October 2012

Cowboy Action Lever Rifles: Henry Wins Duel of 357 Mags

Henry’s Big Boy is big — nearly 9 pounds with a snoutful of ten rounds. But it is also smooth and accurate, making it a better pick than Chiappa’s Puma 1892 or Cimarron’s Brush Popper.

Whether you’re an adherent of Cowboy Action Shooting or not, you’ve been the lucky recipient of development in guns suited for the sport, such as new or improved single-action revolvers, more choices and gunsmithing of period shotguns, and in the expansion of slide actions and levers actions in rifles. Two months ago, we compared three single-action revolvers chambered in 357 Magnum, with the nod in that test going to the Cimarron Evil Roy No. ER4104 357 Magnum, which comes from the factory tuned for fast shooting with a slicked-up action and a great trigger. If you plan to play in that game and simplify your cartridge coverage, pairing an Evil Roy with a companion 357 Mag lever-action rifle makes sense.

To see which rifle comes closest to taming the New West of Cowboy Action Shooting, we compared Henry’s Big Boy, Cimarron’s Evil Roy Brush Popper, and the LSI/Chiappa 1892 for fit, feel, performance, and accuracy using the same modern and cowboy action loads from the revolver test.

The first of our test lever actions was the Model 1873-style Evil Roy Brush Popper No. ER2022SS 357 Magnum/38 Special from Cimarron Firearms Co. in Fredericksburg, Texas. Cimarron gets criticism from shooters who complain that the firm’s products are overpriced, but we’re not sure that’s legitimate. We know that we almost always get what we pay for, and if we want period pieces that perform out of the box, that’s going to cost more money. Some GT readers complained that putting the Evil Roy-tuned handgun against two straight-factory guns from Ruger and Heritage was tilted too far on the customized side. But we believe that teams have to play the game in order to determine a winner, so we stuck with the Evil Roy Brush Popper, $1875, which comes with a Short Stroke Kit installed, instead of the Texas Brush Popper, still pricey at $1364. Made by Uberti in Italy, the ER Brush Popper has a real Western look, with a case-hardened-color receiver, checkered grip and forend, and a leather buttstock sheath.

Our second lever action was the Chiappa LSI Puma 1892 No. PCH-51241 357 Magnum/38 Special, $1020, based on the famous Winchester Model 92. The Model 1892 is the pistol-caliber rifle designed by John M. Browning and has been a favorite with hunters for 100 years because it was lighter, stronger, and faster than previous lever guns made in the 19th Century. Not many firearm designs today can boast of having had over 1 million produced, but the Model 1892 is one of them. Similar in construction to the Winchester Model 1886, these famous lever-action rifles have compact receivers, and when their internal components are scaled down and simplified to handle smaller calibers, the resulting rifles are light weight, produce little recoil, and have responsive, easy handling. Early Model 92s were primarily made in 44-40, 38-40, 32-20, and 25-20.

Puma’s modern-day Model 1892s, proofed for modern ammunition, are built by Armisport Chiappa in Brescia, Italy, to Browning specifications and distributed in the USA by Legacy Sports International (LegacySports.com). Currently, Puma sells eight round-barrel carbines with 20-inch barrels and blued or color-case-hardened finishes. Twelve models with 20- or 24-inch octagonal barrels and blued or color-case-hardened finishes are available. Both octagonal-barrel models hold 10 rounds in the magazine with a capacity-limited plug removed. All are available in 357 Magnum, 44/40, 44 Magnum, and 45 Colt. We picked the 24-inch barrel to assess how the longer tube affected handling, and also to see if the longer sight radius helped accuracy.

Our third gun, the Henry Big Boy No. H006M 357 Magnum/38 Special, $900, differed markedly from the other two. The Big Boy is one of many rifles from Henry Repeating Arms, based in Bayonne, New Jersey. Chambered in 44 Magnum, 45 Colt, and 357 Magnum, Henry also offers special-edition rifles in the Deluxe II, Wildlife II, or Cowboy II editions. Our test gun was the standard Big Boy in 357 Mag, fired from a monolithic brass receiver that smoothly ejects to the side, rather than out the top, as with the other guns. The Big Boy has brass appointments elsewhere, too: the yellow buttplate and barrel band combine with the blued octagon barrel to create a great overall look, we thought.

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