Winchester Model 1911 SL and Browning Auto-5

Sometimes people do things that seem OK at the time but discover later on that the action produces long term consequences that were not envisaged and that cause major problems. This was the case for Winchester in their relationship with John Moses Browning. Although Browning had done some work for Winchester designing a number of iconic Winchester firearms he had realized that he wasn’t getting a financial reward commensurate with the value of his intellectual property. So when he designed his auto-loading shotgun of 1898 (The gun that was to become known as the Auto-5) he said to Winchester management that he would not be willing to accept a one off payment for his design but instead wanted a royalty payment for every gun sold. Winchester management were not willing to do this so John M. Browning took his design elsewhere; ending up with Fabrique Nationale (FN) in Belgium.

John M. Browning’s auto-loading shotgun design of 1898 proved to be one of the most popular and most enduring designs in history.

One of the things John M. Browning had learned in his dealings with Winchester was to be meticulous about how he patented his designs and in his design for the Auto-5 he was careful to ensure he had everything covered, right down to the cocking knob on the bolt. Thus it was that when Winchester decided they were not going to pay John M. Browning but get one of their own engineers to design an auto-loading shotgun that engineer was faced with great difficulty in trying to create something that did not infringe on John M. Browning’s patents.

In working around John M. Browning’s patents Winchester engineer Thomas Crossley was forced to use some inferior design solutions. Note the absence of a cocking knob and, instead, the presence of a knurled section on the barrel. Instead of cocking the action with a cocking knob the action had to be cycled by grasping the knurled section on the barrel and pulling it rearwards. It was this feature in particular that led to this shotgun being called “The Widowmaker”.

Winchester engineer Thomas Crossley joked that it took him ten years to design a gun that did not infringe on John M. Browning’s patents. He designed a gun that also worked on the long recoil principle but he was forced to use a method of manually cycling the action that did not use a Browning patented cocking handle. Thomas Crossley’s alternative method was to have the shooter hold the barrel and pull it rearwards. To make this operation easier the barrel featured a knurled section to help the shooter to grip the barrel, especially if it was wet or slippery as gun barrels can tend to get on the duck swamp.

Back when this gun was introduced shotgun cartridges were made of waxed paper and when they got wet they would tend to swell getting lodged in the magazine or chamber. This would make cycling the action to get a stuck cartridge out of the chamber difficult with the result that some shooters would rest the gun butt on the ground and then push down on the barrel to force it to cycle. As you can imagine when some shooters were doing this they inadvertently pointed the gun at themselves and occasionally the gun would discharge, sometimes with tragic results.

The short video below courtesy BZ Trader & Gun Parts shows this problem and correct operation of the Winchester Model 1911 SL.

So as you can see from the above video it is not a good idea to rest the butt stock on the ground to cycle the action because you can finish up with the barrel pointing at you and if the gun goes off you run the risk of shooting yourself.

Left side view of the Winchester Model 1911 SL and the Browning Auto-5. The Browning in this picture is the Light Twelve model.

The other design flaw forced on Winchester’s Thomas Crossley was to avoid John M. Browning’s use of metal recoil rings to control the cycling of the action when it was fired. Instead Thomas Crossley had to use fiber rings which would need to be periodically replaced otherwise they would wear and fail and the action would recoil in a more uncontrolled way when fired causing increased recoil.

These two shotguns; the Winchester Model 1911 SL (top) and the Browning Light Twelve (bottom) are coming up for sale as a pair by Rock Island Auction.

The Winchester Model 1911 SL and the Browning Light Twelve pictured above are coming up for sale by Rock Island Auction at their on-line sale scheduled for August 10, 2017.

You will find the sale page for this pair of interesting guns with details of condition if you click here.

Expected sale price is in the order of USD$500-$900 for the pair.

This pair of guns has an interesting history.

(All pictures courtesy Rock Island Auction).

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