by Fungus Sam
It all started in the parking lot of competitor housing at the 2005 Shootists
Holiday. I was talking to Bill Tharp about older varmint rifles in less well-known calibers. Bill, kind fellow that he is, asked me to follow him to his vehicle, where he proceeds to pull out several single-shot varmint croakers that had me fairly drooling. The Winchester Model 1885 high-walls really caught my eye. I decided right then that, good Lord willing, I had to own a high-wall in some varmint caliber.
Perhaps I should explain that prairie dog extermination has become my real passion. Fellow Shootist Dave Torkelson is to blame for introducing me to this sport about three years ago, and I have eagerly embraced the “red mist society.” I have a couple of Browning high-walls and a couple of Ruger #1’s, but really wanted an original Winchester single shot.
The number of wildcat varmint cartridges is rather large, and all have their pros and cons. I settled on the .225 Winchester as a caliber with many desirable traits, most importantly availability of loading components. I began searching for a high-wall in .225 Winchester. I was aware that I might have to locate a rifle and have it re-barreled to .225 caliber. The .225 came out in 1964 and obviously was not an original Model 1885 offering.
I located a rifle in Minnesota that seemed to fit my needs. It is a Winchester Model 1885 high-wall in excellent condition. It was re-barreled sometime in the past with a tapered heavy barrel in .225 Winchester. This barrel is stamped “Hubaugh”, presumably the man who made the it. The wood on this rifle is museum quality walnut with rich figuring and crisp checkering. It has a crescent stock with the original brass butt plate. The receiver has been re-blued, but that’s all right because I wanted a shooter, not a fireplace ornament.
An old rifle like this just screams for an old style scope to complete the picture. Finding one with acceptable optics, especially for long-range shooting, can get rather testy. Also, most owners of older Unertl-style scopes are uncommonly proud of them. I finally located an R.A.Litschert Spot-shot scope in 20X power. The optics are clear and crisp, and the ultra-fine crosshair is excellent for the type of targets it gets to see. Since the rifle came with target blocks already in place, mounting the scope required only a few minutes.
Sighting in was more tedious, however. Ballistics tables for 50 grain .224 bullets suggest a sight in of 2.6 to 3 inches high at 100 yards for a 300 yard zero. My bullets, launched by IMR 4064, chronographed at 3645 fps. First attempts on target were very high, and with all the adjustment used up, I was forced to shim up the front of the scope to re-gain some adjustment on the rear. Voila! The gun now shoots where I look. Initially groups were in the 1.5 inch range at 100 yards. In fact, I actually fired some three shot groups all in one hole at 25 yards! I felt (hoped) the rifle would shoot better (at 100 yards), so I took a look at chamber length and just how close I could seat bullets off the rifling and still improve accuracy. Turns out, for this gun, quite a bit longer than the stated maximum COL. Suffice it to say I quit testing when I got a 5/8 inch group at 100 yards. This is usually better than I can hold still to shoot. A 15-pound watermelon joined the “red mist” casualty list yesterday. The energy of 50-grain Hornady V-max bullets at 3645 fps at close range is explosive!
In October the gun finally got to show me what it would do in the field. The prairie dogs of the Texas panhandle were fat and golden, and after being shot at all summer were cautious about popping up too close. The rifle was spot-on at 300 yards, and functioned flawlessly throughout the three days shoot. Almost all shooting was done in the 200-375 yard range. At ranges around 200-250 yards, the 50 grain bullets at 3600+ fps gave true definition to the term ‘red mist.”
I’m obviously enjoying my little beauty. The trim, almost
spartan, lines of the Model 1885 are offset by the 26” tube of the old-fashioned scope, making the rifle the “ultimate in coolness.”
Fungus Sam, aka Tom Lindner