Inexpensive Survival Rifle

Many call the Henry Repeating Arms AR-7 the ultimate survival companion, and few can disagree. It says something about the design being more than a novelty if three major manufacturers have made a version and owned the patent on this rifle and it is still around having been introduced in 1959.

It’s not perfect (see later on in the article), but if given a choice between it, and nothing, very few hunters, fishermen, outdoors people or off the gridder’s would pass this opportunity up, especially considering the miniscule price tag (it’s gone up significantly in this past year or two of rampant inflation). Relative to peers it’s less of a total value play now, but still a no-brainer for the peppers out there.

It’s important to note that this is NOT a varmint hunting tack driver made for extreme distances.  This is a firearm made for packability, portability and ease of use.  It is made to put dinner over a fire should you find yourself in less than comfortable accommodations, say, lost in the woods.

Products featured in this article:

AR-7 Survival Rifle

Ruger Take Down 10-22 OR Ruger Take Down 10-22

The Henry U.S. AR-7 Survival Rifle is a gun that fits in its own buttstock, assembles in less than 45 seconds and shoots semiauto with a couple of 8-rounds magazines to help dispatch some squirrels, rabbits, or other assorted animals.

Reasons the Henry Repeating Arms AR-7 makes sense:

  •         It’s incredibly lightweight
  •         It floats
  •         It shoots cheap, abundant and easy to use ammunition
  •         It packs well
  •         It’s relatively accurate
  •         It has history
  •         It’s relatively inexpensive and easily obtained 

It’s a lightweight survival rifle option at only 3.5 lbs and has everything you need contained within the stock.  The barrel, action and magazines all have a special compartment in the buttstock organized by a form fitting case to keep the rattling to a minimum (in fact, the new Henry version has zero rattle). 

The stock is a high impact, waterproof stock which floats with the gun inside it or when it is fully assembled, allowing this gun to be used in the canoe or boat, float plane or marshland without too many concerns.

The chambering is in the .22LR, a round that everyone has used and no one is intimidated by.  A round that is easy to find, cheap to buy and more than enough if you know what you are doing with it for up to 35 lb. animals.  With such a cheap and lightweight round, you can carry a large quantity without impacting weight too much and without breaking the bank. The gun actually digests ammunition much better than its predecessors have gotten credit for, and once you find the right round for it, you can expect excellent reliability and potency.  It doesn’t work well with hyper velocity or Subsonic rounds, so you need to stick with normal run of the mill .22LR, with the CCI Velocitor actually working well in it for next to no cost.

The AR-7 packs well with a ‘just under’ 17” OAL packed, and a 35” OAL fully assembled.  It is completely self contained and if you thought hard enough you could figure out how to get a full box of ammunition into the buttstock too, alongside the loaded dual 8 round magazines.   It’s much prettier than the previous incarnations and the look is a lot slimmer and more polished, coming in the traditional camo and gray, with upgraded and updated color variations compared to the original Charter and Armalite versions.  The finish on the rifle is pretty weather resistant, though admittedly it isn’t as durable as it could be, perhaps.  It has Teflon finish on the metal and high quality Plastic parts integrated throughout.

No gun is ever going to be accurate enough for some people, but this little rifle can shoot respectable groups at 50 yards with the open sights; something like an inch and a half at 50 yards off hand. If that’s not good enough to hit a rabbit or other small/medium, you should probably start practicing your aim.  The rail on the Henry version allows for optics to be mounted, but it does kind of defeat the purpose of the self contained unit and the portability of the gun. With a super compact red dot or something you might be able to make the case – but it’d be overkill from a survivalist’s perspective.

Speaking of versions, the gun has three versions, one each made by Armalite; Charter Arms and Henry Repeating Arms. This newest version is hands down the best made, the most user friendly, and the most durable.  It is also the most accurate, and if you adjust for inflation, it’s the cheapest version.  Some things just come as a result of better materials, better engineering and good reputations.

The history is somewhat awkward, because very few rifles have as many detractors as they have loyal supporters.  Perhaps it’s a disconnect between the reality of what this gun was made for, and the shooter who has come to expect entitlement by the firearms manufacturers.  For what it is, the Henry AR-7 is incredible.  It represents one of the best pure plays in the survival arena, and represents perhaps one of the better values in the sector as well.  Only perhaps surpassed by the new Ruger 10-22 take down rifle in function and form, it sits at just over half the price of the new Ruger, with adequate capabilities.

Running about $270 from many dealers, with an MSRP of $290 (ish), you can in fact find the AR-7 occasionally for sub $240. Pair that price with the cheap to shoot ammunition it eats as a diet, and you have a recipe for frugality. But if you add about $65 for the camouflage version and you start approaching the price of more capable rifles.

But don’t take that last sentence at full face value; because the AR-7 isn’t incapable, it just isn’t as fully capable as much bigger, heavier and more expensive guns in some areas.  It does enjoy good accuracy at 50 yards, but it isn’t perhaps that great at 125 yards or so.  It does have awkward plastic sights that aren’t perfect for shooting at any distance really, and the durability leaves something to be desired. Other more expensive non-takedown or heavier bulkier guns might outshine it in some areas.

An important note: if supreme packability isn’t your absolute need, then you can probably push towards a Ruger 10-22 Takedown – a rifle that is better in just about every aspect except size and packability. But at more than $400, you might be better off building an AR that can takedown quickly, or opting up on caliber. The story of the AR-7 is that it is compact, lightweight and practical if you have to set it and forget it in a pack/go-bag, etc. So, don’t take it as a takeaway that the Ruger is the better play here – it’s only better if you deprioritize the leave it in a small bag aspect.

Essentially, while the AR-7 Survival Rifle may have started as a novelty in many civilian’s minds, it was in fact, carried by Airforce pilots in its early years (and for decades actually) and the Henry model makes improvements on an already pretty good design.  For the money, you’d be hard pressed to find something more portable and reliable for the specific purpose, even after rampant inflation has inflated the retail price point. 

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