Not for Sale: My Winchester Model 1897 Shotgun

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Winchester Model 1897 shotgun
Courtesy ThunderVoice

By Thundervoice

NOT FOR SALE: One Winchester Model 1897 standard grade 12 gauge pump shotgun. Designed by John Moses Browning. Exposed hammer with slamfire capability. Manufactured in 1914. Barrel with matching serial number is 30 inches with full choke. Extra barrel is 26 inches with cylinder choke. Fired less than 100 rounds in the last 50 years.

Winchester produced over a million shotguns of this model between 1897 and 1957. Even though they quit making this shotgun before I was born, I’ve seen one for sale at just about every gun show I’ve been to. While still common, this is a one-of-a-kind gun. This one is mine. It has value to me far beyond its roughly $500 market value. It is a special gun. It is unique because of the memories and stories that are just as important as the firing pin deep inside this work of art.

This shotgun could be worth thousands of dollars, but it will stay in my family for as long as I am alive. No “compensated confiscation” for this gun. For its value cannot be measured. You see, I remember my father saying that this was his father’s gun. I remember my grandfather talking about duck hunting in the Arkansas backcountry with this gun.

Before I was born, my grandfather had been an avid duck hunter, who I now wish had taken me hunting at least once during the few times I got to spend with him. But by the time I was old enough to hunt, his eyes were too bad to shoot.

I remember my father cleaning this gun for his father when we visited my grandparents on vacation, taking care of it because he knew it would be his someday. I remember my father shooting the 1897 when he took me hunting as a young boy. Some day this Model 1897 will go to my son or daughter and, I hope, a grandchild, who exists only as a distant hope at this time.

I would bet dollars to doughnuts that my grandfather had this gun in his hands when he took my father hunting. I only wish I had asked my father about that before he passed away.

My father and I shared a common profession as traffic engineers and there were many things that he taught me that made me the man that I am today. Those lessons didn’t have anything to do with firearms, so during my final days with him, my only thoughts were to help him, thank him, and let him know how great of a father he was. Asking about a hundred-year-old shotgun was the furthest thing from my mind.

It wasn’t until a few months after he passed that my mother asked me about the shotguns in the closet. She didn’t know what they were, but when I pulled them out, I found the 1897 along with a couple of Remington Model 11’s (also manufactured before the Great War).

The memories started flowing back. As I pondered those guns, I realized that I had never asked my father about the history behind them. When did my grandfather buy them? Did he buy them new? How much did he pay? Did he trade mattress work for the 1897?

It’s hard to understand today, but my grandfather owned a mattress reconditioning company. Believe it or not, back in the day, when a mattress wore out, you didn’t throw it away. People took their mattresses to my grandfather to have them reconditioned. That business sustained my grandfather’s family through the Depression and into the early 1970s when he retired. So many questions, so few answers.

Shortly after I brought the 1897 home from my parents’ home, I was invited to shoot a round of sporting clays. What better chance to try out the 1897? I soon learned that John Moses Browning designed this gun when men were men and things like recoil pads were not something you designed into a shotgun.

After 50 rounds of sporting clays, my shoulder hurt…and not just a little bit. The word ‘sore’ is wholly inadequate to describe the feeling in my shoulder that day. Severe, throbbing pain was a more accurate descriptor. The shoulder was blue for more than two weeks, but I wouldn’t trade that day for the world.

I was able to take my son with me that day. There is magic in shooting a firearm that you know was shot by your grandfather and your father while you have your son alongside. And even though no more than two generations had been in the presence of that gun at any one time during its 101 year life, on that day, the gun provided a link between four generations of the men in my family.

As I lay in my bed that night massaging my shoulder, I realized this was not the first time I had shot this gun. The first time was when I was about ten years old. My father let me shoot it at a cardboard box before we went squirrel hunting in a Texas national forest. Even though I shot it from a sitting position, this firearm was too much for a ten-year old.

After pulling the trigger, I found myself on my backside. The ol’ 1897 blew that ten-year-old boy right over. Laid me out flat. Flat enough that my father was smiling at me lying on the ground. Fortunately, he was smart enough to know to only put one shell in the gun. He knew that gun the way I knew it that night, with the soreness and throbbing reinforcing the value of the lesson.

Six years later, my father and I were duck hunting with a group of his co-workers. He had the 1897 and I had my grandfather’s 16 gauge Stevens pump (I still have that gun as well).

After a morning of hunting, my dad and I had just split from the main party and were walking back to our vehicle when a hunter’s shotgun accidentally discharged into the thigh of another hunter. A life-and-death situation for a brand-new 16-year-old. I grew up fast that day. Before that, football seemed to be the most important thing in my life. But when a man’s life is hanging in the balance, you realize that football isn’t that significant. I learned a valuable lesson that day about firearm safety, muzzle discipline, first aid, and the consequences of what happens when firearm safety rules aren’t followed.

