HomeGunsHenry Axe Lever-Action .410 Shotgun: Full Review

Henry Axe Lever-Action .410 Shotgun: Full Review

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The Henry Axe is undeniably an offbeat firearm, and I think that’s what a lot of people are going to like about it. It’s going to fall solidly into that category of “I don’t know what I’m going to do with it, but I want one” guns.

The Henry Axe is a smoothbore lever-­action chambered for 2½-inch, .410 shotshells. It has a 15.14-­inch barrel and is 26.4-­inches long overall. Currently, it is available in three different versions: Matte blued steel receiver with walnut furniture; polished brass receiver with walnut furniture; and the X Model. The X Model has polymer furniture, a green fiber-optic front sight, and rail on the underside of the forend, as well as M-­Lok mounting slots for accessories, and an optional rail to attach to the receiver for mounting optics. All of the receivers are drilled and tapped.

Top: Henry Brass Axe, .410, MSRP: $1,212 Bottom: Henry X Model Axe, .410, MSRP: $1,124 (Photo by Mark Fingar)

What is it, exactly?

Upon seeing me pull the Axe X Model out of the box, my wife said, “Oh, it’s a baby shotgun!” If I were going to describe the Axe to someone using verbal shorthand, I’d say it’s a pistol version of Henry’s lever-action .410 shotgun, except that’s not really accurate either. I need to address this: The Henry Axe is technically not a pistol, rifle, or shotgun. Legally, it is just a “firearm.”

Despite functioning like a traditional lever-action, the ejection port, loading gate and action were engineered for the .410 shell. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

To briefly explain how and why these non-­shotgun “firearms” are legal and not NFA items, it’s because they are not cut down or “sawed-­off.” They are not meant to be fired from the shoulder, either. If you cut down the barrel of a shotgun, it would become an NFA-­restricted short-­barrel shotgun — or just plain “illegal.” These guns, on the other hand, were manufactured without stocks and with smoothbore barrels shorter than the legal limit of 18 inches for shotguns. So, because they are not a pistol (no barrel rifling) or rifle (no stock) or shotgun (barrel shorter than 18 inches, and not meant to be fired from the shoulder), and over 26 inches in length (which avoids the title of a short-­barrel shotgun), they are simply, technically, and legally, just a “firearm.”


A fiber-optic sight (left) appears on the X Model, while a brass bead front sight (right) is on the brass and steel Axe models. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

Firearms that fit into this niche have been legal for some time. Mossberg didn’t discover this “cavity,” let’s call it, in our nation’s arbitrary, capricious, and wholly unconstitutional gun laws, but they were the first to find widespread success filling it when it introduced the Shockwave in 2017.

A short, compact and handy firearm chambered in a shotgun caliber can be very useful, and the Henry Axe, being chambered in .410, has significantly less recoil than something like the 12-­gauge Mossberg. With its old-­school looks — including lever action — the Henry Axe has a completely different look and feel.

An optic rail is provided with the X Model. Mounting a red dot such as Leapers’ UTG OP3 Micro helps with precise aiming. $130 (Photo by Mark Fingar)

Guns & Ammo received two Axes, an X Model and a Brass version for testing. The X Model weighed 6 pounds, 4 ounces, according to a digital scale. The Brass model was 5 pounds, 15 ounces. The X Model is a very modern take and is utilitarian in appearance, built solely for function. The Brass model is just old-­school gorgeous. The Brass model has almost a Steampunk look to it; an inappropriately oversized and ungainly scope awkwardly mounted atop the receiver, with leather straps randomly wrapped around the gun, would complete the Steampunk aesthetic. If I ever become a post-­apocalyptic warlord, this is the gun I’m grabbing for, but I digress.


The Axe .410 is a lever-­action firearm. You can feed it through the side gate of the receiver or remove the magazine tube to load it. Magazine capacity with 21/2-inch shells is five, meaning it has a total capacity of six. I don’t know that there’s ever been a wider variety of .410 shotshells available than now, which expands the potential applications for the Axe. Three-­inch shells are pretty common in .410-bore guns, but the Axe is limited to 21/2-inch shotshells so it could be equipped with a short-­throw lever.

