In decades of gun collecting, gun buying and even gun building, there’s little else that equals the unparalleled joy of introducing potential lifelong firearm enthusiasts to their first gun. Little else also equals the memory of unboxing that rifle for the first time. Mine came on my 12th birthday in the form of a Henry Golden Boy lever-action .22 rifle.
For years, I slowly worked up to the moment, having had my requisite training time and safety instruction with a classic Daisy Red Ryder. Now, at the age of 12, I entered the big leagues with a bona-fide Henry Golden Boy. As a budding history buff, I knew about the classic lineage of these all-American rifles. Their history stretched back to the opening years of the Civil War, and nearly 150 years later, these guns retained their classic lines and time-tested action encased in a shimmering sea of yellow, and its gloss-blued octagonal barrel beckoned for range time.
I must have cycled that action 100 times as I sat in my parent’s living room, observing every element of its operation and filling the air with the crisp, consistent “Clack!” of the working lever. This certainly was no Red Ryder. Little did I know at the time, but it was the first foray into a life committed to the passionate pursuit of firearm knowledge. How did it work? What could it do? How do I become skilled with it? As I’d later learn, discovering the capabilities of the gun and of myself could only come from repeated range sessions.
The clear brass bead centered in the buckhorn-style irons became a familiar sight while picking off cans lined up in front of a dirt clod in the woods behind my childhood home in Michigan. Every fundamental developed with each rack of the lever and press of the trigger, all while focusing on that bright brass bead dovetailed into a thick, heavy, octagonal barrel. Every hour off the range spent bugging my dad if we could head back out again.
The Henry Golden Boy taught me many lessons, both on and off the range. Several nicks in its once-flawless walnut stock attest to youthful carelessness. A few discolored marks interrupt the singular sheen of blackened blue that coats its entire barrel, the result of inattentiveness in cleaning and care. A few stock and action screws have slightly nicked slots, marks of impatient teen reaching for ill-sized screwdrivers to finish assembly.
Today, the Henry haunts the deep corners of my ever-growing gun safe, hidden from view behind more modern, utilitarian, centerfire cousins. A great many rifles, handguns, shotguns and other firearms have come and gone since those early days spent staring through buckhorn sights.
I’m still keeping that old Henry Golden Boy around, though. It’s a great reminder that you don’t need much to build passion and skills. Every once in a while, it’ll come out of the safe. That yellow sheen gleams in the light, and the clack of an empty action echoes through the living room, bringing back early memories of a young boy in the empty woods of Michigan, standing 100 paces from a line of silver soup cans propped on a mound of dirt.
The Henry’s still in solid shape and will be years after I’m gone. Perhaps then, it’ll be in the hands of another budding enthusiast. They’ll stare down the ink-black barrel, through the buckhorn irons. Their eyes will meet the bright, brass bead at barrel’s end, overlaid against a blurred target in the background. Slowly, they’ll squeeze the serrated trigger, their breath at a half pause. Then a crack and an echo through the trees, followed by the mechanical clack of the action.
That’s what makes the Henry Golden Boy and other rimfire guns like it such special objects. They carry on through generations, bearing the marks of memories made, lessons learned and skills honed. While many modern-day rimfire rifles seem to be purpose-built for the competition circuit, the Golden Boy is proof that an old design done well is plenty to challenge any enthusiast’s shooting skills.