I believe that the Winchester Model 1885 Single Shot ranks pretty high on most enthusiasts’ Guns-I’d-Like-to-Have list. It was John M. Browning’s first design and marked the beginning of his long association with Winchester. It was offered in two action configurations, the High Wall and the Low Wall. Within each configuration there were many options, mainly involving different barrel lengths and weights. The buyer could choose from a wide variety of cartridge chamberings, beginning with black powder rounds and moving later to smokeless loads.
The 1885 had a long production run, but there is a big problem here. Winchester didn’t make enough of them. The usual references will tell you that 139,725 rifles were produced between 1885 and 1920. That sounds like a lot, but in my hankering for an original 1885 I have always found a legion of highly-motivated, well-heeled collectors in line ahead of me. In fact, if you are not highly-motivated and well-heeled you can forget about ever having a nice, original Winchester Model 1885 Single Shot.
Luckily, Browning has been active in the production of modern replicas of vintage Winchesters for some time, and if you are a shooting-type of collector, this is the way to go. The guns are made by the Miroku establishment in Japan. In the single-shot arena, the Browning B-78 was the first. It was made for about nine years beginning in 1973, and was chambered for modern hunting cartridges plus the .45-70. In 1985 this arm was reintroduced as the Model 1885. Then in 1997 Browning had a real attack of Retro and they introduced the “Traditional Hunter” version of the Model 1885. This edition was more like an original 1885 than any of its replica predecessors. It was made available in .30/30 Winchester, .38-55 (for cast bullet lobbers) and .45-70 (for history buffs with high recoil tolerance).
I ordered a Traditional Hunter in .30-30 Winchester just as soon as I learned of its availability, and delivery did not take long. The gun was not inexpensive, but, in comparison with a fine original, very economical, indeed. I am certainly glad I moved on it because the TH model disappeared from the Browning offerings shortly after the turn of the millennium. I really don’t know how many were made, but they can sometimes be found on used gun lists, and the price seems not to have inflated very much.
The traditional hunter is a very handsome rifle. In overall fit and finish it stands up quite well to most of its competitors in the single shot ranks. The full octagon barrel has a dark blue, satin finish. The receiver, underlever, and buttplate are also dark blue, but highly polished. The buttstock and foreend are two pieces of walnut with a rather dark, satin finish. The color is more brown than red, which I find pleasing. The buttstock is of straight grip design with no cheekpiece, and a length of pull of 13.25”. The forearm is 12.5” long and has a mild schnabel tip. Both stock and forearm carry extensive 20-lines-per-inch checkering in a diamond pattern with a narrow, plain border. The checkering should only be described as “average” in quality; there are some flat points and some runovers. This is a bit of a disappointment, but it is evident only on close examination. The metal buttplate is curved, highly polished, and well fitted to the stock with two screws. The wood has fittings for swivels and a pair of quality snap swivels comes with the gun. The trigger is gold-plated and the Browning deer symbol is outlined in gold on the bottom of the underlever. The rifle is reported by Browning to tip the scales at 9 pounds even. The barrel is 28” long with a very even, quality satin finish. There are six lands and grooves in the bore with a twist of 1 in 12”, just a bit slower than the .308 and other, higher velocity 30-calibers. The barrel is round at the receiver with a diameter of 1.175”. The octagon flats begin at about 0.68” and then there is a gentle taper to the muzzle which measures a full 0.750” across the flats. The muzzle is well protected by a rather deep conical crown. The front sight is set in a dovetail 1.0” back from the muzzle with a 1/16” brass bead set on a blade. The rear site is dovetail-mounted at a sight radius of 21-5/8”. It is a buckhorn type, nicely machined and finished in dark blue. It is elevated by a wedge and has a finely cut square notch for sighting. Lucky for pappy’s old eyes, there is a peep sight mounted on the tang by two screws at a sight radius of 31”. It has the name Browning on the base, but it looks like a Marble and it folds down and back when not in use. It has a click-adjustable knurled knob for windage adjustment and a click-adjustable cylinder for elevation. There are no marks for either adjustment. The aperture has a diameter of about 0.050”.
The highly polished action has the general configuration of a Winchester Highwall, and the underlever seems to have the same shape as most old highwalls. The falling block is finished in the white. It has a deep groove on the top that forms a loading channel when the action is open. When the lever is lowered, the block falls and the hammer with it, opening the chamber for loading. At the bottom of lever travel the ejector snaps to the rear and kicks out the fired cartridge. A deflector at the rear of the action can be adjusted to throw the ejected shell to the left or right, or it can be set straight across to prevent complete ejection, for the convenience of handloaders. On raising the lever the block rises and the hammer comes to full cock, ready to fire. This is sheer genius in my book. The hammer, which has crosshatch serration, could be carefully lowered to half-cock for safety. The gun will not fire while this is done. All-in-all, the action functions with a very smooth, high-quality feel. We can be sure that it is very strong because the regular Model 1885, which uses the same action, is offered in the very powerful 7 mm magnum and .300 Winchester magnum chamberings. The gold-plated trigger is quite broad, which contributes to a comfortable feel. Unusual for a modern arm, the owner’s manual actually explains how to adjust the trigger. A little set screw behind the trigger may be turned to vary the pull from 3.5 to 5 pounds, according to the manual. Browning is to be commended for not keeping us in the dark in this regard. Perhaps they realize that if a screw exists we are going to mess with it, so we may as well know the score. Straight out of the box the trigger on my arm had absolutely zero take-up and broke cleanly at 48 oz. Overtravel was nil.
Single shot fans know that the method of attaching the forearm is an importnt factor in obtaining consistent accuracy. On the TH, two screws, set 5” apart, attach the forearm to a steel hanger that extends from the front of the receiver. At no point is the forearm connected to the barrel. The forearm is inletted for free-floating of the barrel, and a single sheet of paper will easily slide between barrel and forearm back to the first attachment screw. The forearm is easily deflected to touch the barrel by mild finger pressure, an indication that one must not rest this gun on the forward part of the forearm during bench shooting. When that is taken into account, shooting results show that this method of forearm attachment works very well.
These are the cold, dry facts about the nature of the gun. At the range, the Traditional Hunter has proven to be an excellent and consistent shooter, with some interesting characteristics. Have to stop here, but look for shooting results in a later report.