June 13, 2023
I have a friend who’s is a scholar of old gun magazines having read a goodly percentage of the firearms magazines published in the USA in the last century or more. One particular article from the February, 1929, American Rifleman, entitled A Few Practical Rifle Notes by Melville H. Haskell, inspired him to have one of the neatest retro carbines I’ve seen fabricated. The article discussed the advantages for the horseman of “Trapper” rifles of various types with barrels that would now make them classified as short-barreled rifles (SBRs) under the 1934 National Firearms Act. Included are classic lever action Trapper Models such as the Winchester 94, but also a Winchester M1907 with a cut down barrel. My friend was inspired by the article to purchase a Winchester 1907, register it as an SBR, and have the barrel cut to 10.5 inches, just in front of the cocking plunger for the rifle. He also added a Lyman No. 41 rear receiver sight.
When the barrel work was completed by C&S Metall-Werkes Limited, we took the Winchester to the range to try it out and began musing about who might have had such a gun in the days before World War I and just after. We concluded that with the 10-round “law enforcement” magazine it would have been an especially useful gun for a lawman of the period, whether horse or Flivver-borne (a “Flivver” is a junker automobile or jalopy, clunker, lemon, etc.). Add a Winchester 97 riot gun or surplus Trench Gun and a S&W Triple Lock four-inch .44 Special, with maybe a S&W Bicycle revolver as a backup and our hypothetical lawman would have been armed for any contingency.
The Model 1907 Winchester was preceded by the Model 1905, but before that there was the Model 1903, a .22 caliber self-loading rifle. Although development of what would become the M1905 self-loading center fire rifle had begun at the same time as the M1903, it took two years before the center fire version was ready for mass production. Model 1905 rifles were available in either .32 Self-Loading or .35 self-loading calibers. M1905 rifles were standard with a five-round magazine, though 10-round magazines were available.
Winchester 1907 Photo Gallery
.351 S.L. Winchester 1907
.351 S.L. SBR with both 5 and 10-round magazines.
The M1907 Winchester “Police Rifle” (top); note the sling swivels, fixed sights, larger finger rest on the cocking handle, and 10-round magazine. (Courtesy of Rock Island Auction Service). Close-up of the .351’s ramp front sight (bottom right)
Win. 1907 Profile
Right- and left-side view of the short-barrel Winchester 1907 covered in this article; a 10-round magazine is in place.
Win. 1907 Action
The M1907 with its stock/lower removed from its upper; the take down nut is visible at the top of the stock. (Courtesy of Rock Island Auction Service)
Win. 1907 Cocking Handle
The M1907 came with a standard head for the cocking handle, while a larger one was normally chosen for the Police Rifle; note also the ramped front sight. Visible in front of the trigger are the cross bolt safety and magazine release (bottom left). Top view (bottom right) showing the Winchester markings on the rifle’s tang.
Win. 1907 Shooting
Thompson firing the M19-07 SBR; it was a very pleasant rifle to shoot. (T.J. Mullin photo)
WIn. 1907 Accuracy
A .351 S.L. soft point cartridge (left). 50-yard 5-shot group fired with the .351 S.L. (top right). For a sidearm companion to the SBR Winchester M1907, the S&W Triple Lock .44 Special with a 4" barrel offered good stopping power.
Win. 1907 Box Magazine
Real factory five- or 10-round magazines for the .351 S.L. are marked “.351 CAL.” (top right).
The Model 1907 was developed to meet customer requests for a more powerful self-loading rifle and, thus, was chambered for the more powerful .351 S.L. Cartridge. It employed a blow back action, thus requiring a heavy bolt and recoil spring. When using the plunger that had to be pushed rearward to chamber a round, the heavy spring was noticeable. Hard rubber shotgun-style butt plates were standard on the M1907, but steel butt plates were available for law enforcement orders. The “Police Rifle” also incorporated an optional mount for the Krag rifle bayonet, heavier stock, and sling. Eventually, steel butt plates became the most common. Police rifles also were available with fixed sights, while other rifles were tapped for tang sights. The special “Police Rifle” was discontinued in 1937. Among users during the 1930s were the FBI and US Border Patrol. Law enforcement suppliers offered 10-round magazines for agency sale into at least the 1960s. I have seen reference to 15-round magazines, but I have never seen one. I can remember still seeing M1907 .351 S.L. rifles in police armories in the 1960s and 1970s.
The M1907 didn’t just see “combat” in the hands of police officers. In World War I, when aerial combat was in its infancy, Great Britain and the US purchased M1907 rifles for use by observers to engage other aircraft. France purchased thousands of M1907 rifles used for both aerial and ground combat. Russia also purchased M1907 rifles in 1918, though their fate after the Revolution does not seem to be known.
Between 1906 and 1958, when it was discontinued, around 58,490 M1907s were produced. I don’t know what the breakdown of police purchases versus civilian purchases of the M1907 was, but I have seen a substantial number of the rifles with police markings for sale over the last few decades. Its primary police usage seems to have fallen from the years just before World War II until the 1930s. Specs for the .351 S.L. cartridge are a .352 diameter 180-grain bullet at 1,870 ft./s and generating 1,400 ft. lbs. of energy. That comes fairly close to performance of the .30-.30 Winchester round, which saw a lot of police usage in the Model 94 during the same period. The Winchester M1907 S.L. one hundred years ago was the equivalent of today’s AR15 patrol rifle.
Ergonomics of the M1907 is reasonably good for a rifle from its era. The cocking handle is actually more of a piston located below the barrel. Police models have a larger head to give the finger more surface area to push against. Turning the cocking handle will lock the bolt back on the rifle. A cross bolt safety located at the front of the trigger guard is easily operable with the trigger finger. Further forward is the magazine release, which is also operable with the trigger finger. The nut at the rear of the receiver may be turned to allow the rifle to be taken down for access to the action. The Lyman receiver sight on the example I shot allowed more precise shooting at longer range. The open sights on the police model would have been faster at closer range, but as I have assumed a lawman using this rifle “in the day” would have had a S&W big bore handgun and a 97 riot gun for close quarters work, the longer-range sights would have been useful.
The primary competition for the M1907 was the Remington Model 8. Among the users of that rifle was Frank Hamer, the Texas Ranger who tracked down Bonnie and Clyde. For law enforcement use, the Remington Model 8 could be modified to take a 15 or a special order 20-round magazine from the Peace Officers Equipment Company. The Model 8 was a better seller than the M1907, with around 80,000 Model 8s being sold.
As I didn’t want to shoot up too much of my friend’s .351 S.L. ammo my testing was abbreviated. To check its handiness, without chambering a round, I did exit a vehicle, then engage a hanging plate at 50 yards. The short barrel was a real advantage in quick movement. As I wasn’t familiar with the rear peep sight, it took a few seconds to get on the target, but when I did, I hit it with both shots I fired. A 50-yard group impacted to the right but if centered three shots would have been within the nine ring and the other two within the eight ring. Even though the rifle was a blowback design, recoil was negligible. When I chambered the first round each time, I understood the advantage of having the large police finger rest on the charging handle to keep the finger from slipping. Operation of the safety was easy, but I had to fumble with the magazine release at first. With practice that would become easier.
I think for many of us who like to collect and shoot classic firearms they serve as time capsules. I’d shot a Winchester M1907 once or twice before, but that was long enough ago that ammo from Winchester and Remington was available in larger gun shops. Shooting this .351 S.L. that I pictured in the hands of a Roaring 20’s lawman was different. I own and use current weapons of polymer and steel with optical sights and appreciate their utility. But, it’s still enjoyable to shoot rifles of wood and blued steel with precision iron sights.
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