Picking a rifle for survival or for a SHTF situation can become a complicated endeavor. You can spend monstrous chunks of your life contemplating the pros and cons of various rifle platforms, mulling over various choices of caliber, accessories, and possible scenarios in which the difference between an AR in .223 or a SOCOM in .308 might mean the difference between survival and the end of the world.
And do you even want a rifle? Would a shotgun be a better choice? And what about handguns?
The reality is, the few who always remain very close to their homes and consequently their bug-out bags complete with an ideal firearm and ammo stash will end up with the exact thing they rolled over in their heads a million times. But preparing to face a dire situation with a semi-automatic, high-capacity rifle won’t do you much good if you happen to be cut off from home with only the gun that has a permanent place behind the back seat of your truck. Or the worst could happen, leaving you stuck at your buddy’s house, and all he has for you to use is his deer rifle–because he’ll be carrying his tricked out AR, of course.
So let’s call this a thought exercise. The release of Henry’s new pair of All-Weather rifles chambered in extremely storied and comfortable calibers got me thinking about the iconic image of a person in the wilderness, the stock of a trusty lever gun, with that unmistakable silhouette, balanced casually on a hip, and how it relates to the modern day. What if my new Henry was the one firearm I had to lean on?
As it turns out, there are several advantages.
Caliber and Weatherproofing
There are two versions of the Henry All-Weather rifle, one chambered in .30-30 Winchester with a classic straight stock and the other chambered in .45-70 Govt. with a pistol grip stock. They’re pretty much the same as Henry’s blued steel models, with a 20-inch barrel and 5-shot magazine tube in the .30-30 and an 18.43-inch barrel with a 4-shot mag tube in the .45-70.
The big difference on the all-weather models is the hard chrome plating Henry put on all the rifle’s metal surfaces (save for the springs and sights). The hard plating is permanently bonded to the steel and won’t flake, chip, or peel, and has a corrosion resistance that’s better than many stainless steels. It increases surface hardness, reduces friction on moving parts, doesn’t normally scuff or scratch, and leaves a low-gloss finish that won’t show up in the field.
That’s not the only thing Henry added to make these rifles tougher. The furniture is stained hardwood with a coating “formulated to stand up to wear, tear, scratches, moisture, temperature variations, and the angst of the various ‘character marks’ an everyday outdoor tool inevitably picks up during its lifetime,” according to the company.
It all comes together to make a gorgeous, modern take on a classic rifle design. So, the materials are up to snuff, but what kind of limitations would you be facing in the harsh world if one of these were the rifle you had to rely on in a bad situation?
First, lever-action rifles are dependable and fairly simple, meaning there are very few things that can break or go wrong. Frontiersmen spent months and years afield with nothing but their Henrys or Winchesters and nothing but a modest kit for repairs, if that. That’s a solid endorsement, and today’s Henry’s are made much like their counterparts of yesteryear.
So the gun is more than solid. How about the punch?
Say you have the model chambered for the medium-to-long-range .30-30, like mine, a cartridge that is still one of the most widely available centerfire rifle cartridges in the U.S. Finding ammo wouldn’t be terribly difficult. The .30-30 has a fairly good weight-to-round ratio and a very light kick for a cartridge that can reach out to 300 yards. Plus, if society folds in on itself and you’re rummaged through destroyed gun shops looking for ammo boxes, it would be an advantage not to have to fight over the last box of .223 as you gather together your round-nosed .30-30s.
That brings us to our first big roadblock.
The fact that a lever gun stores its ammunition in a tube magazine, with the cartridges tip to primer under spring tension, has long rendered spitzer-shaped or pointed bullets and lever guns incompatible. Having a pointed bullet butted up against the primer of another round, under tension, and then subjecting that to the recoil of the firearm is a recipe for a nice explosion. Using round or flat-nosed bullets limits the range of a lever gun in .30-30 to about 300 yards.
