Winchester Model 1885 Low Wall .17 HMR Rifle
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
The arrival of a new Winchester 1885 Low Wall rifle in .17 HMR was an event much anticipated by those of us involved with Guns and Shooting Online. We were all anxious to give this deluxe falling block single shot a try.
It is an exceptionally attractive rifle and the fact that it is available in one of our all-time favorite calibers, .17 HMR, only increases its appeal. So it was with some excitement that we sliced open the end of the cardboard shipping container and slid out the red Winchester box inside. Within the latter, cradled in Styrofoam, nestled the Low Wall along with the usual gunlock (padlock), owner's manual, safety literature, and owner registration card.
We had also requested Browning scope bases and rings for the Low Wall and these were delivered a couple of days later. (Many thanks to Paul of Browning/Winchester for expediting the delivery of both rifle and scope mounts to make this review possible.) As you are probably already aware, Browning and Winchester are owned by the same holding company and their head offices have been combined in Morgan, Utah.
The (new) Model 1885 Low Wall rifle was a Browning brand product from 1995 until it was discontinued in 2001. In 2003 it was reinstated as a limited production item wearing the Winchester name. This article is concerned only with the latest, rimfire, version of the Winchester Low Wall. Like the previous Browning versions, this Winchester Low Wall is made in Japan by Miroku, with whom Browning has had a long and successful relationship.
Our sample was shipped pretty well coated with a oily, brown preservative. Once that had been cleaned from both the wood and metal parts, an eye catching falling block rifle was revealed. The barrel, hammer, trigger and all screw heads are polished and deeply blued. The tapered 24" octagon barrel is screwed into a color case hardened receiver. The operating lever and curved rifle buttplate are also color case hardened.
The straight hand buttstock and slender Schnable forearm are black walnut of somewhat better than average figure and wear a satin finish. There are generous areas of bordered cut checkering that looks to be about 22 lpi in point patterns. Bases for detachable sling swivels are provided.
Iron sights are standard equipment. The latter consist of a semi-buckhorn rear sight and a brass bead front sight, both of which are mounted on the barrel.
The front of the receiver and the rear of the barrel are drilled and tapped for two-piece scope bases. These are of the basic Burris/Leupold pattern. We were told that the supplied Browning brand bases (and the matching rings) are being discontinued. When the present supply is exhausted, Low Wall buyers will have to rely on the after market.
One good feature that was carried over from the Browning version of the Low Wall is a user adjustable trigger. There is a small screw in the bottom of the trigger that is turned clockwise to lighten or counter-clockwise to increase the trigger pull. The adjustment range is supposed to be 3.5 to 5 pounds. I set the test rifle for the minimum available trigger pull, which measured 3.75 pounds on my RCBS Premium Pull Scale. The trigger itself is wide and grooved for easy control. This is a good trigger with a clean let-off, the best we have encountered so far in a .17 HMR rifle straight from the factory.
The Low Wall action is a good one. It is strong and very smooth in operation. Operating the lever to load the chamber automatically cocks the external hammer. The hammer is of the rebounding type, and it is also provided with a "half cock" safety position.
When the action is opened after firing, the Winchester Low Wall ejects the spent shell casing to the right, left, or center, depending on where a built-in deflector is positioned. We are all right handed, so we set the test rifle to eject to the right.
The overall fit and finish of this Winchester is good. Ditto for the grade of walnut used for the stock and forearm. The lines of the Winchester are excellent, slender and graceful. The straight grip stock is definitely an aesthetic improvement over the pistol grip buttstock of the earlier Browning Low Wall version.
Despite its traditional appearance, this stock has a reasonably high, fluted comb that is designed for use with telescopic or iron sights. Here are some basic specifications for the Winchester 1885 Low Wall rifle:
As you can tell from the above specifications, despite its slender appearance this is an adult size and weight rifle. We put it on our digital scale and it really does weigh 8 pounds. This was a surprise, as a previously reviewed Browning Low Wall in .243 Winchester caliber only weighed about 6-1/4 pounds.
We were eager to try it out, so Guns and Shooting Online Technical Consultant Bob Fleck and Owner/Managing Editor Chuck Hawks took the Low Wall to the range the day after it arrived to test fire it with the iron sights. After a brief range session we both agreed that the stock design was entirely adequate for use with the supplied sights. Although, of course, the .17 HMR cartridge really requires on optical sight if its full potential is to be exploited.
Never the less, this preliminary range session yielded 25 yard, 5-shot groups of 7/8" and Chuck put 10 shots into 1" at that distance using Hornady Varmint Express ammunition. We found that someone at Winchester had apparently regulated the iron sights, as no adjustment was necessary.
We were so encouraged by the 25 yard results that Chuck decided to try a group at 100 yards, even though his aging eyes are definitely no longer up to the task of shooting with iron sights at that range. He fired two 100 yard groups. One was a 6-shot group that measured 3" and the other was a 3-shot group that went into 1-5/8". That was enough for him, Chuck stopped while he was ahead!
The following day the scope mounts and rings arrived, and we lost no time mounting them on the rifle. The rear sight is dovetailed into the barrel and must be removed (tap it out to the right) to attach the front scope base. On the sample rifle, this was easily accomplished using only a nylon punch and a small hammer. Otherwise, scope mounting was a straight forward and simple process and we encountered no difficulties. The rear base is adjustable for windage, a feature we always appreciate, and we used it for its intended purpose when bore sighting the rifle.
