Cobray Terminator Shotgun at RIA (Video)

The Cobray Terminator is an unusual – and unusually impractical – single-shot 12 gauge shotgun. It uses a sort of open bolt system in which the barrel is under spring pressure, and slams backwards into a fixed firing pin when the trigger is pulled (very much like the much earlier Hino Komuro pistol). Only about 1500 of these were made before they were discontinued due to poor sales (not because of ATF intervention, as some people believe).


  1. It seems that this gun was designed for the single purpose of doing something differently from the crowd, since I can’t come with any reason why this would be better than a conventional top-break action single shot shotgun. I can easily come up with many reasons why it would be worse. Perhaps the purpose was to make the manufacturer’s name more memorable, in other words a marketing ploy? If that was the case, it obviously did not work…

    • I’m wondering why they produced shotgun looking like sub-machine gun (minus magazine)? The perforation are clearly patterned after sub-machine gun, I don’t see reason too use it in single-shot fire-arm as it can’t be fired fast enough to seriously heat-up barrel.
      I see one usage for that fire-arm: as a survival shotgun for usage for example in aircrafts like M4 Survival Rifle.

    • I suspect the purpose behind it was to “look cool on a budget”. It looks vaguely like an SMG while being as cheap as possible to make with a minimum of tooling investment. Even the name “Terminator” was obviously intended to appeal to someone more concerned with style than substance. I would not be surprised if a lot of the buyers posed with them but never fired them.

      The best thing that can be said about it is that it was so cheap you could buy one on a whim and not have wasted too much money on it. It was only $90 when new, and by comparison it’s not hard to go through $90 worth of ammunition when having fun with a more practical firearm.

      • These really weren’t that cheap. Average cost for one of these to the end user was between $110 and $125, which in the late 80s could buy you a budget-priced pump shotgun. For what you get they were actually expensive, especially considering pretty much every single single shot shotgun design in existence is more practical and fun to shoot than this.

        • My first shotgun was a Remington 870, bought at a K-Mart (they used to sell guns) in 1987 for $150. So, yes the Cobray was a bit pricey in comparison to a well-built pump gun.

    • This resembles a CIA experimental guerilla gun-to-get-a-gun from the Vietnam era. 12 Gauge slam fire single shot with no identifying markings but decent materials and manufacture standards. A better answer to the Liberator pistols that could be airdropped in numbers behind enemy lines to make life miserable for them.

  2. I’ve got one of these, and a letter, courtesy of a friend, from the BATFE that certifies the legality of the weapon. I believe they were also made in 20ga, but I’m not sure. You don’t want to shoot this with the stock retracted. A lesser level of pain comes from using high brass shells, which also prove difficult to extract. Thanks for the video.

    • I immediately thought of the Paliuntod, aka M5 Guerrilla Gun, when I saw how this beast worked;

      It also remind me of the Japanese Hino-Komuro blow-forward automatic pistol;

      And there was also an experimental SMG designed by Rafael Mendoza in Mexico in the late 1950s that was basically an oversized Hino-Komuro pistol chambered for 9 x 19mm.

      If you leave the locking bar off, it would probably automatically eject as the barrel was forced forward by the firing impulse. Since it probably does not have a disconnector, it would then slam back to battery again.

      Given a magazine inserted from the left ala’ the Sten, it probably would work as a full-auto weapon. Just probably not very well, as blow-forwards tend to be a bit touchy.

      BTW, full-auto shotguns made on blow-back principles were very much “the thing” with the various private armies of politicians in the Philippines in the 1970s. They are still used by the Moro Islamic types who are fighting the government today. Most fire 12 gauge, although some 20-gauge examples are occasionally encountered.



      • I’m guessing that the main problem with the idea of the magazine being added and removing the locking bar is that the magazine would need to move with the barrel to avoid more complicated feed systems and therefore the reciprocating mass would reduce with each shot by over an ounce. Lol I pondered the same idea myself… Open to cool solutions though!

        • Actually, the magazine has to stay “in place”, next to the breech.