However, with premium, LEVERevolotuion ammunition from Hornady, the range of a .30-30 can be extended out to 600 yards because of the unique tips on the bullets. They’re made of an advanced polymer that collapses safely when the rounds are in the magazine tube, but springs right back to the original shape as soon as a round is chambered, providing all the advantages of spitzer-shaped bullets. However, this ammo is expensive and not particularly easy to find, so it’s better to pretend the gun’s limitations are about 300 yards. That’s still quite effective and more than enough to defend a perimeter, take medium to large-sized game, or mount an offensive with adequate cover.
There is more than enough data on the .30-30 out there. The round has been around for almost 150 years, and its blend of medium range, power, and recoil makes it pretty hard to beat in most situations. So, let’s get back to the rifle.
Capacity and Loading
We know the .30-30 is more than proven, but in the Henry, you can only have 5+1 rounds loaded at a time. When most people think of lever guns, they think of a spring-loaded loading gate on the right side of the receiver through which rounds are pushed into the magazine tube. Most Henrys don’t load that way.
Instead, a brass magazine tube insert feeds into the outer steel tube from the muzzle end. The brass tube contains the spring and follower. Once removed from the gun, rounds are dropped into the outer steel tube, and then the inner tube is replaced and locked, putting the rounds under tension. Theoretically, this could be a very speedy loading system, if not for one problem.
The .30-30 cartridge has a very pronounced rim, and darn near every time you load the rifle, the leading edge of the brass insert will catch on one or more of the cartridge rims on the way down the tube. With a little finesse, it’s not much of a problem, but under stress, it could be seriously difficult. Add to the fact that forcing it will only result in one or more rounds experiencing setback (when a bullet is driver too far into the casing, compressing the propellant powder), which could lead to a dangerous over-pressuring in the chamber when that round is fired.
The point is, it’s not a quick reload. It’s certainly speedier with a rifle chambered for a handgun caliber with a less pronounced rim. If there was some way that you could lock the follower back in the brass tube and then load the rounds into that instead, much like an old Spencer rifle, it may be a bit easier, but that’s not possible
A lever-gun with a loading gate is a bit easier to load than a Henry, requiring less movement from the shooting position, but it’s still not speedy. It’s a one-round-at-a-time affair, with each round being pushed past the spring-loaded gate into the spring-followed magazine tube. Often, the last round can’t be pushed all the way in with a bare finger, and the tip of another cartridge typically accomplishes this task.
However, such lever guns also must be cycled to be unloaded, whereas a Henry’s mag tube can be removed and the ammo dumped out all at once, for what it’s worth.
You can manipulate the loading gate manually on some lever guns, and let all the rounds pop out under spring tension, but it’s not possible on all models.
So that means this is more of a precision firearm for engagements of 50 yards or more, when you have a couple seconds to aim well.
In a world-collapse kind of situation, this could be a problem if you live in a densely populated area, where the greatest threat you’ll face will likely come from other people. If you live in a more rural setting where you are likely to do more hunting than defending in a survival situation, then the .30-30 All Weather rifle would be a pretty great choice.
At the range, the Henry was more than capable of creating 1-inch groups from three-round rapid fire drills at 50 yards with iron sights, so if it has to lay down some fire in a hurry, it can. The recoil from the .30-30 rounds, both from the 150-grain Federal Vital-Shok Trophy Copper rounds, which performed particularly well, and 150-grain Federal Fusion flat-nosed rounds I tested in it was extremely manageable, making for quick follow-up shots. It’s a solid kick, but not nearly enough to hurt, even after a full day of shooting.
Sights and Optics
One of the other great things about the All Weather is that the receiver comes drilled and tapped for a Weaver 63B rail mount. While the iron sights that come on the rifle are good, I did test it with optics: a Burris TAC30 CQB scope with a 1x-4x magnification and a lighted reticle.
The great thing about the TAC30 is the reticle is actually etched onto the lens, so that even with the light turned off (or dead batteries) you still have a nice, crisp reticle. The light is only really necessary in very low-light conditions. The scope also features an extremely wide field of view, making it easy and fast to acquire targets and shoot with both eyes open, especially at 1x. If it’s necessary, zooming in let’s you take dependable accurate shots out to the range of the rifle. Plus it doesn’t impede the irons, so if something should go wrong, the scope can simply be popped off.
