When John Browning developed the self-loading shotgun that would become the Auto-5, he decided to depart from his existing standard business relationship with the Winchester company. Browning had historically sold his patents to Winchester for a flat fee, but with his new shotgun he decided he wanted a royalty per gun sold instead. Winchester thought about it and decided that perhaps Browning was not quite as important as he though he was, and they rejected his request. So Browning instead took the design to Fabrique Nationale in Belgium, who was happy to offer him a royalty.
The design became a tremendous success, and it left Winchester in a bit of a pickle. They had been planning on marketing a self-loading shotgun, but now the didn’t have the rights to one. So what they did was to purchase one of the very first FN guns made (serial number 262) and use it to figure out a loophole around Browning’s patent. The most significant feature was the bolt handle, which unlocked the action and allowed the bolt to be opened without the barrel reciprocating (this was a long-recoil action). Winchester ended up using the very simple method of adding some texturing to the barrel and requiring the user to simply cycle the barrel back all the way to open the action. Needless to say, this was substantially inferior to the way one could operate the Browning Auto-5, and it was a factor in the Winchester design (the Model 1911, not to be confused with the 1911 pistol) garnering the nickname “Widowmaker”. But that’s a story for another episode…
Thanks to the Cody Firearms Museum for allowing me access to film this very cool prototype shotgun! Check them out here: