Winchester Model 1885

A Modern Classic: The Winchester Model 1885 Hunter Rimfire .17 Winchester Super Magnum

Varmints beware

When a classic rifle meets the fastest commercially available rimfire cartridge, it is a union worthy of a very close look.



As the model number suggests, the Winchester Model 1885 has been around for well over a century. It is a single-shot rifle with a falling block action, of which two models were produced – a Low Wall and a High Wall. The High Wall receiver has sides that extend up to the top of the barrel, whereas the Low Wall receiver sides have been milled away to allow easier access for chambering ammunition. The High Wall is the stronger of the two and, over time, many rifles have been chambered in it, from pistol cartridges to some pretty stout magnums, whereas the Low Wall is chambered in cartridges of less fortitude. Most interestingly, it has been said that the High Wall has been chambered in more calibres than any other rifle in history.

The original rifle was actually designed by Browning back in 1878. However, in 1883 Winchester bought the design, which was later released in 1885 after Winchester’s engineers had made a number of improvements to the Browning design. In part, it was produced in an effort to meet the demands that revolved around competitive match shooting, which was the rage of the day, often drawing crowds in the thousands. It has been estimated that Winchester produced as many as 140,000 single-shot rifles from 1885 to 1920. During that era, much of the gun’s popularity centered on its falling block action, which was one of the strongest and most reliable actions of the day. It is a true classic rifle with a dynamic history, which no doubt contributed to its reintroduction in various forms since 2005. Although, I’m sure that the nostalgia surrounding this old classic also played a role.


Winchester Model 1885 Hunter Rimfire .17WSM

There is no doubt that Winchester developed a unique addition to their line up when they recently reintroduced the Model 1885 in the form of a single-shot rimfire rifle. I had been itching to test one, but when I learned that it was going to be chambered in the hottest new rimfire cartridge on the market, the .17 Winchester Super Magnum, it immediately jumped to the top of my must-test bucket list. The rifle has some very fine features, many of which add a degree of elegance. The most obvious is its tapered 24-inch octagon barrel, which is screwed into a machined steel receiver. Both are finished in a gloss blue, which tends to proffer a more classic look in today’s world of matte, camouflage and stainless steel. Then, when the Schnabel-style forearm is added to that mix, the rifle takes on an overall appealing slender line. It and the pistol grip stock are walnut, cut checkered and finished in oil (it could have used an extra coat of oil), which with its overall fine metal to wood fit, culminates in an attractive rimfire rifle.

There are also several functional features that warrant mention. The first of these is its iron sights that feature a fully adjustable semi-buckhorn rear sight with a marble arms gold bead front sight, which has a serrated face to cut reflected light. Collectively, they offer quick target acquisitions under a variety of conditions. It is also drilled and tapped for mounting a scope.

Winchester also came up with a unique design for free floating the forearm; they used a special internal hanger system that free floats the forearm so that it will not affect accuracy. This brings me to two other features that impact accuracy: the barrel, which is button rifled for accuracy, and the trigger, which is adjustable. There is a small adjustment screw at the back of the trigger that is turned clockwise to lighten and counterclockwise to increase the pull weight between 3.5 and five pounds. The trigger on my test rifle had a crisp release at three pounds, six ounces, just about ideal for this rifle. The falling block action is stout and very simple to use. It is just a matter of swinging the action’s under lever down and forward, which lowers the falling block and causes the ejector to eject the spent case to the angle at which the built-in deflector is positioned.

In this process the hammer, which drops down out of the way for easy loading, also has three positions: dropped, half cock and full cock. It is very important that you read the owner’s manual for cocking and decocking the hammer.

The last item I will discuss, and it is the only one that departs from this rifle’s classic look, is its Pachmayr rubber buttpad. I’m not sure whether a traditional blued steel buttplate would have not looked better, especially in the rimfire models where recoil is certainly not an issue. Although from a purely functional point of view, it does provide a secure non-slip buttpad for shoulder contact.



Calibre: .17 Winchester Super Magnum. It is also available in a number of other rimfire calibres including, .22 LR, .22WMR, and the .17HMR.

