Over the years, we’ve seen new models of the ubiquitous H&R Handi Rifle come out, and since I love smaller cartridges and ’chuck hunting, I couldn’t resist testing a recent addition to the line: the Ultra Varmint Thumbhole.
Aside from the stock, the single-shot is pure utilitarian. All metal surfaces are matte finished and blued with attention to the details that befits a rifle of this price range. The barrel is a stout 24 inches long, bull barrel in configuration that tapers from 1.105 inch at the breech to .775 inch at the target-crowned muzzle. At the base of the breech, there is a sturdy extractor that pulls up the spent cartridge just far enough to pull it from the chamber. There is no ejector, a feature that handloaders appreciate.
The stock is constructed of laminated hardwood, in a cinnamon color suitable for all kinds of hunting. The satin finish preserves and highlights the laminated wood, and it was applied evenly on both the buttstock and fore-end.
The fore-end measures just over eight inches in length, fills the hand nicely, tapers toward the tip and then ends abruptly—no exotic-wood fore-end tip or spacer. It can be removed for cleaning or takedown by removing the Phillips-head screw that secures it to the barrel. The stock is nicely inletted around the barrel, is not free-floated and contains a sling swivel stud for field carry.
I’d like to see H&R offer a wider, beavertail fore-end. Out in the field, one must contend with odd and sometimes awkward rests, so I think a wider piece of wood would be worthwhile.
As to the buttstock, I have been a fan of the thumbhole stock from the first one I built years back from a semi-inletted and profiled piece of high-grade wood. I find it positions the shooting hand in a most natural manner, especially when shooting from a standing position braced against a tree or other support.
On this stock, the proportions are right, so don’t panic when you see a longer length of pull in the specifications. This is how it has to be to accommodate your hand within the confines of the thumbhole while giving a good fit on the shoulder.
The pistol grip has an inward sweep to it with a sharp edge so don’t do a running drop to the prone position like you did in boot camp. The stock is joined to the receiver with a broad and proud surface. It is attached to the receiver with a throught-bolt within the thumbhole. A rubber Marlin pad with a black spacer finishes the stock.
Operating the gun is pure simplicity. Pushing down on the lever to the right of the hammer releases the locking mechanism, opening the gun. And it speaks to the craftsmanship that if you hold the gun level and push the release down, the barrel tips down immediately for loading or unloading. Swinging the barrel up locks it firmly to the receiver.
The safety is just as simple and effective. When the hammer is at rest, a transfer bar below the firing pin prevents contact between hammer and firing pin. Pulling the hammer to the rear moves the transfer bar out of the way and allows the gun to fire when the hammer falls. While the trigger is not exactly target-tuned, breaking at five pounds, there’s no creep or takeup.
Because of the way the gun is designed, when mounting a scope the eyepiece will likely interfere with cocking the rifle, so H&R supplies a hammer extension. And you’ll have to go the scope route since the barrel is void of open sights. A Weaver-type scope base is provided. I mounted a Burris 3×9 Fullfield, which provides a good deal of clearance around the hammer area.
The gun shot well at the range with a variety of commercial ammo. More shooting, plus some highly tuned handloads, will shrink the groups, but to me, first time out of the box, I thought it was fine.
This H&R Ultra Varmint rifle has what it takes to ensure a lifetime of good service. While there are fancier rifles, hunters who like the simplicity of a single-shot coupled with a cool, functional stock and good price tag will want to check this one out.