The barrel is internally threaded for Invector-style chokes. A full choke is included with the Axe. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

Both the steel and brass versions of the Axe carry a brass-bead front sight mounted at the end of the barrel. The X Model has a steel front sight with a green fiber-optic insert, which I think is more useful but not nearly as traditional. The X Model also comes with a 51/4-­inch aluminum piece of optic rail, which mounts to the drilled-and-tapped receiver. Mounting an optic was easy.

The 15.14-­inch barrel is internally threaded for Invector-­type chokes. The Axe comes with a Full choke installed by Henry, helping to extend the useful range of these .410s. Every gun patterns differently with shotshells, of course, but with standard birdshot loads I found the Axe patterned as well as we’d expect from a standard .410 shotgun. Generally, the length of a barrel has little impact on the size of the pattern you’ll get with shotshells; far more important is the choke and type of shell.

There is not much difference between the bolt of the Axe and Henry’s other leverguns. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

The barrel is marked on both sides just forward of the receiver. On the right: “410 BORE-­2 ½-­INCH”, and on the left “HENRY REPEATING ARMS — RICE LAKE, WI — MADE IN USA”. The folks at Henry definitely want us to know that all of its firearms are 100-percent made in the USA.

The Axe has the smooth clean lines expected for a lever-action firearm, and the forend in the steel and brass versions is made from smooth walnut with an end cap of metal that matches the receiver. At the bottom of the end cap is a sling stud; there’s another at the base of the grip. 

Though working the lever cycles the bolt and cocks the hammer, the serrated hammer can be manually thumb-cocked, as well. There is no crossbolt safety; a transfer bar keeps it drop-safe. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

The Axe balances forward of the lever. If you’re walking around the range or the woods you’ll likely find yourself carrying the Axe at your side like you would a full-­size rifle, with your hand wrapped around the gun right where the forend meets the receiver.

Old-School Cool

On the back of the grip is the proud Henry logo, either etched into wood or molded into the rubber insert on the polymer grip. The Axe gets its name from that angled grip and how it resembles an axe handle. For people my age, when they see the Henry Axe they’re going to reflexively blurt out, “Mare’s Leg!”

Loaded through the side gate, magazine capacity is five rounds. However, a shell can also be placed directly into the chamber. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

The first cut-­down “pistolized” lever-action that most people are aware of is also the most famous: It was a Winchester Model 1892 with a cut-down barrel and stock, nicknamed the “Mare’s Leg.” It was carried by Steve McQueen first in the TV series “Trackdown” (1957), and then by him again when he starred in “Wanted: Dead or Alive” (1958-­1961). There were several versions of this gun that McQueen’s character carried in a custom leg holster that reached to his knee. Practical? No. Cool? Hell yeah! Chambering a stockless firearm like this for the .410 shotshell makes more sense than a rifle caliber, perhaps.

For access to load or unload the magazine tube, simply rotate the spring-loaded follower and pull it away from the forend. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

Handling an Axe

I own a Model ’94 in .30-­30 that I bought in the early 1990s. I love everything about that rifle except the cross-­bolt safety in the receiver. (Purists know it’s not found in the original design.) The Axe, however, stays true to its roots as an old-­school lever action; there is no cross-­bolt safety. When the hammer is cocked, the only way to lower it is by trapping it with a thumb or two fingers and pulling the trigger. The Axe is equipped with a transfer bar safety, though, cleverly hidden inside the face of the hammer; if it is dropped, nothing will happen.

Triggerpull weight measured 4 pounds during testing. With the lever action open, the trigger is disabled. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

If you’ve never handled a lever action, let me give you a quick primer: You load the shells into the underbarrel magazine tube, and to chamber a round from the magazine you work the lever. You can also load shells one at a time into the chamber with the lever open. Working the lever cocks the external hammer, and that hammer functions as an ersatz safety. If you don’t want to shoot when you’ve got a shell chambered, you simply lower the hammer. Most hunters using lever actions move through the woods with a round chambered and the hammer down. When game is spotted, they simply cock the hammer.

