I have long fancied firearms that are a bit beyond the ordinary. My modest collection includes examples of many popular firearms that I shoot on a regular basis. But I remain intrigued by those odd ducks. Nearly 40 years ago, one of my shooting buddies reported that he had lucked into a unique autoloading rifle manufactured by Winchester. Few details were provided and my mind raced with possibilities as I drove to his home. Imagine my surprise when he broke out a Winchester 1907 rifle chambered for the .351 SL cartridge. Prior to that encounter, I had known of the existence of such a rifle but never had the opportunity to examine one.
Compared to many other Winchester classics such as the M70 or M94, the 1907 was never produced in great numbers. It did, however, fill a unique niche and remained in the Winchester line for 50 years. To say the least, the 1907 boasts a very storied past and was, in fact, one of the first weapons to be used in aerial combat. During the Great Depression, it was widely used by both gangsters and forces of good. Of late, the concept of a “patrol rifle” has been the hot ticket in the law enforcement community, but the 1907 filled that role over 80 years ago.
The Winchester Model 1907 was the most successful of three centerfire autoloading rifles designed by Thomas Crossley Johnson. Initially, Winchester introduced the Model 1905 chambered for the .32 SL and .35 SL cartridges. Neither round was especially powerful, but they set the stage for better things to come.
Despite the fact that the .32 SL has been labeled one of the most useless cartridges of all time, it is the forerunner of the .30 Carbine of World War II and Korea. Stretching the .35 SL resulted in the more powerful .351 SL. And, for those who believe life begins at 40, there was the hard-hitting Model 1910 chambered for the .401 SL.
Like its stablemates, the 1907 is a blowback-operated semi-automatic rifle. Blowback operation required a fairly heavy action, and weight of the total package is more than what you would expect for an intermediate-power cartridge. Cartridges are fed via a detachable box magazine located just forward of the triggerguard. Both five- and 10-round magazines were available, and new copies are available from Triple K. The action of the 1907 can be manually cycled by bringing a rod located under the barrel to the rear. A slotted screw at the rear of the receiver can be backed out to break the 1907 down for routine cleaning and lubrication.
Most 1907s were the standard model with a plain walnut stock; however, some deluxe variants with checkering on the forestock and pistol grip were also made. Police models with sling swivels, a fixed rear sight, and barrel sleeve to accommodate a Krag bayonet were also manufactured.
Measuring 40 inches in length, the 1907 proved handy to use in tight quarters. This quality caught the attention of the French military, which felt it was ideal for trench warfare and ordered roughly 5,000 copies during World War I. The barrel length is 20 inches and this classic selfloader tips the scales at 8 pounds. I wouldn’t categorize the .351 SL cartridge as hard kicking, but the blowback action creates a very unique sensation of rearward thrust. Open sights were standard on the 1907 rifle. Tang-mounted and receiver-mounted sights were available as a factory option.