Henry Big Boy Side Gate Carbine: An Instant Classic

Lever guns are my jam. I learned to hunt with a lever gun, and they remain my favorite firearm style, bar none. I love the fast-cycling action and the general handiness that quality lever action rifles provide. So, when I got a chance to review the new Henry Big Boy Side Gate Carbine, I jumped at it. Henry’s lever action lineup is second to none, and I hoped the new model would measure up. I’ve been running this little carbine for a couple of months now. Here’s how it’s gone.

Henry Big Boy Side Gate Carbine
The Henry Big Boy Side Gate Carbine is my new sidekick. (Author’s Photo)

Henry Big Boy Side Gate Carbine Specifications

Before we talk about performance, let’s look at the specs, so you know what we’re dealing with. The Big Boy Side Gate Carbine is available in .357 Magnum/.38 Special, .44 Magnum/.44 Special, and .45 Colt. Mine is a .357 Magnum/.38 Special. The specs are the same for all three chamberings, except the .44’s twist rate is different. Barrel choice also affects weight. I’ll note all that below.

  • Capacity: 7 Rounds
  • Barrel Length: 16.5 inches
  • Barrel Type: Octagon Blued Steel or Round Blued Steel (Mine is octagonal)
  • Twist Rate: 1:16 (.45 Colt and .357 Magnum/.38 Special) or 1:20 (.44 Magnum/.44 Special)
  • Overall Length: 35 inches
  • Weight: 7.76 lbs. (Octagon Barrel) or 6.59 lbs. (Round Barrel)
  • Receiver Finish: Blued Steel, Color Case Hardened Steel, or Hardened Brass (Mine is brass)
  • Rear Sight: Fully Adjustable Semi-Buckhorn w/ Diamond Insert
  • Front Sight: Brass Bead
  • Drilled and Tapped for optics
  • Stock: American Walnut
  • Butt Plate: Brass or Black Solid Rubber (Mine is brass)
  • Length of Pull: 14 inches
  • Safety: Transfer Bar
  • Standard Large Loop Lever
Henry Big Boy Side Gate Carbine
The new Henry is just a gorgeous firearm. But it also runs like a champ. (Author’s Photo)

Upgraded Loading

The major upgrade in this new model is evident from its designation: the side loading gate. Previous Henry models lacked this feature, instead using the tube and ramrod method of the original Henry rifles. But side gates have been around for a long time, and Henry’s customers were growling.

That’s because side gates are far more convenient, whether for initial loading or topping off the magazine. I admit that Henry’s lack of a side loading gate directly influenced my not getting a Henry center fire rifle before now. But the company listened to its customers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the side-loading gate option appear in other models moving forward. Henry also kept the tube loading option in the Big Boy Side Gate guns if anyone prefers that. I like it when companies provide options.

Side Gate Loading
The side gate was just the upgrade that Henry needed. And you gotta love a company that listens to its customers. (Author’s Photo)
Tube Loading
Henry also kept the traditional tube loading system. (Author’s Photo)

The Henry Big Boy Side Gate Carbine

Henry offers the Big Boy Side Gates in rifle or carbine length. I chose the carbine because I wanted a shorter, handier gun than my Marlin 336 deer rifle. It helped that the carbine comes standard with the large loop lever, unlike the rifle version. Either lever works on either gun, but it’s already on the carbine, and I love how it looks. More on that momentarily.

My carbine is just gorgeous, which I immediately noticed upon opening the box for the first time. The polished brass receiver, tang, butt plate, and barrel band really set off the beautiful American Walnut stock, giving the gun a classic look. The octagonal barrel looks awesome, especially with the brass-colored manufacturer and caliber stamps. Good looks don’t make the gun, but they sure don’t hurt it either.

I know that we all immediately check the chamber of any firearm we pick up, but lever guns are something special for me, and I anticipate running the action whenever I encounter one. I regularly pick up my Henrys and my Marlin just to run the action. Don’t judge. It’s satisfying. I bet many of you do similar things.

