One Good Shot-New England Firearms Handi-Rifle
By John Taffin
"Cheap is always too expensive!" If I had a dime for every time I have told a reader this I could buy something very expensive. Buying cheap, or inexpensively if you prefer, when it comes to tires, brakes, parachutes, reloading equipment, and yes even firearms can be disastrous at the worst and quite often a waste of money as that first purchase soon has to be replaced with proper and better equipment. Once in a while, and very seldom I might add, one finds an exception to the rule and one of the major deviations is the line of single-shot rifles from New England Firearms in Gardner Massachusetts. Here we actually have a case of getting more than we pay for which is quite refreshing in today's economy.
Marlin and New England Firearms
Actually New England Firearms is owned by Marlin Firearms. Marlin purchased
the assets of H&R1871 in November 2000 and now markets the H&R line of single shot rifles under the brand names Harrington & Richardson, H&R1871, and New England Firearms. While Marlin firearms come from the plant in New Haven Connecticut, NEF firearms come from the facility in Gardner Massachusetts. Several years ago I tested the H&R1871 Buffalo Classic single shot rifle chambered in .45-70 and also a companion rifle in .38-55. These excellent rifles are a version of the Harrington & Richardson Handi-Rifle which is now marketed under the label of New England Firearms.
My association with Harrington & Richardson goes way back more than a half-century ago when the first gun I ever fired was a Harrington & Richardson top-break .22 revolver on my uncle’s farm. Today my wife collects the old H&R top-break revolvers chambered in .32 and .38 S&W. My first shotgun, which kicked like the proverbial mule, was an H&R Topper, a single shot 12 gauge. That basic Topper action is still used today for the Handi-Rifle. If ever a rifle was correctly named it is the Handi-Rifle as that is definitely what it is. It carries especially easily in a pick-up truck or jeep rifle rack always at the ready should a suitable target such as rockchuck, badger, coyote, or jack rabbit present itself.
The Versatile Handi-Rifle
The Handi-Rifle is offered in several versions. The Basic Handi-Rifle is offered chambered in .22 Hornet, .22-250 Remington, .223 Remington, .243 Winchester, .25-06 Remington, .270 Winchester, .280 Remington, .30-30 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, .308 Winchester, 7-08, 7.62 x 39, .35 Whelen, .44 Magnum, .45-70 Government, and .500 Smith & Wesson Magnum. The Handi-Rifle Youth Model with a shorter length of pull can be had in .223 Remington, .243 Winchester, and 7-08. Finally we have the Bull Barrel Handi-Rifle designed basically for varmint shooters and offered in .223 Remington, .243 Winchester, and .204 Ruger. Our test rifle is the heavy barreled .223 Handi-Rifle.
All Handi-Rifles, except a special polymer stocked Synthetic Model, feature walnut finished American hardwood Monte Carlo pistol grip stocks with a generous recoil pad and sling swivel studs. No iron sights are provided but rather a scope mount rail and a hammer extension allowing easy access to the hammer when the scope is mounted. Single-Shot rifles are normally considered long-range rifles demanding a quality scope and the Handi-Rifle is definitely no exception to this rule. The operation of the Handi-Rifle is simplicity in itself. When a lever on the top right side of the receiver is pressed, the action opens, and the barrel falls forward. The fired cartridge is extracted far enough to be grasped by the thumb and forefinger, removed, then replaced by a loaded round. The action is then closed and the hammer must be cocked before the Handi-Rifle can be fired. This whole operation takes less time than it does to describe it.
For testing of the 7 pound, 22” Bull Barreled .223 Handi Rifle a call went out to Jeff Hoffman of Black Hills Ammunition for an assortment of .223 ammunition and he was able to provide five varieties, 55 grain and 60 grain Soft Point, 60 grain SPT, and also 60 grain loads using the Hornady V-Max and Nosler Partition bullet. In talking with Jeff he said the 60 grain Soft Point was as effective as a .30-06 on deer-sized game IF lung shots were taken and the distance was kept under 200 yards. He was definitely right about the effectiveness of the load as we shall soon see. In addition to the Black Hills .223 loads I also came up with samples locally of Federal, Remington, and Winchester .223 ammunition all loaded with 55 grain bullets.
The original plan for using the Handi-Rifle in .223 was varmint hunting so to this end a quality long-range varmint scope was ordered. As we all know, thanks to the wisdom of poet Bobby Burns, the best-laid plans of mice and men oft times go awry. The scope arrived in plenty of time, however by the time the rifle came through varmint season was over as the ground squirrels and rockchucks of spring had sought solace from the summer heat by retreating underground. The next best hope was for it to arrive in time to take it to Clover Creek Ranch in Oregon. Each June my two good friends and hunting partners, Rick VonderHeide and Roger Bissell, pick me up my front door, and we drive the nine hours to Ashwood Oregon. We have the 5,000 acre ranch all to ourselves for three days and have a choice of the hunting of hogs, ibex, Catalina goats, several varieties of exotic sheep, aoudads, and if we are so inclined, bison, yak, water buffalo, and Watusi.
