Top 5 Guns from John Browning, Patron Saint of Gun Design

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John Browning was a simple man with a brilliant mind when it came to arms design. He created dozens of weapons that became legendary. Picking 5 wasn’t easy, but I managed to use some bias to help me decide. My goal was to choose 5 designs that weren’t just great guns, but guns that changed the industry and laid foundations for modern firearms design. 

Thank you, John Moses Browning. A thousand times thank you. 

Winchester 1897 

The first slide, or what we call “pump-action”, shotgun was created in 1893 by John Browning. The model was somewhat successful, but the 1897 was created to greatly improve on the original 1893 design. The 1897 became the standard for hunters, law enforcement, and of course military forces. 

Like the old school coach guns, it had an exposed hammer. When the user pumped the slide it ejected the previous round, pushed the next round forward, and cocked the hammer. The gun lacked a disconnector so if the shooter held the trigger rearward the gun would fire every time the action was manipulated. This allowed a shooter to crank off half a dozen rounds of buckshot in mere seconds. 

John Browning

The weapon is mostly famous these days because of its use in the trenches of World War 1. A doughboy could jump into a trench and slam-fire six rounds quite rapidly. The 1897 shotgun and its wall of buckshot allowed the Americans to dominate in the trenches. The shotgun was famously protested by the Kaiser, but he tended to protest everything. It later served in World War 2, Korea, and saw limited use in Vietnam. It was one hell of a shotgun and it paved the way for the modern pump-action shotgun. 

The 1897 became America’s shotgun and Remington and Mossberg both owe Mr. Browning for the success of pump-action shotguns. 

M2 Machine Gun 

Mr. Browning was in high demand during World War 1. General John Pershing called for a machine gun that could fire a projectile of at least .5 inches. Its purpose would be the defeat the armored aircraft and tanks of the era. Browning started by taking his 1917 machine gun and began scaling it up for the newly created 50 Browning machine gun round.

Friends, Djibouti, Circa 2010 - 1. Image included in John Browning article published by The Mag Life Blog..

Author and Friends, Djibouti, Circa 2010 – 11

The war was over before the gun finished development, but the United States was still interested. It wasn’t like armor wouldn’t be in future wars. The M2 50 caliber machine gun was more or less perfect in 1921. However, after Browning’s death there would be numerous improvements to the gun. These were a necessity when you consider the M2 has been serving the Armed Forces since 1921. 

It’s the NATO standard heavy machine gun and is still in wide use to this day. The M2 is a powerful weapon that offers substantial range and penetration power. The M2 can engage convoys from over a mile out and place accurate hits at these ranges.

M2 is the NATO standard heavy machine gun and is still in wide use to this day.

The weapon has a very low fire rate and is absurdly accurate. Carlos Hathcock famously turned one into a sniper rifle for a record-setting long-range kill. As a machine gunner, one of my favorite experiences was climbing behind an M2 and sending hate downrange. However, humping one sucks. The barrel alone weighs 25 pounds, and the complete system with the tripod is 127 pounds. 

Winchester 1894 

This is the lever-action that made the name Winchester synonymous with lever-action rifles. The 1894 has been called ‘the ultimate lever-action design’ by firearms historians. It was the first American rifle built for use with smokeless powder, and that fired the original 30-30 cartridge. The 1894 saw military service with the allies in World War 1, but the service was limited to mostly guard duties at home and at sea to free up proper full-powered rifles. 

John Browning - Winchester 1894.

Image source: Antique Military Rifles.

The 1894 was capable of chambering much larger rounds than the standard lever gun at the time. There is only so far a lever can move to eject and load a round but Browning designed the gun to allow the bottom of the receiver to slide out with it. This created more room to allow for longer cartridges. The first time you fire an 1894 it can be surprising to see the gun’s guts come out with it, but you quickly learn it’s part of the design. 

The 1894 was in production long enough to create over 7 million units, and to this day reproductions are built by the Japanese and imported by the Browning corporation. The Winchester 1894 was the be-all, end-all of lever guns. The Cadillac of lever guns if you will. 

Remington Model 8 

John Browning didn’t create the first autoloading, semi-automatic rifle, but he did create the first successful model. The Remington Model 8 and later Model 81 were early semi-auto rifles primarily designed for hunting. However, the semi-auto design also made them popular with law enforcement. The Model 8 was used by Frank Hamer to kill Bonny and Clyde and served the FBI for quite some time. 

Remington Model 8 - John Browning didn’t create the first autoloading, semi-automatic rifle, but he did create the first successful model.

