There's been a recently renewed enthusiasm for black powder cartridge shooting. If you're an avid rifleman- or lady- who's probably been caught in the crossfire-pun definitely intended- then you've probably come across a Winchester single-shot rifle by now.

Comprehensively, this is a term that's used to describe a series of lever-action repeating rifles that are manufactured by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. The predecessor, Winchester rifle models, are among the earliest level-action repeaters.

Where Did It All Begin?

To appreciate the relevance of this rifle, let's start from the very beginning. In 1878, 23-year-old John M. Browning came up with a falling-block single-shot rifle design. For this, he was granted a patent the following year, which had him and his brother then create rifles by hand, cooped up in their 2nd-floor workshop in Ogden, Utah. Needless to say, there was minimal success.

 In 1866, after the war, Oliver Winchester, an American businessman and politician, reorganized and renamed the New Haven Arms to Winchester Repeating Arms Company. With this, the company was able to modify and improve the basic design of the Henry rifle, thereby creating the first Winchester rifle, the 1866 model.

In 1876, to compete with competing powerful single-shot rifles at the time, Winchester launched the Winchester model 1876 (Centennial). The 1876 version chambered in more powerful cartridges compared to its predecessors' the 1866 and 1873 models. However, the toggle link action was not as strong compared to the popular high-powered rounds that were used in Remington or Sharps single-shot rifles.

In 1883, John M. Browning partnered with Winchester in designing and developing a series of shotguns and rifles. Most notably of these, being the Winchester lever-action model 1886/1892/1894/1895 rifles, the pump-action model 1890 edition rifle, lever-action 1887/1901 shotgun, and the pump-action 1893/1897 shotgun.

The model 1886 lever-action could be quoted as the beginning of the fruitful 20-year collaboration between Winchester and Browning. This saw the release of the rifle as the Winchester model 1885 single shot, with 2 popular variants being the Low Wall and High Wall technologies. The model 1885 single-shot Low Wall is characterized by an exposed hammer and less powerful cartridges, while the High Wall comes with stronger cartridges and a steel frame that covers most of the firing hammer from the side.

Both model 1885 single-shot versions were officially marketed as the Single-shot rifle. The Low Wall and High Wall were principally produced to satisfy the growing demand of shooters created by the long-range 'Match shooting.' Target/match shooting was a trendy sport in the US from about 1871-1917. It'd probably enjoy a similar status, if not higher, to golf today.

Even Major Ned H. Roberts, the inventor of the .257 Roberts cartridge, was so impressed, he described the model 1885 Single-shot as "...the most reliable, strongest, and altogether best single shot ever produced." Best believe that there's a time when bolt-action .22s ruled the roost—with classics such as Winchester's model 52 and 69A, Remington's model 580 series edition, etc.

Many of the little bolt guns at the time were single-shots- one of the nicest being the model 67 edition, produced from 1934-1963. In terms of quality and functionality, it would definitely be classified as a serious cut above what we'd call a utility gun today. From a collector's stock vantage point- literary of course- of all variants, two of the most interesting would be the smoothbore Garden gun and the shortened Boy's Rifle, using .22 LR shotshells.

Overall, we can all agree that John Browning was the most prolific firearms designer of all time, and we continue to hold him in awe. With 128 patents awarded to him for designs ranging from the famous model 1885 rifle to a good number of the semi- and full-auto guns. With his great mind, he also gave us the plebian .25-cal. Pocket auto and the elegant Superposed shotgun.

After Browning, most gun designers borrowed some of his designs and concepts in both the guns and cartridge design. So it would make sense that the Winchester model 1885 would be in your browsing history. To learn more about the model 1885 history and the renewed enthusiasm for black powder cartridge shooting today, John Campbell has done a book, The Winchester Single-Shot, Vol. 1 Hardcover.

With plenty of details, this book covers every relevant and important aspect of the model 1885 Single-shot. It covers and gives you access to everything you might be in the search for, from its design, invention, components, chamberings, alterations, style variations, sights, and vital specifications. In addition, there's so much practical information and suggestions that shooters and hunters will appreciate, including repair and restoration. 

What Are Other Most Notable Winchester Lever-action Repeating Rifles?

A) Model 1866

The model 1866, originally chambered for the rimfire .44 Henry, was nicknamed the 'Yellow boy' because of its gunmetal receiver. However, it's most famous for its lever-action 'repeating rifle' mechanism and rugged construction that allowed you to fire shots before needing to reload.

Nelson King had an improved patent that remedied flaws such as incorporating a loading gate on its side and integrating a round, sealed magazine, partially covered by the forestock. Due to public demand and affordable price, this was manufactured and sold until 1899. They were less expensive compared to the steel-framed centerfire stock that came later.

B) Model 1873

The model 1873, nicknamed 'The gun that won the West', was probably one of the most successful Winchester rifles in its day. It's definitely still an icon today and was manufactured between 1873-1923. Originally chambered for the .44-40 cartridge- the first centrefire cartridge, it became immensely trendy and later produced in .38-40 and .32-20. In addition, it was produced in 3 different variations: a 24-inch barrel length rifle, a 20-inch barrel carbine, and a 'musket'- aimed at military contracts.

New Technology

In 2013, the Winchester company brought back the model 1873, which joins the 1892 and 1894 as the 3rd classic Winchester rifle model to be reintroduced. It comes with additional safety mechanisms such as a firing pin block to prevent it from moving forward unless the trigger is actually pulled.

The cartridge carrier was also changed to eject the used casings away from shooters. Additionally, the fixed, tubular magazine features a maximum capacity of 14 rounds (thirteen for .44 and .45 caliber rifles)

What Are The Advantages of A Modern Cartridge?

The overall length of the model 1885 with a 28-inch barrel is practically the same length as of a Winchester bolt-action model 70 that comes with a 24-inch barrel. Comparably, a longer barrel gives significantly increased bullet velocities that can surpass bolt-action rifles with the same overall length, provided you select the proper combination of bullet and propellant.

About the Author Anton Scharff

Anton is a hunting expert who respects nature. Ask him anything about large game. Lover of the great outdoors.

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