COMPARING BROWNING'S MODEL 1885 & B-78 RIFLES By Wayne McLerran
Last update: 1/6/2014
In 1973 Browning introduce the Model 78 High Wall, more commonly known as the B-78. Close to 24,000 B-78 rifles were manufactured prior to being discontinued in 1982. In 1985 the Model 1885 (M1885) High Wall was introduced, followed by the M1885 Low Wall in 1995. I don’t know how many M1885 rifles were produced prior to being officially discontinued in 2001, but more recently Winchester (now part of Browning) has produced Limited Series versions of the M1885.
By the way, in 2010 Browning introduced a limited quantity of a High Wall rifle in several modern smokeless calibers. Called a B78 Sporter, the rifle actually has an 1885 High Wall receiver & action. Browning’s justification in calling it a B78 Sporter is based on the features and contours of the stock, forearm and barrel, which are very similar to the original B-78. I personally have a problem with Browning’s nomenclature since many buyers will incorrectly assume the rifle is a reintroduction of the original B-78, or be confused if disassembly or repair is required. The serial numbers of the rifles adhere to the following format (xxxxxZM373), which is Browning’s standard format consisting of a 5-digit number followed by the 2-character manufacturing date code, with a 3-digit model identifier.
Browning says the M1885 action is an “improved” version of Browning’s B-78 action, but many owners and shooters may disagree. Several improvements and/or changes were made. When comparing the receiver’s side-by-side, the two obvious differences are the additional trigger housing retaining pin in the M1885 receiver and the trigger profiles. When comparing the internal action components, some changes are quite evident and some are less obvious. While many parts used in the M1885 action are identical to the earlier B-78 action, the differences are the trigger housing, trigger assembly and hammer. The B-78 trigger assembly is much more complicated with numerous small parts. The B-78 trigger assembly has 21 components whereas the M1885 has on only 12 components including the receiver retaining pin, a plus for the M1885.
The B-78 hammer can be thumb lowered past the ½ cock step, resulting in the hammer resting against the firing pin. In normal operation, the M1885 hammer can only be thumb lowered to the ½ cock position. No doubt this was implemented as a safety improvement for the M1885. The redesign reduced the number of trigger assembly parts and added a hammer sear and a hammer sear spring. In actual operation the M1885 hammer sear is an inertial sear, making it just about impossible for the hammer to be in a fired position (resting against the firing pin) without intentionally firing the rifle. Therefore, from purely a safety point of view the M1885 is an improvement. But, as a result, the M1885 hammer sear spring became the most likely part to break or cause problems, which is a plus in favor of the older B-78..
The main components of the B-78 action are easier to remove from the receiver since there’s no retaining pin locking the trigger housing in place, another plus for the B-78. When working on the M1885 and completely disassembling the action, the pin must be removed and can be quite tough to drift out, requiring a special cup-tip punch to avoid damaging the pin and receiver. Once both receivers are completely disassembled I’ve found that reassembly of the M1885 is easier for a couple of reasons: the trigger assembly components are much easier to assemble and the action is a little easier to install into the receiver, a couple of pluses in favor of the M1885.
For detail disassembly and assembly instruction for the M1885, including the more recent Winchester versions, refer to my book titled Browning Model 1885 Black Powder Cartridge Rifles. Although the book focuses on the Black Powder Cartridge Rifle (BPCR) models, the disassembly and assembly instructions apply to all the modern versions of the M1885. More details on book contents and ordering instructions can be found at the Browning BPCR book page.
Due to the design changes the M1885 disassembly/reassembly instructions will not be very useful for the B-78, and vice versa. The only source I’m aware of for disassembly and assembly instructions for the B-78 is Browning’s Field Service Manual, which is available from the American Single Shot Rifle Association (ASSRA) Archival Library. Contact: ASSRA Archives & Library, 800 Wisconsin St. Suite 104; Mail Box 68 Building F13, Eau Claire, WI 54703- 3613. Phone: 608-628-0536, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ask for any other documents on the B-78 along with the Field Service Manual. ASSRA membership is not required, but you may be required to pay a small fee for the documents and shipping.