June 20, 2011

Browning 1885 High Wall .45-70


Browning attempted to capture the look of the high-wall Winchester of a century ago. However, the Japanese folks who made this Browning decided to put a glassy finish on this historic-minded rifle, which didn’t do it any good. Old Winchesters never had glassy-finish stocks, nor did they have buffed barrels that lost the sharp edges of the octagon. So right off the bat, this rifle didn’t look right because of its glitzy finish. However, the profile and mechanism of the test rifle looked a lot like a High-Wall Winchester, and the rifle had some well-done features, according to Gun Tests magazine.

Browning used to offer a higher-priced “Traditional Hunter” version of this rifle, which had an oil-type finish. These were discontinued, but you may still be able to find one. Another Browning option was the BPCR, which stands for Black Powder Cartridge Rifle. These sold for nearly $1,800, and are also discontinued. They were offered in .40-65 and .45-70, and didn’t sell very well.

This was no lightweight. Empty, the rifle weighed 8 pounds, which was a little closer to the 10.5-pound weight of a Sharps than a 7-pound Ruger was. Part of the extra weight of the Browning was in its 28-inch barrel, compared to the Ruger’s 22-incher.

Opening the 1885’s action caused the hammer to be cocked as the action block moved downward. With the action closed, if the hammer were lowered slowly, it did not strike the firing pin, nor could it be moved by any means to make contact with the pin. However, a normal pull on the trigger would cause the cocked hammer to strike the firing pin and fire the rifle. This feature would be handy whenever you wanted to carry a loaded but uncocked rifle. In spite of that, the serrations on the hammer were not deep enough for testers.


Though we didn't care for the glassy finish, variants are available. This was a well-made rifle that shot about like it looked. A pound heavier than the Ruger, the Browning was easier to shoot with hot loads.

The wood was extremely attractive, and both sides of the stock had the same grain pattern. The glassy stock finish tended to hide the wood’s great beauty under glaring hot spots. Some sort of dull oil-looking finish would have been far better than the very glossy finish applied. It appeared to be an epoxy finish because it was nearly unmarkable, extremely hard, filled the pores perfectly, and had a mirror-like surface. The forend wood matched the beautiful grain structure of the buttstock very well. Both pieces of wood had excellent checkering in five well-proportioned panels, three of them on the forend. There were QD sling swivel studs. The butt was padded with thick black rubber that was just as hard as that of the Ruger, if not harder.

The makers of this rifle should shoot it with some of the Buffalo Bore heavy loads, to see what it’s doing to its sales by putting these “cast-iron” buttplates on the otherwise very nice rifle. Anybody buying a .45-70 rifle in 2001 is going to shoot it with heavy loads, at least part of the time. The rifle was perfectly capable of handling loads that would drop an elephant. Manufacturers need to get wise to this, and put reasonable pads on their rifles. Surely any changes to pull length to fit individuals should be achieved with the use of a good recoil-absorbing pad.


Closely resembling the old Winchester High Wall, the Browning 1885 was a well made and attractive rifle. The long barrel, big hole in the barrel, and short action made for a portable and potent package.

The metal polish was, as already stated, somewhat overdone. The action flats were good and flat, with no polishing marks anywhere. The edges were just the right amount of sharp. Unfortunately, the octagonal barrel was a bit too well polished. All the flats of the barrel except the very top one were slightly rounded, and the sharp edges between flats were not sharp enough. The maker’s name and other information was stamped into the barrel flats, leaving slightly raised and unsightly lettering. The bluing was flawless. It was a rich, deep blue-black on all metal parts except the trigger, which was gold-plated, and the falling block itself, which was left white. The block’s polish was excellent, with no machining marks visible.

The trigger guard, which was also the action lever, had the Browning logo in gold inlaid into its bottom. The inletting was very good, though the forend appeared to be putting more pressure on the left side of the barrel than on the right. Metal fitting was outstanding throughout.

