The Winchester / Browning Model 1885 High Wall Rifle
By Chuck Hawks
The 2006 Winchester 1885 High Wall Hunter is the same rifle as the recently discontinued Browning 1885 High Wall with some minor cosmetic changes. Both are made in Japan by Miroku. The modern High Walls are descended from their immedite predecessor, the Browning B-78. The B-78 was produced from 1973-1982, also by Miroku. The 1970s B-78 was a modernized, improved version of the original Winchester Model 1885 High Wall.
The original Winchester 1885 was itself an improved version of the Browning Model 1878 Standard rifle, produced from 1878-1883 by the Browning Brothers. The 1878 was John M. Browning's first commercial rifle design, and he sold the production and distribution rights to Winchester in 1883, which began a long and successful relationship between Browning and Winchester. Which is kind of ironic when you consider that both Browning and Winchester were acquired by the same Belgian interests in 1997.
The quality, fit, finish, and features of the modern Winchester/Browning High Wall rifles are simply superior. Among the High Wall's distinguishing features are a medium-heavy contour 28 inch free floating octagon barrel, self-cocking rebounding hammer, user adjustable trigger and ejector (which can be set to eject to the right, to the left, or to retain the case for easy hand removal), polished and blued barreled action, and a select walnut, straight grip stock and Schnabel forearm graced by plenty of cut checkering and a durable finish. The forearm is attached directly to the receiver on a husky hanger that prevents wood to barrel contact. Detachable sling swivel posts are included. The shooter's shoulder is protected by a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad.
The High Wall's precisely machined action is strong and a joy to operate, without the slop that plagues repeating actions. Calibers for the standard Browning High Wall were .22-250 Remington, .270 Winchester, 7mm Remington Magnum, .30-06 Springfield, and .45-70 Government. In 2006 the Winchester High Wall Hunter is being offered in standard calibers .223 Remington, .22-250, .30-06, and WSM calibers .270, 7mm, .300, and .325.
The specifications of the High Wall Hunter rifle are as follows: 28 inch octagon barrel; overall length 44 inches; approximate weight 8.5 pounds; length of pull 13 1/2 inches, drop at comb 5/8 inch, drop at heel 1 1/8 inches. The 2006 MSRP is $1085.
The 1885 High Wall rifle reviewed for this article is the standard Browning version that preceeded the current Winchester Hunter model. The quality, fit, and finish of the test rifle are excellent. This Browning version of the High Wall is graced by a gold plated trigger and a glossy stock finish that brings out the figure of the walnut. All Browning and Winchester standard model High Wall rifles are drilled and tapped for scope mounts; only rifles in .45-70 caliber also came with iron sights.
The Browning 1885 High Wall rifle reviewed here is chambered for the .45-70 cartridge. It wears a 2.75x fixed power Redfield Widefield scope, chosen for its excellent field of view, long eye relief (the .45-70 does kick, don't ya know), and simplicity. The scope wears a gloss finish that goes well with the highly polished metal finish of the High Wall. It has excellent, fully multi-coated optics, accurate adjustments, and has proven to be a fine companion for the .45-70 rifle.
The .45-70 cartridge is covered in my article "The Good Old .45-70 Government," so I will not delve deeply into the subject here. Suffice to say that it can serve as a super deer cartridge with standard pressure factory loads such as those in the Federal Classic, Winchester Super-X, or Remington Express lines. These drive 300 grain JHP bullets at catalog muzzle velocities (MV) of approximately 1810-1880 fps. (Even in the long 28" barrel of my Browning the Federal load actually chronographs about 100 fps slower than advertised.) The point blank range of such loads is about 160 yards.
Using high pressure handloads suitable only for strong, modern rifles such as the Ruger No. 1, Browning/Winchester High Wall and Dakota 10, the striking power and range of the old .45-70 can be dramatically increased, making it suitable for most of the heavy game in the world. A suitable 350 grain bullet at a MV of 1900-2100 fps or a 500 grain bullet at a MV of 1600-1800 fps has the power to reliably take very large animals, including the North American bison.
The .45-70 also generates substantial recoil. In a rifle weighing approximately 10 pounds a standard pressure factory load with a 300 grain bullet kicks with about 18 ft. lbs. of free recoil energy. This is a reasonably pleasant load to shoot. In a 7 pound carbine, incidentally, that figure goes up to over 26 ft. lbs., which is one reason I like the heavy High Wall rifle.
However, a high pressure load that launches a 350 grain bullet at 2100 fps is a different story. That load rocks the shooter with 32 ft. lbs. of recoil energy. And, unfortunately, it is not the relatively slow "push" you hear big bore addicts describe. Even in a 10 pound rifle the recoil velocity is over 14 fps, which is definitely magnum territory.
I purchased my High Wall because I wanted to experiment with heavy .45-70 handloads and the relatively heavy, long barreled High Wall seemed like the best gun for the purpose. What I did not expect was the extreme accuracy of this rifle and cartridge. Somehow, it just never occurred to me that a big bore cartridge from the black powder era could have the accuracy potential I discovered in the .45-70, regardless of the quality of the rifle in which it was chambered. No doubt the strong, precise action, heavy barrel and a husky forearm hanger that seems immune to flex contribute a great deal to the .45-70 High Wall's outstanding accuracy.
At the range, shooting over sandbags from a shooting bench for this review, three shot groups at 100 yards with Federal Classic factory loads using the 300 grain Sierra Pro-Hunter bullet averaged .85 inch center to center. The smallest group I recorded was 5/8 (.625) inch, and the largest only 1.5 inches. The Federal Classic is the only factory load I have tested in the High Wall; with results like that I see no need to look any farther!
My standard pressure handload uses a 300 grain Hornady JHP bullet in front of 53 grains of IMR 3031 powder. The mean average of three shot groups with that load is also .85 inch at 100 yards.
When I worked up the kind of heavy handload for which I had originally purchased the test rifle, in this case a 350 grain Barnes X-Bullet at a chronographed velocity of 2121 fps (extreme spread only 18 fps), I was able to shoot 1 inch three shot groups at 100 yards despite the considerable recoil.
The .45-70 High Wall is a true minute of angle rifle. Don't forget, this has been achieved by yours truly, a mere recreational shooter, behind a 2.75x hunting scope. With a target scope and a competitive target shooter squeezing the trigger, the average group sizes would probably be even smaller.
I realize that reporting such groups is going to sound to many readers as if they were achieved on my word processor rather than at the range. It is a thought that has often crossed my mind when reading rifle tests in the popular print magazines, where every advertiser's rifle seems to shoot minute of angle groups. All I can say is, buy a High Wall and check it out for yourself! When I was finished testing .45-70 reloads and writing this review, the test High Wall was immediately snapped-up by another member of the Guns and Shooting Online staff. It is that good.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
Copyright 2003, 2009 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.
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