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Henry Repeating Arms Big Boy Revolver

Henry Repeating Arms Big Boy Revolver

(Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

Henry Repeating Arms is well-­known as a manufacturer of beautiful, classic leverguns, but in 2023 it expanded the product line and surprised a lot of people — in a good way! First, there was the Homesteader, a wood-­stocked semi­automatic pistol caliber carbine (PCC) that aesthetically, to me at least, gave World War II-­era vibes. Guns & Ammo reviewed that rifle in the June 2023 issue. Now, we have a pair of Big Boy revolvers.

The Big Boy isn’t Henry’s first pistol; they’ve long offered the cut-­down Mare’s Leg, which is pistol version of the Big Boy Brass Side Gate lever action inspired by the gun carried by Steve McQueen’s character in “Wanted Dead or Alive” (1958). However, the Big Boy models are the brand’s first revolver. There are two versions of the Big Boy, one with square-­butt Gunfighter grips, and one with rounded Bird’s Head grips. I used the latter for performance testing.

A transfer bar prevents the firing pin from striking a loaded chamber unless the hammer is cocked and trigger squeezed. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

The Big Boy is a six-­shot .357 Magnum, which means it will also accept .38 Special ammunition. As of now, it is only available in 4-­inch-­barrel configurations, but if these guns see success, I assume different barrel lengths will follow. Historically, a 4-­inch barrel has been shown to be a good compromise between concealability and shootability.

The design is a traditional double-­action (DA) revolver, meaning you can pull the trigger all the way through for a double-­action trigger pull or you can cock the hammer for a single-action shot. Considering how Henry goes for classic designs I was curious about the internals. The Big Boy uses a modern transfer bar between the hammer and a frame-­mounted firing pin to make it drop safe, and the cylinder rotates counter-­clockwise.

From light target loads to full-house magnums, Big Boy revolvers will chamber and fire any quality .38 Special or .357. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

When I first heard about these revolvers, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve put a lot of rounds through Henry leverguns, and I’ve tested the Homesteader as it was introduced, but a Henry revolver is a completely different subject. With these, I was stirred as I opened the orange-and-white box.

The Big Boy is one of those guns that may look quite different in photos than it does in person, and by different I mean in another good way. In person, these are quite impressive. Everyone who saw them, from the dangerously jaded workers at my local gun store to my fiancée, to my adult son, thought the Big Boys looked great. Fit and finish was excellent. The cylinder had only a minimal amount of play. There were no gaps or machining marks anywhere. 

One aspect unseen in photos was noticed by my hands as I turned this wheelgun over: The Big Boy was completely dehorned. There were no sharp edges anywhere on these pistols, except where you want them: The front sight, the serrations on the hammer, cylinder release, and ejector rod. Every other corner felt gentle under the hand.

The sight system is suitably simple. The front ramp is replaceable while the rear topstrap is grooved to a notch at the rear. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

This is a steel-and-brass gun, and it had an authoritative heft in my hand, but with good balance. Unloaded, my scale put the Bird’s Head model at 33.6 ounces; the square-butt Gunfighter model was an ounce heavier.

The barrel is a straight steel tube screwed into the steel frame, with a small cutout on the bottom to accommodate the end of the bare ejector rod. The caliber is denoted on the right side of the barrel, and on the left you’ll see “HENRY REPEATING ARMS/RICE LAKE, WI — MADE IN USA”. 

Much like every other style cue on this wheelgun, the bare ejector rod is nostalgic. It calls back thoughts of Colt’s Official Police and early Smith & Wesson hand-ejector models. 

The two available grips styles are more than an aesthetic choice. Each offer an advantage for control and concealment. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

The front sight is a more modern, simple steel ramp, all one piece with a base measuring just more than an inch long. The front sight is secured to the barrel by a simple slot-­head screw, and Henry supplies three front sights for this revolver with differing heights so you can better zero the gun with a preferred load. They are marked on the underside “L”, “M”, and “H” for “low,” “medium,” and “high.” The medium arrives installed by the factory.