The action and barrel were tapped with holes for a scope base, and the holes filled with tiny screws. The rear sight was a buckhorn, adjustable for elevation by a sliding wedge, and for windage by drifting. The front sight was a square-sided blade which appeared to the eye as a thin flat-top post, adjustable for windage by drifting. One delightful effect of the half-moon cutout of the buckhorn sight was that the front blade, which appeared to older eyes as a blur when seen by itself, sharpened up perfectly when seen through the rear sight. The trigger pull was crisp and clean at 4 pounds, and testers looked forward to shooting this rifle.


The serpentine trigger guard is the lever for the falling-block action. The hammer was cocked automatically as the block was lowered. We liked the workmanship but not the glassy finish. The action sides were perfectly polished and dead flat. The action had a smooth feel, the trigger pull was good, and accuracy was all we wanted.

At the range, the Browning was very gentlemanly in its manners. It had a distinctly different feel with its long barrel. The action worked very smoothly and well, and showed no problems with it at all. There was a small blade that could be turned either in the way, or out of the way of ejected shells, to make retrieving empties easier. Left that way, the ejected empties were easily found. Recoil with the hardest-kicking load, which seemed to be the 350-grain BB fodder, was nasty. The rifle also kicked up into the cheekbone, which hurt as much as, or more than, the bang on the shoulder. But as stated above, there’s no need to shoot more than a few of these rounds from the bench. Fun is to be had with light handloads. The best 100-yard group with the test ammunition was 2.0 inches, fired with the 430-grain BB cast lead load, which went across the chronograph at 1,985 fps. That’s not too far behind a .458 Win. Mag.

Gun Tests Recommends: Browning Model 1885 High-Wall, $997. Buy It. Though Gun Tests didn’t care for the shiny finish, the Browning was a well-made rifle that shot very well. With its long barrel and short forend, it had a look and feel more like an ancient rifle than others did. There were no problems with the Browning at all, other than testers didn’t want to stop shooting it with lighter loads.

Comments (6)

Just purchased this rifle, looking forward to shooting it. I believe I'll be hand loading for this after looking at current prices for ammo!

Posted by: Wiley shooter | February 8, 2013 4:05 PM    Report this comment

I also have one of these Browning 1885 High Walls but in .270 Winchester caliber which I ordered shortly after they introduced this model. I really haven't shot it very much and must admit that it is a beast to hold steady freehand for any length of time because of the weight. I put a 3x-9x - 40mm Leupold scope with adjustable objective on it and found it to shoot dead-on. I agree about the overly glitzy wood and metal finishes which I believe was done by Miroku in Japan for Browning. However, the wood grade must be AA or better as it is so highly figured and beautiful, and matches very well with the forend. Incidently, you didn't mention that the barrel floats free of the forend, as you can run a dollar bill under the barrel all the way down to the receiver. It is a classy looking gun, but definitely would have looked more period with oiled wood finish and without the high polished glossie blued finish.

Posted by: smoknvet | June 26, 2011 12:23 AM    Report this comment

Say wardo and Mister E did you notice the date of this test??? From the 10-01-2001 Issue of Gun Tests. Browning has taken this advice to heart and are now making in an oil finish and have improved on the butt pad on them. Also the octogon barrel has shaper edges than in 2001.

Posted by: 7mag | June 23, 2011 10:04 PM    Report this comment

So Sorry, but no....If the idiots a Browning can't do it right, why recommend it?? It is just as much trouble to ruin the barrel as it is to make it right, same cost, and stamping raised edges means that they did it after they polished the flats off...No way, not for that exorbatant price...Surely they are hallucinating out in Utah....

Posted by: vonmazur | June 23, 2011 2:29 PM    Report this comment

Yes there is a Low Wall. Its for smaller bullets. I had a rolling block with a hard buttplate it's kick wasn't bad with normal (Remington, Winchester) 45-70s. better than a 308 with a plastic buttplate. The mass of the rifle certainly helps. For all day shooting I have a low wall in 22 hornet. That is, if I can afford the ammo. I agree about the shiny, plastic wood finish. I think it's ugly, but maybe it sells in Europe.

Posted by: Mister E | June 23, 2011 12:13 PM    Report this comment

THE "TINY SCREWS" ARE CALLED FILLIT OR FILLER SCREWS. DID BROWNING ALSO MAKE A LOW WALL?

Posted by: wardo | June 23, 2011 10:11 AM    Report this comment

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