When the country braces itself for situations like the current COVID-19 outbreak we all run to firearms to ensure that we have a method of protecting ourselves. In times like these reduced-length shotguns are typically a gun store’s first recommendation, but you should also be asking yourself ,“Why not a defensive lever gun?” Lever-action carbines have defended the homestead for more than 100 years and at the same time lent themselves to a variety of sporting and target-practice activities. The Henry Repeating Arms Company picked up on this notion in 2019, and for 2020, released the Big Boy X series.
For my testing I requested the .38 Special/.357 Magnum model, officially named the HO12MX. Now I am a diehard purist and every bone in my body tells me that I should hate a black, synthetic-stocked lever action, but...my first impression was that this thing looked good. The features of the Henry Big Boy X are all very functional, and they retain that classic “cowboy” outline. The stock set itself carries the traditional rifle shape and style, but is enhanced with attachment systems like MLOK slots and a Picatinny rail. When selecting a defensive setup ,you always want to have the option of mounting a flashlight, laser or both, and the Henry Big Boy X allows for nearly every conceivable option. Hey, if you want to get crazy you can even mount a forward grip up there! Slightly behind the Picatinny rail section is a sling stud that can be used in conjunction with the one in the rear for a standard two-point sling, and of course you can also go with the popular single-point setup as well.
The action of the Henry Big Boy X is also quite notable. During my first chamber check I quickly noticed the enlarged lever loop, which allows the user to locate it easily in the dark of night. The larger loop also puts the bottom of the metal closer to its stop point, making for a shorter stroke and its associated speedy cycling. Feeding this action is the usual tubular magazine, except that on this model you have the option of filling the tube from the top, or using the side-loading gate. The side gate is going to be a godsend for loading in an awkward shooting position, as some may find it faster than front stuffing. However, using the top to unload all of your ammunition in one go certainly has its advantages—like not having to cycle live rounds through the chamber.
The 17.4-inch barrel of the X is adorned with fiber-optic sights, which speak loudly to its home defense intentions, but the hunter will also find these useful at dawn and dusk, which is when you can expect to take a shot at unsuspecting game. This barrel is cut with a 1:16-inch twist rifling, and is finished with a 5/8 x 24 threaded muzzle. It comes capped, but I like that Henry left the provision for a sound or flash suppressor. Both of these additions are equally valuable whether it be in your living room or a deer blind. Overall this shortened length goes a long way in aiding maneuverability regardless of your application.
Before hitting the range, we added a Picatinny rail (sold separately) to our Henry and attached a Riton X3 Tactix PRD Red Dot optic. I went with one of these because its low profile put my eye right behind it when shouldered. Traditional stocks drop low, so you want your optic as low as possible—otherwise your cheek weld turns into a chin weld. The Riton X3 Tactix PRD also has a rear notch, which can serve as a rear sight in the event I can’t get it turned on fast enough. Lastly, the lower the profile the less chance I have of it getting snagged on either my clothing or something around the house.
For my range day, I set up some paper at 50 yards and a full-sized Champion SteelIPSC target at 15 yards. Using four different types of Black Hills ammunition I gave it a thorough field test. These included:
Black Hills .38 Special 125 gr. JHP +P
Black Hills .38 Special 100 gr. HoneyBadger +P
Black Hills .357 Magnum 158 gr. JHP
Black Hills .357 Magnum 127 gr. HoneyBadger
I had 100 percent reliability through loading, feeding, firing and ejection across all four types of ammunition. Shooting the Henry X was very enjoyable, and will be for the entire family.
The .38 Special ammo produced just a little more felt recoil than a .22 magnum, much lighter than even a .410 load from a similar style firearm. The .357 Magnum loads had a little bit of a thump to them, but I wouldn't say they need to be avoided by those who are “recoil shy,” especially when compared to other defensive options such as 12 gauge. We found that the 100-gr. HoneyBadger.38 Special load gave us the best results and turned in the tightest bench-rest group that measured just 1.75 inches. (I still don’t know how they got those weird-looking bullets to fly so straight, but paper as my witness they do... and leave a jagged hole at that.) I used the rest of the ammo to bang away at the steel target from every shooting position imaginable. During this time, I also confirmed that the rear notch in the X3 would indeed still keep me on target when used in conjunction with the front fiber optic post.
As I left the range I considered one of the most often overlooked advantages of the lever action for self-defense, and that is the fact that they are chambered in some very hard-hitting cartridges. While I requested “the baby” of the lineup for my testing, the Big Box X is also available in .45 Colt and the massive .44 Rem. Mag.—neither of which have ever been criticized for lack of stopping power. This platform should sit even higher on your list if you live in a restrictive state, as quite often legislation that applies to semi-automatics do not apply to manual action styles like these (be sure to check first).
Overall the Henry Big Boy X is going to open you up to more possible shooting activities than a shortened shotgun, which means more trips to the range. I can’t stress it enough; practice is the only way to ensure your effectiveness in an emergency situation.