Utterly unique and strong as bull, Hoenig's Rotary Round-Action Double Rifle is the definition of a modern classic.
After World War II, a Hungarian refugee was standing aboard a transport ship in the fog, wondering where he was. After several days of steady travel, the ship had stopped. Had the Russian communists found them?
When the fog lifted, the Statue of Liberty emerged, and 16-year-old George Hoenig cried with relief.
To this day, Hoenig tears up when he relates that joyous escape to freedom. He credits these United States of America with not only saving him and his parents from the horrors of post-World War II communist Europe, but also of giving him the opportunity to pursue his dreams, to become what he wanted to become—and not what some government wanted him to become—a gunsmith. A gunmaker. A master gunmaker.
The Dream Takes Shape
Young Hoenig wasted no time getting there. Before he had graduated from high school in Los Angeles, he’d designed and built a single-action revolver, winning a prestigious national industrial arts prize. By age 17, he was working at Pachmayr Gunworks, one of the largest firearms repair shops in the country, repairing everything and anything that came in.
By 1964, he was building traditional custom rifles and shotguns of such high quality that he was able to escape big-city California for Idaho, run his own custom gun business and concentrate on perfecting his already-fine stock-making and metal-working skills. He built custom guns of class and distinction for some of the biggest names in gun circles.
A quarter-century later, the “gestation period” for his unique gun was nearly up. By 1992, he was ready to build it. Hoenig’s mechanical genius, augmented by his extensive experience, informed and inspired his crowning achievement—a design like no other, an action that epitomizes simplicity, durability, strength and function: the Hoenig Rotary Round-Action Gun.
Locked, Cocked and Ready to Fire
Because the Rotary Round-Action is unique, we should describe its basic operation before diving into a more detailed description. To operate this doubled-barreled over/under, you flick off the safety and then pull each trigger to fire each barrel. Ho hum; nothing unusual about that.
But here comes the novel part: Instead of pushing a top tang lever to open the action, you merely twist the barrels a quarter-turn to the right. You then pull them away from the breech. After an inch of travel, the barrels will hinge down, activating the expansive ejector. This single piece engages fully one-half of each case rim and lifts both simultaneously a full inch out of their chambers. You pluck them out or simply raise the muzzles so the fired brass falls out.
The strikers are cocked via a cam when the barrels are twisted open. To reload, drop a fresh round in each chamber, hinge the barrels level with the breech, push together and twist a quarter-turn to the left. The gun is loaded, locked, cocked and ready to fire.
Performing these tasks is quick, easy—and a lot faster than describing them!
Take Aim At Hunting Rifles:
- Sig Cross: The Bolt-Action Re-Imagined
- Sako S20: First True Hybrid Bolt-Action Rifle?
- A Contemporary Classic: The New Savage 110 Classic
- Rossler Titan 6: Practically Any Rifle You Want It To Be
- New Steyr Rifles: Steyr Pro THB McMillan
Why Re-Invent the Wheel?
But why did Hoenig bother with all this? Why didn’t he just build a high-quality double on already famous and proven actions?
The basic premise of the Rotary Round-Action is avoiding the inherent weakness of those traditional, hinging double barrels. Because these guns lock below the line of their barrels, the equal and opposite force of the payload moving down the barrels is transferred against breech faces that perch well above the locking point. This causes the barrels to push away from the breech, hinging downward and pivoting around those locking lugs. Over time, the gun is sprung loose, and the barrel breeches are gapped away from the face. With high-pressure rifle cartridges, this happens much sooner than it does with lower-pressure shotshells.
Such wear can’t happen to the Rotary Round-Action, because its locking lugs are equidistant above and below its barrels. Firing forces try to pull the barrels away from the face, but they’re held evenly by those massive, matching locking lugs. Brilliant!
The twin locking lugs are milled from the same cylinder of steel that makes up the frame of what is essentially the back half of the receiver/action. This piece, which is fitted to the front of the butt stock, encloses most of the working mechanisms, few though they are: two triggers, two tiny firing pins, two strikers with coil springs to drive them and a single safety that blocks the strikers. Mechanical simplicity. Mechanical perfection.
To the face of this receiver block is bolted a steel plate with matching lugs, along with a bottom hinging bar roughly akin to the action bar jutting forward from classic double-gun breech blocks. A stout lifter hinging within this bar pushes the mechanical extractor in the front half of this action when the mechanism is operated. Cocking is done by twin fixed cams that push back the strikers when the barrels are twisted open.
The front half of this action is the steel ring to which the barrels are screwed. We could call this the “front receiver ring,” because it harbors the locking lug recesses. The fit is so precise that the gun sounds and feels like a bank vault locking. Closed, it exhibits not the slightest hint of movement. It’s as solid as one continuous bar of steel. Other than the sliding extractor, it has no moving parts.
Unlike a typical hinged double-action, the forend wood of the Rotary Round-Action has no function other than to provide a checkered surface for your hands to grasp. There are no push rods, springs or plungers to assist with opening or cocking and no little springs or pins to wear or break.
Unusual though it is and unfamiliar though it might seem, Hoenig’s mechanism epitomizes rugged simplicity. The only doubtful part strikes some as the hinge, which they imagine is too weak to withstand repeated opening, hinging and closing. I haven’t heard of this being an issue with any of the approximately 78 Rotary Round-Actions that have been built. Given Hoenig’s obsession with unfailing, rugged, precision performance, I can’t imagine he’d design a weak link.
In my estimation, the only flaw in this gun—which can be built as a rifle, a shotgun or a combination—is its price. During the last year of production, these rifles had been going for $27,500 and the shotguns for $22,500, depending on walnut quality and a few options.
What You Get
Options really aren’t many—or needed. The standard rifle comes with Hoenig’s swiveling front sight hood, detachable posts, hinged-grip cap storage and a one-lever, quick-detach scope mount that’s as clean and precise as every other part of this unique gun. Barrels are regulated to a remarkably precise degree, with most rifles delivering bullets from each barrel within 1 inch of one another at 100 yards. And, at 50 yards, many are touching.
In addition to nicely figured and precisely checkered walnut, the stainless steel action is beautifully engraved by Hoenig’s longtime associate, Owen Bartlett, who also checkers and does much assembly. Yes, it’s a two-man shop. (Well, it was a two-man shop: Alas, George, now in his 80s, has retired.)
Beginning in the mid-1990s, Hoenig and Bartlett built an average of five guns a year. Shotguns were mostly 20- and 28-gauge. Rifles were virtually any rimmed cartridge per the buyer’s preference. Hoenig’s favorite is the 9.3x74R. Driving 270-grain bullets at about 2,300 fps, it handles smoothly, recoils mildly and is an absolute delight to shoot. The one thing wrong with it is the unfortunate fact that I didn’t get to carry it through the buffalo swamps of Mozambique (or anywhere else except for a shooting range).
One can only hope Hoenig will sell his patent rights to enable a gun builder who’s equally obsessed with precision and quality to again produce one of the finest—and most unusual—guns in the world. Until then, if you want one, the used market is your only hope.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.