Armalite AR-17: A Shotgun from the World of Tomorrow!

Armalite was a company founded as an offshoot of the Fairchild Aircraft company, and working with aluminum was their specialty. This was a fairly novel material to the arms industry, and they were able to exploit it fantastically in the AR-10 and AR-15 rifles. The AR15 rights were sold to Colt in 1959, though, and Armalite went in search of other guns to market.
One of these was the AR-17, introduced in 1964 to the commercial market, aimed at hunters and sport shooters. It was a short recoil action with a 10(!) lug coating bolt similar to the earlier Armalite rifles and a 2-round capacity, chambered for 2.75” 12 gauge shells. It didn’t have a magazine so much as a single round lifter/elevator in addition to the chambered round. Most importantly, it was a nearly all-aluminum gun, weighing just 5.5 pounds (2.5kg). Only the barrel extension and bolt were steel, plus a few small parts. The receiver and barrel were hardened aluminum, and the furniture was foam-filled Nylon. The was truly the shotgun from The World of Tomorrow!
Unfortunately for Armalite, being extremely lightweight was not necessarily a god thing in a shotgun. It was certainly nice to carry for long periods while hunting, but short shooters found its heavy recoil to be punishing. The light weight also brought complaints that it did not swing well. And finally the limited 2-round capacity, while not logically a problem for the intended uses, was a turn-off to many potential buyers. Parts for 2000 of the guns were manufactured in 1964 and 1965, but only about 1200 were actually assembled and sold. The gun was a commercial failure by all measures.


  1. ” It was a short recoil action with a 10(!) lug coating bolt similar to the earlier Armalite rifles and a 2-round capacity, chambered for 2.75” 12 gauge shells”
    Wait, 2 is number of all rounds in weapon when fully loaded (including that one in chamber)?
    If so, making it as self-loading looks like sort of overkill for me, as it should be possible to make over-under shotgun with same capacity, I am not sure about if it can be done 2,5 kg or lighter, but I am not aware about over and under shotgun optimized by criterion of overall mass.

      • The Baby Bretton is a gorgeous little gun for a day of walked up to shooting, where you might fire a few shots. They’re unbelievably light.

        Here in Britain, the bureaucrats drafting legislation to put semi auto and pump shotguns under the same restrictions as rifles, apparently didn’t realise that a magnificent capacity of 2, results in 3 shots…

        So it looks like armalite were chasing a legislative niche that doesn’t exist.

        The popular semi autos around here are 8 shot Benellis with 3″+ chambers. The opposite end of the weight scale.

        Incidentally, has anyone here ever met anyone who finds machine cut, stamped in or die cast “engraving” more attractive than a plain metal surface?

      • There was also the Browning Double Automatic shotgun;

        It made perfect sense once you understood that it was intended for skeet and trap shooting, which is done with at most two targets in the air at a time. Also, the loads for same are comparatively light and generate less recoil than average hunting loads.

        The whole point of two-shot, aluminum framed shotguns like the AR-17, Browning, or Bretton Baby O/U is the ability to deliver two fast shots on a skeet or trap range, with a gun light enough to swing fast and easy to engage crossing targets. They aren’t really “hunting” guns, and while they are certainly light enough to carry all day, the bill comes due with the recoil when you use hunting loads in them.

        There’s a reason all of the above were only ever chambered for 2 3/4″ 12-gauge maximum, and in fact 2 1/2″ made much better sense in these guns when used in their proper environment. That being a skeet/trap range, not a duck blind.



        • The Bretton is very definitely for hunting use.

          For trap and skeet, guns like the Browning Superposed and the Perazzis are able to stand up to continuous use.

          There are examples of Browning superposeds used as club guns, with over 1M documented shots through them.

          Full time driven game shots (I’m thinking of a particular Duke in the north of England) can easily be putting 50k shots through a gun each year. The person I’m thinking of uses top end Spanish sidelock side by side doubles.

          • Browning Double Auto was also designed for field use capable to use every kind of shotshells from competition to heavy magnum loads. lts action type which was a combination of short recoil and inertial types, was so arranged that, the power level of both barrel and bolt return sprins enable to adjust the speed of bolt bacward travel best ever being made.