          In a blow-forward, the barrel strips the round out of the top of the magazine as it moves backward and slams it into the stationary breech at the end of the rearward movement. Then the round is fired by the fixed firing pin, launching the projectile (solid slug, shot charge, whatever) down the barrel. Note that firing takes place just prior to the barrel coming to a stop, the same principle as advanced primer ignition in a straight-blowback SMG action.

          The force of the discharge plus some friction between projectile and bore act to force the barrel forward, stripping it off the empty cartridge case that is held to the breechface by the extractor.

          A blow-forward can probably get by without an extractor, relying on residual breech pressure to force the empty case to “stay put” (see “Davis Gun”), but an actual extractor probably works better.

          At the end of its forward movement, the barrel has to trip an ejector, much like a long-recoil action (Frommer “Stop” pistol, Gabbett-Fairfax “Mars” pistol) does.

          Oddly enough, the safest type of cartridges to use a blow-forward with are probably relatively low-pressure rounds, due to the need for residual pressure to start the extraction process. Too much pressure, and there’s a danger of ruptured cases. So a shotgun is actually a fairly reasonable application of the system.

          To make this one work as a self-loader, a Sten type magazine interface could be inserted from the left, and the ejection port moved ninety degrees around the breech (from 12 o’clock to 3 o’clock, with the magazine at 9 o’clock, as seen from the shooter’s POV).

          This would mean the cartridges would be moving in a straight line from left to right as they went through the feed/fire/extract/eject cycle. It would also keep the shooter from getting hit in the face by an empty.

          It wold also mean that like the Ruger Mini-14, this one would be a right-shoulder-only proposition. Unless it was built like the Steyr AUG and could have the bolt “turned around”, and the magazine and ejection system “swapped” for southpaws.

          Done like this, the result would be a fairly compact “riot gun” with a short enough OAL to be handled inside an automobile, but still having the range and firepower for a street fight. Given a reliable mechanism, I’d rate it as suitable as a police “stakeout gun”. (I have a bit of experience with such things.)



          • Hi Eon, what I mean is the issue of feed is more complicated in contrast to how awesomely simple the blow forward and slamfire system is. Extra parts are needed to ensure functioning as the soft plastic crimped noses of shotshells would not be able to be pushed out by the rear side of barrel like a bolt face does the rear of a case without causing missfeeds. None of the existing blow forwards actually strip rounds backwards straight from the mag as far as I know? The AK52 rifle and the Hino Komuro both seem to have a component which strips the round off mag forwards following to opened breech to then have the barrel slide back onto it. Then there is the Schwarzlose 1908 which seems to have to round pop up into the right spot at the right time according to this video
            To be honest I’m clueless to how the round is positioned but it doesn’t seem to be stripped in rearward direction.
            Another design which I reckon is very close to this idea that you’ll probably like (I definitely do) is the Childers Dual Mode Shotgun which is a blow forward shotgun which does strip rounds backwards but it requires a few extra components to assist in this. it has a top mounted mag which a barrel mounted claw strips shells backwards from to position the shell onto an upside down elevator as the breech closes. At the next firing/cycling the shell is positioned in front of the rearward travelling barrel. I have pasted the Childers Dual Mode Shotgun patent here for your enjoyment 🙂
            One thought is that blow forward shotguns or rifles must require recoil enhancers. Given that the Richardson shotgun doesn’t seem to have the barrel flying forward in any hurry it presumeably means the blow forward impulse is not very strong against the rearward momentum of such a heavy barrel.
            Another option that isn’t blow forward but is akin to it with the same length benefits is a reverse direction pump action with the magazine housing connected to the barrel. Like you say it could be side mounted layout like a Sten or FG42 and would be very nifty and short. The Krieghoff Semperio is an example of it
            thanks for the discussion btw it is a very cool topic!
            Cheers Tassiebush

  3. Neat stuff, as always, Ian. If this had been a blow-forward, self-extracting design, it could have perhaps have worked as a poor man’s semi-auto. Put the loading/ejection port in the top, drop a round in, bang, barrel blows forward, recocks the gun and ejects the shell, drop another round in, repeat. Set up with the chamber over the grip and no way to add a magazine, the ATF might even have allowed it despite the open-bolt design. As it actually functions, though, I just can’t see the point other than just to be different.

