April - May 2002:

Winchester Logo
Winchester Logo
Winchester M1886 rifle as owned by Theodore Roosevelt
Winchester M1886 Rifle, Octagon Barrel, Caliber .40-82, of the type favored by President Theodore Roosevelt

In 1879, John Moses Browning and his brothers, Matthew, Jonathan Edmund, Thomas Samuel, William, and George, started their own gun shop, the Browning Brothers Arms Company.  In that same year, John Browning patented his first gun, the Breech Loading Single Shot Rifle (patent No 220,271).  The rifle was loosely based on the Sharps falling block mechanism, but incorporated a centrally mounted hammer.  John and his brothers began producing this rifle, in their shop in Ogden, and they quickly sell more guns that they could produce. In 1883, when Andrew McAusland, a salesman for the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, happened to see one of the Single Shot rifles. He immediately purchased one and sent it to Winchester headquarters. The gun sparked tremendous interest at Winchester, and T.G. Bennet, Winchester's vice president and general manager took it upon himself to go to Ogden, Utah and purchase the rights to Browning's gun.

A purchase agreement was soon reached.  Winchester paid $8,000.00 for the rights to produce the gun.   From that time until 1902, John Moses Browning designed several firearms for Winchester.  These included, in addition to single shot rifle, the Winchester Model 1886 Lever Action Repeating Rifle, Model 1887 Lever Action Repeating Shotgun, Model 1897 Pump Action Shotgun, Model 1894 Lever Action Repeating Rifle, and the Model 1895 Lever Action Repeating Rifle.

When T.G. Bennet met with the Brownings and purchased the rights to the single shot rifle, among the artifacts he brought back to Winchester's headquarters in New Haven was a wooden model of a new action which combined the lever action repeating mechanism of the earlier 1866, 1873 and 1876 models with the camming and locking mechanism of the single shot rifle.  The wooden model was the basis for a new Winchester that would not only handle the high pressure cartridges of the day, but allow the firm to recapture the market share that had been lost to rifle makers such as Marlin, whose guns were able to handle the higher pressure cartridges.  The mechanism was granted US Patent No. 306,577 on October 14, 1884.  The mechanism was to become more famous as the Winchester Model 1886 lever action repeating rifle.

Winchester M1886 Receiver
Winchester M1886 Receiver.  Note the locking bolts at the top rear of the receiver, directly forward of the hammer.
The Model 1886 is locked by two vertically moving bolts, which are exposed along the top contour of the receiver when the action is closed.  When closed the locking bolts straddle the breech bolt, one on each side, approximately two thirds of the way to the rear of the receiver.  The bolts ride in slots formed by mating grooves; the outside of the breechbolt is grooved, and these grooves match grooves milled into the inside of the receiver walls.  When closed, the vertical locking bolts form a mechanical interlock that securely mate the bolt and receiver.  As the operating lever is moved downward, the initial motion draws the firing pin into the bolt and locks it until the system has moved through the entire cycle of extraction, ejection loading and locking.  As the lever continues downward, an attached hook withdraws the rearmost cartridge in the magazine and places it into the cartridge carrier block.  This allows for the use of an extremely light magazine spring, which in turn permits the magazine to be 
loaded more rapidly.  As the lever is returned to the upper position the cartridge carrier is elevated so as to position the fresh cartridge for feeding.  The round is chambered by forward motion of the breech bolt, and the system is again locked when the bolts slide into position between the receiver and breech bolt.

The standard Model 1886 trigger was held in place by an internal pin arrangement and was the strongest of any Winchester model up to that time.  The sear and trigger are a one piece unit on guns equipped with standard triggers; guns with set triggers required separate sear, trigger and setting mechanisms.  No sear or trigger block is necessary or provided on the Model 1886.  The hammer is blocked from striking the firing pin when the gun is out of battery by the rear of the breech bolt.  The locking bolts must be over half way into the raised and locked position before the operating lever will unlock the firing pin.  The firing pin is withdrawn and locked by the end of the lever as the bolt moves to the rear and again as it moves forward.

Early Model 1886's have a spring loaded plunger on the left side of the lever which bears against the left locking bolt when the lever is in the closed position, thus acting as a lever latch.  This feature can be found on all early Model 1886's up to the 11,000 serial number range, when the second type lever latch made its appearance.  The second type latch was located in the forward portion of the lever and also operated on the spring loaded plunger principle.  The Model 1886 featured a new style of loading port.  Whereas earlier Winchesters had featured a one piece port design, the Model 1886 used a three piece port consisting of the port cover, retaining piece and spring.