          • Val Browning’s “Browning Double Auto”, as mentioned in the earlier post, is a combination of short recoil and inertial action. Barrel with locked bolt, recoil backward against to the stronger barrel and weaker bolt return springs and bolt separation through inerta always begins when the gained momentum of duo is beaten by the compression of barrel return spring which happens at the various distances back according to the heavy or light loads used. This is the best automatic load adjustments ever designed. Besides, by means of the the sideward loading port, the gun can be kept always loaded. Pushing a shell into the feed port after each shot is the sole thing to be done.

        • The Browning wasn’t designed to compete on the skeet and trap range. It was designed to compete with the heavier double barreled shotguns on bird hunts.

        • I actually got to see a Browning double auto in the flesh today. A strange looking thing with multiple ports cut out of the receiver.

    • It was, in my opinion most likely semiauto so that it would recoil less. Single shot shotguns are about the same weight, and they notorious for heavy recoil… but I’d take a single shot over this any day, especially if I just wanted a light gun to carry and shoot. As for trap and skeet, my Mossberg 930 offers a tube full of shells, way easier to load.

      If they developed it better. I suggest making it 20 gauge, maybe adding a muzzle break, and much, much slicker and conventional loading system, then maybe, just maybe it would work.

      • “semiauto so that it would recoil less”
        Rather complicated solutions when compared to other possibilities, like recoil buffer or muzzle brake.

        • This is misinterpretation of purpose. Gas operated semi-automatic shotgun is not designed primarily for creating less recoil force; it is made so for convenience/ speed of operation.

          Typically, the gas operated shotgun has gas pushing on piston/ valve (often self-regulating via heavy gauge spring) as much as it pushes on front of gas chamber, thus subtracting from otherwise felt force.

          • “Gas operated semi-automatic shotgun”
            Wait, at least my comment was about AR-17 which is not gas-operated.

          • True, I did not gather content of you previous memo. The short recoil operating concept is not guarantee of lesser recoil force, in almost all cases it is not.

          • Hmmmmmmmm,
            To an extent yes,

            The the inertia of the gas piston and bolt and carrier assembly being accelerated,

            temporarily subtracts from the recoil of the bits of the gun that are attached to the stock.

            Unfortunately the gas piston and it’s attached parts have to come to a stop at some point, and their momentum gets delivered to the firer

            But because the delivery of the recoil is spread over a longer period of time, the perceived recoil can feel less.

            The fit of the stock to the firer can also have a big effect on how and where recoil is absorbed by the firers body.

            Stocks are relatively expensive to make, hence it’s cheaper for a mass market manufacturer to put any emphasis on recoil reduction into the standardised parts of the gun.

          • ” short recoil operating concept is not guarantee of lesser recoil force, in almost all cases it is not”
            Due to nature of all self-loading systems, the recoil will be lower, as part of it is employed to cycle action (eject spent case and ram fresh cartridge). However there is recoil and felt recoil.

  2. AR17 was the first serialy manufactured autoloading shotgun with a rotating bolt. İts weakness seems the shock absorbing devices which comprising of a simple spring even unsufficient for light competition loads. The former short recoil auto loading shotgun with same shooting capasity was Browning Double Auto which having much longer barrel backward stroke against to a heavier return spring for this purpose and sole further model which was another Browning Product, Model 5000 used a composite absorber and heavy dumper spring to stand against with the shots of various weight shells.

      • Thanks. Being a faithfull follower of Forgotten weapons, l am aware of Fosbery’s pump gun. But, being not a autoloader, it was also not serially manufactured. First pump scatter gun with rotating bolt in quantity was Winchester Model 1200 debutted in nearly same time with AR17. AFAlK.

          • “slide action as oppose to semi-auto, but it does not matter that much”
            Now I confused.
            Always though self-loading is more complicated to design than slide, or in other words – it needs more effort to design self-loading shotgun no heavier than slide action for fixed capacity and barrel length.

          • Recent auto shotguns, gas operation without load adjustment valves or inertial action, need lesser parts and workmanship than today’s pump guns if made by the expert manufacturers.
            Most pump guns use more than one magazine latch while autos remain in generaly one. Besides, the slide lock of pumps need more parts and room which is absent in autos.

          • Hit the jackpot on the eye Denny. İstanbul Arms makes.

            Winchester 1200 and onward models should be accepted most advanced pump shotguns ever made. They can be fed even their ejecting ports looking downward. Their rotating bolt construction might also be accepted the ispirer of today’s well known inertia action shotguns. Even the huge extractor spring similarity with famous inertial spring is wondering.

