Even the most reputable of gun manufacturers have been known to turn out a bad firearm that did not exactly live up to the expectations of the company.
Winchester is no exception to this phenomenon, and over a hundred years ago they produced a gun that did not exactly live up to the expectations set by their earlier lever action rifles.
The gun? The Widow Maker.
The Widow Maker also goes by its official name: the Winchester 1911 shotgun.
- This gun was Winchester’s attempt at making a semi-automatic shotgun to compete with the widely successful Browning Auto 5. And while it was perhaps a noble effort, things did not exactly go according to plan, and this is the reason why the Winchester 1911 properly earned its nickname as the ‘Widow Maker Gun.’
- As the name suggests, the Winchester 1911 was developed and released in the year 1911. Of course, it should not be confused with the eponymous Colt pistol released the same year.
- Over 83,000 units of the Winchester 1911 were produced, and while long since discontinued (thankfully) they still remain a common presence at gun shows and as collectors pieces. This is why it’s still relevant today, and therefore why you should be aware of the serious injuries this gun has the potential to cause if you don’t know what you’re doing.
So, what makes the Winchester 1911 such a dangerous firearm to operate?
- The answer lies in the inherent problem with its design.
- John Browning designed a semi-automatic shotgun in 1898, and presented it to Winchester to be considered for production. While the design was excellent, Browning’s shotgun was rejected by Winchester because they refused Browning's request to keep the rights to the gun and be paid a royalty on each shotgun sold.
As a result, Browning took this design to FN instead, who produced the weapon under his name as the Browning Auto-5 and kept it in production until the late 1990s. Take note this design was also later licensed to Remington, who produced it under the Model 11 designation.
As sales of the Browning Auto 5 took off, it’s safe to say that Winchester realized the major error they had made in not accepting Browning’s design. So they hastily decided to put together their own semi-automatic shotgun as a direct competitor.
Well, what Winchester at least expected to be a hasty release turned into a nearly decade-long drag, as they were forced into the challenge of developing a shotgun that did not infringe upon Browning’s patent.
- For example, Browning had a patent on having the charging handle on his shotgun attached directly to the bolt. To get around this, Winchester designed to use the barrel as a means to chamber the firearm.
- The idea was this: the shooter would engage the safety on the weapon, load the magazine, and then pull back on the barrel. The weapon would then be ready to fire after the safety was clicked off again.
- That may sound like a great concept in theory.
Fatally Flawed Design?
- Winchester installed a checkered grip on the barrel. The shooter would then need to grab the barrel, and place the stock of the weapon against their shoulder. The obvious issue here is that it’s too easy to point the barrel in an unsafe direction.
- The 1911 is a long shotgun, and the natural inclination is to dig the stock into your elbow while raising the shotgun into the air with your dominant hand, while using your dominant hand to charge the barrel. Do you see how this could be (and was) an issue?
- Many people made an even more egregious decision to place the butt of the shotgun into the ground and then force the barrel downward. The idea was to use gravity to help charge the barrel, but this would mean that the muzzle of the weapon was pointing right at them. Not exactly a wise move.
And while charging the barrel of the Winchester 1911 does not require you to point the barrel in an unsafe direction, the very fact that it is awkward to charge the weapon without doing so is a big issue.
This was not the only flaw to the Winchester 1911 either. The buffer rings used to reduce felt recoil often broke due to their fragile construction. This resulted in excessive recoil, which dealt more damage to the stock with each shot to the point that cracked stocks were a common problem with the design.
At the end of the day, the 1911 shotgun was not a proud moment in Winchester’s history. While undeniably a unique design, the 1911 shotgun is also an example of how being unique does not always translate to becoming successful.