Lever rifles in the rimfire calibers can do many things for the avid shooter. Besides providing casual shooting fun for the lever-rifle fan, these guns can be serious hunting arms. If the nimrod has a centerfire lever gun for any serious purpose, the rimfire can provide meaningful and inexpensive practice. This practice can extend from the rifle range to the small game field, and to just about anywhere in between. In the Idaho back country, many landowners keep a .22 LR of some sort, many of the lever type, by the back door for garden or yard pests.
Our test here includes a pair of lever guns, the Winchester 9422 Walnut and the new Henry Model H001, out of Brooklyn, New York, of all places. In our testing, we discovered that you, the buyer, will have to make lots of decisions based on your individual needs. Do you want the very lightest rifle, with the thought of packing it far and wide? Or will you want more weight for maximum stability on target, with the effect that the increased heft makes the rimfire feel more like your centerfire lever gun? How will you use the rifle? Do you want it to shoot tin cans on two or three weekends a year, or do you plan to use the rifle hard? The more you assess your personal needs before you buy, the happier you will be in the long run.
One thing the lever gun must do is work, and work all the time. We’ll not keep you waiting on this one; both of our test guns worked all the time. Without further ado, here’s what we found:
Winchester has produced their Model 9422 for a number of years, and this latest $407 version is a beauty. It has a checkered stock made of walnut. All the metal parts of the rifle are made of steel. It is an attractive and solidly built rifle. The round barrel is 20-1/4 inches long, and the tubular magazine underneath it holds 15 shots of Long Rifle ammunition, and several more Longs. This one doesn’t take Shorts. The sights are fixed, with a hooded bead-on-a-post up front and a spring-blade wide-angle vee rear sight that has a white triangle below its generous U-notch. The receiver is grooved for tip-off scope mounts. The straight-grip stock ends in a checkered plastic buttplate that does a fairly good job of keeping the stock in place on the shoulder as the lever is worked. The only safety provided is the half-cock position of the hammer, which isn’t a problem for the experienced shooter.
The Henry Model H001, a product of the Henry Repeating Arms Co., is an attractive $230 rifle. It has an uncheckered walnut stock, an alloy receiver and a barrel that is only 18-1/2 inches long. In spite of the 1-3/4-inch shorter barrel, its magazine still holds 15 rounds of .22 Long Rifle. It will also take Short and Long ammunition. The sights are fixed, the front being a flat-topped blade with a hood. The rear is a flat-topped square-notched spring blade that is adjustable, just like that of the Winchester, for elevation by means of a sliding notched cam. Windage is adjusted by drifting the sight in a dovetail notch in the barrel. The safety is the half-cock position of the hammer, just like the Winchester. The Henry’s hammer is case-hardened. There is no checkering. The straight buttstock ends in a checkered plastic buttplate very similar to that of the Winchester, and it works equally well.[PDFCAP(2)].
The Henry’s lever had a much smoother throw than the Winchester. This promised good things right from the start. In fact, the Winchester’s action felt decidedly stiff at first. However, it slicked up pretty well after about a hundred rounds, and was almost as slick as the Henry by the end of our tests.
The Henry rifle was noticeably lighter than the Winchester. This was due to the Henry’s shorter barrel and alloy receiver, which appeared to have been made of aluminum. At any rate, it is non-magnetic. Unfortunately, it had significant machining marks in the big flat on its left side, and the glossy finish made this very apparent. All of our shooters noticed this.
The second thing we noticed about the Henry was that its finish left something to be desired. The receiver appeared to be covered with glossy black paint, though the barrel, lever and other steel parts had a high-gloss blued finish. Not of all the parts were metal. The bands that attach the magazine to the barrel were plastic. The forward band incorporated the front sight ramp and the sight blade, all in one unit. This was a clever manufacturing process, to be sure. It worked, but on our test gun, the front sight ended up being slightly canted to the left. This plastic assembly was attached to the rifle by a screw entering the top of the barrel. When we slid the hood off, we discovered the screw was slightly burred.
Our Winchester 9422’s finish was darned near flawless. All metal parts were nicely polished and evenly blued. The wood had a dull satin sheen that complimented the rifle, and the checkering felt just great to all our testers. The straight grip felt much slimmer than that of the Henry, but it was actually larger in circumference. Part of that feel came from the fact that the lever rested tightly against the wood, while the Henry’s lever stood off a quarter inch from contacting the wood. The grip of the Winchester measured 5-3/4 inches, and the forend girth was 4-3/4 inches. The dimensions for the Henry were 5-1/8 inches at the grip and 4-1/2 inches around the forend. Our testers were equally divided as to which grip felt better.
The Henry had somewhat better-looking walnut, and a satin non-glare finish. We rubbed linseed oil onto both stocks to see if it would soak in, but all we got was a mess that we had to wipe off. Both stocks had a good synthetic finish that should not let water in, and ought to last a long, long time with zero maintenance.
Fit and Finish
The Winchester’s forend was loose. This, however, didn’t affect anything but our sensitive hands, for it shot extremely well. The metal parts were extremely well mated to the wood. We rated the overall fit and finish as excellent. The cut checkering had slightly flat tops, but it functioned very well. We preferred the feel of the Winchester’s checkering by far to that of the smooth Henry. The Winchester’s bolt fit the receiver precisely, with little or no slop either closed or fully open. The lever and trigger had moderate, but not excessive, side-to-side movement within the receiver.
