Winchester's Model 12

Winchester's Model 12

The Winchester Model 12 was one of the most popular sporting shotguns of the 20th century. Note its compact, streamlined receiver; tubular magazine; and ventilated rib. The U.S. Army and USMC used Model 12 Trench Guns (bottom) in World Wars I and II, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War.

I believe pump-action firearms are the most American of all firearms. And while pump-action rifles, such as the Remington Model 760 that I detailed in the March 2009 issue of Shooting Times, have been popular with North American hunters, the majority of pump guns have been shotguns.


During the latter part of the 19th century, Winchester had been fortunate in establishing a business relationship with John Moses Browning. By the 1880s, Browning had sold Winchester a number of pump shotgun designs, and in 1894 the company released the Winchester Model 1893 Shotgun.

The Model 1893 used an external hammer and was fed via a five-round, tubular magazine under the barrel. Three years later the improved Model 1897 shotgun was introduced, which was to become the biggest selling pump-action shotgun of its day. But let's jump ahead a few years to the point where the subject of this article saw the light of day.


In 1904 Savage Arms introduced the Model 1904 pump shotgun, and four years later Remington got into the game with the Model 1908 shotgun. Both featured compact, streamlined receivers, but more importantly, both were "hammerless" designs (actually, they had internal hammers).


Winchester realized if it was to maintain its dominant position in the American market, it would have to offer a hammerless shotgun. The task of developing such a shotgun was assigned to Thomas C. Johnson.

Introduced the following year as the Winchester Model 1912 Shotgun, Johnson's design used a streamlined receiver machined from a solid, steel forging that completely enclosed the bolt throughout its complete functioning cycle.

The gun's tipping bolt locked into a recess in the top of the receiver, and as did the Model 1897, the Model 1912 featured an inertia action slide lock. Partial unlocking was achieved by the falling hammer and was completed by the recoil of the gun. After firing, the forearm was pulled to the rear, and a cam on the action bar pulled the bolt down and rearward, cocking the hammer and extracting and ejecting the spent shell. This movement also tripped the shell stop, allowing the next shell in the magazine to move to the shell lifter.

The action slide lock was pivoted in the left side of the trigger assembly and blocked rearward action bar movement after the bolt was locked. To disengage the lock without firing the gun, the slide lock stud--located behind the trigger guard--was pushed upward, releasing the action slide lock and permitting the forearm to be pulled to the rear.

As the bolt moved to the rear, the hammer was caught by a hook on the slide lock unit, holding it from engagement with the sear as long as the bolt was rearward. Forward movement of the bolt released the hammer and allowed it to fall directly into contact with the sear.

As the forearm moved forward, the action bar pulled the bolt with it, activating the shell lifter to present the next shell to be chambered. As the bolt went into battery, the action bar cammed it up, locking it into the recess in the top of the receiver.

The Model 12's tubular magazine was loaded through an opening in the bottom of the receiver, and it was unloaded by pushing the forearm forward, releasing a shell onto the lifter, opening the action, and tipping the shell out of the receiver. As with the Model 1897, if the Model 1912's trigger was held back, the gun would fire as soon as the bolt went into battery.

The Model 12's magazine was loaded by using a shotshell to depress the shell lifter before the round was inserted into the magazine.

Early Model 1912s were all in 20 gauge, and they were an instant success with hunters. Sales were steady enough that 12- and 16-gauge versions were introduced a few years later. (The gun I fired for this report was a 16-gauge model, but more about that later.)

Some early Model 1912s were chambered for the 29/16-inch shotgun shell. Careful inspection by a gunsmith is always recommended to determine whether or not it is safe to fire a modern 2¾-inch shell in older Model 1912s.

The Model 12 was easily disassembled for maintenance. First, the forearm was placed in the forward position. On the end of the magazine tube was a short pin, which was pushed from the top left to the lower right side of the tube and then used to rotate the tube one-third of a turn, disengaging it from the receiver. Then, using the forearm, the magazine tube was pulled forward as far as it would go. The gun was held by the pistol grip and pointed in a safe direction, and then the barrel/magazine assembly was rotated 45 degrees to the left and pulled forward, out of the receiver.

In 1918 Winchester introduced the Winchester, Shotgun, 12 gauge, Model 12, with Bayonet Attachment and Metal Handguard, which was fitted with a 20-inch, Cylinder Bore barrel; a three-quarter-length, perforated, metal barrel jacket; an adapter for mounting an M1917 bayonet; and sling swivels. This model was widely used during World War I and is better known as the Model 12 Trench Gun.

When commercial production resumed in 1919, the Model 1912 was renamed the Model 12.

The Model 12 was offered with barrel lengths of 20, 26, 28, and 30 inches with Cylinder Bore, Improved, Modified, Full, Skeet, and Trap chokes. As was common with American gun companies at that time, the Model 12 could be ordered with any combination of special barrels, ventilated and solid ribs, engraving, gold and/or silver inlays, special checkering, and exotic wood stocks.

Manufacture of the Model 12 ended in 1963 with in excess of 1.9 million units being produced. Limited runs of special Model 12s were made using parts on hand until 2006. It is truly one of the great classic American firearms.

The Model 12 used for this report and shown in the photographs is from my personal collection. It is a 16-gauge gun with a 28-inch, Full choke barrel. I obtained it in a trade a long time ago, and after many years of hard use I had it fitted with a Simmons ventilated rib. I also had it refinished. I

t points beautifully, has been utterly reliable, and functions with an oiled smoothness. It is still the gun I choose when the doves are flying high late in the season or the squirrels are spooky in the treetops.

All Model 12s were takedown guns. The barrel and the magazine tube utilized interrupted-thread lugs where they locked into the receiver.

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