  4. Looks to me like they were trying for a semi-auto, and failed. And decided to come up with this piece of sophisticated technology to justify the sunk development cost.

  5. Once read that back in the 70/80’s in Central/South America that single shot shotguns were common for private security guards on the perimeters of estates. If they were bought off the loss of a single shot wasn’t that bad. But a shotgun was a deterrent and easily enough used by a poorly trained sentry. And firing off a shotgun would alert the main security detail, which was better armed.

    That it looked sort of like a Sterling from a distance would have been a bonus.

    Just speculation that that was an intended market. I recall seeing an ad for it Shotgun News years ago. I thought, “that looks neat, oh wait, it is a single shot.” Sort of a glorified zip gun.

  6. An important example of What Not To Do.

    Various folks here and on youtube assert they could make a better shotgun pretty easily – and in this case, I’m sure that’s literally true.

  7. Sometimes the most interesting firearms are the least practical. I wouldn’t mind seeing more “questionable” items like this one, including other “gangster gats”.

    I’m not necessarily suggesting that Ian should fire them, though, as unlike him I’m not quite so confident about the safety of something like this. I don’t know what that locking block cut-out does to the strength of the breech, or whether the lock can always be counted on to pop out quickly enough before the cartridge fired, and I suspect that the gun maker didn’t really know either. If you haven’t heard of any accidents with them, that may have to do with so few being sold and probably even fewer being fired.

  8. I don’t see what’s so bad about it. Obviously it’s not refined, but look at Cobray’s target market. There’s way less machining required compared to a typical break-action single-shot. Also most shotguns only come with a front bead, so that’s not a valid complaint. Ian said that it was sturdy. The only bad thing is the price. $90 in 1980 would be $259 today, and that’s too much for a single-shot.

    @Daweo I would guess that the perforations at the front are to reduce weight.

    • How to make a sawed-off shotgun without violating the minimum barrel length/overall lengthy restrictions?

      Or how to make a trap gun or “burglar terminator” that was proportionately as cheap as the mail-order alarm guns of days gone by?

      Realistically, I suspect it may have originally been designed for the same objective end-user as the original Paliuntod. Subsistence farmers and/or guerrillas in a third world country. It would be about the most basic, ultra-cheap shotgun you could make for foraging or defense, and in a guerrilla campaign would be a reasonably efficient tool for acquiring arms from government soldiers- by killing same.

      For that, it doesn’t have to be pretty or ergonomic. It just has to go bang.



  9. If most of us do our own buying and loading of ammunition, why would we want something that is just uncomfortable to shoot?

  10. One question I have is does it have a catch to hold the cartridge in the breech or does the sear itself do this perhaps? It’d totally suck if the cartridge is just free fall out!
    The single sling swivel could almost be a very bad rear sight if it could be fastened upwards and had a groove cut into it…
    Thanks for covering this btw. I’ve often wondered about this peculiar gun.

  11. Given a choice among the Cobray Terminator, a French 25mm Hotchkiss anti-air gun, a 1.1 inch “Chicago Piano,” a Scotti-Isotta-Fraschini 20/70 light AA, a 7.35mm Carcano rifle, a Japanese Type 100 SMG with a Type 30 bayonet fixed, and a Burgess folding shotgun, which would you fire into a mob of zombies? PLEASE RESPOND TO THIS POST!

    • Since you said “mob”, I’d go with the one with as much firepower and punch combined as possible. Assuming you could get it to work, the 1.1 inch Hudson quad mount would be the hands-down winner.

      While it didn’t fire HE rounds, its big solid slugs would go most of the way through the entire mob, rather like firing grapeshot from a 12-pounder smoothbore into massed infantry. (See the final battle in “March to the Sea” by John Ringo and David Weber for an example of how this works.) The sheer volume of fire would pretty much end the argument.

