The Winchester Model 1911 Self-Loading Shotgun was an American self-loading shotgun designed by T.C. Johnson in 1903 and produced by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company from 1911 to 1925. Winchester's first attempt at producing a self-loading shotgun, the Model 1911 eventually gained notoriety due to certain design flaws which eventually prevented it from providing competition to contemporary self-loading shotgun designs of the time.
At the turn of the century, it became apparent that Winchester lacked an autoloading shotgun design as they rejected John Browning's conditions for them to take his 1898-patent shotgun into production (he wanted to be paid on a royalty basis while he kept the rights). After being rejected by Winchester, Browning later took his design to FN Herstal and other companies, with this design evolving to become the hugely popular Browning Auto-5. While all this was going on, Winchester's managing director at the time, T.G. Bennett, tasked Winchester's design director T.C. Johnson to design a new autoloading shotgun that could compete against Browning's design.
Designing this new shotgun came with its own problems, however, with the main problem being the numerous patents Browning had acquired to cover his shotgun; due to these patent restrictions, Johnson was unable to copy the design of Browning's shotgun (which was the only autoloading shotgun design at the time). As such, Johnson had to design a shotgun that sidestepped as many of Browning's patents as possible; this was no easy feat, with Johnson reportedly remarking to his associates that it took him nearly a decade to design a shotgun that would not infringe on any of Browning's patents for his shotgun.
By 1911, however, the design was completed, with the Model 1911 making its way into the October 1911 Winchester catalog. The first factory deliveries of the new shotgun occurred on 7 October 1911. The weapon sold fairly well, although a number of issues, mainly pertaining to the charging mechanism, led to slowing sales and it being dubbed "the Widowmaker". After just fourteen years of production, Winchester discontinued production of the Model 1911 in 1925 as they found it was no longer viable to produce the weapon as it was simply unable to compete with contemporaneous autoloading shotgun offerings from its competitors. Over its production run, some 82,774 were produced.
In essence, the Model 1911 is a long recoil-operated semi-automatic shotgun, where the barrel and bolt are locked together when the bolt moves to the rear, with the barrel unlocking later on when a new cartridge is chambered; a coiled spring brings the barrel back into battery after it fires. The weapon's design is the result of the attempted sidestepping of many of Browning's patents that he acquired through the design of his own self-loading shotgun; this included the charging handle.
The weapon is charged by using the barrel; a textured gripping surface is present on the barrel for one to pull back the barrel to charge the weapon. This was a sound concept but flawed in practice, especially if a paper shell was jammed in the action. At the time, shotgun shells made of paper were commonplace; these shells could expand if exposed to copious amounts of moisture. In order to remove swollen shells, the action had to be cycled to remove the shells, and this involved pushing down on the barrel. A common practice to remove these shells at the time was to hold the weapon by the barrel, place the buttstock of the gun against the ground and forcefully cycle the barrel; as the user is doing this, the gun's muzzle is pointing against its user, and if done incorrectly, the swollen shell could fire, seriously injuring or possibly even killing the user. This led to the gun being christened "the Widowmaker".
As with Browning's design, the Model 1911 used recoil rings; however, due to Browning's patent on metal recoil rings, Winchester could not use those in their weapon and opted for the use of two fiber washers to fulfill the same purpose. These were known to wear out quite quickly, and once they failed, recoil of the weapon was greatly increased, which could cause the weapon's stock to split due to the high recoil.
Plain or Fancy finishes were available. Trap and Pigeon configurations are also known to exist.
- Zutz, Don, The Ducks Unlimited Guide to Shotgunning, 2002
- Oliver, Doug, American Gunsmith: "Three Questions", March 2007