Years later, I was at an alumni function and was introduced to someone I was told was an important member of the community. The name sounded familiar and I asked him if he was the one that had been wounded in a hunting accident a dozen years earlier. He was. And he repeated over and over about how grateful he was to those men who saved his life. As the saying goes, it is a small world.

Another lesson I have learned from this gun is to write down each gun’s story. I plan to pass on every one of my firearms to my children. And if I were to die tomorrow, they would find a sheet of paper in the gun safe with the story of every gun in the safe. Who gave it to me or how much I paid for it. How I have used it. Because a hundred years from now, I want my great-grandchild to know the story of the gun he or she is holding in their hands.

This shotgun has a life of its own. And stories that go with it. I wish this gun could talk so that I could learn all of those other stories that no one ever wrote down. The good news is that its life is not over. You can bet that it’ll be in my hands during a future dove hunt when I have one of my kids with me. And I hope I can still hunt when a future grandson or granddaughter is old enough to go with me.

Someday, my son (or daughter) will have it in their hands when they take their son or daughter hunting. And maybe their grandson or granddaughter. This Model 1897 Winchester is more than just a shotgun. It is a thread that ties together the generation of my family – past, present, and generations to come.

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  1. I once had a model 1897 that has a similar story as this. It was my grandfather’s, then my dad’s and finally mine. The memories of hunting with both my grandfather and my father are some of the most precious memories that I have. My gun was very distinctive in that it has a chip on the stock that I can see in my mind’s eye after not seeing it for forty years.
    Unfortunately, my shotgun was stolen. I’ve been to many guns shows over the years looking for that gun and in my dreams I find it and beat the ever lovin’ crap out of the bastard that stole my memories.

    • You should receive your first check within a week or so. Or you can start to have them wire directly into your bank account. (Your first checks will be about $500 to $1,500 a week. Then it goes up from there.4
      Depends on how much time you spent on it…..

  2. This is a great story. My dad had a 1920 Model ’97 that belonged to his father who was killed in a logging accident in 1921. My dad used it for years. He then passed it on to my younger brother who died and passed it to my youngest brother. I was upset because I was the oldest sibling.

    • That’s the kind of story that being called a ‘fudd’ is a badge of honor. Whoever would call you a ‘fudd’ for liking that story is a soulless creature not worthy of disdain.

    • Liking vintage/sporting firearms DOESN’T make you a Fudd.

      Supporting bans on “weapons of war” so long as your deer rifle doesn’t get confiscated* DOES make you a Fudd. Get it? Got it? Good.

      *If they get their way, it will. Once they’ve banned all the black rifles, semi-autos, handguns and shotguns, watch how fast Grandpappy’s deer gun suddenly turns into a “sniper rifle” and becomes next on the list.

  3. Great story. My Belgian Browning Auto 5 will also never be for sale. Its history. Saint John Moses Browning was ahead of his time.

  4. When the Democrat Party death squad bangs on your door and orders you to turn it over to them, you’ll stand there gently weeping while soiling your pants as they smirk with your shotgun in their hands.

    • Most will, but I’m betting there are a few people who realize what comes next, and don’t mind taking a few down with them in the process. Again, not many, but enough that they’ll run out of volunteers willing to round them up well before we run out of people unwilling to hand them over.

  5. We are fortunate to have such memories passed down. Great Grandfather, Grandfather and my Father passed firearms down to me. These and others will be passed down. The memories shared and the stories of them cannot be bought.

  6. 97’s and memories, you have a rare dual barrel gun. mine is like yours but the long barrel is 32′ and of coarse won’t fit in a Pickup Gun rack. :-). Mine was my 15th Birth Day present. We were in the local Western Auto and a man came in and needed to buy his son his 1st 30-30 for the coming Dear season, friends managed the store and allowed my Dad to negotiate and buy it for $35. Life was good then in the early 70’s in Western Oregon. I treasure mine as well, many 97’s have come and gone, being my favorite Shotgun but will treasure this one as you do till it will be in the hands of my son. Whyat O.

  7. I have a Model 1897 Riot Gun that was manufactured in 1901. Great shooter! It is my “house” shot gun. Paid $300 dollars for it. The guy selling it didn’t know what he had. If guns could talk…..

  8. Molon labe make them take it at a major cost to them and fight like your life depends on it. Because it does.

  9. Strangely enough my MATERNAL grandfather was a Feather and HORSEHAIR merchant . Collecdtd feathers and horsehair for mattress and featherbed making I believe most of it ended up in a factory on the Isle of Wight of the coast of South East Britain. Sadly like so many he had to give it up when synthetics came along. Granddan ‘Jim’ was a fll ROMANY and hjis family held a considerabler number of shres [and still do] in COVENT GARDEN [the central Fruit Veg a flower market in LONDON at the time]. His Brother AARON Porter was known as the Christmas Wreath King. My maternal Grandmother and he were first cousins not such an unusual a marriage arrangement among Romany’s at the time, Up to the age of about 6 or 7 and at bthe age of 83 I still retaing some of it. ROMANY was my first language.

