Most of us remember the simple inexpensive break open (hinged frame) firearms used by many hunters. I saw quite a few when I first began hunting and used more than a few as well. While I could not wait to obtain my first pump-action shotgun, as time goes by I appreciate these firearms more and more.
As an example, recently I obtained an H&R 1871 Handi Rifle in .45-70. I have used others in .223 and also the famous H&R shotguns in .410, 20 gauge, and 12 gauge. But this one appealed to me. When hunting, it is rare I use a self-loading rifle. The lever-action rifle has a place in my rack and the Savage 99 is the ne plus ultra of hunting rifles. But I have not owned a .45-70 in some time.
As a handloader, I realize that the single shot is much easier to load for than the lever-action rifle. Feeding and crimping just isn’t as important, and you can experiment more in seating bullets forward to meet the lands. The .45-70 responds well to a careful handloader. As for the rifle, this rifle is a good teacher and simple to operate.
Manipulate the release lever, tip the barrel down, and load the chamber. Close the rifle and then cock the hammer to fire. Best of all there is nothing to go wrong with the H&R design. Let’s face it, after 150 years or so, you tend to work the bugs out.
If you have an old Topper or a shotgun branded by some line such as Western Auto, you can use the modern Handi Rifle. Harrington and Richardson went out of business for a few years but H&R 1871 revived the name and the product, with updated machinery, material, and designs. The parent company today is Remington.
An important update is the transfer bar ignition system. With this design there is a bar that rides between the hammer and the firing pin. When the hammer is at rest, it cannot touch the firing pin. When the rifle is cocked the bar rises. The hammer falls and smacks the transfer bar which strikes the firing pin. This is the system used on modern Smith & Wesson, Taurus, and Ruger revolvers.
Older H&R products relied upon a rebound spring. The modern safety is more positive. I think, teaching young people to work with this type of action is superior to beginning with a repeating rifle. Of course, another caliber—.223 Remington would be ideal—would be better suited to young shooters.
The sights of this rifle are fixed open rear and post front. The rear sight is fully adjustable and rides high over the barrel. Both windage and elevation adjustment are easily done with this rear sight.
To operate the rifle, simply press the barrel release button and the barrel tilts down for loading. The hammer cannot be cocked when the barrel is open, and the barrel cannot be opened with the hammer cocked. A shell or cartridge is then inserted into the chamber. The action is closed.
There is no need to reset the hammer for the transfer bar safety to be effective, it is an automatic safety. To fire the rifle the hammer is cocked and the trigger pressed. There is no manual safety. If you cock the hammer and elect not to fire, control the hammer with the thumb as you press the trigger and carefully lower the hammer. This must be practiced with an unloaded gun, and it isn’t difficult. With the transfer bar ignition the H and R rifle is among a very few that may be kept at home ready without a danger of the rifle firing if dropped.
The .45-70 Springfield was developed for use in the 1873 Trapdoor rifle. As such, factory ballistics are kept low just in case someone decides to light up their great, great, great grandfather’s rifle. A lead 405-grain bullet at 1200 fps or 300-grain JHP at 1400 fps is the norm. These are good loads that will take wild boar and deer at modest range. The drop is considerable at a long 100 yards.
Among the best combinations to come down the pike in a long time is the Hornady LeveRevoluton 325-grain FTX. This load breaks 2,000 fps from most .45-70 rifles. The H&R isn’t the rifle to experiment with in handloading heavy loads—get a .458 Winchester if you wish to do that. However, the LeverRevolution load offers a significant improvement in ballistics due to modern powder and bullet technology.
If you sight the rifle in for 3 inches high at 100 yards your drop should only be 4 inches below the point of aim at a long 200 yards. My rifle will be used at 50 to 100 yards. The .45-70 isn’t about long-range accuracy but about dropping the game in their tracks right now, and the rifle will do so without complaint. You can also eat right up to the bullet hole!
As for accuracy, for my purposes accuracy is superb. Recoil is simply a strong push even with the Hornady load, but feels harder off the bench. I have bench rested the rifle to sight it in. At 50 yards my own handloads using a hard cast 405-grain bullet at 1,000 fps will group three shots into 2.2 inches at 50 yards. I have enjoyed good accuracy with the Hornady 300-grain JHP and H4895 powder for 1500 fps and a 2-inch group. The Horandy FTX load also slipped into 2 inches—as good as I can hold with this rifle and iron sights. The H&R is a great starter rifle and also a good rifle that gives credible performance in a wide range of calibers.
What was your first rifle? Are you a .45-70 fan? Share your answers or tales about the H&R rifle in the comment section.