BushLife - AR7 Backpack Survival Rifle

Henry US Survival Rifle: Good Enough for James Bond and You!

The Henry US Survival Rifle is exactly that, a survival rifle with its roots going back to a design for the US Air Force. It has to be one of the coolest rifles I have ever come across. In its take-down form, not only does the rifle break down to an ultra-compact size, but all of its parts fit right inside the stock.

For clarity when I say stock, I mean butt stock, as there is no other furniture on this model. This makes for a small, light, floating gun that can be put together without tools, and in short order. Very unique indeed, so let’s give the Henry US Survival Rifle a full review it deserves.

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History of the Henry US Survival Rifle

Like many firearms, the idea behind the Henry US Survival Rifle was born in the military. The US Air Force had the M4 and M6 survival rifles. Single shot over/under guns (.22 Hornet and .410) meant for survival purposes for aircrews. More than enough to take any small game and provide for some meals. Then along comes the AR-7 Explorer, which is the same as today’s Henry US Survival Rifle. Will cover that transition below.

Design by Eugene Stoner

None other than Eugene Stoner (designer of the AR-15) came up with the AR-5 for the military during his time at ArmaLite Inc. This was a .22 hornet, bolt-action repeating firearm that broke down and fit into its stock just like the AR-7. 

I can’t accurately tell if it was ever adopted by the military as my research shows conflicting reports on it. The issue is that all of the previous survival rifles were already well stocked. One source says this prevented the military from going ahead, while another source says they filled the contract anyway. What I can say for certain is that Armalite decided to modify the AR-5, and sell it to the civilian market as the AR-7 in a .22 long rifle, semi-auto.

As I write this, I’m going back to 1959 when this gun was designed. Quite ahead of its time in my opinion, and no wonder it was used in some early James Bond films! Charter Arms took over production in 1973 and since 1997 it has been made by Henry Repeating Arms.

The Story Behind My Henry US Survival Rifle

I have an older AR-7 Explorer and the story behind my gun is just as interesting as the gun itself. A good friend mentioned he has this “survival rifle”. As a gun nut and a guy who totes a survival backpack full of survival gear any time I go into the woods, he immediately had my rather undivided and admittedly kid in a candy store-like attention. Rather than the usual chat about it, he was also kind enough to simply lend it to me to try it out, and it was love at first sight. I thought this was one of the greatest inventions in human history!

I did my homework on this particular gun and was amazed to learn the stock was of the original ArmaLite production. This was an old gun, potentially as far back as 1959, and getting even more interesting. The action is from the next iteration, which is Charter Arms (1973-1990), yet it fits fine, which tells me there are no significant changes introduced by Charter Arms. I can’t speak to the barrel, as there are no identifying marks. If only the gun could talk, I’d love to hear its tale.

Forever Grateful

And so, on returning the gun, I was shocked to learn that my friend NEVER actually shot it. It’s been sitting in his safe for years. The story he proceeded to tell me was, that he had a friend who would constantly borrow his box trailer. One day his friend shows up with this survival rifle and offers a swap.

I have now for a very long time been trying to convince my friend why that survival gun fits perfectly in my 5.11 Rush 24 bug-out bag. 🙂 We finally swapped my framing nailer, which made one particular day of my life very special.

Let it be recorded in history that my friend is one of the nicest souls you would ever come across, and I will be forever grateful. And so, the plan is hopefully someday, my great-grandchildren learn to hunt with it and carry on the story of how it came to be.

Let’s Get Back to the Henry US Survival Rifle Review


We’ve already covered the fact that the rifle is a .22 long rifle form. Many people would argue its merits as a “self-defence” firearm, and perhaps, rightfully so. My take on it is instead of carrying bear bangers, I can make more than enough noise to scare off a bear.

The only thing in the woods I ever really worry about are coyotes, and that’s because I once stood almost toe to toe with 2 of them and it took a LOT to shoo them away while they snarled at me. I would never hunt a coyote with this, I am confident in my shooting skills that with enough well-placed shots, I can easily protect myself with it and that’s about all I need to feel more than secure in the woods.

Having Any Gun is Piece of Mind

And just for the record, I’m not afraid of being in the bush nor am I looking over my shoulder every 2 seconds. When I speak to self-defence or survival, I’m talking about those very rare moments when we break down, or something really bad happens and we are no longer in the bush by choice. These are the same moments when even seasoned pros need to stop and think a little bit to avoid panic.

