Some call me “Old Fashioned,” but I prefer to think of myself as a traditionalist. I’ve always loved knowing history and prefer a tried and true design. One of my favorite genres is “western.” Whether it be on the big screen, in print, or song, I can’t help but be drawn to it. There is an old Western song called “Big Iron” by Marty Robbins that talks about a lawman with a .44 I just love. It hits home for many reasons, but the biggest is an unexplained love I have for the .44 Remington Magnum. For many years I’ve had a love affair for this round, even though I had never owned one.
Around 13 years ago, I started my path in the firearms industry by managing a small gun shop. We had a Smith and Wesson 629 5″ Classic with the fully shrouded barrel. For some reason, the balance of this revolver just felt perfect. At the time, I couldn’t swing the near $1000 price tag that came with it. In December of 2019, I achieved my goal and was finally able to purchase my “big iron.” A few months later, in February, I bought a partner to this revolver with the purchase of a Henry Big Boy Classic Model H006. After purchasing a 9mm upper for one of my AR’s, I had a bucket list desire to get a rifle to match my new revolver. (See “PCC-An Addiction is Born“) The idea of having both a rifle and handgun that use the same round has always been a desire, and I had finally accomplished it.
Along with that, I now had both a rifle and handgun capable of taking a plethora of big game, especially deer and bear, which I have in my woods. I have a pair of 44’s meant for the woods.
Smith and Wesson 629 5″ Classic
While the Smith and Wesson 629 is not the revolver hinted at in the song “Big Iron,” it does have notoriety by being carried by Clint Eastwood in the Dirty Harry movies. It is a double-action six-shot built on their N frame series of revolvers. This particular model weighs 44.7 oz and has a fully shrouded 5″ barrel. It is made of stainless steel and comes with rubber grips that are finger grooved. The overall length is 10.5″. It feels perfectly balanced in the hand, and at that weight is truly a “big iron.” The gun comes standard with a red ramp front sight and adjustable rear sight with a white outline. It retails for $989.
While shopping to make this purchase, I had to decide between the 5″ and 6″ versions. No one locally carried this revolver, so I had to order it online. While I never held the 6″ I had shot some other revolvers of that size and had a good idea what it would be like. Ultimately the decision came down to ballistics. I found a great website over the years that I use as a resource for these kinds of decisions. According to ballisticsbytheinch.com the difference in muzzle energy between a 5″ and 6″ barrel is approximately 13 fps more in the 6″ barrel. This is pretty negligible, and when you start to look at holster options for this gun, the 6″ barrel cuts the possibilities way down. These factors, plus the thought of that extra inch hitting my tree stand seat in the fall woods, made me decide on the gun that started my love affair.
As the song hints, it is a big iron. It is a hard-hitting, hard shooting handgun, not recommended for novice shooters. That being said, the weight is a benefit as well. That 44.7 ounce tames the recoil a fair bit, making it manageable to shoot. My first range session was with 185-grain PMC hollow points. It was all I could find when I got it. These rounds in this gun are a joy to shoot. I grabbed a milk jug to shoot at and was hitting dead on at 20 yards right off the bat. I even successfully “walked” the jug approximately 30 yards downrange without missing a shot. I was ecstatic with the success and fell in love all over again. My following boxes of ammo were Winchester 240 grain jacketed soft points. To say there was a difference is an understatement. It was harder hitting in the recoil department and made me start looking at Hogue grips for a bit more cushion. I could still handle the round, but it started beating me up. However, these are the rounds most readily accessible to me, so that’s what I’ve been using. What I’ve noticed is I’ve developed a flinch with this gun. (A problem I’ve begun to remedy.) Since this issue has reared its ugly head, my grouping has opened way up, and I’ve started to miss. I tell you this to let you know that none of us are perfect, and even the most experienced shooter will come across something that requires them to get back to basics.
As far as accuracy goes, I’ll let you know about my last range session with it. At first and with the lighter ammo, I was keeping a tight and accurate grouping, but since developing the flinch, I’ve had to start from the beginning. I’ve put about 150 rounds through this gun so far, and my best grouping with this gun and ammo combination was two 3-shot groups that measure right at 3″ from a standing position at 20 yards. Good enough to kill a whitetail, but I firmly believe the gun can do better. One of the things I’ve been doing to fix my issue is to load five rounds into the 6-round cylinder. That leaves one open, and I turn the cylinder as I lock it up, so I don’t know which is the open chamber. When I’m focused on my basics of squeezing the trigger while maintaining sight alignment and remembering to breathe, I shoot well and keep these 3″ groups. This is shown by pulling the trigger on the empty chamber and not seeing the muzzle move. However, when I’ve been shooting a bit and start to make that subconscious flinch, my group opens up to 5″ or more. Oddly enough, my best groups are on my first and third targets. You can see from the pictures that the more I shoot in a range day, the more the gun wears me out, and my group opens up. I’ve read several articles over the years from large bore revolver shooters and have noticed this is a common problem for first-timers in this arena. So, it seems I’m in good company.
