THE H&R HANDI-RIFLE
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Earlier, this carbine was New England Firearms' .357 Handi-rifle, a breakopen singleshot already of compact dimensions. With a 22" barrel and an adult size buttstock, the rifle is only 38" long. Having almost no action length, you can get some real size efficiency. Takedown is accomplished w/ a single phillips head screw. Operation is familiar to anyone who has used a breakopen shotgun.
These single shots are solid, useful, well designed budget centerfires. Locally, WalMart discount stores can order them (as of October 1999) for under $190.
I had a goal. I wanted a centerfire rifle I could conveniently stash, cased and taken down, behind the seat of my pickup along with a fair supply of ammo.
It had to be concealable behind the seat as a theft deterrent (legal where I live). And, it had to be enough rifle to kill a whitetail deer at close range. I'll call that 100 to 125 yards. Later I also found it should be pretty close to rustproof.
The original rifle was purchased new as a .30-30. I later added a .357 magnum barrel to get into cheap and plentiful reloading components. This caliber was more like it. I went from a 2 1/2 - 3", 100 yard, 3 shot group rifle (with .30-30 barrel) to 1 1/2" with the 357 barrel! This using Winchester's superbo 180 grain Partition Gold bullet. The Partition Gold ammo is designed around a much heavier constructed bullet than average handgun loads. I feel more confident of it holding up to rifle velocities. If anyone has used this load to take game, please contact me with particulars. Another fine load out of this rifle is Georgia Arms' 158 grain +P load, which is good in the 22" barrel for 1900 fps & 2- 2 1/2" groups at 100 yards. My only concern is if the Speer Gold Dot JHP will hold together while being driven more than 400 fps faster than the already hot 1400-1500 fps revolver velocities for which it was designed .
The barrel is box stock save for a Williams Guide receiver sight, and a taller front sight to allow for the height of the Williams sight. No bore lapping, no trigger work, just a good barrel, with good sights, and good ammo. The need of taking long trips in the confined space of a compact 4X4 and the possibility of getting stuck in winter weather got me thinking about a drastically more compact version. I had about 21" of storage available. I did several things:
I sent the rifle back to NEF to get a 2nd .357 barrel fitted (the original .357 barrel was too accurate to touch). At the same time I got their parts catalogue and ordered the shorter 12" pull buttstock for the youth model. I commenced waiting.
I had misgivings about the rather shapeless youth stock, as it has a slightly swollen straight wrist, and no comb to speak of. Recoil pad fit was crude. It reminds me of the US M1917 rifle buttstock, which is certainly ugly enough. In fairness it was not designed for adult shooters. In the meantime, I ordered another William receiver sight.
After a while, rifle and parts were returned. I installed the William rear sight, and taller front sight. This job is so simple than even I can do it. The barrel was then shipped to Williams with instructions to cut the barrel to 16 1/2", recrown the muzzle, and re-install the front sight.
Federal law on these matters requires a rifle to be at least 26" overall, and have a barrel at least 16 inches. My rifle in its finished form would be 30 1/2 inches. A letter from BATF (the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco & Firearms [diatribe left to Miles]) stated they had no problems with the project. Your state, county, city, residential subdivision or library board may have different regulations. The unfortunate victims of Canadian oppression, would, I believe, find this too short for their tyrannical laws. I feel sorry for Canadian shooters. I have heard this expression before; "The law may confound reason but reason may not confound the law". I received the barrel back lopped off as requested, attached it to the rifle & changed out the buttstock. I now had a compact little rifle. It has shown itself capable of acceptable but not outstanding accuracy. It will group 3 shots nicely under 1" in deflection, then vertically string 3-4", at 100 yards. This is not as good as I had hoped, but is adequate for minute of deer. The most accurate load is the Georgia Arms rocket ammo. It has also done well with a handloads using 180 Speer bullets over an near max load of Alliant 2400. I'm still experimenting with accuracy, and want to try the CorBon hardcast ,load. I have not yet been able to chronograph any loads through the shorter barrel.
The feel is interesting. First, be aware that NEF's contour for the .357 barrel is pretty heavy. Amputating 5 1/2" has left me with a carbine which is STILL muzzle heavy. With an M1 carbine sling and 10 rounds of ammo in a buttstock carrier, it weighs 6 1/2 pounds, but looks like it should weigh 4. Proportions are rather squat, the plug-ugly buttstock not helping matters at all. I am 5'11" tall, and have gorilla length arms.
As you can see in the photo, holding the rifle down by my side, the muzzle is 11" off the ground. With magnum ammo, there is no question that you are not firing a .22, however recoil still seems subjectively a good bit lighter than the average 170 grain .30-30 out of a lever action. I have no idea how recoil would feel with a better shaped buttstock. As it is, .38 Special is hardly felt at all.