The Model 8 used a long recoil operated design with a rotating bolt head. It’s a unique weapon and when fired the barrel and bolt remain locked together and recoil against two recoil springs. The bolt stays to the rear while the barrel is propelled forward by a recoil spring. This makes the spent round extract and eject. The bolt is then driven forward by the second spring and loads the next round into the chamber. 

John Browning - Model 8.

Hmm Doesn’t This Look Familiar?

As the owner of one of these rifles, I’ve been impressed by its accuracy and reliability. For such an old gun it still runs like a clock. Even if some bubba spray painted and hydro dipped mine. (It’s a work in progress) If you take a peek at the safety you’ll notice even Mikhail Kalashnikov took some pointers from the gun. It’s a historical and fascinating design that very few people relate to John Browning. 

The 1911 

Was there any doubt this famed pistol would make the list? The 1911 45 ACP is one of the most favorite designs by John Browning. It made its way into gun culture like no other weapon out there. To this day people sing the praises of a massive full-sized weapon that holds only 7 to 8 rounds and whose weight is measured in pounds. 

1911 - John Browning design.

The M1911 was and remains a massively popular weapon. It featured incredible ergonomics, a reliable feeding system, easy to operate controls, and a brilliant trigger. The 1911 laid the groundwork for all modern handguns. The 1911 was the United State’s longest-serving sidearm within the United States military. It even remained a favorite of Force Recon bubbas long past the Beretta M9’s adoption. 

1911 - John Browning design.

The M1911 is still alive and kicking these days. The design has not remained unaltered. Some upgrades were made to the safety and others to ergonomics. The gun can now be found with sights of all kinds, including mini red dots. The 1911 has been chambered in every pistol caliber under the sun, and now we have models with double-stack magazines as well. The M1911 is more prominent now than ever before and it continues to be a favorite. 

The Chosen One

John Browning was an incredibly innovative designer. His legacy of firearms helped shape our nation. They hunted deer and birds, protected communities, fought in wars and were occasionally found on the wrong side of the law. His guns were and still are prevalent designs. If he was around today I wonder what he would craft and create? His designs left an impact that changed the face of modern weapon design and to this day his innovations are still being used in modern weapon designs. 


Read more articles written by Travis Pike on The Mag Life.

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner, a lifelong firearms enthusiast, and now a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is the world’s Okayest firearm’s instructor.

  • T. Morgan

    To mention the Remington Model 8 and ignore the BAR is a big mistake. While the Model 8 (and it’s successor the Model 81) were great hunting rifles in their day, they have little lasing impact. The BAR on the other hand was one of the finest combat weapons ever and I’ve never talked to a man that used one that didn’t sing it’s praises, including my father.

    • Nuke Warrior

      My father would disagree about the BAR. He carried one for part of WWII in Europe. He said he couldn’t get it to fire more than two or three rounds without jamming. In retrospect he thought that the operating spring might have been overheated. However, he was also told that no spare parts were available so live with it. After he returned from the hospital, he became a machine gunner (M1917) in a heavy weapons company. The experience soured him on the BAR and he always referred to them as a G-D BARs.

      • Elf75

        Think he had a bad one, My Dad carried a Garand, but fired and praised the BAR as well.Then again he praised the MG42 when he used one against the Germans in retreat as they were plentiful after the Bulge collapsed. As for ‘shooting better than a Garand’ as mentioned above?
        There’s a reason why they made a post-war National Match version of the Garand – for years of exceptional competition & scores, not to mention I don’t recall the BAR being used as a Sniper rifle. Different firearms/purposes..

  • JonSEAZ

    I qualified with the BAR in early 1962. While I didn’t particularly enjoy lugging it around, I shot it better than either the M1 Garand or the M14. It was a sweet weapon of war. The BAR and the “Ma Deuce” were my favorites and as an old man I still remember them with fondness.

    • Elf75

      BAR shot better than a Garand, please elaborate.
      There’s a reason why they made a post-war National Match version of the Garand and M14/M1A – for years of exceptional competition & scores, not to mention I don’t recall the BAR being used as a Sniper rifle. Different firearms/purposes; excellent for what they were designed for. And Yes, I too have shot all three mentioned.

      • JonSEAZ

        I wrote, “…I shot it [the BAR] better than either the M1 Garand or the M14.”

        I shot the BAR more accurately and qualified with it on the range with a better score. I was referring only to shooting done during light weapons infantry AIT qualifications. I previously had qualified with the M1 Garand. I was not in any way comparing a BAR qualification to National Match shooting, but just my personal experience in an infantry training situation.

  • Mike Strunk

    The Browning Hi Power was the best 9mm pistol ever built. A shame they stopped making them.

  • BraveNewWhirled

    Thank you, GMW and Travis Pike. That was fun.

  • 2War Abn Vet

    Difficult to pick only “5” wasn’t it?