Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Gear Review: Winchester Model 12

Anachronism - noun
1. A thing belonging or appropriate to a period other than that in which it exists, especially a thing that is conspicuously old-fashioned.  

I suppose it is, at least in the sense that it belongs to a period in which it exists. Winchester Repeating Arms Co. says it was manufactured in early 1925. If it belonged to that period, it was a new shotgun when John T. Scopes was arrested for teaching the theory of evolution in Tennessee, when Al Capone took over the bootlegging racket in Chicago, when “Silent Cal” Coolidge was the President of the United States. Closer to home, Nellie Tayloe Ross took office as governor of Wyoming, the first woman governor in U.S. history. Ninety years ago, the world was a different place.
         They called it the “Perfect Repeater” when it first came out as the Model 1912 in that year. It went on to become the gold standard for pump action shotguns until it was discontinued in 1964. Winchester made over 2 million of them over that half-century span – everything from skeet guns to trench guns.
         Family legend has it that it was purchased for my father by his beloved Aunt Ida, the sheep queen of Sweetwater County. If she bought it new, he would have been 12 at the time. She may have – she was always willing to spend money on my father, and he was more than willing to let her buy him a shotgun. I’d like to think she’d be happy to know that it’s still with us and still killing its share of birds every year, even with the operator error common to this particular operator.       
The old man used it every year up until his death in 1967, and I’ve used it every year since. It’s chambered in 16 gauge, that lovely middle ground between the power of the 12 and the light feel of the 20. That chambering went out of style for a long time, but it never went away from the shoulders of those who loved it. My dad was one of them. He used it on everything from geese to grouse, and he used it hard. Sometime – perhaps in the 1950’s – he succumbed to a fit of temporary insanity and installed a Poly-Choke on it. It was one of his most inexplicable acts, not unlike drawing a moustache on the Mona Lisa.
          I had the thing surgically removed a number of years back, and rather than having it re-choked, I left it as a cylinder bore. It’s once elegant 30” barrel is abbreviated now, but it swings like a dream and it shoots steel 4 shot or 2 shot perfectly for pheasants. I love shooting it because it feels literally like an extension of my body. It just feels right. And it simply never malfunctions. For 90 years now, through thousands of rounds and in thousands of places, it’s been smooth, accurate and dependable.
        Practically all my friends shoot newer shotguns. Many of them shoot fancier shotguns. But nobody shoots a shotgun that means as much to them as this one means to me. Thanks, Dad.


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