Compared: The Browning 1885
And Ruger No. 1 Rifles

By Chuck Hawks


The Browning 1885 and Ruger No. 1 falling block single shot rifles represent the best that two of the major American arms makers have to offer. Elegant, finely crafted and finished, and smooth in operation, they are as good as production rifles get.

The Browning was based on a somewhat modernized version of John Browning's first rifle design, which was later sold to Winchester and introduced by that company as the Model 1885. The Model 1885 came in two versions, a lightweight model for cartridges of moderate power with a low receiver wall and a heavier version for the most powerful cartridges of the day with a high receiver wall. Thus the Low Wall and High Wall nomenclature.

The Ruger is a modern rifle based on the aesthetics of the British Farquharson design. It combines modern design and production technology with classic lines. Ruger offers several variations on the No. 1 theme, including the No. 1A Light Sporter (roughly equivalent to the Browning Low Wall) and the No. 1B Standard, a heavier model more equivalent to the Browning High Wall.

All of these falling block rifles are loaded and cocked when the under lever is operated to lower the breechblock for loading. After a cartridge is manually placed in the chamber, the lever is pulled back and the massive breech block slides up and seals the chamber. The rifle is then cocked and ready to shoot.

The Winchester/Browning Model 1885

Winchester 1885 Low Wall
M-1885 Low Wall. Illustration courtesy of U.S. Repeating Arms Co.

Browning produced the modern Model 1885 High Wall from 1985-2001. The standard version of the High Wall was produced in calibers .22-250 Remington, .270 Winchester, 7mm Remington Magnum, .30-06 Springfield, and .45-70 Government.

The petite Low Wall, sold under the Browning name from 1995 to 2001, came in .22 Hornet, .223 Remington, .243 Winchester, and .260 Remington. As I write this in 2003, the Low Wall is offered under the Winchester name (Browning and Winchester are both owned by the same Belgian interests) in caliber .17 HMR only.

Among the distinguishing features of the Browning 1885's are a free floating octagon barrel, self-cocking rebounding hammer, user adjustable trigger pull weight, highly polished high luster blue barreled action, gold plated trigger, select straight walnut stock and Schnabel forearm graced by plenty of cut checkering and a durable glossy finish. Detachable sling swivel posts are included, as are solid recoil pads on selected calibers. All standard models are drilled and tapped for scope mounts; only rifles in .45-70 caliber come standard with iron sights. The forearm is attached directly to the receiver on a husky hanger that prevents wood to barrel contact.

The High Wall includes an ejector (which can be set to eject to the right, left, or extract only), while the Low Wall extracts but does not eject the fired case. Another difference was the pistol grip buttstock supplied on the Low Wall, while the High Wall came with a straight hand stock. High wall rifles come with a heavy octagon barrel while Low Wall rifles come with a light contour octagon barrel. Low wall rifles weigh about 6.25 pounds; High Wall rifles weigh about 8.75 pounds, plus or minus an ounce or two. Both actions are extremely slick and smooth in operation.

The Ruger No. 1

Ruger No. 1-S
Ruger No. 1S. Illustration courtesy of Sturm, Ruger, Inc.

Introduced in 1966 and still going strong, the No. 1 single shot rifle was one of Bill Ruger's pet projects. It was the first of the modern single shot rifles. The No. 1 uses a completely modern but classic looking Farquharson-style falling block action of great strength. The barreled action is finished in a polished deep blue, and the hand fitted, select walnut stock is hand checkered in a borderless pattern. The No. 1 is Ruger's premium rifle.

There are several variations of the No. 1. The two models that are most similar to the two Browning 1885 models are also perhaps the most typical No. 1's: the No. 1-A Light Sporter (22 inch round barrel, Alexander Henry forearm), and the No. 1-B Standard Rifle (26 inch round barrel, semi-beavertail forearm). The 1-A weighs 6.25 pounds while the 1-B weighs 8 pounds.

No. 1-A calibers include .243 Winchester, .270 Winchester, 7x57, and .30-06. No. 1-B calibers include .218 Bee, .22 Hornet, .223 Remington, .22-250, .220 Swift, .243 Winchester, 6mm Remington, .257 Roberts, .25-06, .270 Winchester, .270 Weatherby Magnum, .280 Remington, 7mm Remington Magnum, .308 Winchester, .30-06, .300 Winchester Magnum, .300 Weatherby Magnum, and .338 Winchester Magnum.

Both of these models feature satin finished stocks with a black recoil pad, a sculptured receiver, a trigger adjustable for weight of pull, a sliding shotgun-type tang mounted safety, an ejector which can be set for extraction only, a quarter rib barrel with integral scope base, sling swivel studs, and Ruger scope rings. The 1-A is furnished with open iron sights.

