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 $35.00 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.