Friday, August 14, 2009


Lots of food on the blog lately, but not much in the way of outdoors or gear. Hmmm. Let's talk guns.

I believe a large part of the fascination for those of us who like guns is that they represent interesting and, frequently, very well made pieces of machinery. Ergonomics have been a concern of gunmakers from the very beginning and the tension between creating a weapon that can be easily handled and aimed and a mechanism which is strong, easy, and fast to use resulted in all kinds of interesting designs.

One of the thread of those designs is the pump or slide action shotgun.* Any article about pump shotguns will nearly invariably talk about how they're an American invention and mention market hunting and perhaps farm equipment, which they are said to invoke. I don't know about farm equipment; however, pump shotguns, particularly the older ones from when the designs were being ironed out, are fascinatingly mechanical. Whereas a double gun is (ideally) sleek and self contained, a lot is going on with a pump as the action works- bolt flying back and forth, shell popping out of the magazine tube and lifted- clicks and clacks and metal sliding on metal (all of which Hollywood uses most inappropriately).

Here's a good example (and bad photos) of the sort of old pump shotgun I'm thinking about:

30 inch barrel, full choke (before it was opened) lots of drop on the stock, complex milling of a steel billet to turn out that rather baroque receiver- check out all the angles:

square lug on the bolt fits into a cut on the top of the receiver:

a Stevens Model 525, built from a Browning design

This is the first variation of the design (sliding inertial release on the slide lock) and was probably made in the first decade or so of the twentieth century. It has been refinished, so it doesn't have any collector's value. However, it works just fine.

If a person chose to create a "collection" it'd be a fun project to take $1,000 and see how many different pre-war (WWII) pumpguns in decent shape he could get for that money. Of course, "decent shape" is unlikely to be anywhere near mint condition, since working guns they generally survive pretty battered. Lots of shotguns from that era. I'd pick up a Winchester Model 12 in 16 gauge (they sized the frames for each gauge). Then there are three Remington pumps: the Model 10, the Model 31 "The ball bearing repeater", and the Remington Model 17 (another John Browning design made only in 20 gauge that, with modifications, became the Ithaca 37). The Ithaca 37 is still, after some hiccups, in production today and early models are easy to find. Less common are the Marlin Models 17, 30, 31 and 43. In addition to the Winchester Models 93 and 97 (each begun in the 19th Century and correspondingly more expensive) I'm sure there are half a dozen others I haven't mentioned as well. While none of this collection would appreciate much as an investment, likely every single one could be pressed into service.

I'm not curmudgeon enough to claim old is necessarily better. Nonetheless, while few will call a pumpgun graceful, slender, corncob forearms and nice bluing create an attractive package to my eye and, with the exception of the current production Ithaca 37s they're not making anything like those old repeaters these days (geez, looking at "the best new shotguns for 2009" at the link all I can think is "not for me").

*That Wikipedia article linked here is wrong in one respect. John Browning did not invent the slide action shotgun, Christopher Spencer did. His shotgun came out in 1882, a decade before the Winchester Model 93, designed by Browning, was produced.


Andrew Campbell said...

That reminds me that I should take out the 1940s Model 97 that's in the closet and go warm it up again.


mdmnm said...


That's a classic indeed! It must have been made right around the end of the production run. I'll bet it's full choke, though, and you'll have to let that bird get way out in front of the Visla before dropping the hammer.

Andrew Campbell said...

Ah yes... 30" bbl, full choke, and I've never actually taken it afield behind either of my dogs. Shot a few good rounds of trap with it, though.