March 06, 2023
By Joseph von Benedikt
An evolution of John Browning’s pump-action Model 1897, the Winchester Model 12 shotgun was designed by T.C. Johnson and introduced in 1912. Winchester had enough confidence in it to market it as “The Perfect Repeater,” and time would validate that claim. It has an internal hammer design and was the first truly successful pump-action shotgun with that feature. Nearly two million were manufactured over the gun’s 52-year run.
First-year guns were all 20 gauge. In 1913 16- and 12-gauge versions were added, and the latter required a much larger frame size. Although 12-gauge versions are considerably bulkier and heavier, they proved to be outstanding waterfowl guns. Some 20 years later, a 28-gauge version was added, and it’s certainly the rarest Model 12.
Of all the bore sizes, the 16 gauge boasted the best combination of authority paired with easy carry and handling characteristics. Importantly, 16-gauge guns were built on the same frame as the 20-gauge versions, rather than the bigger, heavier 12-gauge frame. As a result, they carry like the slender, responsive 20-gauge Model 12s—lively, as a fine upland gun should be—yet hit with authority akin to that of a 12 gauge.
My first proper shotgun was a 12-gauge Model 12, and I still love it. However, unless loaded with a premium malleable non-toxic shot like Bismuth, it’s no longer useful for waterfowling. The steel shot in modern waterfowl shotshells will ruin its barrel.
What’s more, once one has carried a light, lively gun afield for upland game, those big 12-gauge guns feel ponderous. As a result, I’ve had a love affair with the sleek 20- and 16-gauge guns for years.
Because 20-gauge shotshells are far more common and much less expensive, 20-gauge Model 12s are probably the most popular among those who want to actually hunt with their guns and, as a result, are fairly expensive on the used-gun market. Blessedly, versions in 16 gauge are the opposite.
Known for superbly smooth actions, high magazine capacity, and excellent handling characteristics, Model 12 shotguns were a powerful influence on how pump-action guns evolved. Takedown design is standard. Actions are driven by a single operating bar extending back from the pump into the receiver; this was one feature that proponents of later models, such as Remington’s 870, claimed was a weakness, but real-world use proved otherwise.
To load, thumb shotshells into the gate in the bottom of the receiver. Without a wooden plug installed, most Model 12s will hold six rounds in the tubular magazine—a feature that is very useful when the bird hunting is fast and furious or when this upland gun is serving double-duty for home protection.
Work the pump briskly to chamber a round. Like most pump- and lever-action guns, the Model 12 runs best when functioned with gusto. Slide the safety from right to left, and press the trigger to fire. Working the pump rearward and forward again ejects the fired shotshell hull and chambers a fresh round.
My son William found this 16-gauge Model 12 on gunbroker.com. According to the serial number, it was made in 1947.
It’s in spectacular condition, but a previous owner had a bulbous Poly Choke and an aftermarket Crowe push-pull safety installed. Consequently, its value is between $350 and $400.
I had the Poly Choke removed and a Modified choke rolled into the muzzle of the 23-inch remaining barrel. The gunsmith even managed to transfer the ivory bead sight from the Poly Choke. The gun is now 41.5 inches long, and it mounts and points wonderfully. The action is nice and tight and is extremely smooth to boot. It runs like grease on glass. The trigger pull measures 7.0 pounds, according to my Lyman digital gauge, and it’s so crisp it feels lighter.
When William and I took it out for its maiden run, we soon discovered that while he’s become a darn good wingshooter with several shotguns, he’s never shot a previous gun as well as he has this 16-gauge Model 12. I was also dead-on the clays with this new-old pump gun. The short, responsive gun points like a homing device.
Throughout our testing, the 16-gauge shotgun functioned flawlessly—but that’s to be expected. It is a Model 12, after all.
Model 12 Specifications
- Manufacturer: Winchester Repeating Arms
- Type: Pump-action repeating shotgun
- Gauge: 16
- Cartridge Capacity: 6 rounds (without plug)
- Barrel: 23 in. (non-original)
- Overall Length: 41.5 in.
- Weight, Empty: 6.6 lbs.
- Stock: Walnut
- Length of Pull: 14.25 in.
- Finish: Blued barrel and action
- Sights: Aftermarket bead front
- Safety: Aftermarket Crowe push-pull safety
- Trigger: 7.0-lb. pull (as tested)