My Winchester 1897

Updated 04-06-2001

by AK Church

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This may be the all time classic repeating shotgun. Winchester introduced the Model 1893 that year, made some revisions on the locking, and introduced the improved gun in 1897.

The '97 Winchester continued in production until 1957, and while serials of past one million exist, numbering took up where the 1893 left off. Slightly short of a million of the '97 left Connecticut. A study of serial numbers is interesting: production slowed drastically after introduction of the non-Browning designed Model 12. A good half the production of the shotgun took place before 1920.

I will go out on a limb and break production of the gun into 3 major types: 12 gauge solid frame; 12 gauge takedown; 16 gauge takedown. I see far more of the 12 gauge takedown models than any other. 

THE SHOTGUN

My battered í97 is an amalgamation of 2 guns. The action is primarily from a 1903 gun, including the receiver. The buttstock, barrel extension and barrel have been taken from a 1907 gun. At the time the gun was built, a few internal parts from both guns were beyond hope, so spares were installed from at least 2 other guns.

The original í07 gun was rough indeed externally, and had been used to the point the raceway guiding the bolt in the receiver was enlarged. The bolt face occasionally slipped sideways enough that the extractor hung on the ejection port. A skilled welder could build the track back up, but this old pig wasnít worth that kind of money.

I later stumbled, literally at a salvage yard, onto another gun. It was as rough externally as the first, but mechanically much tighter. The owner was looking to move it as a parter, and had grown nervous about selling it because all would be customers talked about shooting it. He believed it needed to be parted, and I bought it as such for $35 cash. It came with a straight grip stock, very appealing visually, but regrettably oil soaked beyond usage.

The two guns were detail stripped, the pieces eyeballed, measured, and the best bits were re-assembled on the í03 receiver. The vast majority of action parts are the í03 gun, the barrel, receiver extension, and wood are the í07 gun. The resulting gun has a little flex at the threads allowing the takedown, but my checkup @ Miles Fortis Gunsmithing pronounced it entirely useable. Most of the internals still displayed the lovely original bluing, and showed the superb fit and finish which nearly bankrupted Winchester in the early Ď60s. And, my, there are a lot of internal parts.

That part of the project was complete, praise be to Allah, for detailing a í97 Winchester is not for the faint of heart.

The 1907 gun came with a barrel cut from a 30" full choke to an 18 5/8" cylinder, cut by Miles' father, and quite well indeed. This shotgun throws patterns which are quite open, but wonderfully even.

THE MECHANICALS

The í97 is a complex machine. A massive shell carrier slipping into a cavernous cut on the bottom of the relatively small bolt accomplishes locking.

The receiver is relatively small, and is much shorter than most modern pump shotgun receivers. This is accomplished by having most of the bolt physically outside the receiver for most of the loading cycle.

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The shell carrier seen below the receiver is the locking piece in the action, and it carries the hammer, mainspring, sear and sear spring inside. It is a mammoth and complex piece of work.

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The outside hammer is a touch one comes to appreciate. You can carry it with one round chambered, the hammer on half cock and thumb that hammer back in a hurry. Of course, you can flick off the safety on a tang safety gun just as fast, but somehow that big hammer sticking up there is reassuring.

Another touch, very much of its period, is the lack of a disconnector. If the trigger is held down while the action is cycled, the chambered round will fire the moment the action closes. Iíve never found a use for this feature, but there are some who love it. It shares this feature with a number of other fine pump guns: The original Winchester Model 12, earlier Ithaca 37s, and Winchester Model 42s. Iím no engineer, but I see no way a disconnector could be fitted to the í97 action. Because of the potential liability that represents, I predicted that this gun would never be reproduced but was taken aback upon seeing magazine advertisements for new specimens made by NORINCO & supposedly soon to be available for shipment to your favorite dealer.

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PERFORMANCE

Nothiní to cry over there, it works just fine. It feeds factory 2 ĺ" non-magnum ammo perfectly, patterns well for its purpose, and retains the stereotypically terrifying cycle sound these old actions carry. Usually this is compared to freight cars hitching, and the comparison is fair enough.

I met a man once who had covered the 1968 Democratic Convention as a reporter. During the course of the riots, he somehow got from behind the police lines to in front of them. At one point the police approached, and he watched them with their slide action shotguns (likely Ithaca Ď37s). He declares the sound of pump shotgun is the most terrifying sound in the world, and that he wishes never to hear it again. The í97 reiterates this point.

Patterns with buckshot and Wal~Mart #6 field loads are reproduced in the pictures below. Since the barrel lacks a bead aiming is accomplished using the tried & true; point at the middle and fire away.