The rear sight is a simple notch machined into the frame. The front sight is .06-inch wide, as is the notch in the frame. There is a bit of daylight to either side of the blade when sighting, but these are old-­school revolver sights that fit the look and feel of these guns. Personally, I would have appreciated a wider, serrated front sight and a wider notch, as I would have on a piece that ostensibly might be used as a carry gun. That said, the Big Boy points very natural for me, and the Bird’s Head grip model felt as though it was made for my hand.


The Gunfighter-style grip reduces muzzle flip due to the square-butt design and scalloped thumb rest. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

Fill Your Hands

Now let’s talk about the grip. First, the polished brass of the grip frame and triggerguard looks fabulous. The brass is visible all the way around the grip, and the grip panels are fit seamlessly to it. These revolvers are made in America, and that goes for the smooth walnut grip panels as well. I prefer the look of the Bird’s Head version, but both guns have a very definite style, almost a Victorian
-era flavor to my eyes. In fact, these revolvers look to me like an alternate reality Steampunk version of an out-of-production Ruger Speed-­Six.

The grip panels are somewhat plain, though, even including the laser-­engraved Henry logo. Henry does offer replacement grips with more flair in various colors and laminates, but I don’t think most of those match the aesthetic vibe of these guns as well as the original factory grips. 

As the Gunfighter grips are thicker, the relief cut at the top is deeper to allow the same easy access to the cylinder release, a small serrated wedge-­shaped steel lever you push toward the muzzle to open the cylinder; it’s just like with a Smith & Wesson, only without the unnecessary internal locking system (ILS) in the frame.

The double-action trigger required 11 pounds to fire, while cocking the hammer reduced the trigger-pull weight to just 43/4 pounds. The trigger is distinctively curved but comfortable. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

They’re not just for looks; the different grips perform differently. The square butt version adds more material under your hand for arguably improved control, and the rounded Bird’s Head grip works better for concealment should you want to carry this wheelgun. I have medium-­sized hands, and the Bird’s Head grip felt like it was made for me. If you have bigger hands, your experience may differ.

The official story is that the Bird’s Head grip was designed by Colt in 1850, or so, for its derringers. In 1877, it was incorporated into a line of larger revolvers named “Bird’s Head Colts.” In truth, Colt only seems to have invented the term, not the design. You can find Barbar pocket flintlock pistols from the 1700s having identically contoured grips, for example. Based on its initial use on pocket pistols, and subsequently derringers, you can assume that the smaller, rounded grip was intended to be more concealable. However, in smaller guns such as a derringers, the smaller, rounded Bird’s Head grip was almost too small. Some companies have argued that bigger grips like the Gunfighter’s offer more control of larger revolvers. I don’t know that the pundits are wrong, but revolvers live in their own unique universe. When one talks about history, handling and “proper” grip contours, they must follow up with, “Are you talking about a single-­action-only revolver such as a Colt Single Action Army, or a more modern double-action revolver?”

The deep relief cut at the top of the grip provides easy access to the cylinder release. The push-style cylinder release is reminiscent of classic Smith & Wesson revolvers. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

Original wheelguns were all single actions, where a shooter had to cock them before every shot. With those guns, the curved grips allowed the gun roll upward in the shooter’s hand under recoil, which got the hammer closer to the thumb for quicker re-­cocking. But a set of Bird’s Head grips aren’t what you necessarily need or want in a DA revolver. What you want in a double action is a grip that fits your hand and allows you to choke up as high as possible on the gun to help manage muzzle rise and recoil. You get exactly that with the Big Boy. That brass hump on the frame behind the hammer allowed us to get the web of our hands near to the mid-­line of the cylinder — without hammer bite — which is great.

Trigger Time

The double-action triggers on Guns & Ammo’s samples were smooth, albeit 11 ­pounds. There’s a wall near the end of the stroke where one could stage the trigger right before the shot breaks if you wanted. The single-action trigger was 43/4 ­pounds, and it was so crisp that it felt at least a pound lighter. This was heavier than other Big Boy samples I’ve seen tested, though, but more than acceptable for this kind of gun.

If you peek inside the front of the triggerguard you’ll see a small, serrated nub. If you swing out the cylinder, and push that steel nub forward, the cylinder assembly slides forward right out of the frame. This made cleaning much easier.

