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Gun Review: Henry Single Shot Shotgun in 12 gauge

Henry Single Shot Shotgun (image courtesy JWT for
Henry Single Shot Shotgun (image courtesy JWT for

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Although relatively inexpensive, I wouldn’t call the Henry Single Shot Shotgun a “budget gun.” The folks at Rice Lake, Wisconsin didn’t skimp. Leave it to Henry to make the best simple shotgun on the market today.

I’ve always been a fan of single shots, be they shotguns, rifles, or pistols. I still carry a single shot shotgun quite often when hunting for birds and rabbits. Since I got it earlier this year, the single shot shotgun I carry isn’t one of my H&Rs, a Savage 24, or my Winchester Model 37. It’s the Henry Single Shot Shotgun, and I don’t see that changing.

Gun Review: Henry Single Shot Shotgun
Image courtesy JWT for

The Single Shot Shogun is light. With a 28″ barrel, this 12 gauge model weights barely over 6½ lbs. That’s about a half pound less than a bare Mossberg 500 with a 20″ barrel, and more than a pound less than the 22″ Remington VersaMax Tactical I’ve been hunting with for the last several years.

The gun’s light weight, combined with its stick-like geometry, makes carrying the Single Shot Shotgun all day no chore at all. Held in one hand just in front of the trigger guard, the shotgun balances perfectly. I’ve wandered around looking for turkey and quail all day, and at no point did I tire of carrying the shotgun.

I don’t remember ever having the desire to sling it over my shoulder. It stayed right there in my hand like it belonged there.

Gun Review: Henry Single Shot Shotgun
Image courtesy JWT for

Henry puts just as nice a stock on the Single Shot Shotgun as they do on their repeating arms. The American Walnut on this particular shotgun features some color variation and flame in the fore stock, as well as some pretty striping in the buttstock. It’s far better than you would expect from a shotgun retailing for under $500.

The wood is also well and deeply checkered. Considering the cost, the checkering was almost certainly done by a machine, but the quality is excellent nonetheless.

Gun Review: Henry Single Shot Shotgun
Image courtesy JWT for

The Single Shot Shotgun features a full palm swell with a rifle style pistol grip. Unlike most other single shot shotguns, Henry’s fore stock is a little wider and flatter at the bottom, making it easy to rest on a bag or a branch if necessary.

Gun Review: Henry Single Shot Shotgun
Image courtesy JWT for

The length of pull measured 14″, the drop at comb was 1¼”, the drop at heel was 1½”, and the drop at toe measured 6½”. At my height and generally gawky stature, I prefer more drop all around, and shooting off-hand, most of my shots were a tad high. Oddly enough, when shooting from a rest, all of my shots were a tad low.

Gun Review: Henry Single Shot Shotgun
Image courtesy JWT for

The finish throughout the gun is right on par with the quality Henry is known for. The black blued receiver, barrel, hammer and release lever are even and well-executed throughout the gun.

The overall quality, fit and finish of the Henry Single Shot Shotgun is well beyond what most of us think of when we picture our other single shot shotguns. This isn’t just OK wood, with an OK finish. It’s not made to be the shotgun you hand your kids because you don’t care if they drop it. No, the Henry is the shotgun you pass down to your kids with pride, and you know they’ll take care of it.

Gun Review: Henry Single Shot Shotgun
Image courtesy JWT for

Internally, the Henry Single Shot Shotgun is a strong, extremely safe gun, and shares the same action as their Single Shot Rifle. There is no cross-bolt safety, and there doesn’t need to be one. Instead, the Henry features a rebounding hammer. Henry uses what they call a “dual-direction pivoting locking lever” to keep the hammer off the firing pin when not in use.

It also means the gun can’t be opened with the hammer back, and the hammer can’t be cocked with the gun open. That’s a feature not commonly seen on previous inexpensive single shot shotguns.

To test the safety features, I cocked the empty shotgun, held it upright at shoulder level, and dropped it. I did this 20 times, and I winced every single time. I wasn’t concerned that the hammer might fall; the gun was empty. No, I was more concerned that, bouncing off the limestone we call “dirt” here in the Texas Hill Country, the walnut stock might splinter or crack.

Neither of my concerns were warranted. The lightweight shotgun simply bounced on its rubber buttpad. The hammer never fell until, after the 20th drop, I pulled the trigger. I could discern no damage to the stock at all.

Gun Review: Henry Single Shot Shotgun
Image courtesy JWT for

The single feature that makes me the happiest about this shotgun is the release lever. It operates in either direction. Southpaws will appreciate this, as well as many decent un-afflicted humans as well, since it allows the thumb to either push or pull the lever to break open the gun.

Upon opening, the steel extractor launches an empty hull over the shoulder. They all landed about six feet behind me. To test the extractor a bit, I took some Winchester Light Target rounds that were a bit too wide to drop into my cowboy action double barrel.

Every once in a while, one of these shells will be a little sticky, so I test them all and set the sticky ones aside. One at a time, they all entered the Henry Single Shot Shotgun with a little push. After firing, the ejector launched them all, just like it did everything else.

I put exactly 100 rounds of birdshot and target loads through the Henry for this review, as well as 10 rounds of turkey loads, 10 rounds of 00 buckshot, and five Foster style slugs. I cleaned and lubed the gun prior to shooting, and never again until all firing was complete, and I was ready to take photos. The simple firearm never so much as hiccuped in any way. It ran perfectly.

