Winchester Model 1885 Low Wall Hunter Rimfire Octagon .17 WSM Rifle
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
The Winchester 1885 Low Wall is the second .17 WSM rifle we have reviewed and only the second to be introduced by a major manufacturer. The .17 Winchester Super Mag is the fastest rimfire cartridge ever offered to the public. It launches a 20 grain V-Max bullet (BC .185) at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 3000 fps with 400 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy (ME). The 200 yard velocity is 2058 fps and the remaining energy 188 ft. lbs. The companion Elite Varmint HE load uses a 25 grain V-Max bullet (BC .230) at 2600 fps MV and 375 ft. lbs. ME. The 200 yard velocity is 1892 fps and the remaining energy 199 ft. lbs.
Compared to the earlier .17 HMR, the WSM's bullet drop and wind drift is approximately halved. The trajectory of the Elite Varmint HV .17 WSM / 20 grain V-Max load, zeroed for a maximum bullet rise of approximately 1.5" above the line of sight for varminting, looks like this: -1.5" at muzzle, -0.32" at 25 yards, +0.59" at 50 yards, +1.52" at 100 yards, +1.06" at 150 yards, -1.08" at 200 yards, -2.88" at 225 yards, -5.25" at 250 yards. It shoots considerably flatter than the centerfire .218 Bee and .22 Hornet varmint cartridges and is roughly comparable to the .221 Fireball; very impressive performance for a rimfire cartridge.
Winchester (Olin) used their .27" industrial blank case designed to drive concrete nails. Reinforced with a stronger case head and body to operate at higher pressure (33,000 psi), necked-down to accept .172 caliber bullets and given a sharp shoulder, the .17 WSM was born. The maximum cartridge overall length is 1.59" and the body diameter is 0.269". The 20 and 25 grain bullets used in the Winchester Elite Varmint ammunition are Hornady V-Max spitzers.
Winchester Elite Varmint HV and HE .17 WSM ammo is packaged in 50 round boxes similar to those used for centerfire handgun ammunition. .17 WSM ammunition is more expensive than .17 HMR ammo, but well under half the price of .17 Hornet centerfire cartridges. The .17 WSM's performance is in-between these two cartridges and sufficient for the majority of varmint hunting without the necessity of reloading custom ammunition.
The Winchester Low Wall is made in Japan by Miroku, with whom Browning/Winchester has had a long and successful relationship that has resulted in many fine firearms bearing the Browning and Winchester names. Our sample Low Wall came boxed with the usual gunlock (padlock), owner's manual, safety literature and owner registration card. All of the rifle's metal surfaces were coated with some sort of heavy oil preservative, which should be removed before use. We cleaned our test rifle with Rem Oil, yanked a Bore Snake through the bore and waxed the stock with Johnson's furniture paste wax before use.
The Winchester Low Wall is an attractive rifle with a strong and smooth action. The lightweight, tapered, 24" octagon barrel is screwed into a machined steel receiver and free-floated. The metal finish is gloss blued steel. The overall fit and finish of this Winchester is good. The lines of the 1885 Winchester are slender and graceful, as you might expect for such a classic rifle.
Swinging the action's under lever down and forward lowers the falling breech block and causes the ejector to eject a fired case (if present) to the right, left or center, depending on where a built-in deflector is positioned. Opening the action allows the shooter to insert a fresh cartridge directly into the chamber. Returning the under lever to its original (up) position raises the breech block to its closed position and cocks the external hammer. The rifle is now ready for firing by simply pulling the trigger. Operation is as simple as that.
The hammer is powered by dual coil springs and requires noticeably more pressure to thumb cock than the hammer of our .243 centerfire Low Wall. This is due to the heavier hammer springs required to crimp the rim of the thick .17 WSM case for reliable ignition. For safety, the hammer incorporates a manual "quarter cock" position. If you manually lower the hammer from its full cock position, it will not go forward past the quarter cock position, even if you hold the trigger all the way back as you lower the hammer. No offset hammer extension for use with a low mounted scope is provided, but it should be, as there isn't much room between the hammer and the ocular bell of most variable power scopes when the hammer is down. If desired, one can be purchased from after market suppliers, such as Brownell's.
A good feature of the Winchester Low Wall is its 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. Use a small screwdriver to adjust the trigger pull. The adjustment range is specified as approximately 3.5 to 5.0 pounds. We set the test rifle for the minimum available trigger pull, which measured 3.0 pounds per our digital pull gauge. The trigger itself is wide and grooved for easy control. This is a good trigger with a crisp release.