The exposed ejector rod is positioned beneath the barrel, which is relieved with a flat to accommodate the bulbous tip. The barrel measured 4 inches, and features a beveled crown at the muzzle. (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

At the range, the Big Boy was completely reliable. While the small, skinny traditional sights aren’t especially fast, they do provide a nice level of accuracy. Revolvers with fixed barrels are inherently more accurate than semiautos, so I wasn’t surprised when I saw sub-2-­inch groups while testing several loads. The Big Boy was more than accurate enough to handle any chore, everything from plinking to self-­defense. I will have to admit that my aging eyes struggled a bit to get the small front sight into focus.

As for recoil, there were no surprises. Though it’s named the “Big Boy,” this is a mid-­size, mid-­weight wheelgun, which means that with .38 Specials it was very controllable and pleasant to shoot. The .357 Magnums were much more authoritative. That’s the great thing about .357 Magnum revolvers; you can practice all day with .38 target loads without destroying your hand or wrist. Then, load it with full-­power magnums if you’re need a defensive option against two-­ or four-­legged predators. And this is the most common revolver cartridge in America! If your gun shop has ammo in stock, they’ll have some .38 Special or .357 Magnum. The .38 Special has been around since 1898, the .357 Magnum since 1934, and I’m not sure there’s an ammunition manufacturer in America that doesn’t produce one or both.

Personally, for defense, I prefer to carry .38 Special +Ps in my .357 wheelguns. Modern Specials perform as well as old-­school .357 Magnums while providing significantly less blast and recoil for quicker follow-­up shots. 

(Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

As part of testing, I used Federal’s .38 Special 158-­grain lead hollowpoint, currently marketed in the Train+Protect line. This is a modern version of the original Hoover-­era FBI load, and is about as street-­proven as a .38 Special gets. The heavy-­for-­caliber weight ensures penetration, and the lack of a jacket means the lead hollowpoint usually expands well, in a load that had very modest recoil.

Henry didn’t just make a clone of the K-­frame, rather the engineers marched to the beat of their own drum. Finding a holster for the Big Boy, initially, might be a challenge, but I was sent Diamond D Custom Alaska Hunter hip holster. Simply Rugged Holsters also offers four of its leather holster designs for the Big Boy, as well. Holsters for S&W’s K-­frame seemed a little too small for the Big Boy, and ones for the N-­frame were a little too big. However, holsters made for the Ruger GP-­100 were very close in fit for the Big Boy. I recommend heading to your local gun store, and trying out holster fit in person rather than blindly buying stuff online; save your money.

The deep blue finish on the frame, cylinder, and barrel gives the Big Boy a rich, classic look, but the brass triggerguard and grip frame move it to the next level. It felt just as good in the hand. This is both functional and art.

(Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

At $928 retail, for either version, the Big Boy is more expensive than what some call “soulless, polymer-­framed semi­autos,” but it is comparable in price to other quality revolvers. This one is not burdened with unnecessary lawyer-­induced internal locks or stamped warnings.

Revolvers, much like pump-­action shotguns, have been labeled as obsolete designs, and yet they are still popular! Used for everything from hunting to target shooting and self-­defense, people love the simplicity and sense of history they offer. Maybe it’s just a love for things that are regarded as old-­fashioned. With Henry’s Big Boy you get a little bit of all that, with more than a dash of style.

Henry Big Boy Revolver

  • Type: Revolver, double action
  • Cartridge: .38 Special/.357 Magnum
  • Capacity: 6 rds.
  • Barrel: 4 in.
  • Length: 9 in. (Bird’s Head); 9.5 in. (Gunfighter)
  • Height: 5.3 in. (Bird’s Head); 5 in. (Gunfighter)
  • Width: 1.5 in.
  • Weight: 2 lbs., 1.6 oz. (tested)
  • Finish: Blue (steel); brass
  • Frame: Steel (frame); brass (grip)
  • Grip: American walnut
  • Sights: Fixed ramp, replaceable (front); integral notch (rear)
  • Trigger: 11 pounds (DA); 4 lbs., 12 oz., (SA); (tested)
  • Price: $928
  • Manufacturer: Henry Repeating Arms, 866-200-2354,

(Guns & Ammo photo)
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