Model 1886 magazines, like the previous Winchester lever actions, were of the tube type located under the barrel.  Magazine lengths were variable depending on the particular model configuration.  Rifles and saddle ring carbines were fitted with full length magazines on standard grade guns.  The standard musket magazine was some four inches shorter than the barrel.  Rifles chambered for large bore cartridges were usually fitted with a magazine cap that featured a small extension that mated with a slot cut into the end of the barrel, resulting in a stronger joint.  Rifles and carbines chambered for smaller calibers have a magazine cap retaining screw that passes through the tube and into the barrel.  The large bore guns had a groove under the barrel into which the magazine fits; this groove was not necessary for the smaller diameter barrels of the smaller caliber guns.  A few guns in the 110,000 serial number range exhibit a different magazine retaining feature.  Instead of having a pin through the magazine retaining band, the magazine is threaded and screws into the receiver.  This feature was continued on the Winchester Model 71 rifle.

The full length magazines of standard rifles contained eight or nine cartridges, the exact number depending on the cartridge for which the rifle was chambered.  Carbine magazine capacities were seven or eight cartridges, while muskets held eight or nine.  Shorter magazine tubes may be found in almost any length, as they were often dictated by customer request.  If desired, the customer could order a magazine length based on the number of cartridges he wished to carry.  Half and three quarter length magazines were also available .  Half length magazines had rounded caps retained by the fore-end on early guns, most had rounded cap retained by a screw.  Earlier magazines go through the fore-end tip, but do not extend far beyond it, while later versions extended an inch or two beyond depending on the cartridge in question.

M1886 Musket
Winchester Model 1886 Musket, Caliber .45-70

The magazine retaining bands were surprisingly uniform across the Model 1886's production run, varying only in the size necessary to fit the various caliber magazines that were used.  Saddle ring carbines omitted the the magazine retaining band as they used a barrel band which holds the forward part of the magazine in place.  Rear barrel bands on Model 1886 carbines are reminiscent of those used on the Model 1866 and 1873 carbines.  Early production carbines were offered with full length fore-ends which resemble that of the Model 1876 carbine - these were made for a possible contract with the Canadian North West Mounted Police (the predecessor to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police), and are quite rare today.  Muskets have a long fore-end, with a tip resembling the Model 1876 musket.  The musket fore-end is retained by one barrel band.  The fore-end tips of Model 1886 rifles are uniform in pattern, varying, as the magazine retaining bands, only with respect to caliber.

Carbine and musket butt plates were of the same concave size and shape as those used on the Model 1876, lacking a butt trap (although one could be had by special order).  Rifles were fitted with crescent butt plates, without traps.  However, on special order rifles were available with carbine style butt plates, Swiss and shotgun style butts.  The shotgun style plates were initially made from steel, either plain or checkered, but later guns with shotgun butts had hard rubber butt plates.  The special order "Extra Lightweight Rifles" were fitted with hard rubber butt plates as standard.  Early guns with the standard crescent buttplate a comb piece that is 2 5/8" long, but between serial numbers 60,000 and 80,000 as new type measuring 1 5/8" was adopted.  At the same time as this change was made, the rear portion of the stock was made smaller in all dimensions in an effort at weight savings.

The Model 1886's stocks and fore-ends were made of select grade straight grain walnut.  While the color of the wood varies, it usually has a slightly reddish tint.  At customer request, fancy grade figured walnut was also available.  Model 1886's equipped with a pistol grip stock have an ebony inletting at the pistol grip.  Later in production this was changed to a hard rubber grip cap.  (Note: While most pistol gripped Model 1886's were rifles, pistol gripped carbines were available upon request.)  The pistol gripped stocks were usually made of burl grain walnut.  Hammer knurling on the Model 1886 was originally a fine checkered pattern enclosed in a plain border.  Later this was changed to a more ornate border.

The standard Model 1886 finish consisted of a highly polished blued barrel, magazine tube and sights.  Receivers, butt plates and fore-end tips were case hardened until serial number 122,000, when all receivers, butt plates and fore-end tips were hardened and blued.  A variety of color patterns can be seen in the case hardened finishes.  Standard case hardening often appears as thought the receiver was poorly nickeled with part of the nickel remaining in spots.  Plating in nickel, silver or gold, as well as chemical browning was also available.

The standard barrel length for rifles was twenty six inches, with shorter lengths such as twenty, twenty-two and twenty four inches available as special order items.  All barrel lengths on the Model 1886 are actually one-eighth inch shorter than the stated length.   Longer barrels were also available as custom options and Model 1886's can be found with twenty eight, thirty, thirty two, thirty four and thirty six inch barrels, as well as odd lengths.  After 1908 the Model 1886 was no longer offered with extended length barrels.  Carbines, muskets and lightweight rifles had crowned barrels, while standard rifles have uncrowned muzzles.

