My requirements are simple: lightweight, packable, enough room to store some survival supplies, and enough accuracy to kill small game at 25 yards. Apparently there’s not a big market for such a tool, since few companies build a specialized survival rifle.
Several readers of Against All Odds have contacted me suggesting I look at the Henry AR-7, so I finally decided to purchase one for review.
The AR-7 style rifle has been used by U.S. Air Force pilots since 1959 as the survival rifle of choice should they have to bail out in a remote area. Over the years, the AR-7’s reputation with pilots has extended to backpackers, bush pilots and others who may have a need to take down small game in a survival situation.
Henry’s newest AR-7 is lightweight and a mere 16 ½ inches long with all the components stowed in the waterproof floating stock. The barrel and receiver are coated with Teflon for protection even in harsh saltwater environments. It’s .22 LR caliber with semi-automatic action, has an eight-round magazine capacity (two included), ABS plastic stock and suggested retail price of $275.00. Advertised
weight is 2.25 pounds, but my postal scale weighed the system at three pounds, six ounces with empty magazines.
Before we get into the review, let me state that I don’t consider myself a tactical or combat “shooter.” I was raised on .22 rifles and 20-gauge shotguns, stalking squirrels, rabbits and quail on the back forty. The reason you don’t see me reviewing many guns for S.W.A.T. is because I simply don’t have the qualifications to review all the latest combat and tactical weaponry, nor do I care to.
In all honesty, the $275 Henry AR-7 style of rifle is much more impressive to me than the latest M4 variant. The AR-7 is another piece in the backcountry toolkit— no different than a multi-tool, machete or camp saw.
To a person facing a survival situation, there are only a few questions that need to be answered when it comes to tools:
- Are they simple and effective?
- Will they work if you have limited mobility or an injury?
- Are they reliable? It’s important to remember that in a stressful situation, simpler is almost always better.
If I carry a survival tool, I want to be able to access and use it in low light, with or without gloves, and without needing special tools to assemble it. The AR-7 fits those requirements well.
Assembly is quick and easy. It took me 45 seconds to assemble the rifle from its stowed condition, with the most difficult part being removing the slip-on butt cap. At 25 yards, the rifle reliably shot one-inch off-hand groups using CCI Stinger ammunition—plenty of accuracy to hunt squirrels and other small game. My first out-of-the-box test group was about three inches low and three inches to the left, but a quick adjustment of the front and rear sights brought it to center target.
It should be noted that the front sight on the test rifle moved with very slight finger pressure, so bumping the sight when setting the rifle down or even sliding the barrel back into the stock could potentially cause problems. I tightened the sight on the test rifle by shimming it with a piece of paper. I advise anyone who buys this rifle to do the same, since you don’t want to waste both of your magazines re-zeroing the rifle if you get into a survival situation.
As for repeatability and function, I took the rifle apart several times, reassembled it and fired three-shot groups. Each group hovered within an inch of the previous test groups. From that point, I changed brands of ammunition and fired 250 rounds through the rifle with absolutely no feeding or functioning problems.
Is this the perfect survival rifle? No, but it’s real close. Personally I think a “survival” rifle stock should be engineered to store extra ammunition as well as a small survival kit. As it is now, the only things the Henry will hold are the barrel, receiver and two full magazines. A small consolation is that you can stow the receiver with a magazine inserted, thus giving you room for an extra magazine in the stow compartment. If you choose not to carry a third magazine, then the open pocket has enough room to store a few more rounds of ammo or a fire starter, small signal mirror and button compass.
Another issue I have with calling this a “survival” rifle is the stock color. Even though it floats, it does so bottom side up, and the black color doesn’t contrast well with water. If you lose the rifle overboard at night, you’ll have a hard time finding it. My suggestion to any user is to add a small piece of Velcro on the underside of the stock to attach a piece of reflective tape to.
I can understand wanting a dark color for escaping and evading hostile forces, but black is not the best choice for E&E purposes. It shows up under IR and is not found in nature except for charred wood. If the manufacturer wanted a more subtle E&E color, they would have been better off with an earth tone.
I’ve already mentioned the only other negative about this rifle: the buttcap. Depending on how you grab it, it can be a real pain to get off, and sometimes it just seems to take a notion to not come off at all without a lot of cursing and fingernail breaking. I understand the reasoning for this, since it does keep a lot of water out of the components when dunked, but there should be a better way that would be both more waterproof and easier to remove.
Overall, I’m well impressed with the AR-7. True, a few small design changes would have made it a much better survival rifle, but when you factor in accuracy, reliability, weight, size and price, then I really don’t have much to complain about.
I definitely give it a thumbs up as good survival gear!