An overview of the Winchester 1911 SL Shotgun

The Winchester 1911 SL Shotgun AKA “The Widow Maker”

It has been called many unflattering names including, “the worst shotgun ever made.” One thing is for sure: this shotgun’s design made it easy to make a devastating mistake for its operator for those who did not know how to load it correctly.

The barrel was used as a method of charging Winchester’s 1911 self-loading shotgun. The user was supposed to first engage the bolt lock and then charge the shotgun by pulling the barrel, which would have to be cycled in order to open the chamber to insert a shell. After loading it, the user was to disengage the bolt lock and the firearm would be chambered and ready to fire.

Some users mistakenly cycled the barrel by placing the butt of the weapon against the ground without engaging the bolt lock and forcing the barrel down. In this position, the muzzle of the weapon would be pointing towards the face of the user and could fire, injuring or even killing the user. This safety issue led to the Winchester’s model 1911 being nicknamed “the Widow Maker.”

The potential for slam fire when chambering a shell was not the only flaw in the 1911’s design. The system of buffer rings used to reduce the recoil when the weapon was fired often failed. The breakdown of these rings greatly increased over time with each recoil after a shell was fired. Additionally, the gun’s recoil from the barrel being slammed repeatedly caused many butt-stocks to split over time with each shot.

Before it was first developed in put into production, Winchester lacked an auto-loading shotgun in its product offering. Unable to make a deal with John Browning to use his 1891 design into production, it left Winchester in a spot to create its own design for an auto-loading shotgun without infringing on Browning’s design that later became the Browning Auto-5; enter the Winchester 1911 SL.

A true failure in firearms market, Winchester ceased production of this flawed shotgun in 1925 following slumping sales and consumers’ preference to the Browning’s Auto-5.