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                                          00 Buck                                                                          #6 

I donít shoot the old gentleman much, mostly in deference to his age. He gets maybe 50 rounds a year run through. I also donít want to accelerate my use of original spare parts, which, with the widespread use of the gun in the Cowboy games, are becoming alarmingly scarce. I have essentially one of everything, but some parts (sears in particular) are more fragile than that. So he normally only goes out on the Fourth of July. But he does stay loaded, and is my second line house gun. Iíd have to say I trust this 97 year old.

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My gun is a takedown, and this is a feature I have grown to rather like. I can break it into it's 2 major subassemblies, tuck them and a towel for padding into a gym bag, and move it unobtrusively from my apartment to vehicle. The feature also has a method to adjust the fit of the assemblies

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The interrupted thread at the end of the barrel can be rotated to  tighten, or loosen,  the fit of the barrel. It's held in place by a screw stopped, sliding, toothed "cog" that meshes with similar teeth on the base of threads.

Takedown

(1) Cycle the action, and make certain the gun is unloaded.

Chamber and magazine should be clear.

(2) Close the action, and lower the hammer.

(3) Pull gently on the fore end to make sure it is fully forward.

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(4) At the front of the magazine tube is a large projecting pin running from approximately the 8 o'clock position over to 2 o'clock as you are (cringe) looking down the barrel. Press in on the arm of the pin at 2 o'clock to the barrel, until the head is flush with the magazine tube. Note: this pin is supposed to be captive. On my 97 year old '97, the spring which retains this is well and truly tired, and sometimes the pin chooses not to be captive. DON'T LOSE IT. '97 parts are getting to be a little scarce, since the Cowboy shooters are again shooting these things.

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(5) The projecting end of the takedown pin should be rotated counter-clockwise about 90 degrees. This will rotate the entire magazine tube.

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(6) Carefully pull forward on the magazine tube. It should pop forward around 2 inches. If your gun is like mine, this will expose a vestige of its original exquisite bluing.

(7) Tug gently forward on the fore end. It should come forward 'bout an inch.

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(8) Rotate the barrel about 90 degrees counter-clockwise. The receiver extension will rotate away from the front face of the receiver.

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(9) Pull the barrel/magazine tube/forearm off the receiver.

TA-DAH!!

Reassembly:

For starters, don't ever ever attempt to reassemble it with the action open. Things will jam, and Miles will look at you like you're a total maroon. The cold chisel will have to come out. It will be scary.

(1) Take the barrel/magazine assembly. Make sure the forearm is pulled forward, along with the magazine.

(2) Insert the barrel back into the the receiver this way: The interrupted barrel threads corresponding with the unthreaded sections of receiver. Your magazine tube will be out to the non-ejection port side of the receiver, parallel with the bolt.

(3) Rotate the assembly 90 degrees clockwise. YOU SHOULD NOT HAVE TO FORCE IT. If it's not going in, check things again. Usually, the culprit will be the tip of the action bar protruding out slightly. If so, tug forward gently on the forearm.

(4) The magazine tube should have its threads showing @ approximately 12:30 and 6:30 positions. Gently press back on the mag tube until you feel it fully seated. AGAIN, YOU SHOULD NOT HAVE TO FORCE IT. The magazine tube threads are cut on sheet metal, and would be easy to strip. Mine have survived since Teddy Roosevelt was President. That is because no one has forced this gun to go back together, for which I thank them.

(5) Rotate the magazine pin projecting on the ejection port side up toward the muzzle until the magazine tube is firmly seated. Need I say don't force it?

(6) At this point, you should be able to rack the action, and:

Enjoy the genius that was John M. Browning. Friend Don Brady has named his pet HiPower, John Moses after this genius of men, and the '97 is an equal tribute.

Sole and only gunsmith I know of specializing in the '97 is Coyote Cap. He may be contacted www.coyotecap.com .

For further entertainment with "yer shootin' irons" please click here.


AK likes to attach useful or interesting letters from readers to his articles. Please state in your letter if he may use your correspondence. He can do this with or without your name or address, according to your wishes. Email him here.

NOTE: Author Church regrets that he is unqualified to do appraisal, and cannot establish a value on your gun. 


Fan mail (but definitely not from a flounder)

Just found an old Win 97 ...  your website provided just the info I was looking for.  Thanks.  BTW, I have used Coyote Cap for some work on my coach gun and I can vouch that he does great work.


Manufactured in 1905, 12 ga take down version and very rough but still shootin good However I have needs and wondered if you could help?
I would like a manual, or reprint if possible. I need an ejector as mine seems worn.
My furniture is......well.......horrible, cracked and the fore end is barely serviceable.....Are there any other options besides Boyt wood in Brownells?
Gun has NO original finish, light pitting and minor rust....any reason not to reblue?

Thanks for your time and help if you have it - Aaron.