I've taken care of a final problem. The rifle got wet once and couldn't be dried off for some time. I was faced with rust. Patina is fine on century-old Colts. It is uncool on 5 year old rifles. "DuraGuard" is a heat applied, molybdenum disulphide surface treatment. It meets most military standards for rust and corrosion resistance, including the well known 2000 hour salt spray test. It is available in a number of colors, none of which look much like bluing. I chose the one designated "flat stainless", which actually has a dull pewter appearance. To conceal the slight pitting, all surfaces were first bead blasted. Some parts, especially pins, cannot be treated with this as it will cause enough surface buildup to make them oversized. The slicker internal parts have improved the trigger pull slightly, but it's still not great. I am happy with his workmanship. I have no question the warranty evaporated with this work. Or with the first reload fired.
Later on I want to have a 22" 12 gauge barrel I have treated with this finish too. I'd like to cut it down to 18 inches, but rechoking the barrel adds complication and expense I'd rather avoid. As is, the barrel shoots nice patterns at the density specified for modified choke using cheap promo #6 shot. The thinwalled tube does shed over a pound of weight, so the gun is a kicker. The sling swivel base location on the forearm can draw blood, so I installed a band mount on the barrel, which is better.
NEF lists synthetic stocks in adult and youth length. As with rechoking a shortened barrel, it's a fair question of how much money the average shooter wants to put into a utility gun.
I'm happy with my little .357. It's perfect as an onboard firearm and while accuracy is not world class, it's sufficient for the job. It might be considered an almost perfect gun for cabin cruiser, aircraft or motor home.
Much of the inspiration for the gun derives from the April 1978 "AMERICAN RIFLEMAN" article by C E Harris "Planning for an Extra Gun". A fine article, like all C E Harris work, I wish copyright would allow me to attach it to my article. Actually, if it were available on the Internet, I'm not sure my article would be needed.
New England Firearms
60 Industrial Rowe
Gardner MA 01140
Williams Gunsight Co.
7389 Lapeer Road
PO Box 329
Davison MI 48423
Georgia Arms Inc.
15 Industrial Court
P O Box 238
Villa Rica GA 30181
NOTE: Author Church regrets that he is unqualified to do appraisal, and cannot establish a value on your gun.
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I purchased the NEF HandiRifle in .357 before I read any of your articles (which were very informative, by the way) because of what I read by Paco Kelly regarding the .357 out of carbine/rifles. At $140, it was too good to pass up. Since then, this gun has become my choice for a "one gun" senario, excluding assault rifle situations. For a living off the land, survival type gun, I have yet to find one that will top it for versatility and economy. Loaded with 148 gr. wadcutters and 2.4 gr. of Unique, it is quieter and much more deadly than a .22 for small game/ varmints, and loaded up with H110 and 180 gr. hollowpoints or hardcast lead, it is capable of taking all but the largest game. It accomplishes this while delivering much less felt recoil than a .30-30 of similar weight.
Then there is the mystique of the single shot, the "one shot- one kill" mentality that it instills in one as it becomes a trusted sidearm. It requires a discipline that is similar to that of the muzzleloader, and also those intrepid souls who tread here before this land was tamed.
Thanks again for sharing your experiences with a well-made, economical firearm, and also for bucking the trend that bigger is always better.
Wonderful and eminently useful information on the Hand-Rifle. I have been infatuated with this outfit for years even though I have several very fine "repeaters." I have recently been toying with the idea rather seriously again and have wondered about the accuracy. I want a .45-70 (I have absolutely no need for one) and thought this would be the way to go without committing too much in the way of gun-habit money. Adding a .30-30 barrel chopped to 16.5" would provide a nice little knock-around piece. I shot a Savage 24-V extensively as a young kid and found that the Sierra 110 grain HP was excellent when not impinged by the tube mag. restrictions. Accuracy was exceptional - well above what gun-writers have ever given the old round credit for. I think you will get what you expect out of a round. On the .357 Max. Too bad, eh? I wonder if Marlin and Winchester would chamber a short lever-gun for the round if it would revive it a bit? Much to be said for the simple, straight-walled case that turns up ballistics that rival the wonderful old .35 Remington. There's another potential Handi-Rifle round! The .35 Remington! A 6.5x55 would be nice too. Well, If wishes were horses we'd all be feeding horses!
Thanks for the good reading.
(include in your article if you wish)
Added 03 Oct 2002:
Dear Mr. Church,
I have a NEF Handi-Rifle in .357 MAX that has gone thru a lot of changes, some of which you may find interesting.
It has been cut to 16 1/2" barrel, has a hand-made drift adj. only peep sight and an AO tritium center white bead front sight. (These sights have survived pick-up and horse back travel as well as a "horse-wreck" or two.)
It has been partially "poacher-stocked" (a form of skeletonized buttstock in use since flintlock days), and three cart loops screwed over spaces inlet for the cart. to about 1/2 their depth at the front of the comb. (This is much flatter and less protuberant than a butt cuff). LOP was shortened as well.
I couldn't stand the plastic trigger guard so it now has a percussion era J & S Hawken guard.
The front sling hanger is silver brazed in a slot cut for it in the very thick barrel.