      Laziness maybe is not very noble, but very effective reason for creating new devices.

  3. 2 shot capacity could have been a nice feature to market it in countries that restrict semi-automatic hunting guns to 2+1 capacity.

  4. Beretta did an even weirder 2 shot autoloader, the break action side loading UGB 25 Excel which carried it’s second shot in an external tray and was apparently intended for competition use. Video at the link http ://

  5. The low capacity might have been especially disappointing given that at first glance it appears to have a typical tube magazine beneath the foregrip.

  6. A gun so overspecialized that everything else it would otherwise have to offer had to be sacrificed. “It’s really good for skeet shooting.” Great. Grand. Wanna do literally *anything else* with a firearm? Well, then you most certainly shouldn’t waste your hard-earned money here.

    • Sure, cripplingly overspecialized… Which leaves us to ask just WHY nobody actually decided to field test the weapon with potential customers…

  7. Winchester had been making rotary bolt, pump action shotguns for some time. I own model 1300 with two replaceable barrels; one for birds, one for deer. It had aluminum receiver and 4 lug bolt. It is reputed for its quick action.

  8. Making things out of aluminum may be deceiving; it does not necessarily mean ‘lighter’ having all other aspects equal. First, aluminum is 2.5 time stronger than steel for same weight, so in theory you can make it half the weight. In reality though it does not have the same ductility as steel. Also welding may be tricky. Since shotgun barrel does not see more than 12ksi it is realistic and safe to make it out of aluminum (assuming Lame’s formula is correctly applied).

    • “shotgun barrel does not see more than 12ksi it is realistic and safe to make it out of aluminum”
      Barrel might be done from one piece of metal, but do not have to be make that way.
      In early 20th century U.S. Navy ships were equipped with so-called BUILT-UP GUNS
      built-up gun is made of several layers of forged steel. The parts of such a gun are known as the liner, the tube, the jacket and the hoops. The liner is a single piece which extends the length of the bore and is intended to contain the rifling and the powder chamber. This is inclosed by the tube, which is also in one piece, surrounding the liner throughout its length. Outside this is the jacket, made in two pieces and shrunk on the tube. Over the jacket lie the hoops, six or seven of these being used in a big gun. Like the jacket, these also are shrunk on. All these parts are made of the finest quality of open-hearth steel.
      Maybe it would be possible to make these parts from different metals

      • The technique you brought up is called auto-frettage which is used solely on guns of large caliber
        Basically is uses tension built into outer layer to counter internal pressure in previous layer. There can be up to 5-7 layers, depending on caliber.

        It would not pay off for shotgun manufacture.

  9. Very interesting gun. It appears it may have been designed to compete with the Winchester, Model 59; also aluminum framed, but had a wooden stock, and a “WinLite” or later the “VersaLite” (interchangeable chokes) barrel. This barrel was a steel tube, encased in spun fiber-glass. I recall my Dad telling me the gun had 10 miles of glass fiber wrapped around it. It was also a short stroke design, with a capacity of of 3, 2-3/4 inch shells.

    My Dad bought his in 1960, right after the hit the shelves. He used it for grouse and pheasant in south-central Virginia. It was very light weight. I was pretty young then, but a little research turned up a weight of 6 pounds, 3 ounces for the Fixed choke version. He loved that gun, and shot it till the receiver cracked, right at the loading gate. He kept the gun but it was later lost in a house fire.

      • This may be by layout, but not by action/ lockup used. I consider most ‘exotic’ the Benelli inertial lock system
        They are being lately mimicked by other (I recall Turkish) makers, but it takes know-how and experience to do it right. It is of note that this system does not work on rifles.

        Interestingly, this Italian company is also known for motorcycle production. They had one time as one of the first (if not the first) in their lineup six-cylinder, the spectacular Benelli Seis.

        They are TRUE innovators.

        • Also, when watching this video (the best I have seen) you realize that the nitty-gritty of this system is in timing/response of the spring located between bolt and the carrier.

          If it was too soft, it would not manage to hold bolt forward, if too hard it would not be able to provide for sufficient ‘kick-back’ to pen the action. I go to my knees when watching this; Italian technology at its best, just like Ducatti motorcycles.