The Henry’s forend was tight and fit the receiver adequately. The buttstock mated reasonably well to the tang and receiver. We rated the overall quality of fitting as very good. In fact, the buttplate fit the stock even better than the Winchester’s. Our Henry’s lever and trigger fit the receiver with slight side play, equal in quality of fit to those on the Winchester. The wood finish was, if anything, superior to that of the Winchester.
The bolt lockup on both rifles was precise and solid. We had, however, one complaint common to both guns. The tubular magazine on each rifle had a removable brass tube that contained a spring and a plastic follower. These assemblies were retained in the rifles by pressing them in against the nose of the cartridges in the magazine, which compressed the follower spring, and then rotating the knurled end an eighth of a turn clockwise. This placed a protruding pin into a notch near the muzzle end of the magazine, and the assembly was thus locked into the rifle under spring tension. The problem was, if there was no ammunition in the rifle, there was nothing but luck to retain these tubes within the rifles. If the shooter inadvertently turned the knurled tip counterclockwise and then lowered the muzzle of the empty rifle, the brass tube fell out onto the ground. In our opinion, something ought to be done about it by both manufacturers.
It was quite difficult for our testers to detect a handling difference that was significant. The lighter weight of the Henry gave it a slight speed advantage in mounting (shouldering), yet the Winchester was somewhat faster to settle down on target. It was easier for an adult to hold the Winchester on target offhand. A less-strong person might find the Henry easier to hold on target. Bringing each rifle to full cock from the recommended half-cock carry position was identical. Each hammer had crosswise serrations that provided identical traction to the cocking thumb, and the effort of thumb-cocking was exactly the same. The checkering on the Winchester gave the forward hand a bit more to grasp than the Henry’s smooth wood.
The Henry’s lever required a few more degrees of travel to get to the fully forward position, but only one of the dozen people who handled these two rifles even noticed this difference. The drops at comb and heel and the pull length of the rifles were identical. Both triggers had the same 1/4-inch width with identical serrations on their faces.
In looking for any problems at all with the two lever actions, we tried feeding rounds with the rifles inverted. The Henry didn’t like this, but the Winchester worked okay. In all other positions, both rifles fed cartridges as slowly or as swiftly as we could work the lever. It was only when we shot the rifles over a bench rest that we found any significant differences.
The Winchester’s best five-shot group was a very good 0.63 inch at 50 yards. The Henry’s best group was just under an inch. The Winchester shot best with the CCI Green Tag target ammo, but the Henry performed best with CCI Mini Mags. Average groups with the Winchester were around 1.50 inches, while those of the Henry were around 2.50 inches.[PDFCAP(3)].
There was a slight difference in the trigger pulls. The Winchester’s pull had a lot of creep at first, and broke at 5-1/4 pounds. By the end of our testing, it had lost most of its creep and broke at 3-1/2 pounds. (We suppose some oil made its way to the sear surfaces.) The Henry’s trigger had a 3-1/4-pound pull with minimal creep, and that very good pull stayed just that good throughout our test. Both pulls had moderate overtravel. We didn’t have to fight either trigger and pronounced them both to be fully acceptable.
We didn’t like the sight picture a whole lot on either rifle, but the Winchester’s was better. In marginal light, the Henry’s rear sight wasn’t wide enough to permit seeing the post front with enough clarity, and the sight picture was a significant hindrance to good shooting. The Winchester’s rear provided a useable sight picture in all lighting conditions, the sight actually acting like an aperture and increasing the visibility of the front bead. Yet, we can’t help but feel that the rear sight would have been better with a simple wide-angle vee without the U-notch, as on good English express rifles.
With varying light, neither the Winchester’s nor the Henry’s sights provided consistent results.
We applauded Henry for making the effort to give us essentially a Patridge sight on the rifle. The flat-top front blade and flat-top rear with notch (this one had a curved bottom) was at least potentially better than the vagueness of the Winchester’s bead arrangement. The Henry’s sights could be improved with either a slightly thinner front blade (which the Henry Co. may be unwilling to do, because of the plastic com-position of the front blade) or a slightly wider rear notch. One of our testers noted that the top of the rear sight was slanted toward the rear. (The part was manufactured by being blanked out on a stamping machine and bent at less than a right angle.) The rear-slanting portion reflected light so badly that it was nearly impossible to get a clear sight picture. The fix for this problem would require a few minutes of work with a small file, and the same file could be used to slightly widen the rear notch and ensure it had a flat, non-glare bottom in the notch as well.
Both of these rifles were entirely suitable for just about any purpose to which one could put them. Both had enough accuracy for small game hunting, and were picky enough of their ammunition that the shooter will have lots of enjoyable testing to select the types of ammunition that work best in the individual rifle. A scope could be mounted temporarily to ease this task, though we feel scopes are out of place on lever guns.
There is a significant difference in price, though. The Henry lists for $230 and the Winchester for $407, so we have to assess what you get for the additional $177. With the Winchester, you get all-steel construction, including the beautifully machined and finished action; a 1-3/4-inch longer barrel; checkered walnut; slight additional weight; a bit more accuracy (with our test gun); and, some say, a slightly better sight picture. If you have only $230 to spend, you can buy the Henry and know that you’re not missing a lot without the Winchester. Most of our shooters said they’d probably buy the Winchester, but all agreed that the lighter weight, smooth function and sound construction of the Henry made that rifle more than adequate. The Henry would save the shooter lots of money.