Most historians and gun guys are familiar with the Liberator pistol from World War II. Crudely produced at the General Motors Guide Lamp Division in Indiana, the Liberator was a single-shot .45 caliber pistol with an effective range of one to four yards, mostly due to its super-short, unrifled barrel.
The purpose of the guns was simple: drop a large multitude of Liberators into occupied territory for the resistance fighters to use against their enemies. They could use the gun to kill a combatant and take their real gun. Never intended to be a long-term solution, the guns were shipped in cardboard boxes with 10 rounds of ammo, a wooden dowel for an extractor, and an illustrated instruction sheet.
Today, the guns are prized by military collectors and can fetch a few thousand dollars for just the gun. If you can put the gun together with the cardboard box and instruction sheet, it could double (or more) in price.
While the Liberator’s story from World War II is known by many, the Deer Gun’s story from the Vietnam era is not. In fact, it’s such an unknown part of history that debate surrounds the proper spelling and origin of the name.
Designed in the early 1960s to be the “Liberator 2.0” of sorts, the Deer Gun was intended by the CIA to be supplied to guerilla fighters in South Vietnam. The gun consisted of a cast aluminum frame featuring molded cross-hatching on the grip panel, two blued 1.8” barrels (one rifled; one smoothbore), a conical shaped cocking knob, and no trigger guard.
The 12-ounce gun fired 9x19mm cartridges and was packaged in heavy-duty Styrofoam with three rounds of ammo and an illustrated instruction sheet. The extra ammo could be kept in the pistol grip, along with a round, plastic collar that both doubled as a front sight when slid onto the barrel and a manual safety when placed between the frame and the cocking knob. A plastic rod attached to the detachable base of the grip and could be used to punch out the spent casing.
This unusual gun was operated by unscrewing the barrel and loading the round into the breach, screwing the barrel back onto the frame, pulling back the cocking knob until it locked into place, and then pulling the trigger when ready to fire.
More unusual than General Motors making the Liberator, the Deer Gun’s design was the brainchild of Russell Moure, an engineer at American Machine & Foundry – the very same AMF that made bowling equipment and Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Of course, it’s not all that unusual to think of AMF making guns if you consider the fact that they also made the launching silos for Titan and Atlas ICBMs.
Around 1,000 Deer Guns were made in 1964. When the war grew and escalated, it became clear that the Deer Gun wouldn’t be effective. As such, the majority of them were destroyed on purpose. Survival rates are approximately 2.5%, with a maximum of 25 thought to still be in existence. One sold through Rock Island Auction Company in December 2011, with the Styrofoam box, cartridges, and instruction sheet, for $25,875.
As with any design, a production piece is preceded by a prototype. As luck would have it, I recently had the opportunity to handle one of these for the Deer Gun.
The body was the same cast aluminum, except that it was painted black and had no molded cross-hatching on the grip panels. The cocking knob was cylindrical in shape and knurled for gripping purposes instead of being conical. The rubber plug in the bottom of the grip contained a plastic ejector rod and a rubber collar (not plastic) to be used as a sight / safety. Most unusual, however, were the barrels. It had one rifled and one smoothbore like the production models, but it also had a third barrel chambered for 9x18mm Makarov.
Handling a Liberator is cool because it’s an unusual novelty. Handling a Deer Gun is ultra cool because so few people know about them and even fewer survive to this day. But handling a prototype Deer Gun? Well, that’s like finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow being guarded by a leprechaun riding a unicorn.
Logan Metesh is a firearms historian and consultant who runs High Caliber History LLC. Click here for a free 3-page download with tips about caring for your antique and collectible firearms.