After WWII, the M6 Aircrew Survival Rifle was designed to help a...
One of the most iconic “survival rifles” or “prepper rifles” of the past 60 years has been given a face-lift and embedded into a survival kit of its own by Henry Repeating Arms. The rifle in question is the AR-7, and it’s currently manufactured as the Henry U.S. Survival AR-7.
You may have seen it in its original form in one of three James Bond movies — From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service — or heard about it from someone who owned one over the past six decades since its inception. That can be good or bad, depending upon the particular rifle in question. The latest version from Henry appears to have greatly improved upon the basic model.
Designed in the 1950s by Eugene Stoner of Armalite, the AR-7 Explorer was based heavily upon Stoner’s earlier design known as the AR-5. The AR-5 was a take-down bolt-action rifle chambered in .22 Hornet, intended as an aircrew survival rifle for downed pilots.
The contract was filled, but the rifle was never issued to the Air Force because they had plenty of M4 and M6 Aircrew rifles in inventory. Most were given to U.S. Forest Service types.
The tooling at the plant allowed Armalite to develop the take-down concept as a semiautomatic .22 LR rifle for civilian sales. Almost all of the parts except the barrel liner and take-down screw were aluminum.
Stoner’s goal for the AR-7 was to have a rifle that could be disassembled into four components: action, magazine, barrel, and stock. Additionally, these components could be stored inside the buttstock.
The original version was a completely Mil-spec rifle, when the term truly meant something. However, contrary to popular opinion, the U.S. Air Force never adopted it, much like they never adopted the AR-5. There were three basic variants, based on the color of the stock: brown/orange, swirly camo, and black. The rifles were first sold in 1959.
In 1973, Armalite sold the design of the AR-7 to Charter Arms, which produced the rifle until the mid 1990s. They retained the basic black version and added variants in woodland camo and a hard chrome-plated version, known as the AR-7S.
By 1995 or so, the rifle was made by Survival Arms of Cocoa, Florida, which we believe was a rebranding of a division within Charter to set them off from the parent company. Around 1998, the rifles were made by AR-7 Industries, LLC of Meriden, Connecticut, and a year or two later by Henry Repeating Arms Co. of New York. We’ve heard that Armalite bought out AR-7 Industries in 2004, but have yet to see a new AR-7 manufactured by them.
A few significant changes were made by Henry Repeating Arms to the original AR-7 design. The biggest was made to the stock. Rather than using a slick fiberglass design as found on the original, Henry added a more textured matte finish, with grooves in the grip area that offer improved handling characteristics. They redesigned the inside to store three magazines instead of one, with the third left in the magazine well.
Original AR-7s featured an aluminum barrel with a steel liner for weight reduction purposes. Henry opted for a plastic-covered steel barrel. The front sight is a high-visibility plastic orange insert that we found more effective than the original metal blade sights, particularly when shooting as the sun was going down.
Lastly, they added a rail for the user to mount a scope as an option. It’s a 22 tip-off type, not a Picatinny rail, and if you decide to add optics we recommend you leave the rifle in its assembled condition as opposed to taking it down, because you’ll lose your zero.
When shooting an AR-7, the shooter needs to keep in mind it isn’t a bench-rest precision rifle. It was designed as a last-ditch bug-out or get-home rifle, mostly intended for taking small game, prized for its ability to be stored and carried in a small package. We decided to run it side by side with an original Armalite model. As mentioned previously, we’ve always felt Armalite was the best manufacturer for decades.
During our test and evaluation we used three ammo types: CCI High Velocity, Gemtech Subsonic, and CCI Mini-Mag High Velocity Landry edition. We had a few malfunctions with the Gemtech subsonic when used in the Armalite version. We had none, however, with the Henry. The other two CCI ammunition types functioned flawlessly in both rifles.
Accuracy was another story. The Armalite AR-7 shot much bigger groups at the same distances. At 50 yards they were over 3.5 inches and at 25 yards about 2.75 inches with both ammunition types. Poor ergonomics, a 40-plus-year-old barrel that has seen a lot of shooting, and a heavy trigger are all culprits here.
We shot the best groups with Henry’s AR-7 with the CCI HV ammunition — three eight-shot groups, measuring from 1.25 to 2.45 inches at 50 yards. These groups could easily be tightened up with a rimfire rifle scope mounted to the rail. Note that if you break the rifle down, you’ll have to remove the scope.
Henry’s trigger isn’t particularly heavy; we just found the take-up to be a bit longer. Again, it isn’t intended to be a match-grade rifle, it’s a very minimalist survival gun.
Given the fact that bush pilots in Alaska, the Israeli Air Force, boaters, campers, and truck drivers have been stowing these little rifles for decades, so can the modern prepper. Since it was originally intended as a survival tool for pilots, Henry recently embellished its offering to include some other implements suited for a crisis to offer a “Survival Pack.”
In addition to the rifle, the Survival Pack version comes with a nylon bag made by Allen that stores the rifle broken down as well as a starter survival kit. Included, among other things, is 100 feet of MIL-C-5040H Type III green camo paracord.
In case you can’t find any small game to feed yourself, a Datrex 1,000-calorie emergency food packet, containing four 250-calorie bars of all-natural ingredients, and sealed in a polymer foil package, certified to stay fresh for a minimum of five years, is also included.
While the Datrex bars may be a bit of a novelty, another implement Henry added to the Survival Pack with a large degree of practicality is a Life Straw Personal Water Filter rated to remove 99.9 percent of waterborne protozoan parasites and 99.9999 percent of waterborne bacteria, from up to 264 gallons of water.
An ESEE Fire Steel is another part of the kit as well as an H&H Mylar Emergency Hypothermia Blanket measuring 84 by 56 inches.
Additionally, Henry included a Buck Rival folding knife with a 2.75-inch stainless steel blade, black nylon handle, pocket clip, and a thumb stud for one-handed opening. While it may not be your first choice for a knife, it clips easily to the inside of the pouch, so you know it’ll be there if you need it and are otherwise separated from your typical EDC knife or you need it to skin game.
As is typically the case in an emergency, you or someone you’re with may be injured. Rather than include a worthless 100-piece first-aid kit with 99 adhesive bandages and a cotton ball, Henry included a SWAT-T black stretch, wrap, and tuck tourniquet that doubles as a pressure bandage and elastic covering wrap.
We have to say that Henry included a very decent starter kit in a pack you can stow in your car, truck, boat, UTV, aircraft, or RV that takes up about the same space as a floor jack and is perhaps one-third the weight.
We’ve been fans of the concept of the AR-7 rifle for decades. They’re useful, compact rifles, so long as you don’t hold it to the standards of a match-grade rifle or even a weekly plinker. Shoot it once a year, clean it, oil it, and put it back into storage so it’ll be ready in an emergency.
One of the features we would have liked to see in the 21st century version of this rifle is a threaded barrel in order to add a lightweight rimfire suppressor. The concept of a system that includes some pragmatic emergency items along with the rifle itself is pretty cool though. We could argue all day about what else Henry could’ve thrown in there, but the addition of ammo, a small lighter, or a signaling device for pilots would’ve made it even cooler.
Poor quality control by other manufacturers over the years coupled with misconceptions about its purpose has sullied its name in some circles, but there’s something to be said for the unique design that has yet to fall out of favor.
It’s an inexpensive, modular rifle that suits a variety of purposes. And if the contents of the kit aren’t your thing, you’re free to build it out the way you want.
Henry U.S. Survival AR-7
22 Long Rifle
Rate of Twist
3.50 pounds (rifle)
Length of Pull