The Axe has a single-action trigger that is nicely crisp and light. The trigger has no takeup and barely any overtravel. Both of G&A’s samples had 4-­pound triggerpulls.

The short-stroke lever limits the Axe to 21/2-inch .410 shells. The moving parts are clean and polished for a smooth action. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

You’ll see the loop in the lever is slightly oversized, making it easier to work if you’re wearing gloves. This leads me to the first question I had when looking at the Axe: How easy is it to work the lever? With a lever-­action rifle, you keep the butt against your shoulder and your eyes on the sights as you work the lever. However, not only is the Axe lighter than a full-­length rifle or shotgun, unless you’re tucking the handle against your ribcage, there’s nothing to brace the gun against when working the action.

It turns out my fears were unfounded. The levers on both samples cycled relatively smoothly and easily, and I didn’t find myself wrestling with the guns when working the levers. I did find it easier to work the lever if I turned the Axe on its side so that the lever was going out instead of down. Either way, it was quick to cycle. The more you work the lever, the smoother it gets. However, you’ll find you won’t be able to keep your gun up on target as you work the lever like you would a lever gun with a stock.

A screw holds the triggerguard plate in position. The tab keeps remaining ammo in the magazine until the carrier is in position. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

Finding Purpose

Recoil was not bad at all. This is a 6-­pound firearm chambered in the smallest commercially available shotshell. If you’ve got massively strong wrists and forearms, feel free to shoot it one-­handed; the rest of us will be using two hands. Hold up the Axe, high enough to see the sights, but out in front of you as far as is comfortable. It will recoil upward as much as it does backward, and not much of either — but that’s still no reason to smack yourself in the face with the grip. I recommend a push/pull grip, i.e., push with your support hand, pull with your shooting hand.

Loaded with birdshot, it will make quick work of small game. Most companies make standard slug loads for the .410. There’s a definite difference in recoil, but I didn’t have any reliability or cycling issues.

M-Lok slots and a small length of rail lend the X Model the capability to accept accessories and be used as a self-defense gun. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

A credit to the popularity of the Taurus Judge .410 revolver, just about every ammunition company makes .410 shells with at least one personal-defense load. Almost all of them are 21/2-inch shells. Federal has a 4-­pellet 000-­buck load, Hornady sells its Triple Defense load featuring two .35-­caliber balls topped with a .41-­caliber FTX slug, and Winchester’s Defender load stacks three copper-­plated discs atop 12 BBs. Whether birdshot or these personal defense loads, with the Full choke in place, they all provided 1 inch of spread per yard from the muzzle or less.

The model number and serial number is engraved at the top of the tang. The shape of the grip is reminiscent of an axe handle. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

As for what you’d use the Axe for, first on everyone’s list would be to have fun. Beyond that, the Axe does provide mostly the same kind of utility you’ll get out of a .410 shotgun, but smaller. It is short enough that you could fit it in a large toolbox or behind the seat of a truck or canoe. With the X Model, you can easily mount a red dot on top of the Axe and a light down on the handguard, which features both a rail and M-­Lok slots. 

I don’t know what most Axe buyers will use these guns for, but for whatever they’re doing, they’ll be having a blast.

Henry Axe

  • Type: Lever action
  • Bore: .410, 21/2-in. chamber
  • Capacity: 5+1 rds.
  • Barrel: 15.14 in., smoothbore
  • Length: 26.4 in.
  • Height: 5.5 in.
  • Width: 1.5 in.
  • Weight: 5 lbs., 13 oz. (tested)
  • Receiver: Blued steel or hardened brass; drilled and tapped
  • Furniture: American walnut (brass/steel); polymer (X Model)
  • Sights: Brass bead (brass/steel); fiber optic (X Model)
  • Trigger: 4 ­lbs. (tested)
  • Safety: Transfer bar safety
  • MSRP: $1,088 (blued steel) $1,124 (X Model) $1,212 (brass)
  • Accessories: Optic rail, incl. (X Model)
  • Manufacturer: Henry Repeating Arms, 866-200-2354, henryusa.com

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