Gun Review: Henry Single Shot Shotgun
Image courtesy JWT for

For the 12 and 20 gauge models, Henry uses widely available Remington-style chokes, and ships the shotgun with a modified choke. The .410 bore shotguns ship with an Invector style full choke.

Gun Review: Henry Single Shot Shotgun
Image courtesy JWT for

The Henry Single Shot Shotgun is easy and fun to shoot…most of the time. Henry’s done right by using a 3½” chamber on the Single Shot, extending its versatility to the fullest. However, Federal’s 3½” Premium Grand Slam Turkey ammunition, when fired through an extra-full turkey choke will leave you grateful you only had to pull the trigger once.

The effect at 30 yards, as seen below, means just one would certainly do the trick.

Gun Review: Henry Single Shot Shotgun
Image courtesy JWT for

Birdshot fired through the supplied modified choke is a breeze. An afternoon of shooting clay pigeons through the Henry was relaxing and fun. I’m a lousy shot with any shotgun, and the Single Shot provided the added benefit of only having to miss one clay at a time. It saved on ammo, too.

For defensive use, the Single Shot is less than ideal, but a single load of 00 is likely to significantly calm an aggressor. When fired from the Henry, 00 buckshot through the cylinder bore choke had less recoil than I was expecting, given the weight of the gun.

The old adage of one inch of spread per yard for buckshot fired from a cylinder bore rang true. Firing on a 19″ silhouette at 20 yards, most of the time every pellet landed inside the target, but every once in a while, a pellet or two would stray.

While shooting from a Caldwell Stinger shooting rest, I had no issues keeping all five Foster style slugs inside of an 8″ circle at 50 yards, when fired through the cylinder bore choke.

Recoil was stout, but not severe. There’s no animal in North America that wouldn’t fall to that payload, properly placed.

Henry Single Shot Shotgun pattern chart choke
Image courtesy

As always, the shot pattern depends not just on what shot and what choke, but also what brand of ammunition. You need to pattern your gun well before you hunt. In this case, the diagram provided by Henry held mostly true, but my patterns throughout all the chokes seemed to be a little bit tighter.

For instance, #7½ birdshot fired through a modified choke (image below) tended to produce a 20″ spread at 25 yards, not 20 as in the chart above indicates.

Gun Review: Henry Single Shot Shotgun pattern
Image courtesy JWT for

Like the number of rounds they fire, the drawback of a single shot shotgun is, well, singular. It doesn’t matter how fast you can reload, a bird isn’t going to stick around to give you another chance. And if nature provides a bounty, showering you with a wide field of ducks or dove? Too bad, you’re going to take one, at best.

There is, however, more than one reason to have that just one. It’s light yet rugged, simple, and easy to carry. But those aren’t the real reasons people enjoy single shots.

Just one shot slows you down, and that’s a good thing. Sure, sometimes we’re in the field to, quite literally, bring home the bacon. But more often than not, there’s more to the effort than the intended result.

A single shot shotgun forces you to take your time, not just in the shot itself, but in the between as well. To make that one shot count, you’re going to have to be patient. You’re going to have to be still. And you’re going to have to be quiet. You’re going to have to experience the fields. You’re going to have to be in the woods.

The Henry Single Shot Shotgun helps bring me back to why I’ve always loved to hunt so much. I’m in the middle of it. The middle of the fields and the thickets, the middle of the chase and the struggle. One shot at a time, I’m where I belong.

Specifications: Henry Single Shot Shotgun

Model Number: H015-12
Action Type: Single Shot Shotgun
Caliber: 12 Gauge
Chamber Size: 3 1/2″ Shells
Capacity: 1 Round
Barrel Length: 28″
Barrel Type: Round Blued Steel
Rate of Twist: N/A
Overall Length: 43.5″
Weight: 6.65 lbs.
Receiver Finish: Blued Steel
Rear Sight: None
Front Sight: Brass Bead
Stock Material: American Walnut
Buttplate/Pad: Black Solid Rubber Recoil Pad
Length of Pull: 14″
Safety: Rebounding Hammer
Best Uses: Target/Hunting/Bird Shot
Extras: Internally threaded for Rem style chokes (Modified included).
MSRP: $552 ($127 more for a brass receiver and buttplate)

Ratings (out of five stars):

Style and Finish * * * * *
Normally I’d give wood of this quality four stars. But on this style of gun at this price point, the Henry well exceeds everything in its class.

Customization * * *
There are two primary finish options (blued steel or brass) and using readily available Remington style chokes was a smart move.

Accuracy * * *
Standard groups with no doughnut patterns or big fliers.

Reliability * * * * *
Sharing the same action with the rifles, the Single Shot Shotgun action is perhaps even overbuilt. It also held up through 20 solid drops, not hurting the firearm one bit.

Overall * * * * *
The Henry Single Shot Shotgun deserves to be a family heirloom. I started by praising Henry for making the best simple shotgun on the market, but in fact, the Single Shot Shotgun is likely the best single shot shotgun ever made. It may not eclipse the Winchester Model 37 in sheer numbers made (over a million), but there’s no doubt the Henry surpasses that historic firearm in quality. From this old redneck, that’s saying a lot.

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