Back in the June 2021 edition of this magazine I reviewed one of the many copies of Winchester’s lever-action Model 92 and commented on how this particular rifle, from arguably the world’s most famous and enduring firearms inventor, John Moses Browning, is still being replicated and enjoyed.
Now 130 years on from its release the Model 92 is far from the only example of Browning’s mastery which still thrives, and having not long finished that appraisal I was offered a modern take on another of Browning’s early designs in the Chiappa 1886 TD Wildlands. Browning came up with the Model 1886 for Winchester to fulfill the need of incorporating larger and more powerful big game cartridges in a lever-action repeater. These larger cartridges were especially popular with hunters and market shooters such as those decimating the buffalo herds of the western plains.
To that point these big game cartridges were predominantly chambered in rifles such as the Sharps single-shot. Previous Winchester lever guns such as the Model 1873 and Model 1876 used a simple toggle link lock-up action, a design best suited to less powerful revolver calibre rounds such as the 44/40 and .45 Colt.
Browning’s Model 1886 did away with the toggle link lock-up and instead used vertical steel locking lugs not unsimilar to some of the then single-shot designs. Unlike the single-shot rifles this new lever-action design was a repeater and fed from a tubular magazine slung under the barrel, replicating the form of Winchester’s other popular lever-action offerings.
Also worth mentioning is the standard US military service rifle at the time was the Model 1873 Trapdoor Springfield, another single-shot rifle chambered in 45/70. As the military round of the day the 45/70 ‘Government’ as it was known was popular and in plentiful supply. The Winchester Model 1886 could adequately handle this big round and it became a match made in heaven as far as a rifle/calibre pairing goes.
Taking its cue from the Winchester Model 1886, Italian firearms manufacturer Chiappa’s 1886 TD Wildlands in 45/70 shares the basic mechanics of the original Browning design with metallurgy and updated features and furniture – it’s definitely not your grandpa’s old cowboy rifle. Lifting the lid on the box the first thing that jumps out is the stunning all-weather laminated stock and fore-end and dark grey Cerakote finish. Next, once you lay hands on it, is the weight and at just north of 4.1kg it’s no lightweight but, likewise with modern propellants, the 45/70 cartridge bucks as hard as it ever has so the weight is rather comforting as you know it’s going to soak up some of that big bore felt recoil.
Another upgrade is the sighting and optics readiness, the TD Wildlands fitted with a raised fixed fibre optic for the front sight and an excellent Skinner peep sight for the rear. The latter is mounted at the rear edge of a three-position Weaver-type rail, making it ‘optics ready’ should you wish to fit up a long eye relief scope scout-style or red dot optic. Being mounted on the barrel, positioning of the rail just forward of the receiver is due to the fact the 1886 design is a top ejector with spent cases ejecting straight up and out the top of the receiver.
Likewise and alluded to in the ‘TD’ moniker is the rifle is a ‘take-down’ and can literally split in two just forward of the receiver for more compact transport and storage, so it’s naturally best that sights and optics be left fixed to the barrel end of the deal. One last new adaptation is a threaded muzzle which is neatly covered with a knurled screw-on cap which allows for fitment of a muzzle brake or a suppressor where allowed under permit.
Functionally the 1886 Wildlands operates pretty much the same as most lever-action centrefire rifles, rounds fed into the magazine via a loading gate on the right of the receiver. Working the lever down (forward) draws the bolt reward, cocks the hammer and releases a round from the magazine on to a cartridge lifter, the upward stroke of the lever returning the bolt to battery while loading the round into the chamber. Upon firing a full cycle the action ejects the spent case and repeats the process.
The take-down feature of this rifle is pretty nifty, allowing you to literally break the rifle in half for transport or storage. At the front on the magazine tube is a short lever on a detent – you first turn it down to 90 degrees to the magazine tube and use it to break the magazine tube’s thread grip and start unscrewing it. Once you’ve taken a few turns off to loosen it you can fold the lever forward to speed up the process of totally unscrewing and removing the magazine tube by hand.
When removed, work the lever to open the action and gripping firmly with one hand on the barrel/fore-end and the other on the receiver, give it a firm twist to 90 degrees to break the interrupted thread that retains the barrel. This then slides out forward, separating the two sections. Now broken down you can slide the magazine tube back in place for safe-keeping and you’re left with two sections, the buttstock and receiver at 510mm in length and barrel and fore-end at just 475mm, both sections compact enough to slip into a travel case or even a backpack.
For testing I was supplied with Barnes Vor-TX 45/70 300gr hollow-point factory ammunition which I supplemented with several boxes of PMC 350gr flat-nose soft-points along with a generous amount of my personal reloads of both 400gr Speer flat-nose projectiles behind 55gr of ADI 2208 with a Federal 215 Mag primer and 300gr Sierra hollow-point projectiles atop 56gr of ADI 2207 sparked off by a Winchester WLR. So I had a good selection of bullet weights and loads to try.
It might be old but I do love the 45/70 round ‑ it’s big and chunky and looks like bullets did in Looney Tunes cartoons when I was a boy – yet it’s a seriously powerful hard-hitting cartridge. But experience has shown me if you want to put the smack down on a large hog up close in the thick stuff it’s a great performer. Throwing a target up at 25m to start with I found the Wildlands dead in line on paper, about an inch or so low using the factory iron sights. The Skinner rear peep and bright orange fibre optic up front leaves a sight picture that’s easy to pick up.
It quickly became evident the rifle is one of those which shoots true and easy – just point, aim, trigger, repeat and the bullets land within a fist-size group offhand without a rest. I had a newly-released ZeroTech red dot optic in for review at the time and thought there could be no better test than to subject it to the stout recoil of the 45/70 Wildlands so I mounted it up and, over a rest, quickly sighted it in. Once done I fired a three-shot group clustering all rounds in the bull of a practice target at well under an inch.
Recoil-wise it was definitely stout but manageable. The weight of the rifle along with an effective soft rubber recoil pad seemed to have its measure well enough, so the gun wasn’t uncomfortable to shoot at all. Muzzle blast and noise are excessive though, but that’s par for the course with a shorter barrelled 45/70.
In use, the action was tight to cycle but never failed to operate as intended. If I had any criticism at all it might be that I found the loading gate stiff and also a little sharp, so stuffing ammo in took some effort and was hard on the thumb. Despite the heft of the rifle I decided to challenge myself to a 3.5km stroll up and down the mountainsides around my farm.
As the rifle comes standard with QD sling studs front and rear I threw a suitable sling on and, up well before sunrise, I took off in the cold looking to bump a pig or two. But Lady Luck wasn’t on my side and although there was plenty of digging and sign around the place, it seemed all the little piggies had run all the way home long before my appearance. But the outing did indeed prove the rifle wasn’t too bad to carry even on steep sections.
The Chiappa 1886 TD Wildlands reinvents a respected past classic in a modern take which delivers results. Chiappa firearms are distributed in Australia by Raytrade – more at raytrade.com.au
Rifle: Chiappa 1886 TD Wildlands
Calibre: 45/70 Government
Capacity: Four-round tubular magazine
Barrel: 18.4” (470mm) round profile
Twist rate: 1:20 RH
Sights: Fibre optic front, Skinner peep rear
Length of pull: 14.25” (362mm)
Metal finish: Dark grey Cerakote
Stock finish: Laminated
Length OA: 973mm
Price guide: $2400 (approximately)