    The Romany side of my family never lived in ‘vans’ never had or bred horses and they were all ‘Kenner Bred’ [Romany for those born in houses] Every one of them ran a business of some sort and they all owned their own property in a time when ‘renting’ including mym paternal grandparents who wer in relative terms quite well-to-do.
    In the are of SUSSEX where I lived most people spoke Romany to varying degrees of skill and my non-Romany father spoke better than most Romany’s. But to hear my mother ‘curse’ in Romany was an education in the use of languages in itself. JUst as well most ‘goygers’ [non-Romany’s didn’t understand her but then neither did a lot of Romany’s] Another interesting fact is the South London Romany’s [where they were originally from] had a great deal in common with the South London working class JEWS and my Romany ‘Uncle, married one my Auntie Betty. I used to be absolutely facinated by her shaven head and her wig as small kid. I don’t think that my ‘second cousins’ Pupo, Mary and ‘Little May’ ever actually realised they were in fact Jewish! Strange old world!

  10. All my gunms are plastic, they’ll be broke before the grandkids ever grow up. – Har har
    I think in the future gunms are going to be a novelty item and if you do have one it’ll be hidden away and not talked about.
    Good times
    Bad times
    You know I’ve had my share
    The government just walked off with my gunms
    And I dont even care.

  11. Interesting that it’s only worth around $500. A few online are being bid around $400 right now. I’d have guessed 2-5x that before looking into the current pricing.

    Odd that a used Mossy 500 tactical goes for around the same price or more, new generally a notable amount more.

    It’s both fascinating and strange the way people assign value to things.

    • Paid $400 for an old Wingmaster and thought I got a deal.
      And I did, you cant buy a new gunm made like that.

      • My dad had a pair of Wingmasters bought before serial numbers were a thing.

        Gave me one of them years back with the bird barrel and a riot barrel while he kept the other. That one mostly sits in the safe. Too nice (and too unserialized) to risk losing over some deadbeat home invader.

        • A Wingmaster without any serial numbers, The Ghostmaster series.
          Lwts hope theBiden doesn’t get wind of this, he might get the shotgunm blues.

  12. Yup, got a similar story , maybe not as rare, but for me, a person who has a collection of weapons,
    My Winchester 32 special is one gun I would NEVER sell.
    My grandpa’s saddle gun. My dad , myself, my son, & my daughter had to shoot their first deer with this beautiful saddle gun. It’s part of my family’s legacy.
    Long live the Winchester 32 Special… although round’s are getting harder to find…

    • Our dad had a 32 and, thinking about it, that’s one of only a couple of the family guns I haven’t fired. My younger brother has it now, and last year for his birthday I bought on GB a near mint box of cartridges that was from the same year the rifle was made. We’ll get some shooting ammo one these days and touch it off. I’m in the process of reassembling the cabinet full of guns my grandfather had, and we’ll burn some powder in them too.

  13. I had one of those in 16 gauge. I bought it from one of these old school junk/antique sellers in upstate NY. It was covered in dust-impregnated grease and took a long time to clean up. I never found ammo that ejected properly from it but it was fun to shoot. I would have kept it if it was a 12 gauge.

  14. I hope the Feds are not reading this, but I have a few guns that are not traceable. When I bought my home from a widow, I learned a serious gun person had built the place. In the barn size garage I found several old handguns in different calibers. I also had a WW2 bring back from my Father, mint condition Walther that I passed to my son. Add an old 16 ga. single shot from my Grandfather and a WW1 Mauser in 8MM purchased by my WW1 veteran Grandfather from a Veteran organization for $3 when he got home from the service. Believe me, the jackboot govt. thugs will never get these away from me.

  15. A timely story as my dad just passed away in hospice . Cleaned out his church owned “NO GUNS ALLOWED” Independent Living apartment over the last 3wks. Yeah sure. The one of the biggest 2nd absolutists that ever walked the US not moving his armory with him when he moved to an apartment. He financed way more than his share of GOA, NRA-ILA, etc operations and conservative orgs for decades. I was able to inform him about the victory in SCOTUS a couple days after it was released. He immediately cussed CA and NY as sure to try to subvert it. Right again.

    Only item I recall from childhood, is shooting the Colt .22LR Buntline at the town dump. A collector/prepper never a shooter but piles of ammo and nice stuff.

  16. fired my grandpappy’s 12 ga when I was about 10…on a New Years eve, I believe…pushed me back a bit and not all that pleasant…but it didn’t knock me on my can….

  17. I’ve got my father’s 97 that he bought it the late 70s. Takedown w/32″ barrel. He had the barrel sleeved, backbored all that. It was his turkey shoot gun. Won a few times with it.

  18. Another lesson I have learned from this gun is to write down each gun’s story.

    For my firearms I have a fairly extensive spreadsheet with all kinds of info about each piece but I don’t have a tab about STORIES, first impressions, why I bought it, etc.
    Thanks for the good idea.


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