My overall opinion is pretty simple. It is awesome. If you’re thinking about it, get one. You’ll love it too. Get ready for something that shoots and hits and lot bigger than your 9 or 45, but it’s a heck of a ride. A few months ago, I brought it to a buddy’s house to let him try it out, and we shot at some ¼” steel. Not only did it dent the steel, but it also transferred enough energy to knock a 4-foot piece out of the ground. I’m confident after more practice, this gun will be ready for the fall gun season, and I’ll attempt to take my first handgun deer with it. I believe that will be a great day.
Henry Big Boy Classic
Henry Rifles patented the first practical lever-action rifle in 1860 and were first used in 1862 by Union soldiers during the Civil War. While Winchester became popular in 1866 and has been touted by many as the iconic “Old West” rifle, Henry was there first. Initially chambered in .44 Rimfire, this rifle was once reported, “It’s a rifle that you could load on Sunday and shoot all week long,” by a Confederate officer. In short, the Henry is a classic and is still made in the USA with quality and care you can pass on to your kids and grandkids.
I had the money and chose to get a new Henry in .44, but there were more options to decide on. For years I said if I got a Henry, I would not get the brass receiver. I feared scratching it up in the field. However, when push came to shove, I just couldn’t resist. It’s just too pretty and will hold its value more. I also opted for the 20″ octagon barrel. I went with the most rounds and traditional look they had in .44 Rem Mag. This rifle weighs 8.68 pounds with an overall length of 38.5″. The sights are adjustable semi-buckhorn rear (with a diamond insert) and a brass bead front. The stock material is American walnut, which makes this rifle a thing of beauty. The only real negative is the sights. They are hard to see, especially in less than optimal light conditions. The gun is tapped for an aftermarket scope mount, but the iron sights are more traditional. So, I’m going to keep it as is and learn how to shoot it better.
I started walking with a swagger that can be compared to “The Duke” and started calling everyone “pilgrim.” Ok, maybe I didn’t go that far, but I was instantly a kid again. Reliving one of those old westerns dad and I watched together when I was young. With a weight of nearly 9 pounds, recoil is very tame. It is a joy to shoot, and the extra velocity the 20″ barrel gives makes this round extremely effective in the “brush gun” category. While at my buddy’s house shooting at steel, we tried this rifle at 35 yards, unaware of what the consequences would be. While the 5″ barreled handgun made substantial dents in the steel, the 20″ rifle zipped right through. I looked up the muzzle velocity and energy this combination produces, and it runs in the neighborhood of 1760 fps with 1650 ft. lbs. of energy at the muzzle. That’s over 500 fps faster and over 600 ft. lbs. more energy (on average) than the handgun previously mentioned. I’d say this gun is very effective for big game. Retailing for $972 it is not the cheapest, but hey, I have guns that cost more too.
While this rifle is more than capable of reaching out to 150 or 200 yards and maintain energy enough to take game, my land is dense with woods, and I very rarely shoot past 75. This is why I sighted the rifle in for a 75 yard zero. In the process of zeroing this rifle and getting some range time, I consistently kept a group of 3″ to 5″ in both 3 and 5 shot groups. I did experience a single group of 5 where four were well within an inch; then, I pulled one shot jumping the group 6 ½” up. To put things into perspective, my target of choice is a 9″ paper plate. At 75 yards, my front sight completely covers the 9″ target. Making sub MOA accuracy very difficult. This tells me with more trigger time behind this gun. It will be a very accurate deer slayer. At this time, I have approximately 75 rounds through this gun. It’s not even broken in yet.
If you are looking for a gun to make clover leaves at 200 yards, you may want to check out 1 of their .308 or 6.5 models. But for that true “old west” feel with solid knockdown power and accurate enough to hit the vitals of big game, then check out this Big Boy in .44 Rem Mag.
Now that I have my “Big Irons,” I am happy. A big bore revolver and a carbine to match is one of those goals a gun enthusiast more than likely has. Now all I need is a Stetson, and I’ll be right at home with Burt Lancaster, John Wayne, or the like. This review doesn’t show the full potential of these firearms, but that is 100% on me, the shooter. I have a taste of what they are capable of, and I look forward to more trigger time to make them sing. If you are new to this caliber, I advise you, expect a bit of a learning curve. It is a round that produces a whole lot more power than a 9mm, and it will work you. If you are an experienced shooter with large calibers, then have a good laugh at watching me make rookie mistakes. Hey, we all have to learn sometime, and I can’t think of 2 better firearms to learn from. While I may be struggling a bit, they are forgiving enough to give me encouragement, and I am determined to master them before the upcoming deer season. I cannot wait till November when I get the opportunity to carry my pair of .44’s meant for the woods and walk out with food for my family. It will be a personal goal met after many years of planning.
The Henry Repeating Arms Big Boy Classic is available at Cabela’s.
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Prices accurate at time of writing