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The Winchester Model 12: The Perfect Repeater

by Jim House

The Winchester Model 12:  The Perfect Repeater

            Introduced in 1912, the Winchester Model 1912 shotgun soon became known simply as the Model 12. Early in the production period of over half a century, the Model 12 was called “The Perfect Repeater.” Is that a true assessment? I can’t say because I have had a Remington 870 and an Ithaca 37 for many years. Both have been utterly dependable and they have always functioned flawlessly. With its beautifully forged receiver and other machined parts, the Winchester Model 12 is, in my opinion, as good as any other pump shotgun and better than most.

            My Model 12 is a 12 gauge that has a 30 inch barrel choked full with a 2-3/4 inch chamber. Although discontinued in 1964, many Model 12s are still in regular use and used specimens in good condition are offered on the used gun market usually starting around $400-500 for the plain field grade and going up from there. Mine is not for sale. In fact, I like it so well that I am going to keep on the lookout for a nice one in 20 gauge. The slick little Winchester Model 42 pump is essentially a Model 12 in .410 bore. I have always wanted one.

            The Winchester Model 12 was offered in several versions and grades and could be ordered with numerous options. However a characteristic of all versions was that they were made of steel and carefully fitted even in the cheapest field grade. As a result, the Model 12 was never inexpensive to produce. When the Remington 870 came along in 1950, it was a solid and reliable shotgun that could be sold for quite a bit less than a Winchester Model 12. Although other manufacturers produced pump shotguns, probably it was the Remington 870 that was responsible for discontinuing the Model 12. With the quality and care that was put into the Model 12, it simply could not compete in price with other pump shotguns.  Now, with the uncertain status of Remington, Model 870s have escalated in price.

            During the over 50 years of production, the Winchester Model 12 saw military use in WW I, WW II, the Korean War, and Viet Nam. With a barrel that was 20 inches in length, this version was referred to as the Trench Gun. It had a cylinder bore barrel, a hand guard, sling swivels and a provision for attaching a bayonet. The version known as the Riot gun was for law enforcement work and was similar to the Trench Gun except for having no handguard, swivels, or bayonet attachment hardware. Some of these special models are highly collectible and command extremely high prices.

            Originally introduced in 20 gauge chambered for short 2 ½ inch shells, chambers were lengthened to 2 ¾ inch around 1924. Guns in 12 and 16 gauge were produced starting in 1914. A 12 gauge model with a 3 inch chamber came along in the same year I did, 1936. The total number of options with regard to barrel lengths, chokes, stock wood and configurations and embellishments is staggering. The Model 12 was a popular shotgun whose production totaled almost 2 million. This is not meant to be a catalog of features so no attempt is made at completeness. Rather, this is a tribute to one of the all-time great shotguns.

            One of the unusual features of the Model 12 is that it did not have a trigger disconnector. That meant that as soon as the action closed the shell in the chamber would be fired if the trigger were held back in the “pulled” position.

            The serial number on my Model 12 indicates that it was made in 1957 while I was still an undergraduate college student. Needless to say that indicates that my Model 12 was bought much later when I could afford it as a well-used but still solid gun. It had some dark areas in the metal that looked as if it had rusted and pitted and then had something applied to those areas. To improve the appearance, I used fine sandpaper sparingly to remove the roughness and then I used some 1500 and 2000 grit paper that is used in auto finishing.  That was followed with buffing using 2500 wet or dry paper for final smoothing after which I applied several coats of Birchwood Casey Super Blue to give a much enhanced finish.  The metal was rubbed lightly with 0000 steel wool between coats.  Although it does not look like a new gun, it looks much better.

            The plain stock on my old field grade Model 12 had some deep scratches and areas where the finish had been rubbed off. Although the stock had very nice grain and could be refinished, I decided to add a checkered walnut stock and fore end from Boyds. The field grade gun did not have a checkered stock so the Boyds stock would enhance the appearance considerably. There are some aspects of a complete takedown for the Model 12 that I did not want to undertake, and a special wrench is required to remove the retaining ring at the front of the pump handle. Fortunately, Reeve Weber at The Sports Lure in Buffalo, WY was knowledgeable and available.    I was glad that Reeve would do the work because I did not have the necessary tools or a padded vice.  After Reeve got everything removed and the new pump handle and stock installed, I settled with him and happily gave the metal parts a rub with G-96 Gun Treatment and took some photos.

            Being a 12 gauge with a 30 inch, full choke barrel, my Model 12 is not the most appropriate equipment for use when hunting fast rising quail, but it works well on waterfowl, turkey, or called predators. 

            I have had both my Remington Model 870 and Ithaca Model 37 shotguns for many years, and they are both good shotguns. However, my Winchester Model 12 occupies the place of highest honor among my pump shotguns, especially in its enhanced configuration.


My old Winchester Model 12 was a plain field grade specimen

The original stock had nice grain, but there were some rubbed and scratched areas.

The Boyds walnut stock with checkered grip changes the looks of the Model 12.

Although the pump handle on the Boyds stock is not checkered, it is beautifully finished and ringed.

Even though it is about 65 years old, thanks to Boyds and some bluing my Winchester Model 12 is still a handsome gun that performs as good as it looks.