Winchester Model 12: Classic Pump-Action Shotgun Review
I don’t find every old firearm to be interesting, but there are the occasional ones that grab my attention for any number of reasons. The Winchester Model 12 just happens to be one of the few that did pique my interest, and today I’m here to tell you a little bit about my experience with it.
The Model 12 is a pump-action 12-gauge shotgun that is iconic in that it has the classic features that make a pump gun so appealing. It may not be the first, but it certainly trained generations how to shoot airborne game among many other things. The Model 12 was also used by the U.S. military, with roots going back to before World War I.
My father grew up shooting an old Model 12, and he was barely a teenager when it was given to him by my grandfather. He used it for hunting pheasants and ducks in the marshy wetlands beyond grandpa’s pasture. As a child, I remember seeing dad tinker with it amongst his other guns.
The Model 12 uses traditional wooden furniture, with an easily identifying ribbed front grip. A shallow rib runs the length of the barrel, with a targeting bead on the muzzle end. The barrel itself is 30 inches long and has a 3-inch magnum chamber. It features a familiar safety at the front of the trigger guard and an action release just behind it. The tubular magazine holds six 2.75-inch shot shells, and it is clamped to the barrel at the front of the tube.
I looked up the serial number and, if the internet is to be believed, this gun was manufactured in 1917, making it 105 years old.
After some inspection and thorough familiarizing myself with the gun, I decided it was time to see how it shoots. I loaded up some clay targets and a few boxes of shells and headed to the hills. The family and I spent a good part of the afternoon shooting the Model 12, smashing clays and pumping fresh shells through the gun.
This Model 12, in particular, appears to be in pretty good shape, and yet we did have just a few hiccups with it. The trigger on the gun doesn’t reset when pumped, you can literally hold the trigger down and pump shot after shot like the old Western revolvers.
A couple of times, it felt as though the trigger followed the bolt home and didn’t go off, leaving a dead trigger. This is likely as much a result of my children’s inexperience with shotguns as anything. On a couple of occasions, the bolt felt stuck in battery, requiring an extra shove from me to extract the spent shell.
Despite these hiccups, we still had a great afternoon on the mountain. The barrel was made way before interchangeable chokes, so you get what it came with as far as that goes. I imagine it is set fairly tight, as the shot pattern seemed much smaller than I expected. This made shooting the hand-thrown clays a whole lot more challenging. We were shooting 1-ounce loads from Winchester and Fiocchi, both using #7.5 shot.
I am certainly not the best wing shooter, but I did feel like I was cheated out of a few hits by the Model 12. There were shots I am very confident I would have made if I were shooting one of my guns.
Pros and Cons
The Model 12 has plenty of history. If you are a collector, that may weigh heavy on your selection. Personally, I have no use for guns that I’m not going to shoot. So, it has got to be useful to fit in my safe.
The Model 12 could be perfectly useful for the right kind of shooter. The same pheasants that my father hunted as a youth could still be hunted with this gun, as could the doves and chukars that live on the dry desert hills above my home. The 3-inch chamber would probably work great for shooting turkeys if you so choose, depending on how it patterns.
The gun is simple, and the no-frills construction also lends itself to a fairly lightweight.
The older design of the gun could also use some modern touches. The recoil pad isn’t particularly forgiving, something the kids noticed a lot more than myself. I imagine it would become more noticeable if I’d been shooting 3-inch shells. The few malfunctions we experienced could be from the 100+ years of use, resulting in some wear. It also could have just needed a little TLC. Regardless, I’m confident that some simple maintenance from a qualified gun plumber could fix it right up.
Time hasn’t passed in vain with this old shotgun. But it still has much to offer anyone with a taste for classic American firearms. The feel of the century-old craftsmanship definitely has its allure, and slamming the action shut on a live shell speaks volumes to the old refrain, “They don’t build them like they used to.”