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THE STORY ~ John Browning, often known as the “father of modern firearms,” considered the Auto-5 shotgun invention to be his crowning achievement. With over 128 patents to his name—primarily in firearm development—his personal view of the Auto-5 is significant.
John Browning’s Auto-5 shotgun patent in 1900 was issued for an auto-loading, recoil operated, semi-automatic shotgun. Produced until 1998 using the long-recoil principle to re-cock and feed the next shell into the chamber, it was the first of its kind.
When Browning first offered his Auto-5 design for production to his usual partner, Winchester, he was turned down. He subsequently signed with Fabrique Nationale (FN), in Belgium for the manufacturing, where this outstanding weapon was produced for nearly one-hundred years (though production was moved to the US during WWII, and resumed after the war at FN). Offered in 12-, 16- and 20-gauge, Browning eventually licensed the design to Remington in the U.S., who produced it as their popular Model 11 from 1905 to 1948. Savage Arms also licensed and produced it as their Model 720 from 1930 to 1949.
Nicknamed “humpback” for the characteristic angular rear part of the receiver originally necessary to accommodate the recoil mechanism, the newer models have been redesigned. Although the shape is no longer required, the humpback was retained merely for cosmetic distinction. The Auto-5 was successfully used by troops during both World Wars and the war in Vietnam, but since it was not an official issue for troops in Vietnam, soldiers had to obtain their Auto-5s privately. Many did, because in the jungle environment, the Auto-5 was judged to be superior to the officially-issued M16.
It is amazing that this design, with few modifications, was produced continually for almost 100 years. Today, many consider the old Humpback to be a classic, and will not hunt with anything else. Though perhaps not state-of-the-art today, they are still highly efficient weapons, and Auto-5 popularity among hunters, shooters, and collectors is destined to live on for many years to come.