By the late 19th century, the Winchester Repeating Arms Company was well known for their lever-action firearms. Though designer John Browning—who designed most of the lever-action rifles that “won the west”—recommended the new shotgun be pump-action, Winchester management wanted to capitalize on their previous success. Early brand recognition! The result? The Winchester Model 1887 Lever-Action Shotgun. [That’s mine, a reproduction, pictured above.]
That brand recognition even extends into modern-day Hollywood — Arnold Schwarzenegger carried a Model 1887 in The Terminator.
The Model 1887 loads from the top or breech (picture on right). It had a magazine tube that would hold six shells plus one more in the chamber. Patterned after their lever action rifles, the shotgun lever design included an internal safety innovation that minimized the possibility of accidentally firing: the firing pin cannot strike the primer of the shell until the breech block is completely closed. That means the shot will go down the barrel and not up into the shooter’s face.
The lever is exactly that—a lever. [See picture on the left] Opening it or pushing it down ejects the spent shell and moves another shell from the tube into firing position.
When a man or woman could carry multiple weapons that used the same cartridges, that meant more variety of firearms and less weight in lead to haul around. Winchester produced lever-action rifles that could fire several pistol-caliber cartridges (from right to left in the picture): .32-20, .38-40 & .44-40, all worked in the Model 1873 rifle; and they made the Model 1886 rifle to use higher powered big game cartridges like the .45-70, the original “buffalo” cartridge.
Since shotgun shells of the time used black powder, the Model 1887 was designed and chambered for these less powerful shotshells. And, while both 10 and 12-gauge model 1887s were offered [two left shells above, respectively], it was quickly realized the 1887 wasn’t strong enough for the more powerful smokeless powder shells. That prompted a redesign that resulted in the Model 1901—but that’s another blog.
Here’s a short video showing how the Model 1887 breech-loading rolling block lever-action shotgun functions. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZE9WD9Fihks
And, of course: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9SpHLyZuP0
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