Gunsmithing Henry .45 Colt Levergun


Sergeant of the Hide
Full Member
Sep 14, 2019
So back in the fall, I had my first real good "ballistic excursion" with my Henry Steel 16" .45 Colt.

I have 3 different .45 Colt loads I've been running for over a decade. All with the MP version of the RCBS 270-SAA cast bullet (286grain Keith-style semi-wadcutter). I run 25.0 grains of 296, 20.0 grains of 2400 (these are my heavy hunting loads, they run 1,350fps and 1200fps respectively out of my Ruger Bisley), and 9.0 grains of H-Universal for 1,000 fps out of my Bisley and 1,180 out of the Henry. I got these loads from Brian Pierce in "Handloader" for that bullet years ago, per that specific bullet.

I did file the lifter back about .030" so the rifle would feed that particular bullet. It handled all three of the above loads, no problem. I'm guessing I had put around a hundred rounds through the rifle.

I had finished sighting in one evening and was shooting gongs with the 9.0grn H-Universal load when I noticed it recoiled more like one of the 296 loads. I had to yank the lever HARD to get the rifle open. Case (Winchester) stayed in the chamber. Primer (CCI 300) was not in the case. Went home and knocked the case out with a cleaning rod. Took the rifle apart to remove the pieces of the primer. The case had expanded into the feed ramp. The headstamp was quite a bit less visible. The case had a hairline crack in it about a third of the way up and two thirds of the way around, but otherwise, it did hold (yes, I am thankful that it wasn't worse than it was, knowing that it took a butt ton of pressure to do that!).

Now that load should have only been running not more than 20KCUP and I doubt it was that hot. As I said, I've run hotter without any issue. It wasn't a rifle wear issue from the warmer loads as it recoiled hard on that round and it wasn't solely a brass failure for the same reason. Had to be an overload. All I can guess it a) I accidentally double charged a case (I do double and triple check cases, 18 grains of Universal vs. 9 is pretty easy to spot, and honestly, I would have thought that would have taken the gun apart) or b) some powder bridged in the Uniflow resulting in an overcharge, but not enough to notice on the pre-bullet-seating inspection.

Now, question time. I put the rifle back together and everything went back fine except the bolt was a bit tough to fit back into the receiver (it was tight to begin with, but tighter after) and when I cycle the action it has a just noticeable "hitch in the git along" about the third of the way in and out. Lock up felt fine. Could it have bent the bolt? Would you shoot it again (I'm leaning yes, I'm just wondering if there's anything I didn't think of)?

I'm likely not sending it back to Henry as I was shooting hand loads and I had modified the rifle. There's no reason to expect them to warranty it, and I really don't want to get into a situation where they don't want to replace it or send it back.

I know this likely isn't the forum for detailed questions about a .45 Colt Levergun, but there are a lot of smart folks on here who I am sure have had similar experiences. Albeit with different kinds of rifles......

Last edited:


Ignorant wretch
Full Member
Dec 7, 2012
West (By GOD) Virginia
I have a similar incident happen in a 44 mag Winchester. I had a gunsmith look at it, he suggested replacing the bolt. I did NOT do so but I shoot it now at my own peril