This unfortunate term (I rank it right alongside the truly loathsome “.257 Bob” for .257 Roberts.) arose on the Internet some years ago to describe a firearm that spends its time in a closet or safe, never to be used. Most of the time, this is not the fault of the gun involved.
Recoil is probably the main creator of closet queens. When the .458 Model 70 Winchester African came out in 1956 it was the first American big-bore in a long time, and there was a lot of interest in it. People who would never get closer to Africa than a Tarzan movie rushed to buy one, and then discovered that the things kicked harder than they ever dreamed. What to do? These Model 70s were not cheap rifles, and not easy to sell, and if you did sell you admitted that you were a little short in the manhood department. Thus they became closet queens.
Same with the Model 29 Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum, both in 1955 when it came out, and again in the early ’70s when Dirty Harry Callahan made it a byword. The original .44 Magnum loads were very, very serious, and many, many people found they wanted no part of them.
Some guns become closet queens because they’re of no further use, but have sentimental value, so they stay. I have a Winchester Model 94 Commemorative Musket that I won at a trap shoot in 1971. As a gun it’s a piece of junk, but it’s the first prize I ever won shooting, so how can I let it go? In the closet it shall stay.
I have three wood-stocked rifles that I got a ton of use from in the ’70s and ’80s and will never use again, mostly because they’re irreplaceable and because I now use synthetic-stocked rifles almost exclusively. But how can I let the old-timers go?
A great many closet queens get their start because someone reads about a new rifle or cartridge that will transform them into a super marksman, drop all game dead in its tracks, blah, blah, blah. When this turns out to be a load of dung, the gun becomes a bitter disappointment and a symbol of failure, and into the darkness it vanishes.
The way to avoid buying this kind of closet queen is:
Never trust a gun writer.