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Chris DeMuth Jr. is the founder of Rangeley Capital LLC. Rangeley is an investment firm that focuses on event driven, value-oriented investment opportunities. Rangeley Capital and his value investing forum, Sifting the World (StW), search the world for misplaced bets. Rangeley exploits them for... More
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  • Happy Birthday, Mr. Browning 7 comments
    Jan 23, 2014 5:04 PM

    John Moses Browning was born on this day in 1855. A child prodigy, he began his career at age six, learned manufacturing and engineering by the time he was seven, built his first firearm when he was thirteen and earned his first patent when he was twenty-four. The word "genius" is overused but Mr. Browning was a genius. Nothing looked like or operated like Browning's inventions before he came along and everything showed his influence afterwards. By the end of his life he held a total of 128 gun patents and designed 80 firearms, most of them revolutionary and several in use to this day. He is responsible for five separate firearms manufacturers and his name is often used synonymously with various of his designs.

    The US Army Needed Browning's Help

    US Army units were battling Moro guerrillas in the Philippines with the standard .38 caliber revolver. The tribesmen were veterans of hand-to-hand combat filled with religious zealotry and stoned on pain killing drugs. Even after getting hit several times, many Moros were able to inflict deadly wounds with their kris blades.

    (click to enlarge)

    According to Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing,

    The fighting was the fiercest I have ever seen. They are absolutely fearless, and once committed to combat they count death as a mere incident.

    The Army needed stopping power; they needed John Moses Browning. To test for the most suitable caliber, they took cattle from a local slaughterhouse and cadavers from a local morgue. They shot both with varying numbers of rounds hitting varying parts of the anatomy. The tests concluded that,

    The Board was of the opinion that a bullet, which will have the shock effect and stopping effect at short ranges necessary for a military pistol or revolver, should have a caliber not less than .45. ... None of the full-jacketed or metal-patch bullets (all of which were less than cal. . 45) showed the necessary shock effect or stopping power for a service weapon. ...

    We are not acquainted with any bullet fired from a hand weapon that will stop a determined enemy when the projectile traverses soft parts alone. The requirements of such a bullet would need to have a sectional area like that of a 3-inch solid shot the recoil from which when used in hand weapons would be prohibitive. ...

    Finally the Board reached the conclusion that the only safeguard at close encounters is a well-directed rapid fire from nothing less than a .45-caliber weapon. With this end in view soldiers should be drilled to fire at moving targets until they have attained proficiency as marksmen.

    Browning's M1911 is the basis for the finest handguns a century after Browning first tested it in 1910. He ran six thousand rounds through his pistol and its best competitor over the course of two days. The competitor, a Savage, performed admirably with only thirty-seven malfunctions out of six thousand rounds. Browning's? Zero.

    If it ain't broke… replace the M1911 anyway with the inferior 9 mm

    According to Brig. Gen. Samuel S Sumner,

    The Luger automatic pistol as a hunting pistol and for dress occasions is attractive and useful. I have one which I prize highly, but for field service, in the hands of officers and men, it is a failure. It is too complicated, and cartridges often jam, but the main defect is that the bullet will not stop a Moro.

    This turned out to be an epic debacle that lasted many decades. In countless battles, American warriors encountered the same problems that Gen. Sumner described. Through the years, top tier units began to replace their 9 mms with… versions of the old M1911. Marine Corps Special Operations Command, Force Recon, LAPD SWAT, the FBI HRT, and 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta went back. Enemies shot with the heavier .45 caliber load had the reassuring tendency to stay dead.

    Prototype completed in under a month or it would be free

    Winchester was in a rush so when they asked Browning to design a better pistol caliber lever action rifle, he said he'd do it for free if he couldn't complete the job in a month. He delivered within two weeks and earned $20,000. The Winchester Model 1892 remains in use today.

    If you ask why we need a .50 cal, you get fired from the firearms committee

    (click to enlarge)

    The .50 Browning Machine Gun (BMG) helped win World Wars I and II. It is second only to Browning's M1911 in its longevity within the US arsenal. And it is my indefensible guilty pleasure.