A lever-gun, like a pump gun, requires a physical manipulation of the firearm to chamber a round after taking a shot. If you have to do this in a high-stress situation, your body has to perform this action automatically and without hesitation. The only way to do this is to train. You have to get to the range and shoot, or do dry-fire drills with dummy ammo. In fact, the more you work a lever gun, the smoother the action becomes, so it’s good for you and your rifle.
(And don’t cheap out and get the all-plastic dummy rounds. The extractor on my Henry ripped the plastic rims clean off, necessitating the dummy round to be popped out of the chamber with a cleaning rod.)
Another consideration is the fact that some lever guns, like the All Weather, don’t have a manual safety. On a Henry, the hammer acts as the only manual safety. If the rifle isn’t fully cocked, it can’t fire. Once that hammer is cocked and a round is in the chamber, it’s ready to go. To decock the rifle, the shooter must hold the hammer back with the thumb, pull the trigger and then release it, and lower the hammer. This is something else that requires practice and training to perform reliably and safely.
As a survival rifle, the All-Weather only suffers from being a bit on the heavy side. It weighs in at 7 pounds unloaded, which is a little hefty—far lighter than a 12-pound, tricked out AR, but still not a light gun. My wife is a fairly small-framed woman, and she can manipulate and heft the rifle, but it’s a bit too much for her support arm, causing her to lean back when aiming. She would be much more comfortable shooting off-hand with a lighter rifle or a handgun, but she could use the Henry effectively if she had to.
Still, a lever gun has a squat profile and, with a 20-inch or shorter barrel, is nimble and feels handy and capable as soon as you pick one up. When shouldered, all seven-pounds of the All-Weather’s weight disappears for me and gives it a great swing and speed with excellent maneuverability.
Lastly, for those used to the endless accessorizing offered by the rail systems on modern ARs and home defense shotguns, the Henry is woefully lacking. Most lever-guns go for a more classic or functional design than one ready for a host of accessories
However, there are such things as lever-action rail guns. Mossberg has had success with its line of modern lever guns like the 464 SPX rifle chambered in .30-30. It comes standard with an AR-style adjustable buttstock attached to a buffer-tube like extension, allowing for the installation of many aftermarket AR stocks. Polymer furniture helps cut down on weight, and the fore-end is ringed with rail sections at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock positions, allowing for the attachment of tactical lights and laser sights, both of which could be an advantage in a survival situation.
Many of the drawbacks listed are simply inherent to the design of a lever gun, but not all. My Henry didn’t have a rail for a tac light, and I looked into solutions like products that work like clamps, running screws between the barrel and magazine tube, to lock on another ring clamp to hold a flashlight, but they seemed bulky and cumbersome. So instead, I went with the lit TAC-30 scope as a low-light solution.
Are there drawbacks to a rifle that relies on technology that’s 150 years old? Sure. It’s far slower to cycle than a semi-auto, suffers from low ammo capacity and slow reloads, but it’s extremely reliable, easy to use with a little training, nimble, and can pack a bigger punch with greater accuracy than a handgun.
If you live in a densely populated area, and are thinking about using your lever gun in the event of a societal collapse, you might want to have something capable of a higher volume of fire, close engagement capabilities, and quick reloads like a 9mm handgun to carry in conjunction with the rifle.
If you live in a more rural area, such drawbacks are greatly diminished. In a survival situation, the rifle would be an adept hunter with enough power to take even a moose at medium range, and enough speed and firepower to act as a defensive weapon if necessary.
The long and short of it, if you had to rely on a .30-30 All Weather Henry as your one and only rifle, you could do a lot worse.
Henry All-Weather Lever-Action Rifle Specs
|Action Type||Lever Action|
|Capacity||5 rounds in .30-30, 4 rounds in .45-70|
|Barrel Length||.30-30: 20″, .45-70: 18.43″|
|Stock||Straight grip (.45-70 has pistol grip) with rubber buttpad|
|Sights||Fully adjustable semi-buckhorn rear, and brass beaded front sight|
|Receiver||Hard chrome plating drilled and tapped for Weaver 63B mount|