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MODIFYING A BROWNING OR WINCHESTER
1885 TO IMPROVE ACCURACY
By Wayne McLerran
Last update: 2/21/16

The modern 1885 High Wall and Low Wall rifle designed by Browning
Arms Co. and sold under the Browning and now Winchester brand
names are manufactured by Miroku in Japan.  They are very well-made
using up-to-date materials and incorporate features meant to maximize
safety and improve accuracy.  If your
rifle is used for hunting or
recreational shooting, there is little value in modifying the rifle.  Doing
so could even reduce the safety of the rifle.  But if you’re a
competitive shooter using the rifle in schuetzen, black powder cartridge
silhouette, or long-range creedmoor matches, there are benefits to be
gained by making some modifications.

I’m certainly not an expert on shooting the Miroku manufactured
Browning or Winchester M1885s, but I have fired my fair share of
bullets down range.  So
the following is my opinions on some techniques
to modify your rifle with the
goal to increase inherent accuracy.  They
are not presented in order of importance.  Also understand that most
of my shooting experience has been with the BPCR models with heavy
1/2 octagon 1/2 round Badger heavy target barrels, which are less
likely to benefit from some of the modifications than the lighter-weight
barrel models.

Before discussing specific modifications a few comments are necessary
concerning the construction of the rifles.  Safety was the #1 priority,
overriding accuracy considerations, in the design of the trigger group,
but accuracy was the main goal in the attachment design of the stock
and forearm.  Browning designed the rifles with a stock through-bolt
and with a forearm that is not attached to the barrel.  Using two
screws, the forearm is attached to a hanger under the barrel.  The
forearm hanger is bolted at one end to the front of the receiver.

The stock through-bolt is accessed by removing the butt plate.  The
bolt shaft passes through a hole in the stock and screws into the back
of the trigger
housing.  When tightened the bolt very effectively and
securely locks the stock
to the receiver, greatly reducing or eliminating
the possibility that accuracy will
be affected by stock changes due to
various shooting conditions and situations.  
 I do recommend checking
the stock bolt to ensure it is securely tightened.  Just
be sure that the
tip of the screwdriver does not become wedged between the
stock and
bolt head, which can crack the stock, and do not over-tighten the bolt,
which could also crack the stock.  I discuss this in more detail in my
book on
the Browning BPCR rifles.  Buying and selling these rifles for
many years, I’ve seen a couple with the stock “glass-bedded” to the
receiver by previous owners.  From my perspective this is totally
unnecessary, but there are some modifications to the forearm (not
including bedding) that can potentially improve accuracy.

There’s a mistaken belief by some shooters that Browning and
Winchester 1885s have “free-floating” barrels since the forearm
attaches to an under-barrel hanger, not directly to the barrel.  Of the
many rifles, at least 200 to date, that I’ve handled and disassemble,
none of the barrels were truly floating.  All contacted the forearm to
some degree, some more than others.  When applied to the barrel and
forearm, the term “free-floating” or “floating the barrel” means that
the barrel does not contact the forearm.  Although the contact may be
slight with some “out-of-box” rifles, if you’re griping the forearm
during offhand shooting or the rifle is rested on the forearm, the
weight is sufficient to slightly flex the forearm hanger ensuring that the
forearm of an unmodified rifle contacts the barrel.  If your grip is
altered slightly and/or the barrel heats up, pressures changes at the
contact points will have an effect on the harmonic vibrations of the
barrel, which can affect accuracy.  So how do you float the barrel?

Floating the barrel is relatively easy.  I devoted a short chapter in my
book on the Browning BPCR rifles that discusses using various spacers
between the forearm hanger and the forearm.  In some situations
removing wood on the inside of the forearm may also be necessary.  
The forearm inletting on rifles with automatic ejector systems is a little
different than rifles with only extractors, but the techniques to float
the barrels will be the same.  Another technique covers using the front
forearm mounting screw as a user adjustable pressure point.  I also
recommend removing wood from the rear end of the forearm where it
contacts the front of the receiver.  Remove just enough to eliminate
contact.  Anything more and it will be obvious.  Seal the exposed wood
with sealer or stock finish such as Birchwood Casey Tru-Oil or
something similar.

Concerning “glass-bedding” the forearm, I don’t believe there are any
benefits gained from bedding the forearm or anything else on the
rifles.  I purchased one rifle that was reported to be in like new
condition only to find that the owner had intentionally misrepresented
the condition and completely glass-bedded the forearm including the
metal hanger to the barrel.  The guy may have failed to use a release
agent or intentionally bedded it all together.  I doubt that even this
extreme form of bedding significantly increased accuracy.  By heating
the barrel and using other techniques I was able to eventually separate
the parts without damaging the barrel and forearm hanger, but had to
replace the forearm.

Assuming the rifle is not used for hunting or recreational shooting, the
final modification is to reduce the trigger pull and eliminate trigger
creep.  Due to the design of the action and trigger group an after-
market set trigger is not available for the rifles resulting in the use of
other techniques to reduce the pull weight. But keep in mind that to do
so will compromise safety to some extent.  I discuss several techniques
in my book, but only recommend two methods, install a lighter trigger
spring and have a knowledgeable gunsmith work on the trigger sear.  I
strongly suggest that you do not attempt to work on the trigger sear.  
Leave it to a gunsmith that knows what he’s doing.  No doubt there are
several gunsmiths around the country that have the experience to work
on the Browning or modern Winchester 1885 triggers.  One that comes
to mind above all others is Lee Shaver.  He can be reached at 417-682-
3330.

Lee is a well-known gunsmith that has worked on the trigger sears of
hundreds of these rifles.  He will send you an instruction sheet that
clearly details how to remove the trigger/sear, which is simple.  The
details are covered in my book and also in a short article on this site
(
http://www.texas-mac.
com/Removing_the_Browning_1885_Trigger_and_Sear.html).  The
trigger and attached sear are sent to Lee and he returns the modified
sear/trigger along with a new trigger spring.  Lee’s current rate is
$40.00 for the work.  A few shooters prefer a trigger pull around 1 lb
or even less for a target rifle.  I consider a very nice trigger pull to be
in the range of 1.5 to 2 lbs, anything less could significantly
compromise safety.  Installing the Lee Shaver modified sear and new
trigger spring will result in a very nice crisp trigger pull in the range of
1.5 to 2 lbs.  If the resulting trigger pull is too light for you, the original
factory trigger spring can be used to increase the pull to 2.5 to 3 lbs.  I’
ve installed Lee’s modified sear and new spring in at least 40 rifles to
date and have been very impressed, as have my customers.  Just keep
in mind that it’s common for good gunsmiths to have a large backlog of
work resulting in significant delays.  So discuss this with Lee prior to
sending him your trigger/sear.

So the bottom line is that “competitive” shooters with Browning or
modern Winchester 1885s should consider the following: check the
tightness of the stock through-bolt, replace the trigger spring and have
the trigger sear worked on, and float the forearm from the barrel and
receiver if you plan on resting the rifle on
the forearm.  With the
exception of the trigger sear modification, you can easily do all the
work yourself.  By the way, the same techniques apply to all the
Miroku manufactured Browning and Winchester 1885 High Walls and
Low Walls.

Wishing you great shooting,
Wayne