The Winchester company is mostly known as a lever action rifle company. They made the guns that won the West! At the end of the 1800s and into the 1900s, they became known as the shotgun company. The Winchester Model 1897 was the first successful pump action shotgun and the first repeating shotgun to enter the mainstream. The M1897 was a good gun, but it wasn’t perfect. This led to Winchester producing the Model 12, a marketed improvement on the Model 1897.
The M1897 gets lots of love and attention because of World War 1. It was the primary trench shotgun, and its unique heat shield and bayo combo made it a very distinct weapon. However, the Winchester M1897 was nothing compared to the Winchester Model 12. The Model 12 was so well-reputed that they called it the “Perfect Repeater.”
History of the Model 12
The Winchester Model 12 did use the M1897 as its blueprint, and they developed the shotgun based on Browning’s original design. However, the improvements to the gun are credited to T.C. Johnson, a masterful designer in his own right. He designed the first commercially available semi-auto rimfire and centerfire designs. The Model 12 was a pump action shotgun that was built to be much more robust than the Model 1897.
They concealed the hammer, added a safety, and designed the majority of these guns to be takedown hunting shotguns. Much like the M1897, the Model 12 fought in World War 1 as a trench gun and continued to serve up until Vietnam. The Model 12 was incredibly successful with sportsmen and police officers as well.
The Model 12 remained in production from 1912 until 1964, with over two million produced. After the end of the original production date, Winchester would still do the occasional run. These were produced from 1964 until 2006, giving the gun a production run of 95 years.
The Decline of the Model 12
Why did the Perfect Repeater fall by the wayside? I blame Remington! I blame them for a lot of things. To be fair, the reason the Model 12 saw a decline was because Remington introduced the Model 870. The 870 features non-binding, dual-action bars and was made to be mass-produced. As such, the 870 was significantly cheaper but still very well made.
Ultimately the Model 12 was too expensive and slow to produce. If you ever handle one, it’s easy to see why the design was expensive. These are exquisitely made guns with some serious precision machine work done and likely required some very competent smith work. Winchester chose to make a new shotgun that was easier to produce, and we got the model 1200 and later 1300 series shotguns.
The Perfect Repeater In Hand
Model 12s are the definition of robust. These heavy beasts are rugged and extremely well-made. Winchester made the Model 12 the same way Ruger makes revolvers. It’s not a surprise that there are still so many kicking around that standard sporting models can be hand for less than five hundred bucks. They are well worth the cost of admission.
The Model 12 series is hefty and smooth shooting. Everything about this gun is smooth and easy to handle. The action glides rearward with absolute ease. The safety is massive and easy to engage. Threading shells into the magazine tube is oh-so-easy. One of the more interesting quirks of the gun is the fact the last shell in the gun sticks halfway out of the tube.
The pump action has a slight oddity that shotgun fans will certainly appreciate. Most shotguns will allow the action to cycle after the hammer drops. With the Winchester Model 12, you have to press the action forward a hair to unlock it. If you are using a push/pull technique, this will naturally happen, and you’ll cycle the gun without issue.
Like all shotguns, it has its own definition of recoil. It can be as rough as you let it, but the push/pull method can tame it. What also helps tame this big gun is its weight. The Model 12 is a tank, a big beefy tank.
There is some real charm to shooting these old guns. Call me sentimental, but the smooth action and trigger pull feel absolutely fantastic. Grabbing that old wood pump while a wood stock presses against your shoulder and feeling the forend glide backward is tough to beat.
Mine is clearly a sporting model, and the sporting models tend to be fairly affordable. As a hunting shotgun, the Model 12 most certainly still holds up. This is my new go-to for deer season for no other reason than I like it. Even the riot models of the Model 12 would still be very capable shotguns. A little out of date, but they can still launch lead.
The Winchester Model 12 is a legendary shotgun. It’s called the Perfect Repeater for a reason. Even after a hundred years, the design is still very competent and useable. Is it perfect? No, but it’s pretty dang close.