Barrel length: 24 inches

Overall length: 40 inches

Length of pull: 13.5 inches

Drop at comb: Three-quarters-of-an-inch

Drop at heel: 1.25 inches

Weight: 7.5 pounds

Rate of twist: One to nine inches

MRSP, 2014: $1,469

Scope – a Leupold VX-2 3-9x33mm EFR//CDS

While the 1885 has a decent set of iron sights, to get the most out of this hot rimfire it cried out for a quality scope. I went looking for a rimfire scope, yes, but also for a scope that had quality optics, a magnification range to at least 9x and was designed for shooting at ranges well beyond 50 or even 100 yards. The answer was Leupold’s 3-9x33mm Rimfire EFR//CDS scope. Its Quantum Optical System incorporates Index Matched lens coatings and blackened edges, which provide up to 94 per cent light transmission. The lenses are protected from fog with argon/krypton gas for absolute waterproof integrity.

The following two features make this rimfire scope a standalone for longer-range shooting. It incorporates both an EFR feature that affords the shooter the opportunity to adjust the parallax right out to infinity. Next, and potentially most importantly, is its Custom Dial System (CDS) that offers a custom, ballistically matched CDS dial for the specific ballistics of your rifle/ammunition and environmental conditions. An ideal combination of optics, magnification, parallax adjustability and dead-on hold capability for ranges well beyond 100 yards.



Magnification: 3-9x

Length: 11.6 inches

Weight: 12 ounces

Tube Diameter: One inch

Eye Relief: 3.4 to 3.1 inches

Field of View @ 100 yards: 38.3 to 15.2 feet

MSRP: $564.99


Putting it to the test

As I mentioned previously, the .17WSM is the hottest rimfire on the market. It was designed around the .27 industrial blank used for driving nails into concrete. No wonder it has some zip. There are, in fact, two loadings: the Elite Varmint HV 20-grain V-Max bullet with an advertised velocity of 3,000 feet per second and the Elite Varmint HE 25-grain V-Max bullet at 2,600 feet per second. These are petty lofty numbers for a rimfire that will now push the range for hunting varmints out to well over 100 yards, bearing in mind of course that these projectiles are quite small and subject to environmental conditions, such as wind.

However, prior to getting into the actual performance of this rifle and scope, I should mention that if you intend on mounting a scope, consider rings and bases for it when you purchase the rifle, as they may not be found that readily in your local sporting goods store. Companies such as Winchester, Leupold and Talley do make rings and bases for it, but be sure that you obtain those designed for the Model 1885 Low Wall Rimfire with the octagon barrel. The rings and one-piece base I received from Talley are blued steel and of premium quality, which made mounting a snap. The combination of rifle, scope, rings and base were an absolute perfect match. With a total weight of seven pounds, eight ounces, the rifle centre balanced just ahead of the receiver, making it a delight to shoulder and shoot off hand.

The Leupold scope was everything I expected it to be, offering a bright, edge-to-edge image with absolute precision in both elevation and windage adjustment. It was so sharp, in fact, that I could see the .17 calibre holes in my target at 100 yards. But the highlight of shooting with this scope out to and beyond 100 yards was its CDS, 9x magnification and parallax adjustments. It was as easy to use as 1-2-3.

On the range, I waited for a calm day to ensure that wind would not play a factor in this rifle’s performance. In addition, I wanted to test it at both 50 and 100 yards, using five-shot groups at 50 yards (my standard for rimfire rifles) and three-shot groups at 100 yards (my standard for centrefire hunting rifles.) At 50 yards, both the five-shot HE 25-grain and HV 20-grain ammunition grouped into nine-sixteenths of an inch. Super results and the good news did not end there, as both shot into almost the same point of impact. What a plus and I was not disappointed at 100 yards either, as both shot into an inch (15/16 of an inch and one inch, respectively.) Although I did note that the HE 25-grain ammunition shot into a slightly higher point of impact at 100 yards than did the HV 20-grain ammunition. The only negative I might inject is that, at times, the ejector would not function quite as effectively as I would have liked, as the odd case got sticky and had to be removed by hand.

Now came the fun part – I put up a number of six-inch by eight-inch steel plates at 300 yards. After dialing up the CDS and adjusting the parallax for 300 yards, I proceeded to attempt to knock these plates off the rail. What a hoot – the recoil was so mild and, with the clarity of this Leupold scope, I could see the impact of every shot as they disintegrated on the plate at impact. While it took me two or three shots to knock these plates off the rail, it indeed would knock them off even at 300 yards. Varmints beware!

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