Skip to main content

Colonel Whelen and the Winchester Low Wall Rifle

In all the world, there is no rifle more fun to carry and shoot than a vintage American single shot, such as the Winchester Low Wall.

Colonel Whelen and the Winchester Low Wall Rifle
The Winchester Low Wall single-shot rifle is a slim, elegant, and graceful gun that will assuredly add to your gentlemanly demeanor.

Way back in 1953, Gun Digest asked Col. Townsend Whelen to reflect on his years with single-shot rifles. He summed up with these words:

“The highly efficient bolt action is but a remodeled musket…the lever action a product of America’s unrivalled quantity-production industry…but the single shot, constructed on fine and beautiful lines by a master riflemaker, is a gentleman’s piece.”

At that time, the single-shot rifle was all but dead. It was the coming age of high velocity and ever-increasing firepower, with many predicting that even the bolts and levers would soon be shouldered aside by semiautos.

Like many predictions, those came to pass, sort of, but not right away, and never completely. Fourteen years later, Ruger unveiled its No. 1 single shot to quizzical looks (from some writers) and cheers (from many riflemen), and it has stayed in the Ruger lineup to this day. A new No. 1 with a composite stock and stainless-steel barreled action, chambered for some whiz-bang rimless cartridge, is not exactly what Colonel Whelen had in mind, but it’s still a lot closer to it than any AR ever made.


For reasons many and varied, there remains a coterie of riflemen (not all of them gentlemen, nor claiming to be) that consider the single-shot rifle both practically and æsthetically all they need or want. Now how, you might ask, can that be? It’s simple: In all the world, and including such masterpieces as a Holland “Royal,” there is no rifle more fun to carry and shoot than a vintage American single shot.


Of them all, my candidate for the most fun is the old Winchester Low Wall with original iron sights; straight grip; and longish, heavyish barrel chambered for some friendly old round like the .25-20 or .32-20. There is nothing like a morning wandering the creek bottoms with a Low Wall, watching for…well, just about anything shootable. Squirrels? (They make a nice stew.) Possums? (Very edible.) Raccoons? (Sure, if they’re a problem.)

For that matter, though, you don’t need to see any game, or even squeeze the trigger except on a stray tin can or plastic bottle or a white rock on the far bank. In your mind, you can be something as exotic as a mountain man after a grizzly or as unexotic as the small boy you used to be, on the prowl with your first rifle. There is always an element of fantasizing in any shooting we do—at least there is in my case—and Colonel Whelen pointed out that one of the enduring attractions of the single-shot rifle was its romantic associations, from buffalo runners in Kansas to the lone mountain man to, for the more cosmopolitan, Frederick Selous in Africa.

Such daydreams aside, my personal affection for the single-shot rifle stems from the sheer animal pleasure of using a silky, uncomplicated mechanism, crafted by a master, built to do a specific job and do it well. Some single shots, notably the old German Schützen rifles, make the most elaborate Swiss cuckoo clock look restrained, but at the other end of the spectrum lies the old Winchester Low Wall.

The Winchester single-shot rifle in its various iterations, designed by John M. Browning and originally produced by Winchester from 1885 to 1920, is reputed to be the most common of the old rifles and is not held in the reverence afforded to the Sharps or the Ballard. It’s notable, however, that the last competition rifle Harry Pope built for himself was based on a Winchester High Wall. That’s a pretty good recommendation.


During the mania for high-velocity varmint rifles in the 1930s, many Winchester High Wall rifles were cannibalized for their actions, but the Low Wall did not lend itself to high pressures. As a result, there seems to be a lot of them around, many chambered for interesting and fun-to-shoot cartridges like the .25-20. Personally, I can’t think of a better rifle with which to start off a kid in handloading. But then, nor can I think of a better rifle if you want to reconnect with the kid you once were, when creek bottoms were freely accessible and the odd gunshot did not summon the police.

