After years of classic models, Big Horn Armory is going tactical. 

Based in Cody, Wyoming, Big Horn has a reputation for building stout lever actions capable of handling high-pressure rounds like the whopping .500 S&W. This newbie adds mean features to a completely blacked-out platform called the Black Thunder. 

Table of Contents

Meet the Black Thunder
Range Time
Hits & Misses

Meet the Black Thunder


Big Horn Armory Black Thunder lever-action rifle
With its aggressive muzzle brake and solid stainless-steel build, the Black Thunder is a tactical beast. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

The latest Black Thunder lever action actually falls under the company’s 89 series, designated the 89BT. It wears a 16-inch carbine-length barrel topped with an ultra-aggressive muzzle brake. Like its stablemates, the Black Thunder is built from stainless steel, with this beast showing a black nitride finish mated with black laminate furniture. Both are aimed at providing additional weather resistance and hard-use durability. 

Big Horn Armory Black Thunder lever-action rifle
We were pleased to find a Skinner Sights rear aperture sight on the Black Thunder ... (Photo: Kristin Alberts/
Big Horn Armory Black Thunder lever-action rifle
... along with a white bead front. We didn't use the extra Pic rails, but real gearheads might appreciate them more. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

Quality iron sights come standard, with a Skinner Sights rear aperture sight and white bead front, along with an extended Picatinny rail. 

Continuing the “tactical” features, the Black Thunder shows off multiple M-LOK rails forward of the forend. Our test rifle arrived with three additional Picatinny rails attached to these M-LOKs. There’s no denying the .500 S&W is a thumper of a round, and the rifle comes fitted with a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad. 

The stocks are checkered for grip and fitted with a rear sling stud and forward attachment hole. Capacity is 6+1 rounds of .500 S&W. The rig weighs in at 7 pounds, 8 ounces, and measures only 36 inches overall. Retail pricing starts at $4,699. 

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Range Time


Big Horn Armory Black Thunder lever-action rifle
The curved lever design fits well in the hand while leaving room for wearing gloves. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

There’s no denying that .500 S&W ammunition is harder to find and more expensive these days. We were able to snag a few different loads for our range excursion, including Federal Premium 325-grain Swift A-Frames, Hornady Handgun Hunter 300-grain, and some handloads dressed with Hornady 350-grain XTP projectiles. As expected, the Black Thunder ran with great reliability. 

As we’re fans of Skinner Sights, we opted to forgo an optic and shoot with the factory irons. While we’d expect our groups to tighten up a bit with a riflescope, we found easily repeatable minute-of-deer heart groups at 100 yards, with an average grouping at or inside 1.5 inches. In fact, we found several groups right at MOA with the 350-grainers after further practice. 

Big Horn Armory Black Thunder lever-action rifle
The Skinner iron sights performed well, and we achieved several MOA groups at 100 yards with the 350-grain loads. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

For those unfamiliar with the .500 S&W, Smith & Wesson introduced the round in 2003 for use in its largest X-Frame revolvers. It has been touted as the most powerful production handgun round on earth. Because of its high chamber pressure, the number of firearms that can safely host the round is limited. That’s especially true when it comes to lever actions. But Big Horn Armory’s overbuilt actions, drawing from the venerable Winchester Model 1886, play host to not only the .500 S&W but .460 S&W as well. 

The .500 S&W, though a pumpkin of a chambering, actually offers surprising versatility in close-range work. Bullet weights are available from 200 grains to, as Big Horn’s website says, “a truck-stopping 700 grains.” Such a range gives the Black Thunder – and Bighorn’s other Model 89 lever guns – capability on most any big game in the world. 

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Hits and Misses


Big Horn Armory Black Thunder lever-action rifle
An extended Picatinny rail offers plenty of room for optics. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

It’s hard to nitpick a quality build like Big Horn Armory’s hulky lever guns. The main “problem,” as it were, is cost. Such a gun doesn’t come cheap, but custom quality costs money. Fit and finish on every Big Horn Armory gun we’ve shot has been top-notch, even on a so-called “tactical” variant. 

The Skinner sights are a home run on this rig. The rear peep automatically draws the eye to that white bead front, though the company’s website lists a fiber-optic front sight. Plus, they add to the 100-percent American-made nature of Big Horn Armory’s firearms. Shooters preferring optics will be pleased with the extensive Picatinny rail that runs the length of the forend. Its size allows for easy mounting of traditional riflescopes, red dots, or in this case, scout-style optics. 

Running the action must be done with authority. To fully cycle the action, these guns can't be babied, as they are of tightly built stainless steel. Our test gun, though, looks to have been well loved as it has passed from one influencer to another. 

Big Horn Armory Black Thunder lever-action rifle
The forward rails offer room for lights and accessories galore. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

Though we’re generally fans of more traditional American walnut and blued steel, there’s something to be said for the Black Thunder. We didn’t see a need for the forward rails, but shooters who like to bedazzle their rifles with lights and accessories might, and it certainly never hurts to have that option. 

The curved lever design mates nicely to the semi-pistol grip stock and is comfortable in the hand. Gloved shooters will appreciate the additional room inside the guard. Our test gun’s trigger breaks between 3 pounds, 5 ounces, and 4 pounds, which we find quite nice for a rifle in this class. 

Big Horn Armory Black Thunder lever-action rifle
The muzzle brake cuts down on recoil, but the Black Thunder still booms – you'll need good ear protection. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

That muzzle brake, though. It’s an aggressive one with a solid bottom and three large upward and side-directing fins. Partner that with the overall weightiness of the rifle and the Decelerator pad, and the result is surprisingly low recoil from a round that can be an unpleasant hammer in short-barreled handguns. But the Black Thunder is still a boomer. Quality ear protection is a must when firing this beast.

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The powerful, compact Black Thunder blends tactical features with practical performance. Whether hunting, wowing range pals, or guarding the home front, Big Horn Armory offers some of the most potent handgun chamberings on lever-driven actions. 

Shooters who prefer more traditional appearances will certainly be pleased with the company’s earlier offerings in high-grade walnut and premium metal finishes, meaning there’s an American-made Big Horn for every aesthetic. 

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