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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.

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:
archives@assra.com.  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.

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

Wishing you great shooting,