Winchester 1885
The Black Powder Cartridge News|Fall 2020
Special Target or Special Sporting Rifle
Tom Oppel

The Winchester Model 1885 Single Shot was the work of two late nineteenth-century firearms geniuses. John M. Browning was the initial designer and William Mason redesigned Browning’s patent to make it more easily manufactured by Winchester’s mass production methods. It was a resounding success as the Model 1885 was manufactured from 1885 through 1920, producing approximately 140,000 rifles.

The Browning name is well-known to just about all gun enthusiasts and it still exists today as the “Browning Arms Company.” To say that Browning was a genius could be considered as somewhat of an understatement, as he was probably the most prolific and tireless developer of successful firearm designs in modern history. His list of accomplishments, from single shots to machine guns, boggles the mind. With his single shot and lever-action repeaters, he essentially helped put Winchester among the top of domestic firearm manufacturers in the late nineteenth-century.

William Mason was an unsung genius and somewhat of a ubiquitous figure in the firearms industry. He started at Colt’s facility in 1861, and moved between Remington and Colt, finally ending up at Winchester. He is credited with two important design ideas that all gun cranks are familiar with: the side swing-out cylinder, which pervades all modern revolvers, as well as an even more well-known invention, the Model P Colt. This firearm is more commonly known as the Single Action Army or the “cowboy” Revolver. Mason was involved in other new and improved concepts, especially in the modification of Browning’s designs produced by Winchester, starting with the Model 1885 through the Model 1895 and more.

If you have read my previous articles in the Black Powder Cartridge News on Ballard rifles, you know how enamored I am of them. I consider them the best looking, most aesthetically pleasing of the late nineteenth-century single shots. However, as much I like Ballards to look at, I prefer to shoot the Winchester 1885, especially offhand – they seem to fit me just right. In the aesthetic category lineup, the 1885 Winchester comes in a very close second to the Ballard. The rifle discussed in this article is an example of what Winchester was capable of producing outside of the “run of the mill” Model 1885s and it differs radically from the more common rifles.

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