This takes us back to the caliber. At the end of the day, .22 is ample for small game and procuring food in a survival situation, and is exactly what the Henry US Survival Rifle is meant for. If we have the appropriate expectations of any piece of gear, we won’t be disappointed by its results. The biggest upside with .22 is the ammo is small and light enough to easily carry a 100-round brick or more in the backpack. And as always a quick reminder that a gun doubles as a sound signalling device. 

Size and Weight of the Henry Survival Rifle

My AR-7 Explorer is 34.5″ assembled. Fully dissembled and stowed in stock, the gun is no more than 16.5″ long. That should fit most backpacks easily. Weight comes in at 2.5 lbs! This is, of course, for the Charter Arms model. The current model Henry US Survival Rifle comes in at 3.5 lbs.

Basic Features of the Henry US Survival Rifle

BushLife - AR7 Survival Rifle Pieces
AR7 survival rifle in pieces laying on a snowy maple stump in the forest

The rifle sports a nice thumb safety in a convenient placement. The rear peep sight is adjustable for elevation and the front sight is also adjustable. Its charging bolt slides and tucks away into the action for easy storage and most notably the rifle floats both assembled and disassembled.


Yes, it floats! The rifle is supposed to float both assembled and disassembled. I can’t say for how long, and suspect eventually the stock will slowly fill with water. At that point, I’m also not sure if it will maintain floatation and I’m not about to test it with mine either. 

Now, my family has lost several fishing rods, glasses and other items in the lake over the years – if you drop it, say goodbye… At least we know with the Henry US Survival Rifle, we should have enough time to recover our precious rifle in time and that all ties back to its survival purpose.

Variation Differences

The new Henry model can store 3 magazines. Two in dedicated slots in the stock, and 1 right inside the action. The older versions only had room for 1 magazine in the stock. Being in Canada, I’m quite certain having a loaded mag stored in the action would not be legal in terms of transportation. I would never attempt it myself. 

The mag would be “in the feeding path” even though the gun is disassembled. That removes some utility from the 3rd magazine option for those who like to store their mags loaded.

Supposedly, the Henry US Survival Rifle is the best version of them all. I’ll agree to that in terms of the stock as its storage is superior. As to the barrel, the older ones are steel-lined aluminum. The Henry is steel-lined plastic and I’m struggling with that a bit. I almost bought one of these in the store brand new (before I acquired mine), but really couldn’t get past the plastic barrel. And that is even though I was searching for one for a very long time. 

I’m also the type that has a certain soft side for old guns. Polishing, cleaning, refinishing and caring for them are in many ways more fun to me than actually shooting them.

Further Reading: Rifle Cleaning: Time Tested Techniques to Preserve Your Guns

Known Issues of the Henry US Survival Rifle

Yes, there is one stand-out issue. The Henry Survival Rifle gun is notorious for jamming or not feeding properly. The feed ramp is a function of the magazine on these, not the gun. If the mag is to deteriorate, so does its feeding ability. Admittedly, I have shot it enough to know the gun well, but not enough to speak to this issue with authority. 

While I noticed some feeding issues here and there, for the most part, mine shoots fine. As there is no forestock, I find it comfortable to shoot with my left hand under the mag to support the gun. I’ve accidentally discovered that this simultaneously gives some upward pressure on the mag and seems to resolve most feeding issues. In other words, it’s not an issue that would prevent me from purchasing, but I have heard of some horror stories out there. 

Limitations in Ammo, Sort of…

.22 is the most common ammo, so you might be scratching your head and going, huh? This gun likes high-velocity ammo. It has a simple blowback design and standard velocity ammo doesn’t seem to have enough oomph to cycle the gun for the next round. 

Oddly, I recently tried some sub-sonic rounds and it worked, so now I’m scratching my head. Maybe my old Henry rifle is not so old in terms of actual use and is just breaking in, I don’t know. I do know it doesn’t like all ammo, but it has cycled every iteration of high-velocity ammo I have ever put through it. Being a survival gun, I suggest trying different rounds and then sticking to what works.


