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Browning's "hi-wall" revived!

John M. Browning was born in Ogden, Utah, in January of 1855. He died in November, 1926, at the FN plant in Liege, Belgium. In the 71 years he lived, Browning invented over 80 firearms and became known as the "greatest firearms inventor the world has ever known."

Of all those guns Browning invented, 44 were sold to Winchester. Among these was the first of his guns, a single-shot produced in 1885 and logically called the Model 1885. Browning perfected the design in 1878 and received the patent for it in 1879. The Browning Brothers firm of Ogden, Utah, manufactured and sold approximately 600 of these rifles before Winchester bought the rights to it.

As the Winchester 1885 "High Wall," the rifle appeared in many forms--sporter, target, carbine, Schuetzen and musket--and it was chambered in some 33 rimfire and centerfire cartridges. Barrel lengths varied according to model from 15 inches on the light carbine to 30 inches on the Schuetzen, and were available in round, half-octagon and octagon configurations. The rifle was in continuous production by Winchester for 35 years with the manufacture of all models ceasing in 1920.

Once production stopped, it was 53 years before we again saw the famous Browning-designed High Wall rifle back in production. This time, though, the single-shot was being produced by the Browning Arms Company of Morgan, Utah, a firm formed long after the death of John M. Browning. In 1973 Browning introduced their Model B-78, a modern version of John Browning's first rifle. The Model 78, which was offered in a variety of modern calibers, was first available in 1973, then discontinued in 1980 with some inventory sales carrying over into 1981. The disappearance of the Model B-78 was lamented by a good many single-shot fans because it was strong, accurate and good looking--everything a single-shot rifle should be.

Well, you Model B-78 fans can breathe a sigh of relief. Browning has brought the rifle back for 1985, but its name has been changed to the Model 1885 and the new rifle reflects some minor design changes, particularly in the trigger.

I first learned of plans to bring back the Model 1885 in February 1984 while I was at the Browning offices in Morgan. At that time the project was little more than a plan, so all I could do was put in my bid for an early production model and wait. The rifle arrived almost a year later--prior to the SHOT Show in January of 1985.

My test rifle is one of the earliest to arrive at Morgan and is chambered for the .22-250 Remington cartridge, one of five for which the rifle will initially be chambered. The test rifle has a 30-inch octagon barrel and no iron sights, but is topped with scope mounts installed by the boys at Browning. Scope mounts will not be included on production rifles, but I'm sure they'll be available from a number of mount manufacturers in the near future. Factory iron sights will be furnished only on 1885s chambered for the .45-70 cartridge.

Many sources list the Model 1885 as a lever-action single-shot rifle. I guess this is technically correct, but it's certainly not what we've come to consider a lever-action rifle. Actually, it's a falling block single-shot employing an underlever to lower and raise the block. Pushing down and forward on the gracefully-shaped underlever lowers the falling block (which travels in mortises cut in each side of the receiver). The external hammer travels down with the block and comes to full cock on the upward motion of the lever.

The 1885 with a 30-inch octagon barrel is a massive rifle. Complete with a 12X Leupold scope it tips the postal scale at 9-3/4 pounds. It's 44 inches long overall and the length of pull is 13-1/2 inches. The barrel is 1.165 inches in diameter at the receiver and is round from there forward for 1.2 inches. At this point it becomes full octagon with a diameter across the flats of 1.095 inches. The barrel then has a straight taper to the muzzle where the diameter is 0.64-inch across the flats.

The two-piece stock on the 1885 is walnut with 20 lines per inch cut checkering on the pistol grip and fore-end. The buttstock is of the straight grip design with no pistol grip. A black recoil paid and Pachmayr flush-mount sling swivels are standard equipment. The buttstock is attached to the receiver via a bolt that passes through the center of the stock and anchors in a hole tapped in the rear of the receiver. The recoil pad must be removed to gain access to this stock bolt.

The walnut fore-end attaches not to the barrel, but to the fore-end hanger which is pinned to the receiver and projects 6-1/2 inches forward under the barrel, but does not touch the barrel. This is a good system where accuracy is concerned, but does in fact create a problem of its own. If the fore-end hanger is not in perfect alignment with the centerline of the barrel, or if the two holes for the fore-end attachment screws in the hanger are not in perfect alignment with the barrel's centerline, the fore-end will not be perfectly positioned. Something was off a tad on my rifle because there was a visible gap between wood and barrel along the right side of the fore-end, but on the left side the wood was touching the barrel. My tests indicated that this didn't affect the rifle's accuracy, but it sure doesn't do anything for its appearance.

The fore-end hanger does double duty as a forward anchor for the ejector hammer sear, a part of the automatic ejector system on the rifle. When the block is drawn down, the extractor, which is pinned to the lever, has a purchase under the case rim. When the top of the block drops far enough to clear the fired case in the chamber, the ejector sear is tripped, releasing the ejector hammer so it is powered rearward. It in turn snaps the extractor rearward, propelling the fired case back.

