Henry Repeating Arms Side Loading 45-70 Rifle Review

Side Gate Lever Action Rifle in 45-70

U.S.A.-(Ammoland.com)- Almost 160 years after the fact, Henry Repeating Arms finally added a side loading gate to their line of rifles which for the longest time had only been front-loading tubular magazine rifles.

A few months back I was lucky enough to try out one of the first of these rifles chambered in 35 Remington, but all it did was make me long for other calibers in the same platform! So when I was offered their ultimate big bore rifle in 45-70, I had to say “Yes!”

Henry Repeating Arms and the Loading Gate

Nelson king's patent drawing for the side loading gate

The earliest rifles with the Henry name were built at the New Haven Arms Company based on Benjamin Tyler Henry's design back in 1860.  As successful as the design was, shooters and soldiers complained about dirt entering the magazine tube and gumming up the works or damaging the magazine tube while carried on horseback.

In 1865 Oliver Winchester renamed New Haven Arms the Winchester Repeating Arms Company and a plant superintendent named Nelson King redesigned the magazine tube which incorporated a side loading gate.

While I am in my fourth decade of shooting, I am a relative newcomer to Henry Repeating Arms. Even though the company has been around for 20 + years they only jumped on my radar two years ago. Some firearm, civil war and old west historians balked at the use of the Henry name, but I think they need to get over it.

Henry Repeating Arms is building the rifles that Benjamin Tyler Henry and Oliver Winchester wish they could have built.

Henry Side Loading Gate 45-70

Henry Side Gate Lever Action Rifle in 45-70

Every time I take one of their rifles out of the box I am blown away by their appearance. Pictures do not do this rifle justice. I have said it before and I will say it again, their brass receivers take my breath away every time as does the wood, checkering and the slickness of their actions.

The genius of these new rifles is retaining the front-loading capability while incorporating the side loading gate. This beats having to manually cycle your unfired rounds through the chamber. On these new rifles, all you need to do is pull the front of the tube out and safely unload the rifle.

Henry Side Gate

45-70: A little bit about the cartridge

I consider 45-70 to be the “King of the Beasts”, the history of the cartridge is quite impressive.

In 1866 the US Military began a search for a rifle cartridge with a .45 caliber bullet that would give increased range, penetration and accuracy. They found it in the “45-70-405”. This three-part naming convention referred to the diameter of the bullet (0.45″), the weight of the black powder charge (70 grains) and the weight of the projectile (405 grains). It was loaded in a centerfire copper case and christened the “.45-70 Government” cartridge in commercial catalogs.

Various 45-70 Ammo
Various 45-70 Ammo

Muzzle velocity was 1,350 feet per second and the accuracy standard was 4 MOA (Minute of Angle), translating to 4″ at 100 yards. Trials were held in 1872 for a rifle capable of firing this round and was awarded to the Springfield Trapdoor rifle of 1873.

1873 Trapdoor Springfield

The round was used in various Gatling gun models from 1873 until 1893, about the same lifespan of the Trapdoor Springfield rifles and carbines. However, at the dawn of the 20th century, the single-shot black powder rifle concept was rapidly becoming obsolete. Thankfully hunters and sportsmen saved the round from fading into oblivion.

After all, it is a large diameter bullet seated in a case with a huge powder capacity!

It became a favorite round of buffalo hunters because the large dense bullet moves at a relatively slow pace and penetrates without destroying the meat. I believe most hunters in the 19th century used a 500 grain bullet as opposed to the 405 grain type.

Uberti Down Under Sharps 45.70
Sharps 45.70

Modern 45-70 ammunition is more than adequate for any North American big game animals within appropriate distances. It has even been used successfully in Africa on the Big Five.

Luckily, we are not at the mercy of single-shot trapdoor, falling block or rolling block rifles any more for this round. Winchester had offered its Model of 1886 in chambering and that tradition continues today with other manufacturers such as Henry Repeating Arms.

Modern firearms such as the Henry can pretty much ignore the anemic black powder loadings and several companies produce ammunition appropriate for use in modern rifles. Just don’t shoot them out of your old Trapdoor Springfield!

The Rest of the Rifle

Beyond the gorgeous exterior, lever-action rifles built by Henry Arms have a buttery smooth action and rock-solid lockup. The semi-buckhorn style sight has a diamond that is highly visible and the front sight is an ivory bead. If you want to add an optic the receiver is drilled and tapped for scope mounts.

Shooting the 45-70 Henry side loading gate

At the Range

I set my target up at 100 yards with the rifle supported by sandbags.

Being that I have a few rifles and even a pistol chambered in 45-70, I had a few varieties of ammunition on hand. I took a 20-box of HSM Cowboy Action Lead RNFP 405 Grains and a 20-round box of 325 grain Hornady LEVERevelution.

I have to say the trigger is a thing of beauty too and breaks at a crisp 4 pounds.

Using the HSM ammunition first, my best 4-shot group was at 2.05”. The Hornady ammunition felt a bit stouter but performed much better at 1.5”. I was impressed but thought I could do better.

I did engage some steel targets at various distances while standing and rang steel all day. The big lead 405-grain slugs leave a nice big mark, too.

Skinner Sights

I know that most rifles are more accurate than the shooter behind the trigger. For years I was a diehard iron sight guy. That was how I learned and unless I am shooting at longer ranges, I tend to prefer irons.

However, I’m approaching my half-century mark on this earth and on some days things can get a little blurry. Even though the Henry is drilled and tapped for a scope and I do have a lever gun with an optic, I wanted something to keep this rifle a bit more traditional for now.

