in on either rifle, but the fact remains that the sights on the AR-7's sights are simpler. The AR7's trigger is more predictable and has a loud audible reset, while the Papoose has a little bit of take-up.
Both rifles were more than ample in the accuracy department but I did feel the Papoose should have done better. The only knocks on the AR-7 are two: the manual safety and the number of malfunctions. The safety catch was prone to going on without a touch when reloading the rifle. I have taken aim only for nothing to happen and then I realized the safety is on. A minor inconvenience here but a game-costing mistake in the field. My general experiences with Henry's AR-7 have been warm. These guns are far more reliable than their Charter Arms predecessors and the AR had fewer malfunctions right until it met many failures to feed from Federal Automatch. This is offset by the fact that the Marlin had fewer malfunctions overall. The lesson is to pick your ammo wisely as not all 22 LR ammo is created equally. They also don't print as tightly or in the same place. Testing ammo has to happen before heading out, not during.
I like the AR-7, but that doesn't mean the Marlin has no merit. Getting extra magazines and accessorizing is easier. The inclusion of sling studs is a nice touch along with good, proven controls. It helps that the gun can be disassembled with an optic attached, if you so feel inclined. There were fewer malfunctions with the Marlin overall and I would feel better about having a Papoose stowed aboard a boat as it's stainless steel construction wards corrosion better. The few steel parts in the AR-7 can rust if neglected.
In summary, the Marlin Papoose is a good choice but the Henry Survival Rifle came on stronger than expected. Both rifles are excellent products and worth your consideration. Like with all platforms, each has certain advantages and disadvantages that are worth noting and I hope that I laid out the good, the bad, and the ugly for your own edification. Chances are, however, if you bump into me out in the middle of nowhere you can expect me to have one or the other.
About Terril Hebert:
Terril Hebert is a firearm writer native to south Louisiana. Under his motto-Guns, Never Politics-he tackles firearm and reloading topics both in print and on his Mark3smle YouTube channel, where he got his start. Terril has a soft spot for ballistics testing, pocket pistols, and French rifles. When he is not burning ammo, he is indulging his unhealthy wildlife photography obsession or working on his latest novel. Scourge of God, published in 2017. See more from Terril on youtube under Mark3smle