Winchester Model 1897

The shotgun Browning really wanted
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Denny’s trusty Winchester Model 1897 shown with a vintage Eagle Industries 60-round bandoleer.

In my last shotgun column I covered the lever-action Winchester Model 1887 shotgun designed by firearms genius John M. Browning.

The management at Winchester told Browning Winchester was best known for lever-actions and a lever-action shotgun should be produced for brand recognition, even though Browning told them a slide-action (pump) would be a better choice. Ten years later Winchester finally accepted the Browning-designed Model 1897.

The ’97 slide release is a button on the right side of the receiver.

Specs

Over the years the Model ’97 was manufactured in several grades from fancy walnut and hand engraved receivers to the no-frills riot and trench models. Barrel lengths included 30", 28", 26" and 20". Like most early pump shotguns the ’97 had a single action bar as opposed to the dual action bars found on more modern designs.

The gun came in fixed and takedown models. Shell capacity was five plus one in the chamber.

Takedown is accomplished by pushing in the pin located at the end of the magazine, turning the assembly counterclockwise and then rotating a quarter of a turn to the left. The barrel/magazine tube can now be separated from the receiver.

The riot gun had a simple bead sight. The trench gun added a ventilated handguard and bayonet lug.

The longer barrel version was used by farmers and hunters, while the riot guns were used by both lawmen and gangsters alike. The trench version was used to good effect by American Doughboys in World War I. In fact they were so effective the German government complained the Model 97 Trench Gun was illegal because “it is especially forbidden to employ arms, projections, or materials calculated to cause unnecessary suffering” as defined by the Hague convention.

An interesting side note — if the trigger is held to the rear, it will fire with each pump of the action.

The shotgun shown is my personal Model 1897 and is of the takedown type. A check with Winchester revealed the gun was made 1909. It is a “D” version, indicating the magazine follower is flat.

Deal of the century

I found my shotgun in 1985 at a local swap meet. It was in a bucket and completely disassembled, right down to the last pin. The man was asking $50. I pointed out the barrel was crushed, the stock broken and I did not know if any parts were missing. I offered $15 and ended up walking away with it for $25.

Originally a 26″ barrel, it had apparently been ran over and was crushed around 24″ and the resulting dent ran back to the 20″ mark. The stock was completely broken at the pistol grip area and repair had been attempted by wrapping it with wire.

It took the better part of a day but after cleaning off rust and congealed oil, I was somewhat surprised when everything went back together. I received an original stock from Numrich Arms (now Gun Parts Corp.) a week later.

At the time renowned custom gunsmith Ted Yost ran the Gunsite Gunsmithy. I took the shotgun to him and asked him to cut and re-crown the barrel to 18.5″, replace the original bead sight, put in a new magazine spring and finally, install the stock with a recoil pad with an overall 12″ length of pull. Between the original purchase, the new stock, recoil pad and the work done by Ted, I was into the grand old gun for a total of 60 bucks.

This shotgun and a Model 94 in .30-30 ride with me every day in my truck in a Big Sky roof rack. Between them and my handgun I can take care of any problem, big or small from close to far.

Unlike more modern designs, the Winchester Model 1997 has a single action bar but
the Browning design remains a favorite with shooters over 120 years later.

True Ingenuity

When not on the road instructing, Louis Awerbuck and I spent countless hours solving the world’s problems over coffee and cigarettes. Most of the time the problems would be back the next day but I recall one notable exception.

Louis was also a fan of the Model 97. He had an original takedown riot gun that often accompanied him, taken down to save space. One day he related to me the only problem was when taken down, the magazine tube could not be kept loaded because the shell stops were, of course, in the receiver and by the time it took to load it the fight might be over.

A week later Louis came by and told me he had solved the problem. He had drilled a hole into the magazine tube about 2" from the end. Now he could load four rounds, insert a grenade pin into the hole and when taken down the magazine could stay loaded, albeit at the cost of one round. Being able to reassemble quickly and with the pull of the pin, the gun would be ready to rock. I think John Browning would have smiled.

Increased popularity

Popularity of the Model 1997 has increased dramatically with Cowboy Action Shooting, and original ’97s are in high demand with prices to match — original Winchester Trench guns are going for $4,000 and more. Even an imported Norinco riot clone will fetch around $500 and a replica Trench will set you back another couple of hundred. I have some experience with the Norinco clones and have found them to be reliable.

Whether original or replica the Winchester Model 1897 is a true piece of American history.

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