The forearm of all No. 1 rifles is suspended from a forearm hanger extending out from the receiver beneath the barrel. In concept this is similar to the forearm hanger of the Browning 1885, but the Ruger version is less massive. To quote from my article Modern Classic: The Ruger No. 1:

"Like many Ruger No. 1 rifles, varying the pressure on the forearm of the test rifle would change the point of impact of the bullet. This is due to flex in the forearm hanger, which allows the forearm to make contact with the supposedly free floating barrel. The fix is to have a gunsmith drill and tap the forearm hanger near its end for a set screw, which is then adjusted to put a constant pressure against the underside of the barrel, eliminating the flex in the forearm hanger and keeping the forearm away from the barrel."

Not all No. 1 rifles require this fix, but many do. The No. 1B rifle fired for groups (see below) had the set screw installed in the forearm hanger.

The comparison - Browning 1885 and Ruger No. 1

While both rifles come with user adjustable triggers, the Browning's steel trigger assembly is the superior unit. The aluminum Ruger trigger assembly is adjustable for weight of pull, but some owners find that it still requires too much pressure at its minimum setting and has too much creep. Many simply replace the stock Ruger trigger with a quality after market unit.

As mentioned above, all Browning 1885 models use a free floating barrel suspended from a beefy forearm hanger mounted directly to the receiver that does not let the forearm touch the barrel. This heavy-duty forearm hanger avoids the problem of the forearm touching the barrel that plagues the No. 1.

Judging by the samples I have seen the Browning is usually supplied with a higher grade of walnut and definitely has a more extensive checkering pattern. The 1885 comes with a high gloss finish on the butt stock and forearm that really brings out the figure of the wood. Likewise, the 1885's barreled action is meticulously polished, and Browning's deep luster blue metal finish shows this off to superior advantage. They are both very handsome rifles, but the Brownings clearly receive more Tender Loving Care at the factory.

Both the Low Wall and No. 1A are available in four calibers. But the range of available calibers is different. The light Browning rifle is chambered only for relatively mild, short action calibers ranging from .22 Hornet to .260 Remington. This helps keep recoil tolerable.

The No. 1A is chambered for calibers ranging from the .243 Winchester to the powerful .30-06 Springfield. Considering the recoil of the .270 and .30-06 cartridges, for which the No. 1A is chambered, the Ruger's extra pound of weight is justified. In fact, the No. 1B is noticeably more pleasant to shoot than either the Low Wall or the No. 1A in equivalent calibers, and the heavy High Wall is the most user friendly of all.

The Low Wall is a slimmer and lighter rifle than the Ruger No. 1-A Light Sporter, and the Low Wall features a 24 inch barrel while the Ruger comes with a 22" barrel, giving the Low Wall a potential ballistic advantage. The Low Wall's light weight may make it a better mountain rifle, but the heavier No. 1A's greater range of calibers may make it the more versatile rifle.

On the other hand, the High Wall is about 3/4 pound heavier than the No. 1B Standard rifle. Both are chambered for cartridges of similar power, but the No. 1B offers a much better selection of calibers. In hard kicking calibers the High Wall's extra weight is a benefit, particularly at the range, but the Ruger 1B is handier and easier to carry in the field.

At the range

Shooting was done from sandbags at a bench rest with a Browning Low Wall in .243 Winchester caliber and a Ruger No. 1B in the similar 6mm Remington caliber, the same rifles reviewed in previous articles (which can be found on the Product Review Page). For this comparison, both rifles wore Leupold 3-9x scopes.

Before installation of the set screw to stabilize the forearm hanger, the Ruger had averaged 2" groups at 100 meters using factory loaded ammunition. After the set screw was installed and adjusted, 3-shot 100 meter groups with Remington factory loaded 100 grain PSP Core-Lokt bullets shrank to just a touch over 1".

The Browning Low Wall provided similar performance although, as is so often the case, with different ammunition. The best the Low Wall would do with Remington Express factory loads using the 100 grain PSP Core-Lokt bullet was 1.5" groups at 100 meters. When Winchester Supreme factory loads with the 95 grain Ballistic Silvertip bullet were tested, 3-shot groups measured right at 1" on the 100 meter outdoor range.

Both rifles would shoot an occasional larger or smaller than average group, which is what happens when a live human being (me in this case) is pulling the trigger. I would venture to say that in terms of accuracy these two rifles are functionally equal.

Conclusion

Both the Browning 1885 and the Ruger No. 1 are excellent, high quality, premium rifles built for the carriage trade. Functionally, once the triggers have been adjusted and the Ruger's forearm hanger stabilized (if necessary), the two are essentially equal in performance. However, everyone I know who owns both (including myself) considers the Browning the superior rifle.

Let me interject that I am a big fan of The Ruger No. 1, and I consider it my second favorite among all (not just single shot) factory produced centerfire hunting rifles. But the Browning 1885 remains my favorite. The quality, workmanship, fit, and finish are simply superior.

Note: Individual, full length reviews of Winchester/Browning Model 1885 and Ruger No. 1 rifles can be found on the Product Reviews page.




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Copyright 2003, 2006 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.

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