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|MODIFYING A BROWNING OR WINCHESTER
1885 TO IMPROVE ACCURACY
By Wayne McLerran
Last update: 7/12/2012
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
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
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 that the stock bolt is checked to make certain 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. 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 also covered in my
book. You send the trigger, with sear attached, to Lee and he returns the modified
sear/trigger along with a new trigger spring. Lee’s current rate is $35.00 for the
work. Since set-triggers are not available for these rifles, a few shooters prefer a
trigger pull around 1 lb or even less. 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 25
rifles to date and have been very impressed, as have my customer.
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, float the forearm from the barrel and receiver, replace the trigger
spring and have the trigger sear worked on. 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,