April 22, 2020
Winchester’s Model 1886 was the last of the company’s traditional-type lever-action big bores. Chambered for massive blackpowder cartridges, including the .40-82 WCF, .45-70 and .45-90 WCF, .50-110, and several others, it featured a strong, smooth, fast action.
Thanks to the Model 1886’s action strength, it successfully made the transition from blackpowder to smokeless powder. Its only weakness was early on, in the mild steel barrels used for blackpowder loads which didn’t have adequate strength for smokeless-powder pressures. Around 1905, Winchester switched to using nickel-steel barrels, which were plenty strong for smokeless powder.
Special-order rifles were common back then and often featured custom barrel lengths, shotgun buttstocks, pistol grips, half-octagon/half-round barrel profiles, and shortened “button” magazines. Takedown versions were extremely popular with traveling sportsmen. Before being discontinued in 1935, about 160,000 Model 1886s were manufactured.
Designed by John Browning, with contributions by William Mason, the Model 1886 features dual vertical locking blocks that were a massive improvement over the toggle-link lockup of earlier models. A robust 0.15-inch-wide extractor at 12 o’clock in the boltface reliably draws fired cases from the chamber, and a stout spring-powered ejector heaves them skyward.
Load the tubular magazine through a traditional gate in the right side of the action. Work the lever briskly to chamber a round—no lever action likes to be functioned halfheartedly. As the lever swings forward, it lowers the vertical locking blocks, runs the bolt rearward—causing it to cock the external hammer—and pops the lifter up, presenting a fresh cartridge to the chamber. Closing the lever causes the bolt to boost the new cartridge into the chamber and elevates the vertical locking blocks into battery.
Model 1886s typically featured a bead-type front sight and a buckhorn or semibuckhorn rear sight that was adjustable via a stepped elevator. Frequently, those elevators lifted the rear sight notch about 20 thousandths per notch, which translates to three MOA—or about three inches at 100 yards—when paired with the sight radius of a 26-inch barrel.
According to the serial number, the rifle was a solid-frame deluxe version built in 1887 and chambered in .40-82 WCF. Doug Turnbull, a world-renowned firearms restoration expert, rebuilt the battered original rifle with high-grade wood, engraved the receiver using a pattern inspired by a non-standard Winchester original design, and gold-inlaid the initials DTR (for Doug Turnbull Restorations) and the company’s logo. After converting the receiver to takedown version, Turnbull installed a 26-inch octagon barrel with a 0.474-inch-diameter bore and chambered it for a powerhouse cartridge he designed: the .475 Turnbull.
Because original-type buckhorn rear sights block light and tend to be difficult to get a clear sight picture with, Turnbull modified the rear blade, giving it a flat top, which he paired with an original-type reversible Marbles front bead—brass on one end, ivory on the other. Finished in 2007, the rifle became Turnbull’s go-to hunting tool. He’s hunted all over the world with it, taking species including deer, elk, pronghorn antelope, Dall sheep, moose, brown bear, black bear, red stag, bison, Cape buffalo, and many of the African plains-game species. His farthest shot was on his Dall sheep, right at 300 yards. His closest was on a Cape buffalo at five yards.
Turnbull averages 100-yard groups of 1.5 inches or less with his favorite loads, which consist of Barnes 400-grain TSX bullets and matching solids designed specifically for the .475 Turnbull. Pushed with 56 grains of IMR 4198, muzzle velocity is 2,070 fps.
I had the pleasure of tagging along this year as Turnbull hunted buffalo with Kowas Hunting Safaris in Namibia, stalking a gnarly, old, post-prime bull with PH Jacques Strauss.
From 27 yards, boxed in by a blackthorn thicket, Turnbull fired a 400-grain TSX directly through the broadside bull’s heart and lungs.
As it exploded through the brush, running across in front of us, he fired a second shot, which deflected on a branch and impacted the flank area.
At the second shot the bull pinpointed us and charged like a demoniac locomotive. Standing fast, Turnbull ran that lever gun like John Wayne and drove another bullet through the vitals. As the bull rounded the dense thornbush directly in front of us, Turnbull and Strauss fired simultaneously from five yards. Turnbull’s 400-grain solid punched through the bull’s ear, drove into its neck, and traveled lengthwise through the buffalo, taking out a section of spine. Strauss’s Hornady 500-grain DGX Bonded from his .470 Nitro Express rifle brained the bull perfectly. It came crashing down in a cloud of dust four short paces in front of us.
Mr. Turnbull and his rebuilt Winchester Model 1886 held off that bull in grand fashion.