Winchester/Miroku .45-70 Model 1886 Short Rifle

By Rocky Hays

Winchester Model 1886 Short Rifle
Illustration courtesy of Winchester Repeating Arms.

This gun is one of Winchester’s limited production “historical rifle” models, which for 2012 include the Models 1885, 1886, 1892 and 71. All were influenced by the great gun designer, John M. Browning. Browning began working with Winchester in the mid-1880’s. At the time, Winchester did not have, but desperately needed, a big-bore hunting rifle. The Browning-designed 1886 filled the slot. In the 1880’s, Winchester rifles were instantly recognizable to the public, because of the popularity of the Models 1866, 1873 and 1876, all based on the B. Tyler Henry designed lever action.

Browning designed the 1886 to be much stronger than the Henry, but still recognizable as a Winchester lever gun. This required a total re-design of the mechanism. The toggle-link locking system was discarded. The 1886 uses two locking bars that rise into slots in the bolt and receiver when the lever is raised. This allowed the rifle to be chambered for the powerful .45-70 Government round. The Model 1886 action is longer and stronger than the later Marlin Model 1895 and the modern Model 1886 is suitable for the same high pressure loads as a modern Marlin 1895. (See your reloading manuals for details.) Eventually, the 1886 would be chambered in ten different rounds: .38-56, .38-70, .40-65, .40-70, .40-82, .45-70, .45-90, .33 WCF (smokeless powder cartridge), .50-110-300 GR Express and .50-110-450 GR.

Except for the two .50 calibers, all of these cartridges were based on the 45-70 case-head dimension, with two different case lengths, 2.1” and 2.4”. The .50 calibers were based on the .45-75 cartridge (from the1876 rifle), with a 2.4” case length. There were slightly over 159,000 Model 1886’s made by the time production ended in the mid-1930’s, a rather low production number for a Winchester rifle. This makes buying an original 1886 in shooting condition expensive.

Compared to the price of an original Model 1886, the Model 1886 historical rifle being sold by Winchester/Browning in 2012 is a buy at only $1339.99. The gun is produced in Japan by long-time Browning and Winchester partner Miroku. Miroku does an excellent job manufacturing guns. The metal fit and finish are markedly better than most production guns today. All external metal parts are highly polished and hot-salt blued, yielding a beautiful, deep black, gloss finish. The wood-to-metal fit is very good; the wood is slightly proud, as it should be in a new gun to allow for future refinishing and shrinkage. The American black walnut stock is lightly oiled; this will allow the wood to take on age patina with use. Alternatively, the owner can occasionally rub in a little stock oil to keep the stock looking fresh and to cover scratches.

The original 1886 was known for its smooth action and the new Model 1886 lives up to that reputation, right out of the box. I expect it will get even smoother with use. The trigger pull is 5 pounds 10 ounces, which is too heavy. However, there is no creep and the release is clean and predictable.

Winchester did not start where the serial numbers of the original 1886 production ended, which technically makes the new models reproductions. There are also some design changes. There is the addition of the tang safety, which is unnecessary with an exposed hammer, quarter-cock safety-notch, lever action and complicates the addition of a tang sight. Another change is the addition of a rebounding hammer, which is a safety feature I like and which makes the tang safety even more useless. There are also subtle internal parts changes, which mean that parts are not interchangeable with the original; not good for gunsmiths needing parts. The action is powered by coil springs, which are more reliable than the old leaf springs.

The new 1886 is available in three models: 1886 Short Rifle with a 20” barrel, 5-shot magazine and a crescent butt plate; Model 1886 Extra Light Rifle with a 22” barrel, short 4-shot magazine and a straight butt plate; and our test rifle, the Model 1886 Short Rifle with a 24” barrel, 6-round magazine and crescent butt plate. The 24” barrel and long magazine on the Model 1886 Short Rifle make the gun feel balanced, despite its eight pound, six ounce weight. Six rounds in the magazine add another eight ounces and make the gun slightly muzzle-heavy. This adds a degree of stability to the rifle for offhand shooting. The gun is well balanced for hunting, which is not news to people familiar with these rifles since 1886.

