Henry 17HMR Lever-action
Linking up the ultimate Rimfire calibre of 17HMR with a classic lever-action rifle is not an easy task, but the Henry Repeating Arms Co make a decent fist of it, as Pete Moore discovers
When you think of a .22 Rimfire lever-action rifle your thoughts usually go down the plinker path. You know - looks like a cowboy gun, accurate enough with iron sights, but a bit dated, maybe a rabbit or two at 50 yards at best… Plus who’d want to spoil that look and slick handling with a telescopic sight - because that’s what you really need to do if you wanted to reach out much further with workable accuracy. And in the main that’s why the majority of hunting 22s are predominantly scoped-up bolt-actions, with a few semi-autos also holding their own.
But what if you only make a lever-action rifle and want to cash in on the biggest thing to hit the Rimfire world? I speak, of course, of Hornady’s 17HMR. Such a quandary presented itself to the Henry Repeating Arms Co, who have chosen to take the classic Winchester 94 look and make it as a Rimfire.
The Henry has the look and feel of the old German Erma Winchester 94 copy, with its aluminium alloy receiver, but the side of the barrel is marked MADE IN USA BKLYN N.Y.
Whatever, my experience of these Henrys from the past has been one of a solidly built and reliable rifle with that western look. Certainly not bad as a fun gun or short range small game iron sight hunter.
All Comb, No Irons!
Apart from their standard .22 Long Rifle, Henry naturally enough make a .22 Magnum version. So it’s but a short step to producing a 17HMR, as all that’s required is a new barrel, as cartridge/feed-wise everything remains identical.
The sighting set-up, or the lack of it in the case of this 17, is most unusual. Given that the 17HMR was not envisioned as a short range Rimfire calibre, as it offers a maximum effective range of 200 yards - maybe a bit more, if some shooters are to be believed - Henry have cut to the chase and completely dispensed with any pretence of iron sights at all. This example has no front blade or place for one - only the drilled and tapped holes at the back of the barrel bear witness to the fact it might have had a rear sight. Although looking a little odd, it does at least give the impression it was built for a certain use.
To further illustrate this Henry have re-designed the old faithful Winchester 94 straight-hand butt. It now incorporates a high comb to facilitate scope use to give a far superior cheek weld position. In the past the standard layout and the necessarily high-mounted optic meant a less than ideal head position. I have to say that the rifle does look a little odd with no iron sights and the big butt, but it certainly feels better than the Winchester 9417 (17HMR version) I tested a few months ago.
As standard the 17 Henry shows a closed topped aluminium alloy receiver, with just a small side-mounted ejection port. The top of the action features a ½” dovetail for scope mounting and to this I fitted a 1.5-6X42 with a #7-style reticule in a set of 30mm Sportsmatch mounts. With actions of this type a scope with a shorter body is to be preferred, as the optic tends to be placed closer to the shooter than on a comparable bolt-action. The glass I chose suited the rifle nicely, still giving a natural head position, with no tendency to bend the neck backward to get the correct eye relief.
Nuts and Bolts
Before we go any further let’s look at the basic Henry build and action. Despite my doubts on its parentage the 17 is nicely put together for 99% of the job – steel parts are well blued and the alloy receiver and upper and lower tangs black anodised. Quite the nastiest thing is the plastic barrel band. On the matter of timber, the furniture looks to be made of walnut, with a semi-matt varnish finish. Wood to metal fit isn’t too bad and panels of machine-cut chequering are inset into the side of the forend and grip.
The butt shows a thick rubber recoil pad; more use for locking the rifle into the shoulder than reducing the negligible kick of the 17HMR. Being a Rimfire the tube magazine loads from the front end by a pull-out follower tube and port – more of that later. It’s secured by a ring that’s dovetailed into the underside of the 19” barrel. On the normal iron sighted Henry this would be replaced by a full barrel/mag tube band with the foresight blade on top.
At a shade under 38” the 17 Henry feels like a neat and handy little rifle. The action is smooth, slick and positive, with the operating handle offering a consistent stroke from the start to the finish of the movement. The bolt runs on a set of rails, so further adding to the generally nice feel of the gun. Being essentially a copy of the pre- Angle Eject (AE) Winchester 94 there’s no applied safety system. Instead the hammer offers a ½-cock notch that just raises its nose off the tail of the firing pin to give a stand-off position. When set the mechanism gives an audible click and you then have to thumb it all the way back to get to full-cock.
Front-loading tube magazines seem to be a standard feature of pump and lever-action Rimfires with few exceptions, and the Henry is no different. The magazine tube is just that and is fixed to the barrel; inside is a removable brass tube that contains the spring and follower and it’s this that the rounds telescope into when it’s locked in position. It’s secured by a twist-n-pull bayonet catch with a knurled end. All you do is rotate the barrel assembly until the locking pin clears the dogleg slot and pull it out until the loading port is exposed.
Rounds are then dropped into the port base first and slid down the tube, to a total capacity of 12. When full, slide the brass tube back in place and turn the locking lug back into its dogleg to secure it. In this position the spring is compressed and ready to feed the ammunition, and each time the operating lever is fully cycled a cartridge will be fed into the chamber.
Though appearing a bit primitive the fixed tube magazine does offer some advantages – it allows a fast, en-bloc unload by pulling out the barrel and tipping the contents out. With a closed-in system such as this, which always represents a potential hazard by not easily telling if it’s full or empty, the ability to completely remove the feed does offer more safety. It’s also a simple and sturdy design that seems to offer 100% reliability. On the downside, it’s possible to lose the removable inner section, which would render the gun useless. Also, this system does show problems should you wish to fit a moderator, as the can would have to be very slim indeed not to impede the removal of the mag tube for loading.
Ammunition was Hornady’s 17-grain V-MAX loading as imported and distributed by Hannams. The Henry was shot off a Dog Gone Good medium Range Bag. The first thing I noticed when I got behind the scope was the trigger – as it gave a far better break than I expected. At 5 lbs it could have been lighter, but it was crisp with just a short bit of first pressure. At 50 yards it was shooting ½” with an inch-ish at 100. Not the best I’ve used, but certainly good enough.
The action was totally reliable – being smooth and easy to cycle it never missed a beat on either feed or ejection. I did find the throw of the lever a little long, but not unacceptable. Even with its shortish barrel you can expect around the 2450-2500 fps mark, which is about on spec for the calibre. If you like lever-action rifles then this little 17HMR will doubtless please you no end.
Combining this hot little Rimfire cartridge with what is essentially a pre-1900 design is interesting. On the plus side you have the slick action, high magazine capacity and reliability of the generic lever-action and the hard-hitting terminal ballistics of the 17HMR cartridge with acceptable accuracy. On the downside there’s no easy way to fit a moderator and a bipod would be less than easy to mount.
As I’ve said before about lever-action 17s, they seem to suit a walkabout, close range role far better than going out to 100 yards +. They are also handy in vehicles due to their lack of weight and generally compact build. This would be a nice Rimfire repeater when you want a bit more power for dealing with close range foxes and the like.
If you’re thinking of getting a 17HMR then a lever-action isn’t really what I would term as a ‘first buy’ gun, though it does have something to offer a more dedicated shot. For the target shooters it’s a no-no from the outset, as this calibre is only available in an expanding bullet loading, therefore making the ammo Section 5 from the start. It would seem unlikely that Hornady, Remington or CCI will ever bother with a full metal jacket round for it.
|Name||Henry Lever-action rifle|
|Action||Lever. Half and full cock hammer|
|Sights||No iron sights but receiver with integral ½” dovetail|
|Stock||Butt section with raised comb for scope use|
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