Can a modern lever gun ding steel at the 1,000-yard mark? We give the Henry Long Ranger a chance to prove its name.
by Jeromy Knepp
There are few things that are just pure Americana — the ’57 Chevy Bel Air, Colt 45 Peacemaker, and the Winchester lever action rifle. All made America great…in its time. With the invention of the self-contained cartridge came new horizons and evolutions to the modern firearm.
Growing up in central Pennsylvania, I’ve been surrounded by all types of rifles. My dad owned a sporting goods store, which gave me access to different makes and models of firearms new and old. Some of my fondest memories are taking a Marlin 336 or Winchester 94 from the rack and running the lever. Bolt action rifles were the only thing used for deer season, with one exception, in my family. My uncle owned a Winchester Model 88 in .284 Winchester. This rifle proved to be quite the meat harvester.
Being called the Long Ranger makes one think, can it shoot long range? I wanted to test this idea. Henry was onboard and sent me a Long Ranger to see if it was possible. New bolt actions make it too easy. But what about a lever gun?
My dad owned a Browning BLR (Browning Lever Rifle) when I was a kid. I thought it was super cool. Capable of shooting modern cartridges in multiple calibers made it something special; however, the accuracy of the rifle proved otherwise. It was chaotic at best, and the trigger was about nine pounds. Granted, this was in the 1980s when sub-MOA rifles were sparse. We tried many different factory loads. Two- to three-inch groups were the norm. By our standards, it was not accurate enough to carry into the field for hunting. That would be the last time we would have a lever action rifle in our gun cabinet.
Now Henry has entered the magazine-loaded lever gun fray. The Long Ranger is elegant. It comes with a beautifully grained walnut stock with a matte clearcoat. It is fitted with a generous butt pad to help recoil. Working the lever provides a smooth bolt slide in and out of the receiver. Next, you’ll notice the unique bolt design. The bolt head looks very much like the bolt head of a modern sporting rifle. Closing the lever, you feel the bolt lock up tight. The trigger is much better than the Browning. It feels like a two-stage trigger. Using a Wheeler trigger pull gauge, it has a 1.5 pound take up, finishing with a crisp 2.7-pound pull.
Just how “long range” is the Long Ranger? Since Henry designed it with long range capability in mind, I wanted to evaluate the claim. Choosing the .308 Win. is going to push the capabilities of this rifle. The .243 Win. and 6.5 Creedmoor are proven long range cartridges, but I am a .308 guy and I know this cartridge’s capabilities. Having on hand multiple loadings from Remington, Berger, and Hornady in various bullet designs and capabilities provided the test menu. To help mitigate recoil for controlled bench rest-style shooting, I installed a Witt Machine clamp-on muzzle brake.
Henry sent a Picatinny rail and thumb hammer extension with the rifle. Using 30mm Riton 12mm height rings allowed me to mount up a Riton X5 Primal 3-18x44mm scope. This scope is a second focal plane optic with generous vertical adjustment totaling 108 MOA.
My local range has a 1,040-yard and a 500-yard range. The latter has multiple steel gongs from two hundred yards up the mountain to one thousand yards.
As a bench rest competitor, I expect and try to achieve tiny groups with hand-loaded ammunition. Factory rifles and factory ammunition usually don’t achieve those results.
Although the Henry Long Ranger is not a bench rest rifle, it does have sub-MOA competency. I will add the caveat that a good load development with quality components will improve this rifle’s capability. Factory ammunition from Remington, Berger, and Hornady were sent for this long-range test. Unfortunately, the best-shooting factory options were not built for long range capability. Both the Remington Core-Lokt 150-grain and 180-grain (.996-inch group) rounds performed best.
To my surprise, all the “pointy stuff” with boat tails disappointed. The best group for this rifle among the more aerodynamic bullets came from the Hornady Superformance Match using the 168-grain ELD-M. The average velocity for that round in the Long Ranger was 2674 fps. Normally, this would be just enough to reach one thousand yards, but the weather and temperatures were not in my favor.
Fellow Shoot On contributors Frank and Barb Melloni were alongside my bench spotting for me to get the rifle on target. In warmer weather, the 168-grain ELD-M would normally make the one-thousand-yard hike to the target, but it could not overcome the transonic travel in cold temperatures and fell apart. Also, the wind was atrocious. So, we tried Federal Gold Medal Match duplicate handloads with 175-grain Sierra MatchKings and were able to get a hit on a 66 percent IPSC target.
Next up was the 178-grain ELD-X Hornady Precision Hunter factory load. Again, aiming at an eighteen-inch gong, we managed a second hit.
It took more rounds than normal to achieve this goal, but I started thinking about the premise of this article. Can the Long Ranger hit a target at one thousand yards? The answer is absolutely, “Yes!” This is not a bench gun and the rounds we used would have absolutely made hits from 0-800 yards all day long. Using the Hornady 165 SST Tap ammunition, I made four consecutive hits at five hundred yards on a windy cold day in December on a separate occasion.
My concluding thoughts confirm that this rifle has major potential to be a long-range hammer. Like I stated, it would benefit from time at the reloading bench, tailoring a load that I know could shoot tiny groups. The engineering is in this rifle. What I would like to see is this same rifle with a pistol grip style stock like the Marlin 336. The straight stock is hard to make comfortable and is awkward on a bench rest rear bag. To be a true long ranger, it would also benefit from a heavier contour barrel. I would like to see a medium weight fluted barrel with threads for a muzzle break or suppressor. Overall, I like Henry Long Ranger. I’m excited to sit down, do load work up, and really see what it can do to one thousand yards. I know it can achieve it.