I can’t take my eyes off this shotgun.
It’s a Winchester Model 12 pump chambered in my favorite 16-gauge, made in 1950.
The Model 12, known as “The Perfect Repeater,” set the standard for slide-action shotguns during its production run from 1912-64. Winchester sold more than 2 million, including 100,000 special military models.
Remington upstaged Winchester’s aging star in 1950 when it introduced its inexpensive but reliable Model 870, and Winchester wrote the Model 12 out of the script during its ill-fated reorganization in 1964.
Model 12s are working guns, and hunters used them hard. A sub-gauge model (smaller than 12-gauge) is rare in decent condition, and even more rare with the features I demand. Any traditional style shotgun I own must have pretty wood, at least 18-line-per-inch checkering and a rib barrel.
Unless you ordered a Pigeon Grade, Black Diamond, Skeet or Trap model, or special upgrades, your standard Model 12 had plain, uncheckered wood and a plain barrel with a line of texturing – a matted “rib” – that ran the length of the barrel. The only wood texture was in the concentric rings cut into homely corncob forearms.
On the other hand, the Model 12 was made of machined and forged metal, and parts were hand-fitted. Even in dilapidated Model 12s, the workmanship is obvious. The actions are slick as butter. They point like lasers and swing with ease.
Sadly, many hunters retrofitted their Model 12s with Cutts Compensators or Poly-Chokes which ruined the balance and corrupted their visual symmetry.
Most Model 12s are hard-ridden beaters with those hideous bulbous muzzle attachments, but even those are not cheap.
If you find a presentable, unmodified Model 12 with upgrades, you’d better be prepared to lighten your wallet.
As picky as I am, I had long abandoned hope of owning one.
The Arkansas Outdoor Hall of Fame induction banquet was held last Friday at the Statehouse Convention Center. It is a gala affair that honored Jim Hinkle of Mountain View, Ellen Moorhead Fennel of Little Rock, Randy Young of Dover and J.B. and Johnelle Hunt of Springdale.
The silent and live auctions always contain a desirable selection of outdoor art, boats and motors, hunting and fishing gear and firearms. I was especially interested in a dazzling Browning Sweet 16 that Ducks Unlimited named its 2018 Gun of the Year. It was absolutely gorgeous.
I expected it to sell for about $1,600-$1,800. However, it was also the last item in the live auction. The 16-gauge is a niche item. If bidders had blown their budgets or were disinterested, I might poach a bargain.
Deke Whitbeck, president of the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation, which administers to the Outdoor Hall of Fame and hosts the banquet, switched the order of the ceremony for this banquet. Usually, the inductees are honored at the beginning of the ceremony. Many people leave after the inductions, which reduces the pool of bidders.
This year, the auction came first. A captive audience indulged enthusiastically and generously.
While visiting with friends at the banquet, a gentleman named Vick Hiryak introduced himself and said that he loves our articles about shotguns. He especially loves the features about the 16-gauge-only duck hunts that the Purple Hull Society holds at Mill Bayou and Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area.
The Purple Hull Society, named for the 16-gauge’s signature purple hull, consists of Jess “The Undertaker” Essex of DeWitt, Andy Lock of DeWitt, Glen Chase of Conway, Jimmy Rowe of Stuttgart, Connie Meskimen of Little Rock, and me.
Actual hunting at these events is incidental to the tomfoolery among these characters. Ducks are expected to participate, of course, but they usually annoy Essex by interrupting his stories.
Hiryak spoke of these characters as friends, and then he made me an offer.
“I’ve got a 16-gauge Model 12 that I’d like for you to have,” Hiryak said. “It’s the prettiest thing you ever saw. The wood will take your breath away. The barrel has a rib, and it has a real nice forearm, not that coontail-looking thing that most Model 12s have.
“I’ve never shot the gun, and it needs to be with somebody who will appreciate it.”
“I feel like it’s rude to ask, but how …”
Hiryak cut me off.
“I don’t know what it’s worth,” he said. “You determine the value as best you can, and I’ll sell it to you for half.”
My jaw dropped on Sunday when Hiryak presented the Model 12. He carried it into the room as if walking a daughter down the aisle. It was exactly as he described, with stunning wood and a 28-inch barrel with a full choke and solid milled rib.
Hiryak wasn’t the original owner, and the gun had certainly been used, but not abused. The blueing was thin in places and the wood had a few kiss marks. The stock had been cut and fitted with a Pachmyer White Line recoil pad, but I consider that an asset. Unaltered Model 12s are too long for somebody my size. My ideal length of pull is 13 3/4 inches to 14 inches. The LOP of this gun was 14 inches exactly.
I threw it to my shoulder, and my eyes locked on the end of the muzzle. Its condition, as defined by National Rifle Association standards, is very good.
Using Fjestaad’s Blue Book of Gun Values, we agreed on a price.
Hiryak said that he looked forward to reading about the gun in forthcoming Purple Hull articles.
“You’ll see it before that,” I said. “I’ll use it Saturday for dove season, and I’ll take it pheasant hunting in South Dakota next month. With that full choke, as light as it is, it’ll make a fine turkey gun, too.”
This pleased Hiryak immensely.
Bill Pool, owner of Arkansas Gun Traders in Benton, does not impress easily. He’s a rifleman, and he builds masterpieces. Shotguns? Meh.
“Wow! What a neat old Model 12!” Pool exclaimed Monday when I pulled the gun from its case.
I asked Pool about restoring it to new condition.
“I wouldn’t,” he said. “It’s so classic, and it has so much character.”
Pool observed that the receiver had been reblued. Reblueing a Model 12 is tricky because the receiver it has so many contours and edges. It’s hard to buff and polish the receiver without softening, rounding or even removing the contours.
“You can see that happened a little bit with this edge right here, but overall somebody did a very good job,” Pool said.
Pool saw a couple of other touches that only an expert would notice, but he proclaimed it an outstanding specimen.
The wood quality, ribbed barrel and upgraded forearm perplexed Pool. He consulted a 1950 issue of Gun Digest to solve the mystery.
“From what I see here, it looks like you’ve got a Pigeon Grade,” Pool said, but he changed his mind when he couldn’t find an engraved pigeon on the receiver extension.
“I guess the original owner just ordered all these upgrades,” Pool said. “Winchester was very accommodating in that regard. They’d make ’em any way you wanted ’em if you were willing to pay for it.”
Before testing the gun at my shooting range, I saw a bright spot in the bore near the muzzle, under the aftermarket bead. It was a big lump of solder. An obstruction like that would ruin a shot pattern.
I wrapped a bit of course sandpaper around a pencil and rubbed it smooth as glass.
With a box of Herters 1-ounce of No. 8 lead, I shot 25 for 25. That full choke reduced every target to smoke.
Whitbeck said the Browning Sweet 16 Ducks Unlimited dinner gun sold for $2,400.
Perhaps it will have some fine stories of its own to tell in 68 years, but the Model 12 is still in the hunt.
Sports on 09/02/2018