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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
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,
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 identifier.

Wishing you great shooting,