        • ” the spectacular Benelli Seis.
          They are TRUE innovators.”
          Why was using 6 cylinder (layout called straight-6 in U.S.parlance if I am not mistaken) make them innovators? What it give over older solutions?
          Anyway, Italian seems to price high aesthetics of their production.
          Back to shotguns, I found gas-operated system good enough. Of Russian gas-operated shotguns ТОЗ-87 is worth of note due to layout of it gas-system, see 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th photos from top here:

          Sadly, being produced in times it was (start of production 1990) make quality somewhat dubious, which both apply to external finish and functioning.
          Design itself is sound, the problem is that reliability of that shotgun is random (vary from example to example), so you could pick reliable or unreliable, but second one might be improved by some alterations.

        • “They are TRUE innovators.”
          Inertia operated systems give at one time:
          1) stationary barrel
          2) no gas-ported, generally no gas-system (which naturally would require cleaning)
          This traits were are present in Thompson Autorifle, I am wondering if this operation could be applied for shotguns. With lower pressure (of 12/70 mm shot-shell against .30-06 cartridge) it might work better, on the other hand paper or plastic shot-shells might be damaged when going out of chamber with pressure still present inside.

      • From my own experience I found Franchi to be a lovely little shotgun; I was able to try it shortly, in 20 gauge. It uses retarded locked breech. Nice gun indeed, hardly any sensed recoil.

  10. Theoricaly, inertia driven action works over the reflected loaded momentum over the compressed inertial spring and its response time during firing hardly suits the muzzle velocity of medium and heavy loads. The system hesitates through the lighter shotshells and does not work even the quicker velocities of rifle rounds.

    • This in practise appears to be so; at least in my so far knowledge. No one tried lately to apply the inertial concept to rifles (part of what Daweo brought up about the Swedish inventor).

      I like comparing shotguns to large displacement engines with low revolutions and high torque; typical GM production of past. Lot of time to do your trick… 🙂
      They have guts but no finesse. Rifle on the other hand whips out high velocity in very short time; couple of milliseconds and there is nothing of pressure left. Sort like high revving engines – torque is there, but it is not of major importance, the horsepower takes over.

      Having said this I still like shotguns… they are so ‘manly’. When I used to shoot them, my shoulder was, after Saturday afternoon of shooting, nicely tenderized – like steak. 🙂

      • “I like comparing shotguns to large displacement engines with low revolutions and high torque; typical GM production of past. Lot of time to do your trick…
        They have guts but no finesse. Rifle on the other hand whips out high velocity in very short time; couple of milliseconds and there is nothing of pressure left. Sort like high revving engines – torque is there, but it is not of major importance, the horsepower takes over.”
        Main reason for shotgun popularity might be simple legal, in some countries shotgun permit is easier to obtain and if I am not mistaken there exists states of United States which have hunting regulation: that particular animal can be hunted only using shotgun.
        On the other hand shotgun were (and are) part of U.S. forces equipment tracing back at least to Great War. Interestingly, in first half of 20th century they were adopted civilian designs (by adding of bayonet lug) unlike other fire-arms design from scratch for military use (like Springfield 1903 or M1911 automatic pistol).
        Shotguns have advantage in ability to use various special loads.

      • “I like comparing shotguns to large displacement engines with low revolutions and high torque; typical GM production of past. Lot of time to do your trick…
        They have guts but no finesse. Rifle on the other hand whips out high velocity in very short time; couple of milliseconds and there is nothing of pressure left. Sort like high revving engines – torque is there, but it is not of major importance, the horsepower takes over.”
        Notice that world of rifles and world of shotguns are “parallel universes”, just look at difference of new shotgun calibers introduced to market in year in comparison to new rifle cartridges introduced to market in year.

        • Daweo, there is saying in Czech:
          “nekdo ma rad holky a nekdo zase vdolky”
          (some like girls and some prefer doughnuts)

  11. Some of the Mauser experimental rifles and pistols of the early twentieth century used inertial unlocking

    • Very true, but those unsuccessful experiments led to lines of better guns, like the Mauser pocket pistol series from 1910 to 1934. Too bad the Mauser pistol line was discontinued, as it had some nice features like automatic slide release upon inserting a loaded magazine.

      In any case, when I think about the issues of sporting semiautomatic shotguns with limited or nonexistent magazine capacity, the Browning Double Automatic’s loading procedure and loading gate seems like the best way to top off your gun. Nobody decided upon making a detachable magazine that fits that loading gate, so why not?

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