Harrington & Richardson 1871 Single Shot Rifles

By Chuck Hawks

Target Model Rifle
Illustration courtesy of H&R 1871 LLC.

The Harrington & Richardson (H&R) gun company dates back to 1871, when it was founded as Wesson & Harrington. For over 100 years H&R manufactured inexpensive handguns, shotguns, and rifles. In the 1980's the old H&R Company fell on hard times, and in January of 1986 they went out of business.

H&R 1871, Inc. was formed in 1991 and manufactured double action revolvers and break-open rifles and shotguns of basic H&R design. Revolver production ceased in 1999. In 2000 Marlin purchased H&R 1871, also acquiring the New England Firearms and Wesson & Harrington trademarks.

Whether marked H&R or NEF, these rifles come out of the same factory in Gardner, Massachusetts and are functionally identical. The Harrington & Richardson name, of course, is better known to the older generation of shooters and is used for the company's top lines of rifles. These are the Ultra Rifle, Buffalo Classic and similar Target Model.

H&R Ultra, Buffalo Classic and Target Model rifles are priced higher than the company's NEF brand rifles, but they are still among the less expensive centerfire rifles on the market. Their moderate price naturally appeals to anyone shopping for a single shot rifle on a budget.

They generally resemble the single barreled, break-action shotguns with which many bird and small game hunters got their start and are, in fact, based on the same basic action as the H&R single barreled shotguns. This is a simple action with an exposed hammer that must be cocked before every shot. A new transfer bar system to help prevent accidental discharges has replaced the traditional rebounding hammer.

The H&R action is opened by depressing a metal tab (button) located to the right of the hammer, rather than by the more traditional pivoted thumb lever located behind the hammer. The advantage of this location is that it keeps the opening lever away from the web of the shooting hand when firing cartridges that generate substantial recoil.

This unusual side lever release works fine. The action opens smoothly and closes securely. The weight of the barrel alone is sufficient to swing open the action after the release is depressed. As with any break-action gun, close the action gently. It is slamming the action closed, not shooting, that loosens break-action guns. Lefties will find the action completely ambidextrous.

The spring operated, non-selective ejector tosses out any cartridge in the chamber when the action is opened, regardless of whether it has been fired. Those who wish to save their brass for reloading will soon learn to put their free hand just behind the gun's breech as it is opened to keep the ejector from throwing their brass on the ground. Ditto when removing unfired cartridges from the gun.

The standard metal finish of Ultra models consists of a matte blued barrel and frame. The Buffalo Classic and Target Rifle models come with a color case frame finish. The polish of all metal parts leaves something to be desired, but that is a criticism that can be leveled at many rifles today.

The trigger and trigger guard are well shaped. Surprisingly, like the NEF Handi-Rifle tested earlier, the trigger pull of the sample H&R Ultra rifle was quite good. It had a clean release that broke at about 3.5 pounds of pressure.

All Ultra Rifles are supplied with a laminated hardwood, pistol grip stock with a Monte Carlo comb. This stock is designed for use with telescopic sights. The two-piece laminated stock and beavertail forearm is hand checkered in a simple point pattern. A ventilated rubber recoil pad and detachable sling swivel bases are standard on all Ultra Rifles. A Weaver type scope mounting rail (and a hammer extension) is provided in place of iron sights.

Straight hand stocks with flat combs suitable for use with iron sights are supplied on H&R's Buffalo Classic and Target Model rifles. As the name implies, these rifles are styled in the manner of the 19th Century. H&R claims that they are, "Modeled after the Frank Wesson tip-up rifles that were first made in Worcester, Massachusetts in the 1850s."

The buttstock and long Schnabel forearm of the Buffalo and Target rifles are made from American black walnut and are hand checkered in a point pattern. The buttplate is a gently curved "rifle" type made of color case hardened steel. The receiver also wears a color case finish. Iron sights are provided.

Neither stock has a fluted comb. The straight grip stock of the Buffalo and Target rifles is more attractive than the rather bulky Monte Carlo pistol grip stock of the Ultra rifles, at least to my eye. The pistol grip of the latter is poorly defined. The wood is excessively proud where it mates to the receiver on both.