We selected a Leupold VX-II 3-9x33 EFR rimfire scope for use on this rifle, as it is the smallest and lightest scope that we had on hand that included a focusing front objective to eliminate parallax. We didn't want to mount a huge target type scope on this petite falling block rifle. This Leupold is high in quality, moderate in size, comes with a superb fine Duplex reticle and excellent optics. All of which make it well suited for a .17 HMR combination varmint and small game hunting rifle. A premium rifle deserves a premium scope.
The following weekend, Chuck took the Low Wall into the field for a little realistic practice. After adjusting the Leupold scope so that the rifle was putting its bullets dead on at 25 yards (good enough for the immediate purpose), he moved back and did some shooting from sitting, kneeling and standing positions at random ranges between 50 and 100 paces.
Chuck immediately verified what he had expected, namely that the rifle's pronounced Schnable forend tip and the rather forward placement of the front sling swivel base made the use of a Harris 1A2 Ultralight bipod impractical. This is our bipod of choice for use on varmint rifles. For support in the field, Chuck was forced to rely on a set of Stony Point Pole Cat shooting sticks.
We find shooting sticks faster to use in the field than a bipod. They are excellent for small game hunting when time allows. However, they are not quite as steady as a good bipod for long range varmint shooting.
The Low Wall's long barrel and substantial weight (about nine pounds with scope and mounts) makes it relatively steady to shoot from unsupported positions. It also balances well, between the hands about 1" forward of the junction of forend and receiver.
Its modest overall length, courtesy of its compact falling block action, makes it convenient to carry slung over either shoulder, barrel up or down as desired. (For comparison, the bolt action .17 HMR Ruger K77/17 varmint rifle, also with a 24" barrel, is 2-1/4" longer overall than the Low Wall.) Despite the fact that it is rather heavy for a rimfire hunting rifle, the Winchester Low Wall is handy in the field.
Playing in the hills is fun, but to discover what the Low Wall could do in terms of accuracy we needed to do some serious shooting from a bench rest. Our next outing found us back at the Isaac Walton rifle range south of Eugene, Oregon. This outdoor facility offers covered 25, 50, 100, and 200 yard shooting distances and solid bench rests. The weather was heavy overcast with occasional sprinkles and temperatures in the 55-60 degree F range. There was a crosswind gusting to 7 mph at times, so we tried to shoot between gusts. The wind decreased as the afternoon wore on, and toward the end of our range session died altogether.
Guns and Shooting Online regulars Rocky Hays, Nathan Rauzon, Bob Fleck and Chuck Hawks did the shooting. Four brands of ammunition were used, all of which were loaded with 17 grain bullets. The four types of ammunition were: CCI (Speer TNT JHP bullet at a MV of 2525 fps), Federal Premium (Speer TNT JHP bullet at a MV of 2550 fps), Hornady Varmint Express (Hornady V-MAX bullet at a MV of 2550 fps) and Remington Premier (Rem. AccuTip-V bullet at a MV of 2550 fps).
We did our bench rest shooting using a Caldwell Lead Sled rifle rest stabilized with a single 25 pound bag of lead shot. That is more than enough weight for a .17 HMR rifle.
For record, we fired five shot groups at Outers Score Keeper Targets at 100 yards. We adjusted the Leupold scope to put the bullets more or less to point of aim at that distance. Each shooter shot groups with all four brands of ammunition. This time out Rocky shot the overall best group (1-1/8") using Remington ammunition. Here are the complete shooting results:
AVERAGE GROUP SIZE FOR ALL BRANDS OF AMMUNITION = 2.05"
Our Winchester test rifle seemed to prefer Remington ammunition and that brand shot the most uniform (well rounded) groups, as well as the smallest. The Winchester Low Wall is included in the article ".17 HMR Rifle Accuracy Test Results," which can be found in the "Rifle Information" section of the Rimfire Guns and Ammo Page. There you can compare its range results with other .17 HMR rifles tested by Guns and Shooting Online.
Functioning of this Winchester was perfect throughout. The Low Wall single shot was a real pleasure to shoot at the range, where single loading is the norm, since there is no pesky magazine to fiddle with. It also garnered an inordinate amount of attention from other shooters, who were very impressed by its handsome appearance. Pride of ownership comes standard with a Low Wall.
In summation, we think the Winchester 1885 Low Wall is the best looking and best handling .17 HMR rifle reviewed by Guns and Shooting Online to date. Its action is the smoothest in operation (no surprise there) and it comes with the best trigger. All four of us who did the shooting for this review liked the Low Wall and would be happy to own one. Needless to say, our test rifle is not going back to Winchester.
It shoots well, although it is not as accurate as most of the .17 HMR rifles we have reviewed. The bolt action .17 HMR rifles we have tested delivered smaller groups than the Low Wall. That is somewhat to be expected, as the sleek Winchester is a small game hunting rifle, a stalking rifle if you will, not a dedicated varmint rifle.
If you intend to do most of your shooting from a bipod or a sandbag rest, one of the other 17's we have reviewed would probably be a better bet. However, if you are walking the woods and fields in pursuit of small game, Winchester's premium 1885 Low Wall rifle would be a good choice.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
Copyright 2005, 2012 by chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.