The Browning/Winchester Model 1885 Low Wall Rifle
By Chuck Hawks
Browning's introduction of the elegant and petite Low Wall was the third in a series of modern Browning falling block single shot rifles. Browning followed Ruger's lead (with the pioneering No. 1 rifle) by introducing their single shot rifles as elegant top of the line models for the discriminating sportsman, rather than cheap economy models for the budget conscious hunter.
First came the Browning Model B-78, introduced in 1973. The nomenclature referred to the original Browning single shot rifle, the first gun patented by John Moses Browning, back in 1878. Later, John Browning sold the manufacturing rights to Winchester, who introduced it in their line as the Model 1885 in that year. It quickly gained the reputation as the finest of the classic American single shot rifles. Browning discontinued the B-78 in 1982.
In 1985 Browning introduced a somewhat revised version of the B-78 as the Model 1885 High Wall, this time using the better known Winchester nomenclature for the rifle. The High Wall was manufactured under the Browning name through 2001 in a variety of models, then reintroduced in 2005 under the Winchester brand.
Finally the subject of this review, the Model 1885 Low Wall, came along in 1995. It too was discontinued by Browning in 2001, but resurfaced in the Winchester line in 2003 in various .17 and .22 rimfire calibers. (There is a review of the .17 HMR version of the new Winchester 1885 Low Wall on the Rimfire Guns and Ammunition Page.) Browning and U.S. Repeating Arms (Winchester) were both acquired by Belgian interests in 1997, which explains the crossover between the two lines.
The modern Browning/Winchester 1885 Low Wall action is an underlever operated falling block action with an exposed rebounding hammer. The hammer is automatically cocked when the lever is operated, unlike most 19th Century single shot rifles, which required that the arm first be loaded and then manually cocked. The trigger assembly is user adjustable. The receiver is drilled and tapped for scope mounts. These rifles feature a 24" free floating, octagon barrel. The walnut buttstock and Schnable forearm are cut checkered in a diamond pattern. Detachable sling swivel posts are supplied. The forearm is suspended from a beefy hanger mounted directly to the receiver that does not let the forearm touch the barrel.
There are some differences between the Browning and Winchester versions of the Low Wall rifle. The Browning extracts, but does not eject, cases when the falling block is lowered. The Browning barreled action was supplied with a a 24 inch, light contour, octagon barrel and finished in a high luster blue. No iron sights were provided. It had a pistol grip buttstock and a Schnable forearm that featured a high gloss finish that really brought out the figure of the wood. The buttstock terminated in a flat ("shotgun" style) black plastic buttplate. The Browning's trigger was gold plated. Basic dimensions were as follows: 13 3/16 inches length of pull, 5/8 inch drop at comb, 11/16 inch drop at heel; 39 1/2 inches overall length; approximately 6 1/4 pounds in weight. The Browning list price in 2001 was $997.
The new Winchester .17 HMR version of the 1885 Low Wall is basically much like the discontinued Browning version, but sports a case-colored finish on receiver, lever and the new "rifle" (curved) buttplate, a straight hand walnut buttstock and Schnable forearm with a satin finish, and comes with open iron sights. The barrel and trigger are blued. Cases are ejected when the under lever is operated. It is still a classy looking rifle, more traditional in appearance than the previous Browning Low Wall. I particularly like the straight hand stock, which seems appropriate for such a slender, lightweight rifle.
Other basic specifications of the new Winchester Low Wall are as follows: 24 inch octagon barrel; drilled and tapped for scope mounts; select walnut pistol grip stock and Schnabel forearm with cut checkering, 13.5 inches length of pull, 1/2 inch drop at comb, 7/8 inch drop at heel; 41 inches overall length; approximately 8 pounds in weight. Calibers available in 2005 are limited to .17 Mach 2 and .17 HMR. The Winchester 2005 MSRP is $1014.
The original Winchester Low Wall was designed for lighter calibers than the more massive High Wall, and the modern Browning Low Wall followed in that tradition. Available calibers included .22 Hornet, .223 Remington, .243 Winchester, and .260 Remington. According to the Browning catalog, the .243 and .260 are the "mountain rifle" calibers. I could not agree more, as the Low Wall combines light weight, short overall length, and a relatively long 24 inch barrel for full velocity. That is the principle advantage of a trim single shot rifle, and no bolt action repeater can equal its blend of desirable characteristics.
Like any quality falling block, the Low Wall action has a precision feel quite unlike repeaters. The usual slop felt in the actions of repeaters is almost entirely absent. When the lever is operated the breech block slides smoothly in its recesses without rattle or shake. Everything moves like a well oiled machine, and the sensation is more like operating a top quality double shotgun than a typical bolt action hunting rifle.
The rifle reviewed for this article is a Browning brand Low Wall chambered for the .243 Winchester cartridge. For this review it was fitted with a Leupold VX-1 3-9x40mm variable power scope in a two-piece Browning mount and rings. The gloss black finish of this scope looks good with the high luster blue finish of the Browning rifle.
I have covered the .243 Winchester cartridge in my popular article "The .243 Winchester" so I will not go into detail about it here. Suffice to say that the .243 is a very popular combination varmint/medium game caliber. It has earned a reputation for high velocity, flat trajectory and adequate killing power. Factory loaded ammunition can be purchased just about everywhere big game is hunted. The recoil is low, even in a lightweight rifle like a scoped Low Wall that weighs only 7.25 pounds. The standard factory load using a 100 grain bullet at a MV of 2960 fps generates only 10.2 ft. lbs. of recoil energy.
At the range I found that the Low Wall favored Winchester Supreme 95 grain Ballistic Silvertip factory loads. As always, I let the barrel cool down between shot strings. There were no malfunctions of any kind.
Five consecutive three shot groups at 100 meters with the Winchester Supreme 95 grain factory load averaged 1.24 inches center to center, and three of those groups were well under 1 inch. A 2.25 inch group that was probably my fault increased the average group size considerably. (The other four groups averaged .98 inch.) The smallest of the five groups measured only 5/8 inch.
The Remington 100 grain factory load also shot well at times. The last five representative three shot groups with that load averaged 1.75 inches center to center at 100 meters. The smallest group with the Remington factory load measured an incredible 7/8 inch at 200 yards, but the Remington load is not as consistently accurate as the Winchester Supreme load in this rifle.
The only handload tested in this rifle used the sleek and deadly Hornady 87 grain BTHP bullet backed by 37.0 grains of IMR 4064 powder for a MV of 3100 fps. Three shot groups averaged about 1 inch at 100 meters. The smallest three shot group measured 5/8 inch and the largest 1.25 inches. The only 10 shot group fired went into exactly 1 inch. I believe that my shooting is the limiting factor with this load, as I could see the crosshairs wobbling across an area of about a square inch with the scope set at 8x.
I don't see how any lightweight mountain rifle could do much better, regardless of action type. In my book the Browning 1885 Low Wall is the née-plus-ultra of factory built mountain rifles. I would very much like to see Winchester reintroduce the .223 Rem., .243 Win., and .260 Rem. centerfire cartridges (in addition to the .22 WMR and .17 HMR rimfires) in their current version of the Low Wall.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
Copyright 2002, 2009 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.