      BTW, my preferred solution for this sort of thing is an M21 quad .50 AA halftrack with lots of ammo canisters and somebody to change cans quick. They were known as “Meat Choppers” for a very good reason, mostly their ability to shatter PLA human-wave attacks in Korea.

      I don’t believe in “zombie” …stuff, but I do believe that firepower tends to decide the issue when the enemy’s tactics consist of throwing bodies at my position.



      • Thanks for responding! At least you’re prepared for any human wave attack…

        In any case, the Terminator is useless compared to a traditional break-action shotgun (which is likely cheaper to build and easier to operate). In a regular squad level firefight, the Terminator’s sticky locking tab would be the biggest weakness as demonstrated by Ian (without the fight of course). In fact, I would think a half-starved Japanese holdout armed with nothing more than a Type 94 Nambu pistol and a bayonet would likely win against anyone trying to use the Terminator in a stealth-based duel (the combatants would be stalking each other in a ruined city or in a jungle, the limited visibility of which would mitigate the Terminator’s questionable usefulness even more so than anything else).

        • Haha even an original now geriatric Imperial Japanese hold out with Nambu and bayonet would prevail against it!

  12. Cobray did make a lot of junk but I am not going to hate on them. My NFA m11/9 is one of the most fun guns I own and believe it or not usually works without any problems.

  13. Given the infamous Mitch WerBell was involved with the company, I would not be surprised if there was some sort of nefarious paramilitary intent behind it.

    Maybe he had some idea of selling it to the CIA as a shotgun version of the Liberator pistol and then tried it on the civil market instead.

  14. What I really like most about this piece is that if it were made by say, Poles in the Warsaw Uprising or a guerilla militia in South America somewhere back in the 70’s, it would be a really neat and respectable piece of firearms history.

    But, it was made in the 80’s in the United States for people who were more inclined to buy based on looks rather than function and that makes it turbo-lame. It’s amusing and interesting what that perspective does, huh?

    • I got the same impression. It looks like something akin to the STEn gun in terms of design principles. I have a thing for single-shots so maybe I’m biased but I actually like the gun(that opinion might change if I got to shoot one though).

      • I like it as well. I have, at the very least, an appreciation for pretty much everything that goes bang. I wouldn’t own one for practical purposes, but I wouldn’t be opposed to having one for the novelty.

        It’s lame, but it’s also kind of cool. If that makes sense.

  15. I posted this in the comments on YouTube but for better permanency I’ll post them here as well.

    I own one of these and have had it for a few years now and I’m glad there is finally a definitive video out there dispelling the rumors about these guns, rumors that I’m willing to bet were started by an unscrupulous collector looking to sell his for a premium. These guns were designed by John Foote, a former Military Armament Company employee and the precise number manufactured was 1,452. Mine is from the final (and largest) production run of these guns.

    Production began on March 22, 1987 and ended on August 22, 1990. I don’t know when each specific production run happened but they happened in this exact order:
    F00 followed by a number: 202 produced
    TF00 followed by a number: 77 produced
    F100 followed by a number: 290 produced
    AF followed by a number: 883 produced
    Total: 1,452 produced.

    Mine is marked “SWD, INC. ATLANTA, GA 20/12 GAUGE,” although I have never tried firing a 20ga shell through it. The serial number prefix on mine is AF. I’ve put maybe 50 rounds through mine and it’s perfectly safe, albeit not very fun to shoot. I get my kicks handing it to one of my unsuspecting friends to shoot for the first time since shooting it is the least pleasant experience of any 12 gauge shotgun I’ve ever handled. I have seen some of these in online auctions without sling swivels. I don’t know if they just happened to be missing the sling swivels or if sling swivels were absent from early guns. I’ve seen so many people saying there are only 14, 18, less than 100, etc. of these guns due to ATF intervention and while a lot of gun owners would love to believe the story because it’s the classic “stupid ATF” story gun owners love, it’s simply not true.