Carbines were manufactured with twenty-two inch round barrels.  Muskets had thirty inch round barrels, while the "Extra Light Weight"  rifles chambered for .45-70 were supplied with a twenty-two inch round rapid taper barrel.  Rifles chambered for the .33 WCF cartridge were mad with twenty four inch rapid taper round barrels as standard.  Heavy and extra barrels were also available as custom options.

Winchester M1886, Octagon Barrel, Tang Sight, Right Side
Winchester Model 1886 Rifle, right side.  Note tang sight, heavy octagon barrel, full length 
magazine tube and checkering on pistol grip and fore-end.
Winchester M1886, Octagon Barrel, Left Side
Winchester Model 1886 Rifle, left side.  Note tang sight, heavy octagon barrel, full length 
magazine tube and checkering on pistol grip and fore-end.
Rifling patterns in the Model 1886 line varied greatly.  While all Model 1886's had six groove rifling, the twist rate varied from one turn in twenty-two inches to one turn in twenty eight inches.  Groove width also varied, from fifty percent wider than the lands to three times as wide.

The Model 1886 was produced over a span of fifty years (1886 - 1936), and during that time it was chambered for a bewildering variety of cartridges.  These included the original 1886 chamberings of .45-70 Government, the .45-90, .40-82.  In 1887, the .40-65, .38-56, and .50-110 Express were added.  These were followed in 1894 by the .40-70 and .38-70, the .50-100-450 in 1895 and .33 Winchester in 1903.  Production of Model 1886's in .40-82, .40-70, .40-65, .38-70, .38-56 and .50-100-450 was discontinued in 1910.  The .45-70, .45-90 and .50-110 Express were discontinued in 1919.  As a result, the Model 1886 was offered only in .33 Winchester between 1920 and 1928, when .45-70 production resumed.  .45-70 production was again discontinued in 1931.  Interestingly, many of the cartridges of similar bore diameter will chamber and fire interchangeably, as many of the different cartridges were really only differences in powder charge or bullet weight.  However, Winchester regarded each as a separate chambering, and the guns are marked accordingly.

The Model 1886 is marked as to make and model on the upper tang.  The earliest guns were marked:

MODEL 1886

Prior to the 50,000 serial number range, these markings were very lightly stamped.  Later guns were more deeply stamped.  At approximately serial number 115,000, the marking style began to change to:

MODEL 1886

This style of marking is found scattered through the 115,000 through 120,000 range, is more prevalent in the 130,000 range, and can be found on almost every gun by the 135,000 range.  A third style of marking was introduced near the end of production:

MODEL 1886

Variants of these markings include the omission of the first two numbers in the date toward the end of production, as well as the marking:


Winchester M1886 Saddle Ring Carbine, Right Side
Winchester Model 1886 Saddle Ring Carbine, right side.
Winchester M1886 Saddle Ring Carbine, Left Side
Winchester Model 1886 Saddle Ring Carbine, left side.
The Model 1886's upper tang flares to meet the frame, as with the Model 1876.  Most Model 1886 lower tangs are marked, just behind the trigger:

PAT. OCT. 14, 1884
JAN. 20 1885

This marking was used until just after serial number 143,000, when it was gradually discontinued, and the last several thousand Model 1886 rifles were produced without patent date markings.  (October 14, 1884 refers to John Browning's patent on the operating mechanism, while January 20, 1885 is the date of William Mason's patent on the feed mechanism.)  Serial numbers were stamped on the lower tang.  Up to the 120,000 serial number range they were lightly stamped in slanting numerals.  Between the 120,000 and 145,000 serial number ranges the font style for the numbers remained the same, but the stamping was somewhat deeper.  After serial number 145,000 the numerals were not slanted and were somewhat smaller in size.  Many Model 1886 Winchesters have been found without any serial number markings at all.  Such a condition likely indicates a factory replacement tang.

Caliber markings are found on top of the barrel, forward of the breech.  One line markings are found in most calibers, the exceptions being the .50 Express calibers and the saddle ring carbines, which are usually stamped in two lines.  The Winchester proof mark can be seen on some Model 1886's below serial number 120,000.  In these guns it is sometimes on the barrel only, sometimes on the receiver only, and occasionally on both.  After serial number 120,000 the proof marking on both barrel and receiver occurs more and more frequently until serial number 135,000 when it is the rule rather than the exception.