The biggest issue in my mind is where to buy a Henry US Survival Rifle. It always seems to be out of stock in Canada. If and when stock shows up, it sells quickly, and by that, I mean within days. Turning to the used market will get you a rifle, but probably at full sticker price. Sorry folks, but used is not the same as new and shouldn’t command the same price. I know it’s a pandemic, but for sheer principle, I wasn’t about to take that route either. As to my American readers, I think you’ll have no trouble finding one new.

How Accurate is the Henry Survival Rifle?

BushLife - AR7 Survival Rifle
AR7 Backpack Survival Rifle sitting on top of an ash stump in the winter forest

I almost forgot about this… It is a gun, isn’t it? I can easily and consistently hit a pop can at around 30-40 yards freehand. I would ask what more do you need. 

If you have ever seen Hickok45, I shoot the same way: no bench, no rest, etc. That stuff is for sighting, as far as I’m concerned. Shooting bench rest and measuring how many millimetres my groupings are is useless knowledge in terms of a utilitarian survival gun. What I want to know is, whether I can hit something with it when my life depends on it, regardless of my situation. The Henry rifle ticks off those boxes with ease.

Alternatives to the Henry US Survival Rifle

The Henry AR7 in Canada, and at the time of writing, the costs around $399. If you can find one, Sail seems to be the cheapest at $349. 

I have to mention, that an alternative gun here would be the infamous Ruger 10/22 in takedown form. I’ll be the first to admit, the Ruger is a better “firearm”. It’s known as one of the best .22s in the world. However, you are now dealing with 2 pieces, more weight and a lot more money. 

The Ruger runs around $649 right now, in takedown form with a stainless barrel. Let’s face it, that’s a lot of money for a .22 and prices are only going up. In fact, by the time you read this, it could already be more expensive…

Then there are guns like the Chiappa Little Badger. I don’t know, it’s not my cup of tea. I’m sure it has its place, but when packing no more than a .22, a single shot just doesn’t sit well with me. When you are in a survival situation, and after hours of no activity that little squirrel runs along, I wouldn’t want 1 shot deciding if I am eating that day or not, no matter how good I can shoot.

Further Reading: Remington 870 Custom: The Best Shotgun You’ll Ever Find!

My Advice

Everyone needs a .22, it’s the only economical way to practice or learn shooting. If you already have a .22, go for the Henry US Survival Rifle and don’t look back. You can’t beat its utility for the backpacker, survivalist or even truck gun kind of idea. I also think you should plink with it a bit. 

From time to time, get to know your gun, and know how it behaves. Remember “survival rifle” means, you don’t want to be sighting in or learning its nuances when your life depends on it. What I wouldn’t do is take the Henry rifle to the range repeatedly and pile a ton of ammo through it. It’s a lightweight, portable gun, so baby it a bit for when you do need it.

If You Don’t Already Have .22

This is the part where I would lean towards the Ruger for those who don’t have another .22 in the mix. The Ruger, while nowhere near as convenient, will take a much bigger beating from those who like to plink regularly and don’t have the budget to own multiple .22s. It’s not as compact and doesn’t float, but we can’t have everything now, can we?

Then again, in any hunting circles or gun shops, the common theme is, that you can never have enough guns. Ideally, we could buy them all, but if you’re reading this, it’s because you are looking for a compact, portable, survival gun and you want to get it right. 

I would wholeheartedly recommend the Henry or the Ruger for that matter, but there’s just nothing on the market as cool and convenient as the Henry US Survival. At least in my mind anyways.

Further Reading: Traditional Muzzleloader Shooting: A How to Guide

Further Reading: The Total Gun Manual

Here’s an awesome book by Field & Stream I want to pass along. The entire series is amazing and every page has photos. This book covers gun basics, rifles & handguns and shotguns. From techniques, cartridges, blackpowder, hunting, you name it, it’s in here. Each topic is brilliantly laid out and the way it’s written is truly engaging.

I’ve read this book repeatedly. If you like firearms or enjoyed this post, The Total Gun Manual is definitely for you. Grab one while you can!

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Stelios Lazos
Stelios Lazos

Stelios comes from the corporate world where he was a highly successful executive. Inspired by his love for the outdoors he has re-located with his family to live to the BushLife where he blogs about his adventures. Finding inspiration in the never-ending questions from aspiring outdoors people, Stelios aims to share his knowledge, one post at a time.

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