Winchester Model 1897 shotgun
Courtesy ThunderVoice
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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 this gun 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 18 months ago. 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 Model 11 shotguns (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 is 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 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? Well, I 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 inadequate to describe the feeling in my shoulder. Severe, throbbing pain was a more likely descriptor. The shoulder was blue for more than two weeks. But yet, 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 lessonl.

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 day, 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 is not 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 are not 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. Grab a slip-on recoil pad for that ‘ol 97!
    Back then, people were shorter than they are today, so a slip-on will bring the length of pull up to where you’ll need it in addition to making it a joy to shoot. No permanent alteration to the gun as well…

  2. So, how much are you asking for it, again? 😉

    Great story. Reminds me of the Winchester .22 bolt action my father gave me for my 13th birthday that was his from when he was who knows how old. I hadn’t shot it in many years and recently took it out and rediscovered how much fun it is to shoot. And yes, I should have asked my father the history of it when I had the chance.

  3. Very cool.
    I have never thought of writing down the provenance of the inherited ones I have until reading this.
    Great idea.

    • Another to consider is to write on the back of photographs who’s who in the picture and location.

      My parents have stacks of 50-plus year old pics and have forgotten who a bunch of those people are.

      And no, they don’t have Alzheimer’s.

      Just typical old folk’s Can’t Remember Sh!t (CRS) syndrome.

  4. Great story.
    I have my grandfather’s Winchester Model 94. I even have the receipt from when he bought it in 1906. 3 generations have taken deer with it.

  5. I like that Idea of writing down the history of the firearms that you acquire, and putting it in your safe for future generations. Even if a particular firearm might not seem that interesting to you does not mean your kids/grandkids won’t find it very important to them. That cheap, used, nothing special 10/22 you picked up just for some fun plinking that you throw into you safe and almost forget and never think about (hey, .22 got pretty expensive), but you bring it to the range when you bring your kids with you. The generic Glock 43 that you got for CC that you strap on and don’t give a second thought and 50 years from now will be well worn and worthless. To your kids and your grandkids, they may see them as priceless family heirlooms.

  6. That’s weak, I shot a full course of 100 with my 1887 lever action, most fun I’ve ever had with sporting clays.

  7. I bought one of those model 12’s for around $100.

    It ran really rough, probably had never been cleaned. So I took the side plate off to clean it.

    I got all the parts back in there… eventually.

    • I take that back. It wasn’t a model 12, it was next in the line of evolution, the 42. Basically a hammer less version of the 12, which made it’s guts that much more complicated.

      I believe it was the version that was a bit less likely to blow the lower half of your face off.

      Never did that thing running right. Numrich is great, but they can’t possibly properly make every part for every gun and in my case they didn’t.

      Or the new, properly sized, extractor wouldn’t fit because it didn’t wear out over time like the rest of the parts. Kind of like that lock in your house that the spare key won’t work in because it didn’t wear in the lock over 20 years like the key in your pocket did.

    • Yep, they’re not exactly the pinnacle of shotgun design. But they do work, they work reasonably well and they last a long time.

  8. It saddens me to think that with firearms becoming one topic people don’t talk about at gatherings or around children how much of that history of bring backs, first deer rifles, and family heirlooms are lost. I hope someday i will be able to tell my grandchildren about the guns i teach them to shoot.

  9. I was given my grandfather’s single shot “Iver Johnson Gun & Cycle Works” 20 gauge shotgun on his death. The shotgun was from the 1890s. While away in the Army, my mother gave it away. So I do miss that gun, and really understand where the author’s viewpoint comes from. My mother is afraid of firearms. As if one would jump up off the table and bite her.

      • It makes me sad as well. Her excuse was “it doesn’t work” – as if it couldn’t be repaired, and as if it really mattered to me whether it was in firing condition. But then my mother subscribed to all the liberal talking points (including dick cheney is evil & george w bush is stupid), only now in the past few years has she begun to come around – like the rest of the country, too little too late.

  10. I’ve written here before about my grandfather’s collection, discovered by my cousin and me after his funeral. For some reason, he didn’t pass on his love of hunting and shooting to his three sons, who all grew up anti-gun and sold off his collection for a fraction of its value. (Mint WW2 issue 1911, anyone?) I was only 16 at the time and knew nothing about guns.

    Just this week, we reconditioned an SML alto sax for my son. It came from his uncle, who received it from his uncle. It’s worth a good amount and sounds oh so sweet. I hope my kid appreciates its provenance.

  11. “Did he trade mattress work for the 1897?”

    Oh crap! Where is he going with this?

    “…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 mattresses to my grandfather to have them reconditioned.”

    Whew! Had me worried for a moment.

  12. Great story! My suggestion is to contact any of your uncles or old hunting buddies of your dad’s that you can find and see if they can fill in some history of your shotgun. Stories are often told around the campfire after a day’s hunt about the guns used, and you just might get lucky with someone remembering your dad’s stories. I have many stories passed to me about my grandfather’s hunting small game, deer, and sometimes it was just meat for that night’s dinner, from my grandmother. Grandpa died years before I was born. But I have also talked to other men that hunted with him and got their versions of hunting adventures shared years ago. I should write all of it down as I’m probably the only soul still alive with this information.


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