After arduous contemplation, I recently was able to acquire a Henry Rifle reproduction manufactured by Uberti, in my caliber of choice - .45 Long Colt. This month, I want to discuss a few things about that choice, the Henry's place in Civil War History, and some tips on shooting the .45 Long Colt Henry in general.
The N-SSA approved the Uberti Henry Rifle for individual competition, and created a special class for magazine arms, in 1991. The original Uberti approved was in .44-40, the only offering by Uberti at that time. Later, the folks in Italy offered new calibers in the Henry, and the .45 Long Colt was offered as a potential skirmishing arm to the N-SSA Small Arms Committee. In 1996, the N-SSA Board of Directors approved the Henry in .45 Long Colt. It was then that I started hankering for a Henry.
Let me say here and now I am not a fan of the .44-40 cartridge. It has a little less powder capacity than .45 Long Colt, and it shoots a smaller bullet -- .429 compared to .452. While that a'int much to hang your hat on, the straight wall of the .45 is more historically similar to the .44 Rimfire than the bottlenecked .44- 40. And that's just my opinion, there are lots of folks that like the .44-40. The muzzle energy of a .45 Colt is also greater than that of the .44-40, a mathematical result of bigger bullet and slightly more powder.
The original Henry was produced in .44 Rimfire caliber, with 14,000 produced in New Haven, CT. There is no denying it's place in firearms history, including military history. The War Department purchased 1,731 of these arms between 1862 and 1865, and is known to have issued these weapons to the 1st Maine Cav. and the 1st District of Columbia Cav. All of these purchases are believed to have been in the brass frame model. With the government accounting for only a little over 12% of the production, what became of the other Henrys? Many soldiers purchased Henrys, and the proprietary ammunition for them, from personal funds. This independent acquisition equipped Federal Cavalry units from Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri with the Henry rifle.
The cessation of hostilities saw the Henry continued by the first model produced by the Winchester Arms Co., which is now known to collectors as the Model 1866 Winchester, or "Yellowboy." Winchester produced 170,101 of these 44 Rimfire rifles and carbines, which is almost 10 times as many '66s as Henrys. And, it is the '66 which established 44 rimfire as a standard caliber in the Ol' West, not the Henry. Most wartime Henrys returned to places like Kentucky and Illinois after the war, while the '66 and other Winchesters tamed the Wild, Wild West.
Some N-SSA purists, however, would have you and me believe that the .44-40 is the only, TRUE caliber for a Henry, but I'll take the .45 Colt any day. If your not going to reissue the reproduction Henrys in .44 Rimfire, then your going to have to pick a more modern caliber. !Si? Well then, what better choice then .45 Long Colt. The .45 Long Colt was never an official designation by the Colt Company. Forty-five caliber loads came in many sizes and calibers, and there was a .45 with a casing about 7/8's of an inch long that preceded the Long Colt, which measures about 1 1/8" in case length. The longer Colt cartridge held more powder, was therefore more powerful, and when a cowpoke rode into town and asked for a box of Colt shells, if the mercantile tried to sell him the shorts ones, he'd say, "NO, no, the long Colts, pardner." And the name stuck.
The .45 Long Colt was developed as a blackpowder cartridge and was first introduced in 1873. Together with the .38 S&W, which is five years younger than the .45 Long Colt, it is the only blackpowder cartridge to have commercially survived to the dawn of the 21st Century. A trip to any local gun shop will in all likelihood reveal a box of either .45 Long Colt or .38 S&W ammo (or both) in stock. And, you would have found them in stock in the 1920s, the 1940s, the 1960s and the 1980s. Sure, specialty ammo dealers might recently begun to have stocked ammunition for Cowboy Action Shooting in .38 Long Colt, 32-20 or .44-40, but they weren't being stocked 20 years ago. The .45 Long Colt has always been in stock. And always will be. It is a cartridge for the ages.
The .45 Long Colt also has the advantage of having been an official military cartridge for 17 years, a distinction that further separates it from the .44-40. The Single Action Army revolver, known as the "Peacemaker" and "P" model revolver as well, was the standard Cavalry sidearm from 1873 until 1890, when the Army changed to a "modern" smokeless powder cartridge, the .38 Long Colt (which didn't last long and was replaced by the .45 automatic in 1911).
The ample capacity of the cartridge case of the .45 Colt allowed it to transcend the major change from blackpowder to smokeless powder. Cowpokes on the range could buy smokeless cartridges, and easily reload with blackpowder, another bonus the .44-40 didn't provide. And, it was accurate and powerful with either base load. As the picture shows, the .44-40 case has a neck, which can collapse during the reloading process. It doesn't always, but it can. On the other hand, the .45 Colt has a straight case, which is more forgiving of the rough handling that might collapse the .44-40 neck when field loading.
This is a good time to mention the most important component of loading your own ammunition for the Henry. Not only must flat-nosed bullets be used in the Henry, but the .45 Colt is a PISTOL cartridge, and the reloader must use Pistol Primers. The standard pistol primer is a tad shorter than the standard rifle primer, and using the rifle primer may result in a serious condition which causes ignition of the round in the magazine during recoil. The Lee Auto Prime tool is an excellent choice for seating your primers, because in a very short time you will actually develop a "feel" for when the primer is properly seated. I have never been able to develop such a "feel" with other seating mechanisms. Considering the minimal cost and the improved safety factor, I think you would be unwise to not try the Lee Auto-Prime as your primary primer seating tool.
I have had a lot of success with black powder in the Henry. My favorite load right now is a CCI Magnum Pistol Primer in a Remington-Peters .45 Colt case, with 20.5 grains of FFF Goex. I top that with a .45 caliber Wonder Wad and a 255 grain Lee cast bullet (Lee Mold #90349), and I have been getting 2 inch groups at 50 yards off the bench. Most of my fliers in offhand work have been the result of my lack of concentration, and I really like this load. Given the heavy weight of the Henry -- 10 pounds, more than my 3-band Harpers Ferry! - this light load is easy to shoot and accurate. At Cowboy Action Shoots, I have had good luck with this load as well as a full case, 28 grains of FFF, and a 200 grain flat-nosed bullet. Typical CAS shooting with the rife is at 15 to 25 yards, and several loads hit "on" at these ranges. Not that I don't find a way to miss.
So there ya have it, I like the Uberti .45 Colt Henry Rifle. It has the ability to shoot spectacularly in the hands of a good shooter, but is rugged enough to shoot all day until you become a good shooter. It's heft and expanse serve to limit recoil, I like that, too. I also like that I can compete with the Henry in N-SSA and Single Action Shooting Society matches; the more I shoot, the better the Henry gets. If your looking for a Henry, don't pass up the .45 Colt.
The 100th National Skirmish of the North-South Skirmishing Association is coming to Fort Shenandoah from September 29 to October 3, and the Fort is being all spruced up to look good for visitors. If you are going to be in the area then, don't miss out on this momentous occasion. There are still lots of Regional and Invitational skirmishes this Summer, and I hope to see our readers out on the line. Until then, promote responsible gun ownership, shoot safe and have fun.
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