Shooting the Browning 1885 Traditional Hunter

Single-shot rifles hold a certain fascination for many shooting enthusiasts, including me.  Members of the gun writing fraternity often attribute this fascination to the higher degree of skill and concentration needed for hunting success when it is known that a quick second shot will not be available. 

I just like the lines and function of a good single shot rifle, and since I mostly shoot groups on paper, rapid shooting is not required.  The Winchester Model 1885 was one of the best, and the Browning Traditional Hunter is a beautiful modern version of that iconic American rifle.  I recommend that you look at my post of December 6, 2010, “The Browning 1885 Traditional Hunter,” for a detailed description.

Although not an ideal design for shooting from a bench rest, the Browning TH gives a good account of itself in that pursuit, thanks mainly to its heavy barrel.  It gives its best performance when supported in the front rest near the rear of the foreend, as is also true of the Ruger #1 and other makes of single shots.  With the buttstock in a bunny-ear bag, light shoulder pressure, and a steadying left hand on the foreend, the TH is completely serene in the rest.  The curved butt plate looks severe, and it will poke you pretty good upon recoil if your shoulder is a bit out of place, but this is avoidable.

The Traditional Hunter With Scope

The Browning TH appears as a participant in my article “Factory Loads for the .30-30 Winchester,” accessible from the “Articles” page of this site.  In this test of commercial ammunition, the TH turned in the best accuracy performance of five different rifles.  Groups averaged 1.40 minutes-of-angle* with seven different factory loads using 150-grain bullets.  The smallest group at this bullet weight was 1.03 MOA.  With six 170-grain loads, an average of 1.33 MOA was attained, and the smallest group was .94 MOA.  Average velocity, measured with a PACT chronograph, was 2396 fps for the 150-grainers and 2185 fps for the 170 grainers.  I think most would agree that this is outstanding performance for factory loads in a factory rifle.

For the factory load tests I mounted a Leupold Vari-X III 4-14X scope.  The TH wears a scope well and this gives one the best chance to judge the accuracy of gun and ammo, but the standard tang-mounted aperture sight is fun to use and very precise.  Over the years I have probably fired more rounds using this sight than I have with a scope in place.

The Tang-Mounted Peep Sight

I have mainly used handloads in firing groups with the peep sight.  One aggregate of 23 five-shot groups, fired at 100 yards, averaged 1.50 inches center-to-center measurement.  The largest group was 2.25 inches, the smallest, .80 inches, and 13 of the 23 groups measured less than 1.50 inches.  Powders used included Winchester 748, Alliant RL-15, and IMR 3031.  All work well, but I would most often choose the W748 and use it to push the Sierra 170 grain flat nose bullet at about 2100 fps.  This is a bullet often chosen for hunting purposes when one wants something at the higher end of .30-30 bullet weight, safe to shoot in lever actions.  It does not seem to know that it is not a target bullet because its accuracy has always been outstanding in all of my work with .30-30s.

The picture at right shows a target with three 5-shot groups, fired in succession at 100 yds on a single day.  The measurements of 1.21-, 0.98-, and 1.86-inches are typical for such a

Three 5-Shot Groups at 100 Yards Using the Peep Sight

 sequence.  These are fine results and it is fair to ask how such can be attained with a peep sight.  I will simply say that anyone could do it, that is, anyone who can hold a rifle in a bench rest, and who has fair eyesight, corrected or uncorrected.  Even if you are 80 years old, or older, you could do it.  I will explain my procedure in the article “Precision With A Peep, Using an Aperture Sight,” available before long on the Articles page.

The next picture shows five 5-shot groups fired at 100 yards using similar handloads, but with a scope mounted on the TH. The five groups have an average center-to-center measurement of 1.11 inches.  This set of groups is typical of many fired with a scope in place and represents the best performance I have been able to get with handloads to date.  Note that these groups were fired with typical hunting bullets, not .30-caliber target bullets.

Many other shooters have found that the .30-30 cartridge can be very accurate when fired in a good rifle.  These results certainly bear that out, and they show that the Browning Traditional Hunter demonstrates every bit of that accuracy.  It is a shooter of the first rank.

   I never seem to be able to summarize a shooting project without thinking about what I should have done, or should do next.  There are so many different powders, primers, and .30-caliber bullets available that I could spend all of my shooting time investigating combinations for this one rifle, and that would be fun.  Won’t be doing all of that, but I would like to try some target bullets, such as, say, a 168-grain Boattail-Hollowpoint.  When I do, you will read about it here.

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