    If you would like to learn more about history's greatest firearms inventor, you might enjoy John M. Browning, American Gunmaker: A Illustrated Biography of the Man and His Guns by John Browning and Curt Gentry. In one story about the inventor, Browning's brother George noticed his other brother Ed had left the shop where John was working on a gun.

    "Why aren't you working upstairs?" asked George.

    "Oh, John's stuck. He's swearing every little while. He doesn't know whether I'm there or not," Ed answered

    "That's too bad. I thought it was coming along fine."

    "Don't worry, it won't be long now. John so hot that something has to give pretty soon - and it won't be John."

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Comments (7)
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  • JDanziger
    , contributor
    Comments (78) | Send Message
    50 cals are great, just be careful not to be this guy:

    23 Jan 2014, 05:51 PM Reply Like
  • Chris DeMuth Jr.
    , contributor
    Comments (11450) | Send Message
    Author’s reply » No, you never want to be that guy.
    23 Jan 2014, 05:54 PM Reply Like
  • TimeOnTarget
    , contributor
    Comments (3655) | Send Message


    I have seen that before. I think I remember reading something that it was in or around Austin, TX -- where I live.


    But, I have to say: What the hell happened? I have never, never, never seen any kind of ricochet do that-- not any caliber-- and nothing even close-- like nothing back to the line parallel with the shooter, much less directly at the shooter. I'm thinking that it must have had a hard initial deflection up and hit a second hard surface that was slanted back out away from the backstop at a significant angle.


    You don't want any deflecting surfaces on your backstop for sure, but that guy got both really unlucky -- to have it ricochet back at that weird combo it must have taken to get back and hit him -- and really lucky -- to get hit with a .50 cal. ricochet in the head and still be living. Hell, I think I could kill someone by throwing one of those bullets at someone's head.


    @Chris --


    Agree completely WRT John Browning. Although I have a .45 and really like it, and have shot my father's .45, which was his grandfather's .45 in WWI, innumerable times, I have to get a plug in for another one of his designs.


    I really, really like the Browning High Power. I have had one for 25 years, fired the hell out of it. Completely trouble free. One time I bought a few boxes of some really cheap ammo that it didn't feed reliably--jammed bunch of times. It was that particular ammo. Never had a problem with any other ammo. Thousands of rounds.


    Plus, it is just the nicest handling, pointing, natural feeling pistol I have ever used. It just totally feels right to use, point, and shoot. And, you can fire really quickly with it. With a .45, and I don't care who you are, you have some time riding up and coming back down. Hi-Power and you are back on target and firing a second round much quicker. I don't know how to describe it exactly, but he gun just feels "right."
    24 Jan 2014, 01:01 AM Reply Like
  • drew111
    , contributor
    Comments (514) | Send Message
    One not mentioned is the Browning Hi Power. Though not as popular in the US, it was one of the most widely issued sidearms for militaries around the world. Technically the design was a collaboration since Mr. Browning died several years before the design was finalized. Dieudonne Saive of Fabrique Nationale completed the design. Despite it's weak chambering (9mm), it is a well designed weapon.
    23 Jan 2014, 08:40 PM Reply Like
  • TimeOnTarget
    , contributor
    Comments (3655) | Send Message
    @drew111 --


    well, I didn't read down quite far enough in the comments before I wrote mine.


    I salute you, Connoisseur Man . . . .
    24 Jan 2014, 03:05 AM Reply Like
  • drew111
    , contributor
    Comments (514) | Send Message
    24 Jan 2014, 09:12 AM Reply Like
  • Jorge_Soriano
    , contributor
    Comments (314) | Send Message
    Very nice bit of history, now I feel cheated as the only small arms weapon issued to me and had the opportunity to fire is the "inferior 9 mm. Fortunately, I've encountered no Moros lately.


    26 Jan 2014, 09:15 AM Reply Like
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