Iron sights are standard equipment. They consist of a barrel mounted semi-buckhorn rear sight and a tall front sight with a small brass bead. In addition, the front of the receiver and the rear of the barrel (beneath the rear open sight) are drilled and tapped for the Winchester 1885 one-piece steel scope base (2014 MSRP $133). This base accepts Talley style steel scope rings, which are also available from Winchester in three heights for 1" or 30mm diameter rifle scopes (2014 MSRP $131). We ordered a scope base and standard 1" rings for the Low Wall direct from the good folks at Winchester, since these were not in stock locally.
The pistol grip buttstock and slender Schnabel forearm are standard grade black walnut and come with an oil finish. A few additional coats of hand rubbed oil would add greatly to the beauty of the stock. This should have been done at the factory, but it is easy for the rifle's owner to do at home with Outer's stock oil or a similar product. The height of the fluted comb was obviously designed for use with telescopic sights, as we found it too high to allow any of us to properly align the supplied front sight bead in the rear sight's small notch. If you buy a Low Wall, order a scope base and rings at the same time, as you will need them. The butt pad is black rubber with a basket weave pattern that provides a non-slip grip against the shoulder. There is no pistol grip cap. The generous, four panel checkering is cut by an automated router at 20 lpi. Blued steel bases for detachable sling swivels are provided.
As you can tell from the above specifications, despite its slender appearance this is an adult size and weight rifle. The Low Wall's 24" octagon barrel and medium weight (a suitable scope and mount should add at least a pound to the rifle's total weight) 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. The Low Wall's modest overall length, due to its compact falling block action, makes it convenient to carry slung over either shoulder. It is a handy rifle in the field.
Our friends at Leupold kindly supplied a new VX-1 4-12x40mm riflescope for our Winchester test rifle. We regard the 4-12x magnification nearly ideal for a .17 WSM varmint rifle and the gloss black Leupold scope looks great with the Low Wall rifle's polished metal finish. A full review of this scope can be found on the Guns and Shooting Online Scopes and Sport Optics - Reviews index page.
Unfortunately, the OEM scope mounts for our .17 WSM Low Wall were out of stock at Winchester and back ordered, so they did not arrive in time for the shooting portion of this review. As a result, we were forced to do our test shooting using the rifle's iron sights.
Our test shooting was accomplished at the Izaak 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 overcast and damp with an occasional light shower and a high temperature of about 56-degrees F. There was very little wind, which is a good thing when testing a .17 caliber varmint rifle.
Guns and Shooting Online regulars Chuck Hawks, Rocky Hays and Jim Fleck did the test shooting. Winchester Elite .17 WSM Varmint HV ammo with a 20 grain bullet at 3000 fps MV was the only ammo we had available for this review. Fortunately, it is an accurate, high quality load. Our thanks to Winchester Ammunition for supplying the ammo. Without their support reviews like this would not be possible.
We did our shooting using Caldwell sandbags under the forend and buttstock. We fired three shot groups at Hoppe's slow fire pistol targets at our usual iron sight test distance of 50 yards. Here are the shooting results:
This time out, Rocky shot the smallest single group. Given our aging eyes and the very uncomfortable shooting positions forced on our testers by a stock comb designed for use with a scope, which prevented us from correctly aligning the front sight bead in the low rear sight's tiny notch without head, neck and shoulder contortions, we think the rifle delivered excellent accuracy under difficult conditions. Multiply our 50 yard results by two to get the approximate size of 100 yard groups fired under the same conditions. (About 2" at 100 yards using inferior iron sights and twisted shooting positions by three half-blind shooters.)
Everyone detested the buckhorn rear sight. We don't understand why rifle manufacturers persist in providing this inferior type of rear sight. Elevation adjustment is by means of crude steps and to adjust for windage the rear sight must be drifted laterally in its dovetail; this is a very inexact system. In addition, the iron sights on the Low Wall are mounted too low to allow their comfortable use. Far more practical iron sights would include a ramp mounted front sight and a receiver mounted (using the scope base mounting holes) rear peep sight.
Since they are only marginally functional at best and the .17 WSM is a relatively long range cartridge that requires a riflescope to take full advantage of its flat trajectory, Winchester would do well to simply delete the iron sights altogether and supply a scope base with every rifle. This would also eliminate the unsightly dovetail slot cut into the barrel to mount the rear sight. While we are making suggestions, the scope base should accept Redfield/Leupold STD/Burris type rings, which are widely available, rather than Talley rings that are not.
The functioning of our Winchester 1885 test rifle was perfect throughout. Ejection was positive and fired cases were thrown well clear of the rifle. The trigger release is crisp and clean without take-up. The Low Wall single shot was a real pleasure to use at the range, since there is no pesky magazine with which to fiddle.
John Browning's Winchester Model 1885 falling block action is smooth in operation and its good trigger is very beneficial to practical accuracy. It also gets high marks for aesthetic appeal. All of us who participated in the test shooting enjoyed the Low Wall Hunter Rimfire Octagon. It shoots well, looks good and would be an asset in any gun cabinet.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
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