Located at the extreme rear of the receiver, behind the hammer, is a piece called the deflector which has a raised rim along one-fourth of its edge. With the raised rim positioned crosswise to the chamber, the head of the ejected case will hit it and the case will stop and lie exposed in the action--perfect for the bench shooter who doesn't want his cases tossed out on the ground. However, the deflector can be rotated left or right, positioning the raised edge at a 45-degree angle to the line of the bore. When on the left it deflects the case to the right where it's thrown clear of the action and when positioned on the right it deflects the ejected case to the left, thus accommodating both right and left-handed shooters. As I said, stopping the case so it lies in the action is great for bench shooting, but hunters will prefer to have the fired case thrown clear of the rifle.

The new Browning Model 1885 is a far cry from John M.'s original design. Browning's gun, as first manufactured both by Browning Brothers and by Winchester, used flat springs for hammer, trigger and sear power, had only an extractor and sported a top tang integral with the receiver. The bottom tang was a separate piece into which the trigger and various other parts were pinned. There is neither a top nor bottom tang on the new Browning 1885--the rear of the receiver is squared off. The trigger components are contained in a housing that slides into mortises machined in the receiver behind those for the breenchblock. A piano wire spring affords trigger return while hammer power is provided by two coiled mainsprings, one on each side of the hammer. A guide passes through each mainspring. The forward end of each guide anchors in the mainspring pin which passes laterally through the hammer. The rear of the mainspring guides pass through holes in the trigger housing.

the trigger of the Browning 1885 has been redesigned in an effort to give the shooter a better trigger than that found on the old Model B-78. To some extent this has been successful. Still, the trigger pull on my rifle, which can be adjusted by turning a small slot-head screw located directly behind the trigger, has an adjustment range of just 3-1/2 to 6 pounds. I prefer a lighter pull, but I can understand why Browning won't provide a means for lighter adjustment. Product liability suits are forcing companies to limit trigger pull weight and it may not be too long before there won't be any adjustment on factory triggers.

I caution all of you would-be gunsmiths to steer clear of the sear surfaces on the Model 1885 with your handy-dandy hones. In the new trigger design a part called the "trigger sear" is set in the upper center of the trigger. This part is just .110-inch wide, yet it is what engages the actual sear which is much wider. The point is this: Because of the narrow surface of the sear engaged by the trigger sear, improper stoning could cause a dangerous condition. For that matter, any stoning on the sear surface might be inadvisable. My recommendation is to be satisfied with the Model 1885's trigger as is out of the box.

The hammer on the Model 1885 is of external type and has three positions--full cock, safe and fire. Because the hammer drops with the block and is cocked on the upstroke, it's always in the full-cocked position after the chamber is loaded. It should be immediately lowered manually to the safe position. Don't worry about your thumb slipping off the narrow hammer spur as you lower the hammer. The rifle is equipped with an inertia sear that prevents the hammer from falling forward far enough to hit the firing pin except when the trigger is pulled to fire the rifle. With any resistance whatsoever on the hammer, it can drop no farther than the safety notch. I tested this feature thoroughly and was never able to create a malfunction.

As I mentioned earlier, my test rifle had no iron sights, but was equipped with scope mounts. The rear mount is anchored to the receiver by two screws while the front mount attaches to the barrel. The mounts furnished on my rifle were high enough that I was able to use a 12X Leupold scope and have clearance between the barrel and the objective lens of the scope.

I was more than anxious to see how the Model 1885 would shoot, particularly in .22-250 chambering. This is a varmint cartridge, so the rifle was going to have to produce some excellent groups to be considered for long-range prairie dog and chuck busting. In other words, 1 inch, 100-yard groups were the maximum I could accept and tighter groups would be more to my liking. At the range, I tested what factory ammo I had on hand--Federal 40-grain Blitz, Federal Premium 55-grain hollow points, Remington 55-grain Pointed Soft Points and Remington 55-grain Power Lokt points.

I was most surprised with results obtained with the 40-grain Federal factory ammo. It spits that 40-grain bullet out of the 30-inch barreled Browning at almost 4,000 feet per second (fps), yet my 100-yard groups ran between 1/2 and 3/4-inch, average for three shots. With accuracy like that the factory ammo shooter is on a par with any handloader. However, I did discover that metal fouling in the bore is a very real problem with that hot 40-grain bullet; so to maintain optimum accuracy with this ammunition it's necessary to clean the tube after every 10 or 15 shots.

Federal Premium 55-grain ammunition was also extremely accurate in my 1885, but this was expected. I've found it to be superb in any rifle I have ever used it in. The accuracy of the Remington loads wasn't quite as good, but it's adequate for most hunting.

As for handloads, my time schedule and some nasty weather didn't permit me to work in this area. Some superb loads can undoubtedly be concocted for this rifle, judging from what I saw of factory load performance.

My field work was conducted under relatively cold, snowy conditions, yet the Browning Model 1885 performed perfectly. There were no misfires nor mechanical malfunctions to mar my hunts. The rifle, at least my .22-250, is a bit on the heavy side for packing around all day, but this is the only negative comment to come out of my hunting tests.

The Browning Model 1885 is scheduled to be chambered for the .22-250 Remington, .25-06 Remington, .270 Winchester, 7mm Remington Magnum and .45-70. By the time you read this article the rifle will be available from your Browning dealer at a retail price of $499.95. If you've a hankerin' for a good falling block single-shot rifle, the Browning Model 1885 is certainly one to consider.
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Author:Milek, Bob
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:May 1, 1985
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