Handy is and handy does. That statement could certainly stand as the marketing slogan for Harrington & Richardson’s single-shot Handi-Rifle. This trim little break-open breech loader costs about half the price of an entry-level bolt action and shoots as well or better than most of them. It comes in a wide enough variety of wood- or synthetic-stocked model variations and caliber options to perfectly handle game from ground squirrels to Rocky Mountain elk.
Harrington & Richardson produced a wide variety of revolvers, shotguns and rifles for nearly 120 years before closing its doors in Gardner, Massachusetts, in 1986. A new company, H&R 1871 LLC, was founded in 1991and continued to offer practical sporting arms under the Harrington & Richardson brand. While most of America was frantically trying to figure out how to keep their businesses from crashing down around them during Y2K, the Marlin Firearms Company was on the take and purchased H&R 1871 LLC in the year 2000. Marlin too kept up the tradition of H&R value, a trend that continues to this day.
As of a couple of years ago, the Marlin Firearms Company became part of a holdings conglomerate known as Freedom Group. In spite of its convoluted lineage, the Handi-Rifle remains the foundation of the H&R long gun lineup. Current available models includes the following: Synthetic, Stainless and Superlight models, a Youth model, Ultra Varmint and Ultra Hunter heavy-barrel laminated-stock models, Sportster and Sportster 17 HMR rimfire models, the Survivor and the Buffalo Classic.
A thumbhole stock option has been added to the Synthetic line this year. Additional accessory barrels are available from the factory, including shotgun barrels. Available calibers range from .17 HMR to .45-70, .500 S&W Magnum and the newly added .35 Whelen.
These breechloaders feature a single, solid-locking underlug, which is released via a push-button lever to the right of an exposed hammer. The hammer is thumb-cocked (you’ll want to use the supplied spur extension for scoped rifles) and falls on a transfer bar that presses the firing pin. The hammer itself never makes direct contact with the firing pin, and since the transfer bar is moved into battery only after the hammer has been deliberately cocked, it cannot be jarred into firing when in the rested position.
The rifle is taken out of battery by letting down the hammer with your thumb, as you would with a single-action revolver. However, for added safety, once the trigger sear has been disengaged and the hammer is free to fall (you’re holding it firmly with your thumb), fully releasing the trigger allows the transfer bar to drop out of the way of the hammer-which, as noted, cannot otherwise engage the firing pin. Spent cartridges are ejected clear of the chamber.
Handi-Rifles are known for good accuracy. I once watched a friend of mine use his .17 HMR to thin out a ground squirrel population with precision shots out to and beyond 100 yards. Handi-Rifles weigh in right around 7 pounds without a scope. While not light in weight, their short overall length (no receiver) makes them very-pardon the pun-“handy” in the field. I once took one to Argentina to hunt free-range red stag. It was a Synthetic model chambered in .30-06 featuring blued steel and a black polymer stock, a 22-inch barrel and an overall length of 38 inches. I believe I had a 2-7X Bausch & Lomb scope atop it at the time. When I did my part, the rifle would shoot 1 ½-inch groups regularly. A couple of days of patient hunting the rifle and a single Hornady 150-grain InterBond accounted for a very fine trophy stag.
Of all the Handi-Rifle variations available today, I find the Buffalo Classic most intriguing. With its crescent steel buttplate, color case-hardened frame and 32-inch long barrel, it resembles some of the classic pieces carried across the American plains during the 1800s. It’s also chambered in a classic bison slayer, the.45-70 Government. The rifle weighs in at 8 pounds, is 46 inches long and features a Williams receiver sight and a globe front sight with removable aperture inserts. It just begs for buckskins and buffalo robes, and long walks across the Dakota Badlands.
Whether you’re interested in pursuing woodlot cottontails, elk in the western highcountry or a massive bison on the open plains, there is a Handi-Rifle to fulfill your needs. It will cost you less than $300, shoot like the dickens, carry easy and last for generations with a little TLC. You will find it to be as handy as a rifle can be.