I have always loved the lever action rifle. As a kid the Daisy Red Rider BB gun graduated into the 22 Rimfire Winchester lever gun, so the design was well engrained in my being early on. Most of my adult life, however, was spend with guns other than lever action rifles, but recent years have brought me back to this time-tested design. I have become a complete convert to the lever gun as my go-to rifle solution. Sure, for going to war (hoping not to do that, but who knows) I would prefer a battle rifle. But, for roaming the woods, critter control, hunting, and certainly for civilian oriented personal protection, I prefer the lever rifle to any other design. I particularly like the lever rifle chambered in 357 Magnum.
I have always liked the Marlin 1894 chambered in 357 Magnum and it has been my choice in lever gun versatility. Recently, though, I stumbled upon a Henry X Model chambered in the ever-versatile 357 Magnum so a snatched it up. My impressions so far: absolutely excellent.
For years I disregarded Henry rifles because, although their quality appears great, they had no side loading gate. Since the lever gun remains a do-it-all rifle for myself, including the possible role of personal protection, the side loading gate is a must. A lever rifle is a limited capacity weapon, much like a shotgun, and part of using this system is topping up the tube as you go. Henrys have always provided only a front-end removable loading tube system that makes topping the tube off on the fly impossible. That changed a couple of years ago when Henry introduced their first side-gate models, followed by the X models which had the side gate, and now their entire line is offered with a side gate.
Therefore, with a Henry X model in my possession, what are my thoughts? I think the X model balances the more traditional look of lever guns with the functionality of rail attachments. The two M-Lok slots built into the front of the fore end, with a picatinny rail on the bottom, really offers all the rail options necessary without making the gun look goofy as do the dedicated rail handguards that are now available from several manufacturers for lever rifles. I add a small WML to my lever guns, and an OLight Valkarie Mini fits unobtrusively on the rail.
As compared to my beloved Marlin 1894, the Henry is a smoother action and operation out of the box. The henry has fed everything so far, even 38 ammo (to be fair, my Marlin 1894, which is a newer gun, also feeds everything without issue). The X model shoots everything. Some loads are more accurate than others, obviously, and I settled on the 158 grain semi-jacketed soft point load that I use in my Marlin. As far as function, though, every round I have tried functions fine. I am really pleased by this as it means both of my lever rifles function with pretty much any possible variation of 357 Magnum or 38 Special cartridge. This is quite awesome, as lever rifles, particularly those chambered in pistol calibers, tend to be ammo sensitive.
The Henry, while providing the loading gate, also maintains the removable loading tube, which is a huge plus. To unload the gun you can simply empty the tube by removing it and dumping out the cartridges rather than needing to cycle each round through the action as you must do on a Marlin. The iron sights on the X model are fantastic, being fiber optics, and the quality of these sights dissuaded me from putting a red dot on the gun, which was my initial plan. The sights are so good that keeping the gun as slick as possible without an added optic was totally viable, so that is the way I went.
Finally, the biggest benefit of the Henry over the Marlin is the lack of the ridiculous push button safety. Lever guns don’t need a safety as they offer a half-cock hammer block (the Henry has a transfer bar, so you just lower the hammer all the way to make it safe). To make a lever gun safe, you lower the hammer to the safe position. That’s it. The addition of the push safety does nothing except introduce a potential failure as it tends to get turned on when you don’t want it on. This, in my opinion, makes the Marlin design problematic.
So, in closing, I think I am inclined to recommend any of the Henry rifles with a side loading gate over any of the Marlins (which are currently out of production, hopefully Ruger gets them up and running again). The design and quality is more consistent and, with the removable loading tube and lack of the stupid safety, they make for a better defensive gun. With that said, I adore my Marlin 1894 and it remains one of my favorite guns, but this Henry has now entered the fold as the adorable sibling. What’s better than a good lever gun? Two of them. Duh.