David’s Early Gun Series #3 — Winchester Model 12

(08/15/2021)

This is a story about my shotgun, the one I grew up with. It’s a 16 Gauge Winchester Model 12 with a 28″ Full Choke barrel. That barrel makes it duck gun, but I rarely hunted ducks. Instead, for me it was a squirrel, rabbit, dove and quail gun and I even killed one deer with it, that one in self-defense. I’ll get to that story down the road.

Winchester Model 12 – 16 Gauge Full Choke with 18″ Barrel

My Model 12 was originally given to Grandaddy Freeman by his former employees when he retired as Director of the Mississippi Game and Fish Commission. That would have been around 1948, the year I was born. Grandaddy engaged in a number of business ventures after his retirement, but apparently had lost interest in hunting so my dad wound up with the gun. Dad hunted with me when I was seven or eight to get me started and after that he just didn’t hunt much except for opening day of several dove seasons with his coworkers. When I was in the 5th grade, Dad told me I could have the Model 12 as he just wasn’t using it much.

My Grandaddy, R.M. Freeman, was presented with this Model 12 by the men who worked with him upon his retirement in 1946. His hunting days over, he gave it to my dad, who gave it to me.

I’d already been acquainted with the shotgun; it was the first real gun I ever shot. Dad had given me his old single-shot .410 when he began teaching me to hunt squirrels. But on our very first hunting trip, I was carrying my gun unloaded when Dad pointed out a dove in a tree. He told me, “We don’t normally shoot dove when they’re not flying, but they are in season and that one is just sitting in that tree right there. You can take a shot at him if you want to.” Since my gun wasn’t loaded, he handed me his 16 gauge Model 12 and coached me through lining up the sights and taking a shot. I remember that shot vividly. The gun knocked me on my butt and the dove flew off. The small branch he had been sitting on seemed mock me as it slowly fell to the ground. We didn’t know anything about cross-dominant eyes in those days, but I am strongly cross dominant and I believe I must have been leaning way over the gun to line my left eye up with the front sight, which is why I got such a wallop in the nose from the recoil. I now shoot that gun and all my other long guns left handed.

Guns tend to create memories in our lives if we shoot them much and my next memory happened right after Dad told me the 16 gauge could be my gun. I went home from school at lunch the next day to become more acquainted with my new gun. In the process of my examination I managed to slam the action closed the tip of my index finger. That little exercise in carelessness cost me a trip to the emergency room. My finger was bleeding like a stuck pig, but I managed to call my mother at work and she came home to help me. At the emergency room the doctor attempted to rejoin the skin on the tip of my finger and in order to do so he took a file and filed the bone smooth where the action had chipped it. My right index finger is now shorter than my left finger and I have a noticeable scar where the stitches were. That’s one of my “been there, done that” scars that is a reminder of how being careful around guns is more than just not having an accidental discharge and hitting something or someone you didn’t want to hit, but about keeping fingers clear of moving parts.

Growing up with that gun I had plenty of opportunities to hunt quail and dove with other hunters. In spite of the fact my gun was a full choke instead of the preferred improved cylinder or modified chokes that were more appropriate for those birds, I did all right. The one adjustment I made was to shoot at birds a little further away than the other guys did. Their misses often wound up in my game bag. When I used my Model 12 as a quail gun, I could get off two or three rounds on a covey rise as quickly as my buddies could with their semi-automatic Brownings or Remingtons. The shotgun fired each time the action closed as long as the trigger remained depressed from the prior shot. By keeping the trigger depressed I could fire another round as fast as I could pump the action.

The Winchester Model 12 is a pump action, tube magazine shotgun with an internal hammer manufactured by Winchester from 1912 (hence the model name or number) until 2006, though all the production runs after 1964 were special runs. The Model 12 was designed by T.C. Johnson but used a sliding forearm to cycle the action that was passed down from one of John M. Browning’s earlier designs. That Browning design was Winchester’s Model 1897, a forerunner to the Model 12. The 1897 had an external hammer while the Model 12’s hammer is internal. Apparently, the Model 12 was expensive to produce that’s why it was discontinued. The Model 1200 and Model 1300 replacements were very similar in appearance and operation, but designed to use parts that were less expensive to make.

