The stylish Henry Octagon in .45-70 Government is a hardworking short-range riﬂe with a quick and smooth action.
STORY & PHOTOS BY OLEG VOLK
For a cartridge introduced in 1873, the .45-70 Government has enjoyed some serious staying power. The same may be said of lever-action riﬂes that date back a decade further. The combination of the two, ﬁrst made in 1881, logically joined two good things into something perennially popular.
Today, several companies make such riﬂes. Henry oﬀers three models, with the Octagon being the most visually striking of the lot. The ﬁt of the metal and wood is tight, and the ﬁnish is even and well applied.
A 22-inch blued octagonal barrel is installed on a brass receiver, with brass buttplate on a straight-grip stock of quality walnut completing the ﬁrst impression. Weighing in at about 8 pounds, the riﬂe feels substantial without appearing heavy. For ﬁeld carry, it comes with sling swivel studs already installed.
The magazine tube holds four cartridges and loads from a port underneath, the same as Henry’s rimﬁre riﬂes. While slower than gate loading, this approach is easier on the shooter’s ﬁngers and doesn’t damage soft bullet points. And, considering the power of the .45-70 cartridge, 4+1 capacity is generally suﬃcient.
WHILE HISTORIC .45-70 LOADS used bullets in the 405- to 500-grain range, most modern hunting ammunition is 300 grains. Loads such as Winchester and Federal with expanding bullets develop velocities in the high 1,800s, and recoil is correspondingly brisk. For this reason, a slipon recoil pad is a recommended accessory.
For people who use .45-70 for fun rather than hunting, such as cowboy action shooters, Velocity Munitions sells a mild 1,100-foot-per-second cast-lead load that makes this riﬂe an absolute pleasure to run. Other companies make more specialized loads, including Hornady with Leverlution polymer-tipped 325-grain, Lehigh Defense with Xtreme Penetrator fragmenting and multiple projectile rounds, and Buﬀalo Bore with several hot-loaded magnums in the 3,600-foot-pound muzzle-energy range. The magnum loads, however, are not recommended for use in Henry riﬂes, as regular 300-grain loads only develop 2,600 to 3,000 foot pounds. The intensity of recoil and muzzle rise with the extraenergetic ammunition can get unpleasant.
Accuracy was the same for all three loads tested, an even 3 minutes of angle. Points of impact diﬀered signiﬁcantly between the full power and the plinking cartridges, as was to be expected. It appears that the barrel band holding the magazine to the barrel has some impact on overall point of aim. When we single loaded each round – cycling them through the magazine – for accuracy testing, the groups were roughly circular. When 4+1 were loaded up, the ﬁrst shot was always low right, the next two would overlap each other about 1.5 inches away, and the last two would again overlap, another 1.5 inches away, with the three holes forming a straight diagonal line.
While the riﬂe comes with open sights – brass-bead front post and semibuckhorn rear – the receiver is also tapped for a Weaver 63B or EGW Marlin Picatinny Rail. Having conducted accuracy testing with a 1-4x Trijicon Accupower scope, I would recommend a mildly magniﬁed optic only if you intend to hunt past 75 yards. Up to that distance, and especially for dangerous game, a red dot would be slightly quicker, a little closer to the bore, and more appropriate to the mechanical accuracy of the ﬁrearm.
Since the Henry Octagon is intended to be a short-range riﬂe, the 3MOA dispersion is irrelevant. At 25 yards, it amounts to a 3/16-inch maximum deviation from the point of aim on targets that have much larger vital zones.
THE LEVER ACTION ITSELF is quick and smooth, with the trigger crisp but a bit on the heavy side. Again, for a dangerous game riﬂe, that’s an appropriate design decision that makes accidental discharges under stress less likely. At the same time, it’s unburdened by the dangerously senseless “lawyer” cross-bolt safeties that plague the current Winchester and Marlin competitors. Those block only the striker, making a trigger pull while on safe appear to be a misﬁre. The Henry has a transfer block, so “safe” is carrying with the hammer down on a live round.
Of the three models Henry oﬀers in .45-70, the All-Weather, the round barrel carbine, and the brass-receiver Octagon, the last is the most stylish. It also brings 4 extra inches of sight radius to the game, along with a slight uptick in velocity and less glare in backlight, thanks to the faceted barrel. It’s also the only one with the oversized lever look for easier use while wearing thick gloves. Strictly from the stylistic perspective, it would look best with some traditional-looking low-magniﬁcation scope.
Among the riﬂe’s appeals is its simplicity of maintenance: just open the action and undo the lever retention screw. The lever then comes out, and the bolt follows. For normal cleaning, that is the full extent of the disassembly required.
The Octagon .45-70 is a fashion statement as much as it is a capable tool. But unlike most fashion statements, it’s timeless, eminently practical, and will most likely become a multi-generational heirloom. MSRP is $950.