For 2003 Ultra Rifles are offered in Hunter, Comp, and Varmint models. All are fitted with the same pattern laminated stock and forend, and all use the same blued steel action.

The 2003 specifications for the standard Ultra Hunter Rifle are as follows. Action: break-open with side release lever, transfer bar safety. Caliber: .25-06, .308 Win., .450 Marlin. Barrel: 22" (26" in .25-06). Stock: cinnamon laminated Monte Carlo buttstock and semi-beavertail forend, hand checkered. Drop at comb: 1.25". Length of pull: 14.25". Overall length: 38" (with 22" barrel). Weight: approximately 7 pounds with 22" barrel. Sights: none; scope mounting base and offset hammer spur included. MSRP: $324.

For reasons I cannot fathom, the rimmed .30-30 Winchester is not a caliber offered in the Ultra Hunter. It should be. And, while they are at it, the folks at H&R should take a close look at the .375 Winchester.

For the varmint shooter there is the Ultra Varmint Rifle. This model is available in .22 WMR, .223 and .243 calibers with a 24" bull barrel. The Varmint shares the Hunter's cinnamon laminated stock. Overall length is 40" and weight is approximately 8 pounds. Other specifications are as per the Hunter.

The .17 HMR and .22 Hornet would be useful additions to the Ultra Varmint cartridge line. Both are based on rimmed cases and have an excellent reputation for accuracy. The semi-rimmed .220 Swift might also be worth considering.

The Ultra Comp Rifle is basically a Hunter with a muzzle brake and a tan/green/grey laminated stock. It is available in .270 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield calibers with 24" barrels. Overall length is 40". Weight is between 7 and 8 pounds. The MSRP is somewhat higher at $366.

The 2003 specifications for the Buffalo Classic Rifle and Target Model Rifle are as follows. Action: break-open with side release lever, transfer bar safety. Caliber: .45-70 (Buffalo Classic); .38-55 (Target Model). Barrel: 32" medium weight (Buffalo Classic); 28" heavy weight (Target Model). Stock: cut checkered black walnut buttstock with crescent steel buttplate, Schnabel forend. Drop at comb: 1.75". Drop at heel: 2.625". Length of pull: 14". Overall length: 46" (Buffalo Classic); 42" (Target Model). Weight: 8 pounds (Buffalo Classic); 7.5 pounds (Target Model). Sights: Williams receiver sight; Lyman target front sight with 8 aperture inserts. Features: antique color case hardened frame and buttplate. MSRP: $409.

Judging by the user reports that I have received from owners, most H&R rifle buyers feel that they received good value for their money. These are simple, accurate, and reasonably reliable rifles. The only common malfunction seems to be failures to eject, primarily with rimless cartridges. For more on this subject, read my article "NEF Single Shot Rifles." I recommend rimmed cartridges for use in all H&R/NEF break-open rifles. These include the .22 WMR, .38-55 Win., .45-70 Govt., and .450 Marlin.

Accuracy is comparable to that of the NEF rifles reviewed previously. (See "NEF Single Shot Rifles" for details.) Typical 100 yard, 3-shot groups with bull barrel Ultra Varmint rifles are reported to run about 1" to 1.5". Standard Ultra Rifles are said to typically deliver 1.5" to 2.5" groups at 100 yards, depending on caliber. Almost everyone agrees that the good trigger aids practical marksmanship, particularly in the field.

Needless to say, the recoil of the various H&R Ultra and Buffalo Classic models varies, depending on caliber and weight. A powerful cartridge fired in a 7 pound rifle generates a lot of recoil. An Ultra Hunter in .450 Marlin is not for the faint of heart!

It seems to me that the Target Model Rifle in .38-55 offers a particularly nice balance of performance, weight and recoil. The .38-55's rimmed case makes life easy on the H&R spring ejector. This model is claimed to be making inroads with the cowboy action shooting set. The fact that it is perhaps the most handsome of the H&R/NEF single shot rifles also doesn't hurt.

Note: A complete review of an H&R / NEF Handi-Rifle can be found on the Product Reviews page.

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Copyright 2003, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.