As a hunting society, we have dozens of durable and functional gun designs that work well. They resulted from a slow evolution as succeeding generations tweaked and improved on classic designs. Every now and then an innovator such as John Browning or Paul Mauser came along and made something radically different or markedly improved. The rest are just variations on a theme—but not George Hoenig's Rotary Round-Action guns.
Yes, in 1992—all by himself—Hoenig created a round-action rifle. Actually, two complete rifles in one. It was simple, solid, incredibly strong and nearly fool-proof. It opens and closes with a simple quarter-turn of the barrels. There are no locking levers or switches to push or pull: Just twist the rotary action, pull back an inch or so and hinge down the barrels to expose the cham-bers. Drop in two rounds. Straighten the two ends, shove together and twist back. Locked by the most massive lugs in the business, the gun is ready to fire.
As you might guess, Hoenig didn't dream up and engineer this odd-ball action by tweaking any other shoulder-fired gun. The genesis of his idea was the rotating breech on some artillery pieces. Our common bolt-action rifles do rotate lugs into recesses to lock their chambers, but the small bolt body slides and rotates within a standing receiver. This requires a rather homely handle sticking out to one side.
Hoenig's guns are simpler. There are no knobs poking out inelegantly. There are no levers to rack noisily, no bolts to pull back and perhaps fail to pick up a round from the magazine.
The Rotary Round Action is the epitome of form following function. Externally, the entire action is cylindrical, smooth and unmarred by any springs, switches, levers or handles. Internally, it's simple and strong with virtually no mechanical parts exposed and darn few enclosed: trigger, sear, striker, coil spring and a tiny firing pin. The striker and firing pin lie in a straight-line so you can dry-fire virtually forever without breaking anything.
And that's just how Hoenig wanted it. After years of repairing other companies' rifles, he knew the weak points. On his multi-barreled guns there would be no single trigger, no barrel selector switch, no ejectors and no trigger-blocking safety (his safety blocks the strikers, so even if the trigger is jarred off, the strikers cannot impact the firing pin).
When the Rotary Round Action is opened, the sliding weight of the barrels activates an extractor that hoists the cartridges an inch out of the chambers. Tilt the rifle and gravity does the rest. The entire operation is smooth and fast, and having two mechanical triggers means you carry two complete rifles. If one malfunctions (though it's difficult to imagine how, other than a squib load leaving a bullet in the bore), the other still works.
Alas, this isn't a rifle you buy off the rack for $500. Hoenig's is a two-man shop where each gun is painstakingly and lovingly hand-crafted of the finest materials to the highest-quality standards. Only five are custom-made annually, and they all sell north of $27,000. The Rotary Round Ac-tion, first built in 1992, can be had as an over/under rimfire, centerfire, shotgun or rifle/shotgun combination. Hoenig has also built a vierling four-barreled model.
I handled the vierling, which included a 22 LR rimfire, 5.6x50R centerfire and two 20-gauge shotgun barrels—and I found it amazingly light, balanced and responsive.
Rimfire, centerfire or shotgun, Hoenig's design can handle everything from the smallest to the biggest. He'll chamber for whatever the customer wants, even a mix such as centerfire rifle on the bottom and 20-guage shotgun on top.
You want one, don't cha?