Scoping the Handi-Rifle
The Buckhorn Gun Shop called the afternoon before we were to leave to inform the Handi-Rifle had arrived so with scope in hand I hurried over to choose the proper rings and have it mounted and bore-sighted. When we arrived at the Ranch we finished sighting it in to shoot slightly high at 100 yards. Bore sighting gets us in the right neighborhood but not necessarily the right address and any rifle should be finally sighted in under field conditions. The scope we had chosen was a Long Range Varmint/Target BuckRidge scope from Optronics Inc. Just as the Handi-Rifle this high quality scope delivers a lot more than its price tag indicates. In fact it is possible to put the whole combination, rifle, scope, and rings for under, that is well under, $500! That is a supreme bargain in today’s economy and price structures.
The BuckRidge is a 6X-24X variable with a 42mm objective lens piece. This is definitely a high-quality scope featuring Horizon High Definition fully-coated optics to reduce glare and improve brightness and contrast. The heat-treated hardened lenses are covered by an unconditional lifetime warranty. The reticle is a Mil-Dot with four abbreviated posts coming into the center of the crosshairs both of which have reference points which with a little experience allow one to precisely hold over, under, or in high wind, which we seem to perpetually have in my regular shooting area, to the right or left. An extra added bonus is the fact that turning of a knob on top of the eye piece illuminates the reticle. This is especially valuable in early morning or late evening lighting conditions or even when the target is very dark.
Don’t Come Armed!
For this particular hunting trip I asked the fellows to leave their guns at home as I had four new test rifles, all scoped, and they could have their choice for using on anything we happened to hunt. With the smallest rifle being a .223 and the largest a .45-70, and two others in between, we had all the bases covered. As it turned out Roger was first up and had his choice of any of the rifles and he chose the Handi-Rifle mainly because of the magnification, I had it set at eight-power, and clearness of the Optronics scope.
Roger was after a Catalina goat and we found a small group of them on top of the mountain early the first morning. We were actually too careful in getting on them, and instead of running off, they laid down facing us. Roger’s target was a goat, which the Bushnell rangefinder told us was 162 yards, facing us with only the top half of his body exposed. Roger took a steady rest, centering the crosshairs on the goat’s chest and squeezed off a round. At the shot, the goat got up, took two steps, and fell over. The Black Hills 60 grain Soft Point did extensive damage to the lungs and it was obvious Jeff Hoffman was correct. The performance could not have been any better with a .30-06.
Making It Two For Two
Clover Creek Ranch located between Ashwood and Antelope Oregon is composed mainly of mountainous areas with very steep hills. When it rains the few roads are impassable with such a vehicle as we had, a 4X4 Suburban, as the roads become very slick and heavy vehicles slide easily off the dirt roads which become as treacherous as ice. On the second morning we woke up to a heavy rain so traveling by Suburban was out of the question. Rick, who is much younger than Roger and I, decided to hike to the top of one rocky cliff as we had seen some very large Corsican rams there the day before. He also chose the Handi-Rifle, which is now a favorite of all three of us.
Rick reached the top, got on the rams, and laid down in the wet grass waiting for a shot. Using his pack as a rest he lung shot the biggest ram which was not standing perfectly broadside but at a slight angle. That Black Hills 60 grain .223 Soft Point entered at an angle through the lungs and the expanded bullet was found under the hide on the offside shoulder. Once again, results were dramatic, instantaneous, and all conclusive. I would expect in future years and future hunting trips, both men will insist I bring along the .223 Handi-Rifle complete with the Optronics scope and a supply of Black Hills ammunition.
Test-Firing The Handi-Rifle
The week after our hunting trip I was able to spend range time testing the Handi-Rifle, the Optronics scope, and eight factory .223 loads. In addition to the five .223 loadings from Black Hills, I also had 55 grain Soft Points from Federal and Winchester and Remington’s 55 grain Core-Lokt Hollow Point. I have a wonderful place to shoot which is especially suited for heavy sixgun loads. Rifles become more of a problem due to the wind, which has already been mentioned. This same range was once used for our long-range silhouette matches and it was not unusual to see .30-30 bullets blow three feet sideways when shooting at the 200m ram silhouette targets. Testing of any rifles, and especially those with small caliber lightweight bullets, is always very interesting.
When I tested the .223 Handi-Rifle at 100 yards the flag was standing straight out. Sometimes. Other times it would be flapping in the breeze. Under calm quiet conditions, since I did manage to get a few shots off right at daylight before the wind really started to take off, I am convinced this .223 Handi-Rifle will stay under one-half inch at 100 yards. Even in windy shooting conditions it gave exceptional performance:
Test-Fire NEF Model 323 HB .223/BuckRidge 6-24X Long Range Varmint/Target Scope
Load MV 3 Shots/100 Yards
Black Hills 55 Soft Point 3,101 fps 1 1/2”
Black Hills 60 Soft Point 3,049 fps 1 1/8”
Black Hills 60 SPT 3,080 fps 3/4”
Black Hills 60 V-Max 3,056 fps 1”
Black Hills 60 Nosler Partition 3,126 fps 1 1/2”
Federal 55 Soft Point 3,036 fps 7/8”
Remington 55 Power-Lokt HP 3,239 fps 1 1/2”
Winchester 55 Soft Point 3,199 fps 1”
The slight variations in group size are more a function of whatever the wind happened to be doing at the particular time each load was fired rather than the inherent accuracy of that particular load. I expect this Handi-Rifle will see much use around here and will be ready to go in next spring’s varmint season. I have ordered a second one chambered in .500 S&W Magnum but that is a totally different story for another time. With the large case capacity of the .500 case I expect it will even do very well with black powder loads and the single shot Handi-Rifle lends itself to easy cleaning after shooting black powder.