Skinner Peep Sight mounted on a Henry rifle.

I have two other lever-action rifles equipped with receiver mounted peep sights made by Skinner Sights. I have tried tang sights and veneers and considered it for a minute until I talked to Andy Larsson.

We met in person at a Blue August Media event in Las Vegas. He was demonstrating his sights and a few other projects that they have in the works. I asked him if he made a tang sight.

“No, those things are up when you want them down and down when you want them up.”

I agreed and told him how I had his sights on two of my other rifles and loved them, but that I wanted to add one to a Henry and keep the old-timey look. He had the perfect solution.

Skinner Sights offers a brass peep sight that fits in the scope mounting holes on the top of the receiver. It is very reminiscent of the M16/AR-15 type sight and the aperture can be changed. It is completely adjustable for windage and elevation. They offer a black version, too, but the gold one looks like it was made for the brass-framed Henry.

While you do not have to remove the rear buckhorn sight, it kept throwing me off, so it had to go. Skinner makes an easy to install dovetail slot filler that completes the look of the rifle.

I returned to the range and with the HSM ammunition was able to shrink my group size down to just over 1 inch.

It works on the principle of a scope by allowing you to see better. Small apertures improve your ability to focus just like when you aim a camera or a rifle scope. It’s an assist for your vision and the increased distance by moving the rear sight from the barrel to the rear of the receiver gives you a longer sight radius. It may not give you as fast a sight picture as the factory sights, but you’re not exactly going to be protecting your covered wagon from Paiutes or Comanche anytime soon.

If you are looking for a sight like this for your Henry, Marlin, Winchester, Thompson Center or Ruger check them out at http://www.skinnersights.com/

Downsides

If there is a downside to brass framed Henry rifles it is that they look too good. I shoot a few old commemorative rifles, so that has never been a problem for me, but I could see truly dedicated hunters and outdoorsmen craving a more subdued or subtle finish and reduced checkering on these rifles or else they may be hesitant to go afield with them. Maybe as time goes by, we will see these rifles offered in blued steel with plain walnut furniture.

Henry Big Boy Rifles
Henry Big Boy Rifles would look and work great with the side loading gate.

I do think adding the side loading gate to rifles with Henry’s Brass receiver flagship look was an incredibly smart idea, though.

The only other thing that will be an issue on this model is the brass butt plate.  I didn't find it bad on the 35 Remington version, or too much with the 405-grain bullets. I definitely knew I was shooting a big bore with the Hornady, though. A nice rubber recoil pad will be a welcome addition to a field model if they ever roll out.

Final Thoughts

As a lever-action fan, I was always partial to other brands, but Henry is quickly making me a believer in their products. This is the second Henry Rifle I tried out with the side-loading gate and all I can say is that I hope more calibers and configurations are offered down the line.

I see the demand there already for 357 Magnum, 44 Magnum and I think my personal dream gun would be a side-loading gate on a 41 Magnum Mare’s Leg for an SBR project.  The other benefit of the side gate is that threaded barrels can be incorporated with close to full-length magazine tubes.

Henry stock checkering
  • Model Number: H024-4570
  • Action Type: Lever Action Rifle
  • Caliber: 45-70
  • Capacity: 4 Rounds
  • Barrel Length: 19.8″
  • Barrel Type: Round Blued Steel
  • Rate of Twist: 1:20”
  • Overall Length: 38.1″
  • Weight: 7.09 lbs.
  • Receiver Finish: Polished Brass
  • Rear Sight: Fully Adj. Semi-Buckhorn w/ Diamond Insert
  • Front Sight: Ramp w/ .062″ Ivory Bead
  • Scope Mount Type: Weaver 63B
  • Stock Material: American Walnut
  • Buttplate/Pad: Brass
  • Length of Pull: 14″
  • Safety: Transfer Bar
  • MSRP: $1,045
  • Website: https://www.henryusa.com/

About Mike SearsonMike Searson

Mike Searson's career as a shooter began as a Marine Rifleman at age 17. He has worked in the firearms industry his entire adult life as a Gunsmith, Ballistician, Consultant, Salesman, Author, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1989.

Mike has written over 2000 articles for several magazines, websites, and newsletters, including Blade, RECOIL, OFF-GRID, Tactical Officer, SWAT, Tactical World, Gun Digest, Examiner.com and the US Concealed Carry Association as well as AmmoLand Shooting Sports News.

  • Home page: www.mikesearson.com
  • FB: www.facebook.com/mike.searson
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Jeff460
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Jeff460

For those who think a longer magazine to add one round has merit, while doing away with the Henry tube-loading and unloading perk, I say wake-up. Having to cycle the lever for every round in the tube, including the extra round you wish was added, to unload is a wear on the action and a waste of time. Besides, once you empty the tube-loader and side-loader Henry combo of the four rounds you so quickly criticise as not enough, you just lever the action open and drop one in directly and chamber the round. And if you need more just… Read more »

Whodaty
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Whodaty

The tube mag only holding 4 rounds seems a waste space. Better I think, would be to eliminate the tube loading slot and extend the tube to the end of the barrel perhaps allowing room for at least another round.

Jeff460
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Jeff460

See my comment above Jeff460 to answer this critical comment.

Wild Bill
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Wild Bill

Henry makes a slide action rifle in .22 magnum, that looks like it would be a lot of fun, with Skinners on it.

JFCrosby
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JFCrosby

The cheap-looking checkering on these rifles makes me NOT to want to own one.

Jonesy
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Jonesy

I guess it must be “the eye of the beholder”