I’m certain that most members of my generation have fond memories of the shooting galleries that were an important attraction of almost every amusement park, county fair, and church carnival of our youth. At those emporiums of marksmanship, you bellied up to the counter, handed the hawker a quarter, and received a pump-action .22 rifle containing 10 or 12 rounds of .22 Short ammunition. You then proceeded to pot away at various moving targets in hopes of winning a Kewpie doll for your latest sweetie.
The rifles most commonly used in those shooting galleries were the Winchester Models 1890, 1906, and 62. Designed by John Moses Browning, they proved immensely popular with small-game hunters, trappers, farmers, and plinkers, and by the time production ended in 1958, in excess of two million units had been produced.
Such sale figures did not pass unnoticed by one of Winchester’s biggest competitors. In Ilion, New York, the marketing officials at Remington Firearms Company realized that the shooting public wanted repeaters, and as the lever action market was dominated by Winchester and Marlin, “Big Green” placed its bets on semiautomatic and pump-action rifles and shotguns. The latter type proved especially popular, and a significant number of American shooters began gravitating toward these slide-action, a.k.a. trombone, rifles. When it came to pump-action repeaters, Remington turned to John D. Pedersen, one of the more prolific firearms inventors of the early 20th century.
Pedersen had already designed a number of semiauto pistols and pump-action shotguns for Remington, all of which were popular with shooters. But despite the popularity of these Pedersen-designed guns, most collectors and engineers will tell you that his designs had a shortcoming—they tended to be overly complicated, albeit no one has ever denied that they worked well. A Remington engineer once confided to me, “Pedersen always used three parts where one would have sufficed.”
The Model 12 Up Close
Pedersen designed a rifle in which the forearm was attached directly to the magazine tube. As the forearm/magazine tube unit was pulled to the rear, an action bar on the end of the tube retracted the firing pin and then pulled the bolt down, retracting a locking shoulder on its front edge from a mortise in the top of the receiver. It then pushed the bolt to the rear, extracting and ejecting the spent cartridge. As the rear of the tube entered the receiver, a carrier lifted the next round from the magazine so the forward-moving bolt could chamber it. As the bolt went into battery, the action bar pushed it up, locking it in place. At the same time the trigger/sear lock and the firing pin were freed so the rifle could be fired. A locked bolt could be released by depressing a button located inside the trigger guard.
Unlike the Winchester pump-action .22s, Pedersen’s rifle was a hammerless design with a safety button located at the rear of the trigger guard, and the rear of the receiver tang was drilled and tapped for mounting an aperture sight. It also differed from the Winchester in that it had a solid-top receiver, and cartridge ejection was via a port on the right side of the receiver. These features not only gave it a slim, streamlined appearance, but they sealed the action against dirt, debris, and moisture far better than the competition’s rifles. The then-new .22 was released on the market in 1909 as the Model 12 Slide Action Repeater.
The Model 12’s magazine was loaded by depressing a catch on the knurled end cap, which allowed the inner tube that contained a spring-loaded follower to be withdrawn forward and exposed an opening just in front of the forearm into which individual cartridges were inserted base-first. The inner tube was then pushed back and locked in place, exerting spring pressure on the foremost cartridge in the magazine for feeding into the receiver.
The fast-shooting Model 12 proved to be a natural for small-game hunting, and a significant percentage of purchasers were hunters, who wandered the woods and fields in search of rabbits and squirrels for the pot, and farmers, who used them to dispose of pests, such as groundhogs, raccoons, and crows.
Like many of the sporting rifles of that era, the Model 12 was a take-down design. Unscrewing a large-headed bolt at the left rear of the receiver permitted the stock and trigger unit to be separated from the receiver/barrel unit for cleaning and easy storage.
As was the company’s usual practice, Remington offered the Model 12 in several grades: 12A (Basic Model), 12B (Gallery Model .22 Short only), 12C (Target Model and NRA Target Grade), 12D (Peerless), 12E (Expert), and 12F (Premier). The Model 12A came with a round barrel, whereas all the rest were fitted with octagonal barrels.
There were also the Models 12 CS/DS/ES/FS, all chambered for the .22 Remington Special cartridge. For all practical purposes, the .22 Remington Special was dimensionally and ballistically identical to the better-known .22 Winchester Rim Fire (WRF) cartridge, but Remington produced the cartridge under that designation as it did not want to mark its competitor’s initials on its rifles. Unlike earlier .22 ammunition, the .22 WRF/Remington Special was loaded exclusively with smokeless propellant in an attempt to dissuade the use of blackpowder ammunition in the new repeating rifles.
The Model 12 D, E, and F were deluxe variants. As the grade increased, the quality of the wood used on the rifles improved, and they could be ordered with any number of custom embellishments, including but not limited to special sights, engraving, and silver and/or gold inlays.
Production of the Model 12 ended in 1936 with in excess of 832,000 units coming off the assembly line. It was replaced by the Model 121 Fieldmaster, which had a redesigned bolt and firing pin and differed cosmetically, having a more substantial stock and forearm. It was available (by special order) chambered for the .22 WRF cartridge or with smoothbore barrels. Loaded with .22 shot cartridges, the latter were popular with exhibition shooters for indoor or short-range displays of their aerial marksmanship. The Model 121 was produced until 1954, with just under 200,000 being manufactured.
Shooting A Model 12
My brother Vincent’s gun collection yielded a Model 12 in fairly nice condition, and its serial number indicated that it left the Ilion factory some time in 1917. As was common with many of the early .22 repeaters, its slim lines, small receiver, and straight-grip stock remind me of what we today would call a “youth rifle.” While it functioned reliably, I must admit that it was not as smooth in operation as my friend’s Winchester Model 62.
After assembling an assortment of .22 LR cartridges, I headed to the range to see how this sleek, little trombone rifle performed at an intermediate range of 35 yards. After a few practice shots, and making some elevation adjustments to the rear sight, I was soon firing well-centered groups. After chronographing the five brands of ammo, it became obvious that the little pump gun liked hot loads and consistently grouped tighter as bullet velocity increased.
I then decided to have some fun. As one of the Model 12’s primary duties in life was small-game hunting, I set up a series of Birchwood Casey varmint targets at 25 yards and proceeded to send .22 projectiles in their direction firing offhand.
This quickly proved to me that any critter foolish enough to stand still for a few seconds in front of a hunter armed with a Model 12 would have made the transition from “wildlife” to “camp meat” rather quickly.
I found the Remington Model 12 to be a well-made, reliable rifle. But even more important, it was capable of providing a heck of a lot a fun, and when you clear away all the advertising hype, that has always been the .22 rimfire’s primary purpose.