Safety Concerns to be aware of:
The plastic blanks have several problems in using them. These problems include both authenticity problems as well as safety problems. Let’s look at what these problems are. One major concern is the fact that they use a plastic case. That in itself takes away from looking the part of a Civil War cartridge. Many times the plastic case will come in different colors such as white, yellow or a tan looking color. Another major problem with the plastic case blanks is they are loaded with a smokeless powder that does not look or sound like a Civil War black powder cartridge. Part of using a Henry Rifle is to at least look the part when firing 16 or 17 rounds in rapid succession. The load in the plastic case blanks just does not do that. There is no smoke cloud and no deep boom but more of a crack when using the plastic blanks. These are the two main authenticity concerns which are indeed major concerns.
The safety concerns include the following. Since the rims of the plastic cases are also plastic the extractor at times will rip through the rim of the casing leaving is stuck in the chamber causing the Henry to jam. If it was an empty case then there is not too much concerning but if it were a live round stuck in the chamber this could lead to problems. At reenactments a person can fire several rounds reaching into the hundreds. The plastic create a problem of plastic fouling building up in the barrel which in turn will increase the pressure created by the blanks and could lead to a gun failure if left uncleaned. The plastic residue is also very hard to remove. Plastic residue is also left in the chamber which can cause the next round to stick in the chamber. Attempting to extract the round will likely result in the rim being ripped through by the extractor. During prolonged firing of plastic blanks the chamber and the barrel will heat up and can cause a chambered round to once again stick in the chamber. If temperatures become excessive the possibility of a round “cooking off” in the chamber is likely. Another safety concern involves the possible accident where the Henry has a magazine that is partially loaded, say with 4 or 5 rounds. The magazine follower could catch on something that would pull it back and upon release it will slam into the rounds in the magazine causing a detonation of the blanks in the magazine.
Some will also say that many theatrical western groups use plastic blanks for their shootouts without problems. This may be true but what you will need to remember is that these groups may only be shooting a few blanks at a time such as 5 out of their revolvers or maybe 15 from their rifles and then the shootout is over. Keep in mind that reenactors will shoot several rounds in a firefight that could number well over a couple of hundred in a days time. It is in the prolonged shooting where the plastic blanks just plain do not work safely. The rifle heats up and so does the plastic leaving a
residue inside the barrel and chamber.
There is a correct and safe way to load the Henry magazine. The Henry Rifle should be at a 45 degree angle and the cartridges inserted one at a time. When the magazine is filled the barrel sleeve should be turned to the closed position and the magazine follower should be gently lowered onto the cartridges in the magazine. To allow the follower to just spring back down onto the cartridges in the magazine is asking for trouble as a potential detonation could occur. Another point to keep in mind is that a full magazine is safer than a partially loaded magazine. A reenactor should “top off” the magazine as he gets time to do so. By having a full magazine there is less likely of a chance of having the magazine follower catch on something with enough force to cause a detonation in the magazine. Where a potential problem might occur is while maneuvering through a timber area either on foot or on horse back and the magazine follower catches on tree branches and then releasing causing a possible detonation. With the Henry slung over a person’s shoulder the person is not looking at the muzzle to see that it does not catch on something. Another real concern for a detonation in the magazine is if the person loading the Henry loads the magazine but then does not close the barrel sleeve. When the person goes to fire the Henry it will fire and if the barrel is elevated gravity will continue to feed the cartridges. The problem that can occur is that during the movement of firing with an open magazine the barrel sleeve moves and lines back up with the magazine causing the magazine follower to slam into the remaining cartridges in the magazine. This can cause a detonation. The sad thing is that I have witnessed all of the above safety concerns over the past 30 years at one time or another. Luckily no one was ever seriously injured. Muzzle control is a must when using a Henry Rifle.
Dangerous formation for deploying troops with Henry rifles:
Safety concerns with firing from two ranks, front rank standing or kneeing:
1. The length of the Henry rifle is just too short with its 24 inch barrel length, even with the rear rank stepping up it is still too short. Debris from the fired round starts dropping only after a couple of feet.
2. Hot brass is a concern. The kneeing front rank could get a hot piece of brass down the collar of their shirt. This can create a nasty burn.
3. In the course of a “battle” a front rank person who is kneeing could stand up into the muzzle of the rear rank person. My estimation is that this type of formation and firing position is not worth the risk and is not based on historical evidence.
4. From a historically view point it would not be a correct firing method. All one needs to do is to consult 1860s sources of those that used short barreled weapons to see if this is something that was use. For example did the cavalry fighting dismounted use two compact ranks where the front rank fired followed by the rear rank when using their carbines? Tactics should be applied to the weapon being used. Other weapons have their manual of arms to show how they were used. None exists for the Henry Rifle nor has any evidence to show they fired in a tight 2 rank formation been uncovered as of this date. So historically this formation is unsupported by the facts.
5. Reenactors safety must come first. The regular infantry using three band rifles do not allow a two band rifle or similar to be in the rear rank and probably will not allow these short rifles in their infantry line at all. The reason is the short barrel is a safety concern. As mentioned above the Henry rifle only has a 24 inch barrel which is even shorter than the two band rifles.
A Henry is not a weapon for the neophyte. It requires finding out as much information as possible on how the Henry was used in the Civil War and how the reproduction Henry rifles may be safely used in Civil War reenactments today. Too many times new Henry owners try to “reinvent the wheel”, so to speak, instead of learning from research and experienced Henry owners.