Senior Correspondent John Dunn
For the past five decades or so the Italian family firm of Davide Pedersoli has probably built and sold more reproduction muzzleloading and black powder cartridge firearms than any other producer in the world. The Pedersoli range of re-enactment, target, hunting and sporting arms and accessories is extensive and widely recognised for quality and durability.
What began as a niche market has become an international success story that offers something for everyone who enjoys the nostalgia and challenges of shooting older-style firearms. Long noted for their Sharps and Remington rolling block reproduction rifles, some years ago Pedersoli added another classic American single-shot to their line-up – a replica of the legendary Model 1885 Winchester High Wall.
John Moses Browning of Ogden, Utah was issued patent #220271 on October 7, 1879 for “an improvement in breech loading firearms” – a single-shot falling block rifle that was quickly and widely recognised as an exceptional firearm for the times.
Sales were brisk from the earliest days of production and as the rifle’s reputation grew it came to the attention of Winchester salesman Andrew McCausland who bought one, bundled it up with a reloading tool and sent the package to Winchester. About a week later Winchester vice-president Thomas Gray (T.G.) Bennett was on a train to Ogden with authorisation from his board of directors to buy full rights to the rifle. The rest, as they say, is history.
In 1883 Browning sold his patent to Winchester for the sum of $8000 and from that transaction the 1885 Winchester was born, based on the Browning patent but refined to suit mass production. This was also the start of Browning’s long association with Winchester, one which would prove extremely beneficial and profitable to all concerned.
Winchester made the Model 1885 single-shot from 1885 until around 1920, and during that time it was available in both High and Low Wall configurations which offered a range of barrel and stock options in calibres that began with the humble .22 Short rimfire and finished with the somewhat larger .50/110 centrefire.
In the 100 years since production wound down, demand for the Model 1885 has never really ceased and these days, in all its variations, the Winchester single-shot is a collectable firearm in its own right. There always seems to be someone, somewhere looking for an action to use as the basis for a custom single-shot rifle. The growth of Western Action shooting and Black Powder Silhouette has created a renewed demand for such rifles and there are increasing numbers of hunters accepting the challenge of taking to the field with retro-style firearms in old-fashioned calibres. These days ‘High Wall’ has become more of a firearms style than a specific type and the demand just won’t go away.
Pedersoli High Wall Classic
Anyone who likes older-style firearms with traditional metal finishes and a good walnut stock will appreciate the Pedersoli High Wall Classic. To a single-shot tragic like me it was irresistible, especially when you consider an original in similar condition will cost at least two or three times more. At first glance the rifle appears to be a replica of the thin side High Wall coil spring action introduced around 1908. It looks the part but when you peer a little closer you find that’s not quite the case as the action has been completely redesigned.
It’s still a lever-operated falling block that looks and works similar to the original but the mechanism is far more complex. Most if not all component parts are completely different and the rifle can’t be disassembled as easily as Browning’s masterpiece of simplicity. That’s not a criticism of the Pedersoli as the same can be said of the Miroku 78, Uberti and Browning/Winchester High Wall clones which all lay claim to some Browning heritage.
The Pedersoli receiver and finger lever are beautifully colour case hardened as they were on the higher quality versions of the original Winchesters, the colours and patterns in such a finish unique to individual rifles and tending to give an air of eminence to any firearm they’re applied to.
To load the rifle the finger lever is pushed down and forward, thus lowering the breech block and allowing a cartridge to be inserted into the chamber. When the lever is drawn back up against the stock, the breech closes and the hammer is pushed back into the safe or half-cock position, ready to be thumbed back to full-cock as required.
An adjustable single set trigger is fitted which allows it to be used normally if preferred or set by pushing it forward if required. A set trigger greatly reduces the amount of trigger pressure required to discharge the rifle, a recognised plus in terms of potential accuracy for target shooters but also in some hunting situations.
The full octagonal PMG (Pedersoli Match Grade) carbon steel barrel on the High Wall Classic is 813mm or 32″ long, measuring 27mm across the flats at the breech end and 23.5mm at the muzzle. The broached rifling has six grooves with a 1:18″ twist and external finish is matte black except at the muzzle which has been left in white.
Sights consist of a ramp adjustable rear, fashioned in the original Winchester style and a small blade fore sight, the top flat of the barrel carrying the inscription “D. PEDERSOLI TARGET-HI-WALL” just forward of the rear sight with the tang of the receiver drilled and tapped to accept a Vernier-type target sight if needed.
The two- piece stock is walnut with what appears to be a low sheen polyurethane finish. The fore-end is 25.5cm long, essentially round in cross-section with a wraparound panel of chequering and is secured by a single screw into the bottom flat of the barrel. The butt has a chequered pistol grip and straight comb with a nice cheekpiece for right-handed shooters, the buttplate steel with matte finish to match the barrel and wood-to-metal and metal-to-metal fits on the rifle excellent.
This is no small rifle having an overall length of 123cm and weighing 5.3kg. As its name would imply that makes it more suitable for range work than hunting, though it would be useful for sit-and-wait hunting for larger game if the walk-in wasn’t too far.
To give the rifle the best possible chance of showing what it could do, I knocked the rear sight out of its dovetail and fitted a Pedersoli aperture sight to the tang. I don’t see open sights well any more and knew the aperture option would be easier.
Initial testing was at 50m using a variety of old handloads I had in my ammunition cabinet. Results varied, due in no small way to the mix of projectiles of different weights but the outlook was promising. The primary aim of the exercise was to gain a feel for the trigger which I used as normal and also in its set configuration.
I shot decent groups with Federal and Remington factory ammunition so by the time I was ready to move the targets out to 100m had some fairly lofty expectations on the sort of results I might achieve. The rifle didn’t let me down and I’m sure the set trigger made a huge difference. Let-off was consistent and predictable, allowing a good sight picture to be maintained without straining.
The best group with Federal factory loads at 100m measured 50mm, the worst 63mm and I’m not sure I can hold any better than that. A target-style front sight would undoubtedly be an improvement given the factory-fitted sight is more suitable for hunting than anything else. Whether that would make any difference to the results is debatable but I expect it would.
Recoil wasn’t an issue given the weight of the rifle and factory loaded .45/70 ammo doesn’t come back really hard anyway. I enjoy shooting this rifle, accuracy is more than acceptable and I’ve no doubt in the right hands with some purpose developed handloads it would perform more than adequately as a competition firearm.
I suspect that’s what it was designed for, though under the right circumstances it would also be useful as a sit-and-wait hunting rifle. That’s unlikely on my watch as to me it’s more of a fun gun than anything, something to be enjoyed when the mood takes without being too serious about results.
There’s a great deal of nostalgic satisfaction to be had from shooting older-style single-shot rifles like the Pedersoli High Wall, akin to stepping back in time to an age when life, technology and the world were all much simpler. That may not suit everyone but I’m sure there are lots of hunters and shooters out there who’d agree.