    If you’re wondering why I would even own one in the first place, I was drawn to it because of its relative scarcity and because of how cool I thought it was in general. Practicality isn’t the only reason to own a gun! The buttstock was not manufactured specifically for this gun, either. SWD/Cobray simply took existing buttstocks from inventory that were previously used on some of their MAC rifles (really, really ugly things – they make the Masterpiece Arms MAC rifles look pretty) and slapped it on this gun in what I assume was a cost-saving measure. One final note, the manual declares the Terminator “The Deadliest Weapon.”

    In general, I find a lot of SWD/Cobray/Leinad (Leinad being “Daniel” spelled backwards, “Daniel” as in Wayne Daniel, the guy behind all three companies) designs interesting, to the point where I intend on starting a collection. In addition to the Terminator there are a couple other designs I think are really cool (albeit totally impractical), such as a 5-shot .45/.410 pepperbox pistol, a 10-shot .22LR pepperbox, and the Cobray Pocket Pal, a sort of modular self-defense revolver (well, a revolver from a mechanical perspective) similar in design to some of the recently featured handguns from the late 1800s like the Palm Protector, Apache, etc. Obviously also the Ladies’ Home Companion, which Ian touched on, which is a miniaturized pistol version of the Street Sweeper in .45/.410 which is quite ludicrous. I hope to see more videos/articles touching on these interesting, largely forgotten designs!

  16. Ahh, the good old days…imported AKs, FALs, HKs, cheap MGs, and all of the Shotgun News weirdness. Glad I was able to start collecting back then. My dealer at the time pulled one of those “terminators” from behind the counter one afternoon and we had a good laugh. I went home with a Valmet M 76.

  17. The way I heard it, and I don’t have any way of confirming this, but supposedly, Cobray had gotten a contract, or maybe was thinking that they were sure to get a contract, to manufacture either entire guns, or just the barrels, for what was going to be early Atchisson Assault 12 shotguns, or AA-12, and for whatever reason, the contract fell through, and they were left with all these shotgun parts/shotgun barrels for which they had no use, an investment with no return, so they decided to use the barrels and/or other parts and try to make a shotgun that’s as cheap as possible to make, while having that sort of cool and aggressive look that’s typical to Cobray’s designs.

    I have heard rumors of a 10-gauge model, but I can’t imagine anyone wanting to pull the trigger on that gun. Imagine a high-brass magnum slug out of that, not pretty. I’ve heard stories of some people using it exclusively for flare shells and never for any other kind of live ammunition.

    I’m also glad to have it confirmed that the ATF story is a myth, I can’t imagine a reliable way of converting one of these guns into an automatic weapon in any practical manner.

    For what it’s worth, while Cobray made a bunch of junk, like the Streetsweeper, and the cool, but poorly performing Pocket Pal, I think their MAC clones weren’t too shabby, sure, the Zytel mags weren’t always the best and those do age, but the guns themselves usually work decently, or can be made to work decently with a little bit of work. I’m rather fond of the elongated receiver of the M11/9, as compared to the original MAC M10 and M11, it would seem to be a much more balanced gun and give the bolt a bit more room while making the gun slightly more balanced.

  18. This shotgun project seems as if began to build a API Blowforward AutoLoader, but experiment proved the gained motional energy of barrel and return spring masses remained below expected value and changed to single shot form with an added barrel lock. Or, 20 gauge proved succesfull but 12 Gauge not, and current form preferred to have a uniformity at manufacturing. Barrel lock should begin to snap out just on the
    same time with API or in other case, the blowforward action would start with a bulged or disintegrated shell case. There are experiments of hand built shotguns made in blowback operation resulting ejected shell cases being bulged, deformed but keeping their one piece bodies.

  19. As mentioned by Rob, these shotguns were designed by John P. Foote. Foote was one of what I call the “big three” at Military Armaments Corp; Ingram, Atchisson and himself.