Will it make you a gentleman? Probably not. But we can pretend about that, too.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

All About .300 Blackout

All About .300 Blackout

The .300 Blackout is here to stay, and we take some time to look at new technology surrounding this cartridge. Next, we pit subsonic rivals against each other before stretching the legs of this CQB round out to 600 yards from a short 9-inch barrel.

Black Hills Evolution of Rifle Cartridge: .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match

Black Hills Evolution of Rifle Cartridge: .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match

David Fortier talks with Jeff Hoffman of Black Hills Ammunition about the evolution of the .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match bullet.

Hornady 6MM Creedmoor

Hornady 6MM Creedmoor

Tom Beckstrand and Neal Emery of Hornady highlight the 6MM Creedmoor ammo.

The Future Of Special Operations Small Arms

The Future Of Special Operations Small Arms

We're taking a look at what the Army's Elite Units are using for service rifles and what the future of SOCOM sniping looks like.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Like situational ethics, standards of accuracy vary according to circumstances.Accuracy: It's All Relative How-To

Accuracy: It's All Relative

Terry Wieland - May 09, 2019

Like situational ethics, standards of accuracy vary according to circumstances.

Firing 21 different loads in Kimber's Mountain Ascent rifle proved it is a good friend to have in high places.Kimber Mountain Ascent Rifle Review Rifles

Kimber Mountain Ascent Rifle Review

Steve Gash - January 22, 2021

Firing 21 different loads in Kimber's Mountain Ascent rifle proved it is a good friend to have...

Shooting a .22 LR rifle at 300 yards is just as challenging as shooting a .300 Win. Mag. rifle at 1,000 yards.Ruger Custom Shop 10/22 Competition Rifle at 300 Yards Rifles

Ruger Custom Shop 10/22 Competition Rifle at 300 Yards

Layne Simpson - November 13, 2020

Shooting a .22 LR rifle at 300 yards is just as challenging as shooting a .300 Win. Mag. rifle...

A great pump-action shotgun design has several characteristics: reliable, smooth and easy to function, easy to shoot well, adaptable to vastly different configurations and uses, and it's classy.6 Best Classic Pump-Action Shotguns Ever Made Shotguns

6 Best Classic Pump-Action Shotguns Ever Made

Joseph von Benedikt - January 21, 2021

A great pump-action shotgun design has several characteristics: reliable, smooth and easy to...

See More Trending Articles

More Rifles

The new minimalist bolt-action rimfire rifles from Savage Arms are fun guns indeed.Savage Arms Minimalist Bolt-Action Rimfire Rifles Review Rifles

Savage Arms Minimalist Bolt-Action Rimfire Rifles Review

Steve Gash - September 29, 2020

The new minimalist bolt-action rimfire rifles from Savage Arms are fun guns indeed.

The Winchester XPR Renegade Long Range SR is a unique, feature-packed addition to the XPR family.Winchester XPR Renegade Long Range SR Review Rifles

Winchester XPR Renegade Long Range SR Review

Steve Gash - October 13, 2020

The Winchester XPR Renegade Long Range SR is a unique, feature-packed addition to the XPR...

Firing 21 different loads in Kimber's Mountain Ascent rifle proved it is a good friend to have in high places.Kimber Mountain Ascent Rifle Review Rifles

Kimber Mountain Ascent Rifle Review

Steve Gash - January 22, 2021

Firing 21 different loads in Kimber's Mountain Ascent rifle proved it is a good friend to have...

The Husqvarna AB. Mauser Series 1100 Deluxe features a European walnut stock, a non-military action, and a two-position  wing-type safety.Husqvarna AB. Mauser Series 1100 Deluxe Rifle Review Rifles

Husqvarna AB. Mauser Series 1100 Deluxe Rifle Review

Joseph von Benedikt - August 19, 2020

The Husqvarna AB. Mauser Series 1100 Deluxe features a European walnut stock, a non-military...

See More Rifles

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Shooting Times App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Shooting Times subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now