Born in 1855 in Ogden, Utah, John Moses Browning is arguably the most influential gun designer in human history. Kalashnikov made more guns and Maxim likely spilt more blood. But Browning left his impression on just about everything. No matter where your gun nerd proclivities may lie, there’s a fair probability that something old John Moses designed is languishing in your gun safe.
John Moses’ father Jonathan took part in the mass Mormon exodus that left Illinois for Utah in 1852. The Browning family sought to escape religious persecution at a time when Americans still tolerated such foolishness.
The elder Browning subsequently opened a gunsmith shop in Ogden, and young John Moses began work in his father’s shop at age seven. He designed and built his first firearm, a falling-block single-shot rifle, at age 13. Browning was awarded his first of 128 patents at age 24.
The breadth of John Browning’s influence on modern gun design cannot be overstated. He is personally responsible for the development of seven cartridges, among them the .25 ACP, .32 ACP, .380 ACP, .45 ACP, and .50 BMG.
He designed 13 disparate handguns including the .22 Colt Woodsman, a wide variety of concealable defensive pistols, the timeless 1911, and the eponymous 9mm Browning Hi-Power.
Now in addition to its extensive line of firearms, apparel, and accessories, Browning offers its own distinctive line of premium ammunition.
His shotgun designs include the Winchester lever-action model 1887 as well as the 1893 and 1897 slide actions. His fertile mind also birthed the classic squared-back Auto-5 shotgun.
Browning-designed civilian rifles include the Winchester 1886 and 1894 lever actions. The 1894 is the most produced sporting rifle in human history and has put untold tons of venison on American tables. He also contrived the adorable little Browning .22 automatic rifle as well as the FN Trombone pump-action .22.
But Browning had what is arguably his greatest impact on military arms. Browning designed six different machine guns for military use. The M1895, M1917, and M1919 recoil-operated guns equipped generations of American fighting men, while the Browning Automatic Rifle was America’s first practical Squad Automatic Weapon. The M4 37mm automatic aircraft can- non gave the unconventional Bell P-39 Airacobra unprecedented punch in World War II, and the same lightweight automatic cannon adorned the decks of quite a few Navy PT boats as well.
John Browning designed the .50-caliber M2 belt-fed, recoil-operated machine gun, along with its massive half-inch cartridge, to bring down observation balloons during World War I. That same devastating weapon soldiers on functionally unchanged atop gun trucks, MRAP vehicles, and M1A2 Main Battle Tanks in the ongoing operation overseas even today. Fast-firing M3 versions armed every major combat aircraft produced by the United States in World War II.
The 1911 pistol and its heavy .45 ACP cartridge arose from some of the U.S. military’s earliest encounters with fanatical Islamic terrorists. American soldiers facing Moro tribesmen during the Philippine Insurrection found that the .38-caliber revolvers of the day were simply inadequate to stop charging Muslims drunk with blood lust.
Considering these early jihadists were known to tie wet leather thongs around their testicles that shrunk as they dried, it is no real surprise that they could be impressive on the battlefield. Even a century later, no commonly used pistol cartridge is more effective than the .45 ACP.
The 1911 is the military service pistol that will not die. The single-action trigger is simply superb, and the basic design lends itself to customization unlike any other handgun.
Despite being formally replaced by the Beretta M9 in 1985, the 1911 remains in service with Marine Corps Special Operations units and any number of elite law enforcement and military agencies even this deep into the Information Age.
Browning’s 1911 retains a time-less and rabid following among citizen shooters, and I myself am a card-carrying member.
John Browning’s son Val was a gifted gun designer in his own right and was said to have been the first American soldier to fire the Browning Automatic Rifle in anger in World War I.
The BAR was long, bulky, and sinfully heavy. But at a time when the state of the art was a bolt-action repeater, this magazine-fed, gas-operated, manportable machine gun offered a tremendous tactical edge. The BAR soldiered on throughout World War II and Korea and even armed our allies in Vietnam.
The basic recoil-operated rifle-caliber Browning machine-gun action is remarkably versatile. The belt feed is readily reversible, the gun ejects conveniently out of the bottom, the action lends itself to firing remotely via a solenoid, and the weapon is monotonously reliable.
These rifle-caliber guns adorned tanks, jeeps, helicopters, and APCs around the globe. The massive .50-caliber version is still teaching terrorists the salient but critical differences between cover and concealment as I type these words.
Browning’s last handgun design was incomplete when he died of heart failure sitting at his workbench in Liege, Belgium in 1926. Belgian designer Dieudonne Saive completed the gun as the GP35 in 1935. The pistol was marketed worldwide as the Browning Hi-Power.
This same telescoping slide and short recoil operating system went on to drive most every SIG, FN, S&W, and Glock handgun in use today. The spirit of old John Moses rides in the holsters of just about every present-day cop in America.
John Moses Browning’s first major business enterprise spawned from a collaborative agreement with Winchester Repeating Arms. Early on, Browning sold the rights to manufacture his guns for a fixed fee.
It was his desire to secure perweapon royalties for his Auto-5 shotgun that drove him away from Winchester and into the willing arms of Fabrique Nationale in Belgium way back in 1898. Had the president of Remington not died unexpectedly of a heart attack during negotiations, Browning likely would have kept his business on this side of the pond.
Recently the company that bears Browning’s name entered into yet another agreement with Winchester. This time Browning wanted their Winchester partners to produce a line of premium ammunition adequate to perpetuate the Browning legacies of quality and innovation.