    Foote was born in 1937 and had an interest in engineering since his childhood. In 1970, he joined MAC and designed a lot of weapons in his time, mostly inexpensive and easy-to-manufacture. Prototypes were made but never manufactured for commercial sale. When MAC closed its doors and none of his designs had gotten anywhere, he took some designs to Sterling in the UK, but despite interest in his designs, nothing ever became of this venture. He did, however, make a .22 conversion for the Sterling submachine gun which was sold in very limited numbers and is quite the collector’s item today.

    Throughout his career he had worked closely with Eugene Stoner, Gordon Ingram and Maxwell Atchisson, and he had worked at Colt, MAC, AVCO, TRW, and had even worked on the SR-71 Blackbird. He had designed over 15 firearms. His last design was this one, the Cobray Terminator, and it is the only one that had any modicum of success on the commercial market. Finally in the late 80’s he threw in the towel with firearms design and started working with vacuum cleaners.

    It’s a shame that he didn’t get much recognition for his contributions to firearms development, and is very much a “forgotten designer”, despite having worked with some big names in the business. His prototypes obviously aren’t up for sale but collectors may be interested in his Encom carbines, of which 5000 were made and marketed under the name “Enfield America”. There is probably a few floating around.

  20. You can find photos of his early designs in a “Improvised Modified Firearms”(autors are J. David Truby and John Minnery).

  21. I once thought of essentially the same thing, but you operated it by the cocking handle i.e. You’d knock it out of the retaining notch, was supposed to lock like a lock knife which is more or less what this does… I thought make it in .410 though as an under barrel pistol shotgun, via the rail mount on modern handguns.

    I like that Pancor Jackhammer shotgun, similar blow forward etc method of operation but in full auto…

    I think this Terminator shotgun is cool personally he he.

    • Actually you know, I think it was after seeing that Japanese Hino pistol on here… And a Taurus Judge.

      If you slotted the rear of this weapons receiver into a tube with a “stopped” spring inside it, when it fired it could move back a bit against the above then the lock could be depressed by it passing into the tube, the barrel could then blow forward with would also initiate the main return sequence… Possibly – Maybe similar to the Jackhammer, I recently found out about firing guns while they are travelling forward “As oppose API where just the bolt is travelling forward” you could probably make this do that quite easily, via the spring tube lark aforesaid but this time used to release the gun forward were the trigger would be depressed as its travelling might lessen the recoil at least. Essentially you’d replace the piston of a air rifle with the rear of the Terminators receiver, pull the air rifles trigger and fire the Terminator if you will. Pulling its trigger almost simultaneously when it moves it has to recoil against the force pushing it forward, as is my understanding which reduces the recoil.

    • Actually I had the barrel fold out the side, and it with a breech face would move back into the pin, then the lock knife thing would prevent them from blowing forward in theory other than that it was basically the same thing but as described above. Probably not particularly practical… Think I was thinking of in between mag changes – an extra shot, might have had a use in some limited circumstances. Perhaps more of a novelty attachment if your bord of a laser, shallow rifled barrel as per the judge.

  22. I bought one of these brand new in 1991 from Euclid supply, I believe wholesale was around $125. Gun shot pretty well for general single round blasting, no more effective than any other single bbl shotgun. but it looked cool. The down side was the collapsible stock and its locking mechanism were just untreated cold rolled steel. The stock on mine collapsed on the second or third round when it sheared the soft steel catch and the receiver hit my nose and broke it, still have a nice hump, but handy since it keeps my glasses from sliding off.

  23. Man, ian why do you do that, after seeing your video i stumbled over a terminator at an estate sale. Had to buy it. Weird gun, i fired it twice, that thing hurts, i like to shot 45/70 elmer Keith loads from a marlin lever action, but the terminator is kind of painfull. I think i will use it for the range bullies….. By the way i did not fire it w/o the locking block, but even playing around the sear has no interuptor and will not catch forward while the trigger is still pulled .


  24. I learned about this shotgun around 3 days ago, well today I went to a gun show and BOOM someone had bought one, pretty funny to me.

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