With a name as serious as its looks are stunning, the Big Horn Armory Model 89 Spike Driver is a lever-action for the discerning hunter and collector. The Cody, Wyoming-based company prides itself on all-American-made big-bores with the Model 89 as a flagship. From the .500 S&W chambering to the custom-shop fit-and-finish, this is not your granddaddy’s lever gun. Pulling the trigger and running the action on this modern masterpiece is pure American pleasure, and hunting with the gun, an even greater one.
Meet the Model 89
Big Horn Armory’s Model 89 pulls the best design elements from the old Browning-designed Model 85 and 92 Winchester lever actions into a modern platform capable of handling the stout .500 S&W– a round known for its hard report and performance in revolvers like the S&W 500.
The Spike Driver is available in three lengths, with 18-inch being standard. An even more compact 16-inch Trapper makes a wieldy brush gun while the longer 22-inch rifle version wrings the maximum potential from what has heretofore been thought a handgun round. All are built with 17-4 stainless steel and finished with 1:24-inch twist rifling. There’s a recessed crown at the muzzle. A Skinner rear peep sight aligns with the white bead-tipped front blade.
American Black Walnut stocks come standard, with upgrade options in either Laminate or a stunning Fancy Walnut. The matte finish on all metalwork is called Hunter Black by Big Horn, which the company describes as a salt bath nitride treatment on 17-4PH stainless steel. Big Horn says this, “is harder than and will dull a file while leaving no discernible mark on the finish. The barrel bore is also treated to the salt bath nitride finish. It makes the barrel longer-lasting and adds lubricity. Our barrels are slow to foul and easy to clean.”
A thick Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad rounds out the 13-5/8-inch LOP. Advertised weight of the rifle is 7.6-pounds with an overall length of just 37-inches. A seven-round tubular magazine capacity means serious firepower in the .500 S&W. MSRP for the Model 89 is $2,499, with ample upgrades on the menu.
The name of the game with Big Horn Armory is customization, with any number of options available, from finishes to sights to optics mounts and more. Don’t care for the unassuming Hunter Black? Opt for a stunning Color Case Hardening or even matte Stainless. Odds are good if the customer can dream it and has the budget, Big Horn can pull it off. Even the “standard” production model Spike Driver, however, is a head-turner and performer.
Driving Spikes with GDC
Our test model Spike Driver wears the 18-inch barrel with a 1-in-24 rate of twist, that, as proven by our extensive time on the range, stabilizes the wide range of .500 S&W bullets, from 300 to 500 grains. Not every company produces .500 S&W ammunition, but we found some of the best for our trial run with the Spike Driver. We fired a mix of Hornady and Buffalo Bore ammunition, including Hornady 300-grain FTX, Hornady 500-grain Interlock XTP, and Buffalo Bore 440-grain LFN. As expected, the Big Horn lever gun chewed through all with 100 percent reliability.
Accuracy with the Hornady FTX bullets was fantastic, but there’s an important caveat provided by the manufacturer and witnessed in the field. That flex-pointed tip projectiles do not feed as smoothly in the Model 89 as do other options like the XTP or LFN. However, knowing that, it simply takes a little finesse on the lever to get those rounds to pop into the chamber.
We opted to fire the Model 89 without adding an optic for two main reasons. First, the rifle comes with nice quality irons. Second, this is, at its heart and soul, a closer-quarters, brush-busting, big game gun, and those distances–of the hundred-yard mark or so– do not require a magnified optic to place the bullet well. Trigger pull on our test gun was nothing short of amazing, with the pull breaking cleanly at a hair over three pounds on a Lyman Digital Pull Gauge.
The Skinner rear peep wears a large enough aperture to make quick target acquisitions on game but is difficult to pinpoint accuracy at much more than 75 yards. We appreciate the easy elevation and windage adjustments to the Skinner rear, accomplished by loosening a set of Allen screws. The larger rear aperture means hunters can acquire their target game more quickly in the field, especially in variable light conditions.
Our 50-yard, three-shot groups from the bench were exceptional, averaging an inch or less with all ammunition tested. The Hornady FTX rounds cut hole-on-hole. Reaching out to 100 yards was as much limited by the sights and shooting ability as it was by the shorter-range caliber. The best 100-yard three-shot group measured 2.65 inches. Buffalo Bore ammunition performance very well with great repeatability at range, while packing a wallop on medium to large game.
Every shooter’s first reaction upon seeing the thumb-sized muzzle diameter of the Model 89’s .500 S&W is to cringe at the mere thought of the recoil. But the Big Horn is no under-built long gun; quite the opposite. At almost nine pounds loaded, there’s a good amount of heft to absorb some of the jump, and the inch-thick rubberized butt pad helps as well.
Though both the 16- and 18-inch barreled Spike Drivers are just dandy for short-range hunting, the slightly longer 22-inch version will pull a bit more performance from the .500 S&W round. Regardless, interesting things happen when firing what are traditionally handgun rounds, through a weighty long gun. Not only do muzzle velocities significantly increase, but recoil decreases in even greater proportion.
What the company calls a “durable synthetic satin finish” in Hunter Black has a soft, smooth look and feel. The deeply curved lever is not only attractive in its lines but also practical, being plenty large for gloved hands. Sling swivel mounts are a nice addition to a workhorse platform, with the front swivel being integral to the end cap. In the rare instance that .500 S&W is not enough gun to please the modern hunter, Big Horn also offers A and B Models in .500 Linebaugh and .475 Linebaugh, respectively, as well as Model 90 lever guns in .460 S&W, .454 Casull, and .45 Colt. Partner the Spike Driver Model 89 with a handgun of the same meaty chambering like the Smith & Wesson 500, and there’s not much to stand in the way of that hunter.
It’s difficult not to love a custom-built lever action rifle made in America, and even more so when that company exudes quality, makes it home in Cody, WY, and is dedicated to bringing the heaviest big-bore chamberings to a hunter’s platform. The Model 89 Spike Driver immediately brings legitimacy to the .500 S&W as a big-game hunter’s shorter-range, knockdown round– and best of all, the rifle looks darn good getting the job done.