The rear of the sling is attached to a loop which slides on the "poacher stock", and is self-adjusting whether I wear it diagonally across my back, or slung muzzle down of the shoulder.
I carry this rifle horse back, and it so convenient that I don't even bother with a scabbard, just carry it slung or in my hand.
Slung diagonally, the barrel does NOT stick up high enough to foul in branches or trees so a horseman would get dragged off over the back of the cantle. (It can be pretty much "dog-hair" around here, particularly on the north slopes or wooded draws.)
I also carry it doing chores, fixing fence, in the pick-up, or watering and feeding stock.
The Hornady 200 gr. RN leaves the muzzle at 1,800 fps with 25.5 gr. Rel.7. (30-30 150 gr. from similar length barrel does 1,900 + fps.)
This load hits considerably harder than 30-30 and should kill noticeably better.
My 1st front sight was a bit short and I was maybe 3 or 4" high at 100 right on at 150 and I could "favor" high just a hair and get hits at 200.
My new AO white bead front is a bit higher and seems to be right on the mark at 85 to 100 yds., which should be just perfect.
I also load 1 1/2 gr. Red Dot in modified cases that accept Win. 209 shotgun caps.
I seat a roundball of .360 dia. in the sized case mouth and use some LEE liquid alox lube on the lead just ahead of the case neck and let dry.
These loads are pellet gun level noise-wise, do 600 fps, and will knock a squirrel or grouse kicking. (Should do fine for cottontail, but we have so few around her I do not shoot them.)
These roundball loads hit to the same POA at 20 to maybe 25 yds. and are nice for practice, checking that my sights are still "on", as well as small game.
I am going to develop a high speed jhp load for feral dogs and cougar, as well as a cast bullet load of moderate speed.
I am also starting work on some Rossi single shots that are lighter derivatives of the NEF.
18 1/2" barreled .357 weighs 4 lbs. as opposed to the cut-down NEF MAX which weighs 6 lbs.
The receiver of the Rossi is smaller dia., as is the barrel.
I am going to put a lanyard ring on this rifle and carry Cavalry style.
I will probably cut a dovetail in the standing breech to mount a peep sight as the barrel is not thick enough over the chamber area like it is on the NEF.
Since there is plenty of "gape-of-action", this should work well.
The NEF is like carrying a stout shovel handle at the thick end. The Rossi is like wrapping your hand around a walking stick.
Both are a joy for every day "shoot what you find".
I think the Rossi will get more off-season use, and the more powerful MAX, wind up being what I pack for deer or black bear (about $50 cheaper than the NEF).
I consider the std. length .357 out of a rifle at least equal to 30-30 150 gr. as to killing power with in reasonable "iron-sight range".
All but 3 of the deer I have shot over the years have been within 100 yds., well within "iron sight range", so I don't feel handicapped by such a rifle and such sights.
Also, any deer or black bear that needed a second shot when I was hunting with repeaters did not need it so quickly that a single shot could not have been reloaded plenty fast enough.
I like the very short OAL and simplicity of these rifles.
You get a lot of bang! for the $, too!
Added 27 March 2003:
I have had a Handigun 2 in 20 gauge and .357 since the early eighties. Everyone laughed when I would take this little gun from it's case. But with my hand loads and at reasonable ranges it never failed to take home the venison or wild pork (which mixed makes great sausage). My two daughters took their first deer with it. The gun was later passed on to my nephew who learned to shoot and hunt with it. He is now in the Marine Corps in Iraq. The gun was later passed on to my grandson and now back to me. I can hardly wait until next season to hit the woods with it. Kids and grandkids may grow up and leave but a good reliable gun will never let you down. Glad to hear about a subject so dear to my heart...Keep the faith...Gene
Added 04 June 2003:
Dear Mr. Church,
I linked to your article about the NEF in .357 from the NEF Singleshot site. I had a H&R 158 in .30-30 and 20 ga (the old Topper package) for years, sold it and bought the NEF in .30-06 about 10 years ago. It is the nicest shooting .30-06 I have had, and I have had a bunch since my first Springfield in 1964. I put on the Williams rear sight and had a ramp front installed by my local gunsmith. Bought the straight grip stock from NEF for it, and had a Teflon finish applied to make it water proof. Then it started having problems with popping open every time I fired it. I sent it back to NEF, expecting to pay for repairs but they fixed it free. I also had them do a trigger job, also free. It has accounted for its share of table meat here in SE Alaska, rain or not. The wood stock broke at the wrist and I have gone with their plastic stock and forearm.
If you want to post this to your site, please leave off my e-mail address. Thanks!
-Kees- (email withheld by request)
Added 12 July 2003:
(name withheld by request)
Added 3 SEP 2003
Just thought I'd write a quick note to tell you how much I enjoy your web site. I like your emphasis on cheap customized firearms. I was inspired to pick up a .223 Bull Barrel NEF Handi-Rifle due to your interesting articles about them. (At a pawn shop of course. ) Now if I could only find an .22 cal Ozark Wildcat. :-)
Thanks, and keep up the good work !