When the Model 12 was first manufactured it was in 20 gauge only. The 12 and 16 gauge models followed a year later. The tube magazine is loaded from the bottom and empty shells are ejected from the right side. The magazine holds five rounds, but most hunters, myself included, have a round wooden rod in the magazine to limit the gun to the three-shot limit required by game laws for hunting migratory birds.

The Model 12 is a Takedown Gun, Easy to break into two parts for transport.

The Model 12 is a takedown model, easily separated into two halves for packing and transport. The takedown procedure is simple. There is a pin near the end of the magazine that locks it in place with the pin against the barrel. Simply push the pin through the magazine tube to a different angle that allows you to rotate the magazine a half turn and pull it loose. When the magazine has cleared the threads and base that keeps it in, the barrel rotates a half turn and slips out. The first time you try it, you might be a little uneasy, but after you’ve done it a few times it becomes easy peasy for you. I always took mine down like this for cleaning as it makes it easier to run a rod through the barrel from the chamber to the muzzle.

Flip the lever at the end of the magazine tube, rotate the mag and pull it out. The barrel then removes after half a turn.

The US Military used the Model 12 extensively during World War I, World War II, Korea, and in the early part of the Vietnam War. More than 80,000 Model 12 shotguns were purchased during World War II by the United States Marine Corps, Army Air Forces, and Navy, mostly for use in the Pacific theater. The Marine Corps used a trench gun version of the Model 12 when taking Japanese-occupied islands in the Pacific. During the Korean War and the Vietnam war both the Marines and the US Army used the Model 12. It was only when Model 12 production was shut down in 1964 that the military started buying the Ithaca 37 shotgun for combat use. I was actually offered a Model 12 and 100 rounds of buckshot for my own use shortly after arriving in Vietnam by a departing pilot who didn’t wish to take it home. Before actually giving it to me he told me there was an Army Special Forces advisor that could make better use of the shotgun that I could and he wound up giving the shotgun to him and he gave me an M2 Carbine instead.

My 70 plus year old Model 12 seems to operate more smoothly than my relatively new Model 1300. I’m not sure if that’s a difference in manufacturing and parts or simply the fact it is well broken in. I know it carries a lifetime of memories for me. I promised to tell you about the deer I killed with it. I’m sure the statute of limitations has long passed for this particular incident. I was squirrel hunting with a friend in the Holly Springs National Forest. Our mission for the day was to check out a squirrel dog he was thinking of purchasing. Well, the dog ran off and we heard a ruckus that didn’t sound so much like a tree’d squirrel as it did the dog fighting with something. We ran toward the noise and topped a hill to see the dog had a doe by the hind leg. Just as we got to where we could see what was happening, the deer shook her leg free and ran up the hill right toward me. I had my shotgun in my right hand and without really thinking about it I brought it up and shot the deer in the chest before she could run me over. She dropped in her tracks. My best guess now is the gun was loaded with number 7 ½ or number 8 High Velocity shells. I Without really discussing the legalities of the situation my buddy and I decided that deer meat would taste just as good as if had been shot in season. We took her to his barn and dressed her, splitting the meat between us. Fortunately, we already had some deer meat in the freezer at home that I could mix it with so my Dad wouldn’t be all over me about a deer shot out of season.

The Model 12 is a fine, reliable shotgun that is very much the equal of Remington’s 870 pump. Mine got replaced as my quail gun when I inherited my other grandfather’s Lefever 12 gauge double barrel, but I still used the Model 12 for squirrel, dove and the occasional duck. Oh, and skeet.

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David Freeman

Professional dedicated to training and equipping people to live safely in a dangerous world.

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