Few things disappoint me more than a rough action on a lever gun. This Henry did not disappoint me. The action is slick, just as I expected, based on my Henry Golden Boy’s action. I quickly learned, however, that no matter how cool it looks, the large loop lever was tough on my knuckles. I’d heard that from others, of course, but I needed to experience it myself. Fortunately, paracord braids and leather loop liners are a thing. I went with the paracord, and it fixed me right up. The large loop does make gloved use a bit easier, so there’s a practical side.

Henry Big Boy Brass Side Gate Carbine
(Author’s Photo)

Shooting the Big Boy Carbine

The Henry fulfilled its initial promise when we hit the range. The 16.5-inch barrel helps it point quickly, and it was easy to bring on target. The walnut handguard swells ever so slightly to fill the off hand, and the curved butt plate fits naturally onto the shoulder. The raised comb provides a good cheek weld for the semi-buckhorn sights, and I believe it will do the same when I add an optic down the road.

The octagonal barrel makes the front a little heavier than normal. That doesn’t bother me, but you may want to consider it. The barrel adds 1.17 lbs. to the carbine’s weight, but that extra weight helps with felt recoil and muzzle rise. The gun hardly kicks at all, even with .357 Magnum rounds. It’s almost nonexistent when firing .38 Special. I found it very easy to stay on target while shooting multiple-round shot strings. Low recoil and a slick action make this a fast-running gun.

The only hindrance to fast shooting is the buckhorn sights. Not that they’re inaccurate. But my aging eyes sometimes struggle to pick up the small diamond insert required for using them properly. Many folks don’t like buckhorns, often because they don’t know how to use them. I know how, but I have trouble against certain backgrounds, or when coming up for a quick shot. I plan to swap them out for a set of Hi-Viz tritium fiber-optic sights sooner than later.

My carbine is quite accurate, no doubt helped by the heavy barrel. The only thing holding me back in some instances is the sights. I held tight groups at close range, but they spread out as I moved back to 100 yards. I just have a hard time with my vision, combined with the buckhorns, past 30 or 40 yards. An optic of some kind will help. I plan to try a red dot at first, but a 1-8 LPVO isn’t out of the question and may be just the thing for this gun.

Henry Big Boy Side Gate Carbine Action
The action is so slick… (Author’s Photo)

Reliability was perfect through 500 rounds or so, as long as the shooter did his part. We had no failures to eject and the only failure to feed was with a novice shooter who short-stroked the action. Everything ran great once we ironed out his technique. We ran mostly FMJ .357 and .38 Special, though we did run a box of 158-grain .357 Magnum hollow points through the gun. No problems there.

Finally, lever guns are generally ambidextrous. It’s one of their great strengths. This one is no different, with the right-side loading gate and ejection port the only non-ambidextrous features. Those are easily overcome, however, since loading just requires a different, no more difficult, approach than a right-hander. My co-tester often shoots left-handed, and he never had a problem with ejected cases hitting his face.

An Instant Classic

To say that I love my Henry Big Boy Side Gate Carbine would be a major understatement. It quickly became one of my favorite guns. I almost wish it wasn’t so beautiful because I plan to run this thing hard. That means dings and scars, but I’ve accepted that as the nature of the beast. I didn’t get it to be a safe queen. And the inevitable wear and tear will give it personality.

The best part about that is I have no doubt that the gun will be up for it. Sometimes you can just feel quality. I feel it in this gun. The action was slick out of the box, and it remains that way after 500 or so rounds. This is a solid gun. I fully expect one of my grandchildren to still use and appreciate it long after I’m gone.

So, if you’re looking for a nice lever gun, maybe give the Henry Big Boy Side Gate a try. Henry offers excellent quality at a price that’s often below its peer competitors. After just a little research, I learned that I could get a tricked-out Henry for significantly less than a base model Winchester. So, the value is there. And Henrys are all made in the USA. What’s not to like?

William "Bucky" Lawson is a self-described "typical Appalachian-American gun enthusiast". He is a military historian specializing in World War II and has written a few things, as he says, "here and there". A featured contributor for Strategy & Tactics, he likes dogs, range time, and a good cigar - preferably with an Old Fashioned that has an extra orange slice.

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