Early Model 1886 barrels are marked:


This marking was used until the 60,000 serial number range, when the dashes before and after the top line were omitted on some calibers; the text of the marking was unchanged.  This marking style, with or without dashes, continued in use until approximately serial number 145,000.  The new barrel marking contained the dates of both Browning's and Mason's patents:

PAT. OCT. 14 1884  JAN 20. 1885

Since the patent dates were now present on the barrel, the dates on the lower tang were discontinued.  In 1895, Winchester began to use nickel steel for rifle barrels.  Early nickel steel barrels were sometimes marked:


Later Model 1886's with nickel steel barrels have the marking abbreviated to:


All lightweight rifles made after 1895 had nickel steel barrels as standard.  Later guns with barrels made of conventional steel  may be found with the marking:


The majority of Model 1886's have an upper tang that is drilled and tapped for an additional screw, the purpose of which is to secure the tang mounted aperture or Vernier sight.  The rear of the tang mounted sight is secured by the tang screw, which also secures the stock.  The majority of these tang mounted sights were marked: PAT. JAN 29/79.  Model 1886 Carbines were equipped with adjustable leaf type rear sights, similar to those furnished for the Model 1876.  The major difference lay in the sight graduations, which were adapted to the load for which the particular rifle was chambered.

Muskets, or Model 1886's in military form (30" barrel, full length forestock and magazine), were equipped with a sight called the "military windgauge."  However, the most popular sight configuration for commercial rifles was of the modified buckhorn style.  This type has an insert that can be raised or lowered to adjust for elevation and range.  Other sight types included v-notches, concave and convex top planes.  The rear sights on most commercial rifles averaged approximately three inches in length.  Elevation adjustment was made by means of a sliding notched piece that fit under the sight.

Among the more rare sight variations on the Model 1886 was the "Express" sight.  This sight has three blades, each of which provides an additional hundred yards worth of 

"Military Windgauge" rear sight of Winchester M1886 Musket.
elevation.  The sighting notch is a shallow V, and platinum wire was often inlet into the centerline of the sighting notch so as to aid in sighting in dim light.  Another special order sight variation was an adjustable leaf rear sight.  These are usually found on rifles or carbines of shorter than usual length, such as the twenty and twenty-two inch octagon or round barrels.  (Note, on the short rifles and carbines chambered for the .45-70 cartridge, these sights were standard equipment.)

Most carbines were manufactured with post type front sights mounted directly on the barrel, often with a nickel-silver inlet blade.  Lightweight rifle variations had a ramp type front sight with the sight blade dovetailed into the ramp.  Muskets also had post type front sights.

The Model 1886 was also offered as a takedown rifle (this feature was not offered in the musket or carbine variants).  The resulting rifle could be rapidly broken down and stored in a space the length of the barrel.  Take down was accomplished by moving a lever hinged to the magazine tube to an outward position and turning it counterclockwise, thus removing the magazine from the receiver.  The action was then opened to withdraw the extractor from the extractor slot in the barrel.  Finally then barrel was turned counterclockwise to remove it from the receiver.  Takedown Model 1886's were first listed in the 1894 Winchester catalog.  The takedown lever is marked: -PAT. JUNE 6, 1893-  This date is found on guns below the 145,000 serial number range, after which the patent marking was gradually discontinued.  Takedown rifles prior to the 145,000 range are also often found to have an assembly number on both the takedown lever and the receiver extension.  Additionally, early takedown guns featured a magazine tube that could be completely removed from the fore-end, while in later guns the magazine tube would slide a distance forward but was not completely removable.

Production of the Model 1886 ceased in 1932 with serial number 159,994.  By 1922 serial numbers had reached 159,337 - it took the next ten years to assemble  and sell the last 657 guns.  The final assembly of remaining guns took place in 1932 when some 221 Model 1886's were assembled.  The Model 1886 saga didn't end there, however.  With some minor mechanical changes and the addition of a pistol grip stock and a semi-beavertail fore-end, the Model 1886 continued in production as the Winchester Model 71.  Recently however, Winchester (US Repeating Arms Company) has offered a limited run of new production M1886 rifles in .45-70, so, for those who wish to own an M1886, but are shy of the $5,000 to $10,000 price tags commanded by the originals, there is, happily, an alternative!

Current limited production M1886 offered by Winchester (USRAC)
Modern M1886 Rifle, Caliber .45-70, offered by Winchester (USRAC)


Madis, George., The Winchester Book, (Art and Reference House, Brownsboro, Texas: 1985)

The Winchester Book is available from IDSA Books.  Click on the image to order:
The Winchester Book

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