The loading gate is large and the cartridges are large, but the loading gate spring is not overly strong. I never pinched my finger pushing shells into the magazine. Winchester advertises this model with a 6-round magazine, but I easily loaded eight factory length rounds and never had any feeding problems. Following are the specifications for the new Winchester Model 1886 Short Rifle:

  • Item #: 534175142
  • Caliber: .45-70
  • Barrel length: 24” (round)
  • Magazine capacity: 6 rounds
  • Twist: 1 in 20"
  • Sights:  Buckhorn rear, Marble brass bead front; receiver drilled and tapped for receiver sights
  • Stock: American black walnut, oil finished, no checkering
  • Metal finish: high luster bluing
  • OAL: 42 ¾”
  • LOP: 13 ¼”
  • Drop at comb: 1 ¼”
  • Drop at heel: 2 ½”
  • Weight: 8 lbs. 6oz.
  • 2012 MSRP: $1339.99

The historical rifle 1886 is only offered in .45-70 caliber. This round was adopted by the US Military in 1873 and was in service for nearly 20 years. It has remained popular for almost 140 years, in spite of the fact that factory loads stopped being available in the early 1930’s when the 1886 went out of production. Because of its popularity, factory loads are back in production and a number of rifle manufacturers are currently chambering rifles for the .45-70. It is a good cartridge for everything from deer to grizzly bear, although I consider its effective range about 150 yards. Beyond 150 yards, you get double digit bullet drop and massive energy loss.

Some of the staff members (principally Chief Technical Advisor Jim Fleck) who were to test fire this rifle told me that they didn’t want to shoot full power factory loads (300 grain bullet at 1800 fps), because of its traditional steel crescent butt plate. Thus, the decision was made to use hand loads, rather than factory loads. I loaded three girly-man loads for testing: a 300 grain Hornady hollow point with IMR 3031 powder at a muzzle velocity of 1600 fps; a 300 grain Hornady hollow point with IMR 4895 powder at a muzzle velocity of 1500 fps and a 325 grain Hornady FTP bullet with IMR 3031 powder at a muzzle velocity of 1500 fps.

Guns and Shooting Online Staff members Jim Fleck, Gordon Landers and I shot the Model 1886 for record at our usual testing facility, the Izaak Walton outdoor rifle range south of Eugene, Oregon. We used a Caldwell Lead Sled on a covered bench rest to eliminate as much shooter error as possible.

The five shot group results with our three test loads were not to anyone’s liking. At 50 yards, I averaged 1-13/16” groups, Gordon 2-¼” groups and Jim 2-15/16” groups. This shooting was done using the Model 1886 right out of the box and none of us liked the supplied buckhorn rear sight. This is an “historical rifle model” and the marble front sight and buckhorn sight are historically correct. We all like the appearance of the rifle. However, the buckhorn is a difficult sight to use, particularly for old, myopic guys like us.

The good news is that the receiver is drilled and tapped for a receiver sight. Therefore, I installed a period Redfield receiver sight. We again shot for record, this time shooting our five shot groups at 100 yards. Jim's groups averaged 2-3/8”, Gordon's averaged 2-¼” (again, but at twice the distance) and I managed a 2-¾” average. The 300 grain Hornady and 325 grain Hornady bullets, both at 1500 fps, were very pleasant to shoot in this rifle. The three loads tested were equally accurate, indicating that this rifle is not ammunition sensitive.

The staff liked the appearance and high quality, as well as the inherent accuracy, of this new Winchester Model 1886 rifle. In fact, we liked this rifle so much that one of the staff members is buying the test rifle from Winchester for his personal use. If you have ever wanted to shoot a traditional Winchester Model 1886, this is your chance to get one.

Note: This review is mirrored on the Product Reviews page.

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Copyright 2012, 2016 by Rocky Hays and/or All rights reserved.