As the Winchester ammunition plant chugs out several million rounds per day right down the road from where I sit, it is a subject with which I have some personal experience.
We accumulated Browning pistol ammunition in .380 ACP, 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP. The cases are finished in a unique black nickel color that looks either gorgeous or sinister, depending upon your individual comportment.
This unique shell casing material is corrosion resistant and optimizes reliability. The cases are boxer primed and suitable for reloading. Headstamps in- corporate the Browning stag logo.
Full Metal Jacket bullets are of a truncated cone geometry. These economically-priced training rounds are called BPT or Browning Performance Target loads. These rounds will not expand in common targets and cause minimal fouling in your weapons.
Bullet weights and velocities exactly match their corresponding hollow-point defensive loads for seamless training. This ensures consistency be- tween training and defensive applications.
Jacketed hollow points employ silver jackets and an unusual X-shaped geometry in the nose that incorporates BXP or Browning X-Point technology. This unique bullet is designed to shield the soft expanding portion as it passes through barrier materials, yet allow the bullet to expand and decelerate quickly in a soft medium.
The BXP X-Point is purpose-designed to shed intervening barrier detritus then enable maximum energy dump at the optimal spot. Our informal testing against wet targets like water bottles, Coke cans, and milk jugs showed them to be devastating downrange, even when fired through intermediate barriers.
To test the new Browning BXP ammunition in .380, we chose a comparably new single-action Baby Rock .380 automatic from Rock Island Armory. Rock Island Armory is the Ameri- can face of Armscor in the Philippines, the most prolific producer of 1911 pistols on the planet. Their extensive line of 1911 variants stands as a remarkable testimony to the staying power of John Browning’s designs.
The Baby Rock is a sort-of scale replica of the standard .45 ACP 1911 that is markedly smaller than its larger fore-bear while remaining large enough for comfortable use. The manual of arms is the same as that of any other single-action 1911 pistol. The combination of Browning’s inimitable single-action trigger and the soft-shooting .380 ACP chambering makes the gun a sweetheart on the range.
For those who want single-action Condition One precision in a small-framed concealable chassis, the holy union of the Browning-inspired .380 Baby Rock and Browning’s new BXP defensive ammunition makes a stellar combination.
The Browning Hi-Power was the last of John Browning’s many handgun designs. The gun used to test our new Browning 9mm ammunition is a Nazi-issue P35 built by FN in Belgium under Nazi occupation.
The Germans captured the Fabrique Nationale facility in-tact during their blitzkrieg through Western Europe in 1940 and press-ganged the employees and facility into weapons production for the Nazi war machine.
The Waffenamt-marked P35 was designated the Pistole 640b by the Germans. The “b” stands for belgisch or Belgian. Waffen SS and German Fallschirmjäger personnel prized this state-of-the-art combat pistol for its crisp single-action trigger, superb reliability, and high-capacity 13-round box magazine. During our range time with the new Browning ammunition, this 70-year-old warhorse never hiccupped.
The Austrian Glock pistol transformed the modern combat handgun. Introduced when the 50-year-old Walther-in- spired single/double-action trigger on an aluminum frame was still popular, the polymer-framed striker-fired Glock was genuinely revolutionary.
Nowadays 65% of the cops in America carry Glocks. A buddy who retired after more than a decade with the Combat Applications Group (Delta Force) informed me that Glocks are the go-to handguns for most of their operators as well.
The .40 S&W cartridge was designed to be the arithmetic mean between the 9mm and the .45 ACP. When launched through a Glock 22, the .40 S&W indeed offers greater down-range thump than a 9mm without all the recoil of the .45 ACP. The Glock 22 is a proven combat tool that packs 15 rounds.
Love it or hate it, the sharply swept grip-to-frame angle also facilitates distribution of the recoil impulse more directly through the shooter’s arm, minimizing muzzle flip.
The 1911 .45 ACP is considered by many to be John Brown- ing’s masterwork. The pistol we evaluated for this article is a wartime original Remington Rand 1911A1 that rolled off the line in 1944.
Incorporating the arched mainspring housing and scalloped frame that most readily distinguishes the 1911A1 from its earlier 1911 forebear, this old Remington Rand with its black-green Parkerized finish is typical of the combat handgun with which American soldiers freed continents during WWII. Military SOP at that time was to carry the 1911 in Condition Two—magazine loaded, empty chamber, hammer down.
A friend who survived nearly two years of combat in Italy during WWII carried his 1911A1 in a custom low-ride thigh holster he improvised from a standard leather hip rig. He stated that he carried his weapon with the hammer back and safety on.
When I queried him on the merits of carrying a 1911 in Condition One in a flap holster, he answered, “A combat pistol isn’t much use if you can’t put it into action quickly.” Who am I to dispute a man with such qualifications?
The name Browning is justifiably synonymous with quality. Now in addition to its extensive line of firearms, apparel, and accessories, Browning offers its own distinctive line of premium ammunition. Designed to be optimally effective and available in rifle, pistol, shotshell, and rimfire loads, the new Browning line of ammo ably carries on old John Moses’ legacy.
I think he would be pleased. Special thanks to www.worldwarsupply.com for the gear used to outfit our “soldiers.”
Will Dabbs grew up in the Mississippi Delta and has a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Mississippi. He is Airborne qualified and accumulated 1,100 hours flying UH-1H, OH-58A/C, CH-47D, and AH-1S helicopters. He currently works in his own medical clinic and maintains a licensed 07/02 firearms manufacturing business building sound suppressors. He has written commercially on the subjects of firearms, medicine, and survival for more than 20 years.
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