AK replied:

Sarco and GunParts Corp. have '97 parts. Ejectors are a lower mortality part, so the odds of them having one are better than for some parts. This isn't a promise of anything-exponentially increased use and resurrection of '97s for the cowboy games has put a demand on the finite supply of original parts. Manual may be a difficult deal. Detail stripping instructions should be in J B Wood's book on shotgun disassembly. I don't intend to ever detail out a '97 in whatever years I have remaining. Gun Parts last I was aware had original Winchester wood.  If it's a user, heck yeah I'd reblue it. Mine's too far gone, but if it doesn't have a signif history, then it's your gun, and you might enjoy it more that way.

 AK


Subject: My Winchester 1897

Manufactured in 1905, 12 ga take down version and very rough but still shootin good....................

However I have needs and wondered if you could help?

I would like a manual, or reprint if possible.

I need an ejector as mine seems worn.

My furniture is......well.......horrible, cracked and the fore end is barely serviceable.....Are there any other options besides Boyt wood in Brownells?

Gun has NO original finish, light pitting and minor rust....any reason not to reblue?

Thanks for your time and help if you have it - Aaron.

AK Replied:

Sarco and GunParts Corp. have '97 parts. Ejectors are a lower mortality part, so the odds of them having one are better than for some parts. This isn't a promise of anything-exponentially increased use and resurrection of '97s for the cowboy games has put a demand on the finite supply of original parts. 

Manual may be a difficult deal. Detail stripping instructions should be in J B Wood's book on shotgun disassembly. I don't intend to ever detail out a '97 in whatever years I have remaining.

Gun Parts last I was aware had original Winchester wood.

If it's a user, heck yeah I'd reblue it. Mine's too far gone, but if it doesn't have a signif history, then it's your gun, and you might enjoy it more that way.

 

Added 06-02-2002:

Just so you know, Boyds Gun Stocks (they're on the web) is the supplier for stock for The Gun Parts.  If you go to Boyds direct, it's about 15% cheaper.

Also, I bought a Norinco copy of the 97.  The wood is really cheesy but Winchester wood fits.  The main thing with the Norinco is that it needs a complete disassembly and cleaning to function.  I also bought a new sear from Brownell's that helped out the functioning.

Jon Lewis


Added 08-06-2002:

Dear AK,

I have lusted after a 1897 ever since I had the opportunity to carry one for a day. Well, not carry so much as transport with me upon receiving orders to return to the states from my final tour in Vietnam. I had turned in my issue weapon that day (Made no sense to me that I should travel w/o a weapon but a young and dumb E-5 don't  ask no questions.)

Instead, I was put in a jeep with a real nut bar of a Louisiana, down in the swamp, banjo playing red neck who liked to drive like he was Robert Mitchim in. "Thunder Road" thu the Man Yang(sic.). Pass, and a beautiful 1897 riot/military shot gun complete with ventilated hand guard and bayo. lug. It was love at first sight.

Only hitch was, it had a broken extractor. I chambered one round and figured I had better hope for an uneventful trip.

Over the years I have heard of lucky bastards finding original 1897s. Of course they always got a "terrific" deal on them or "found" them behind a wall in an old house or some such. Needless to say I never found one behind a wall or a deal so terrific I could afford it. 

Enter the Norinco 1897 report.

As soon as I learned about them I ordered one with out knowing anything about the quality of the gun. It was as close to a real 1897 as I was likely to get in this life time. 

I soon learned more than I expected as the first two I received were junk ! Both fell apart, literally, under recoil  with about ten target loads. Both were returned and I swore to never buy another.

Trouble was, I really liked the gun. It shot to point of aim, the straight comb of the stock did not cause me to hit myself in the nose as I do with modern "pistol" grip stocks, recoil was negligible, and I am very recoil sensitive, I loved the unpadded butt. With out a doubt the most comfortable shot gun I have ever shot.

A few months ago, I got a call from my distributor saying he had some new 1997s in stock. I reminded him of my previous experiences. To his credit he convinced me to try one more. This time with nicer furniture and a few dollars more.

When I got it I felt the old attraction once more but like a previous romance gone bad I was reluctant to be burned again.

I took the gun out to my back yard range and loaded it up. I fully expected it to remind me why my love had proved unrequited previously.

First five rounds, no problems. Every thing stayed tight. The trigger did not lock up nor did the magazine tube become disconnected as before. I was beginning to have some hope but I had been burned before!

Five more and still no problems. Another five and it was still working!! By now the ground was littered with exploded, water filled juice containers. At this point I decided to stop tempting fate and went back inside, much satisfied with my newest acquisition.

Since then, I have fired it a couple more times and expect to run another ten thru it today. Still going!! Still, I won't shoot it any more than I might an original old timer 1897. I figure it will last a might longer that way.

So for what it is worth, I would recommend the Norinco 1897 for those of us who ain't made of money. You may encounter some problems, but the distributor, Interstate Arms, has never had a problem sending me a brand new one each time one was defective. You may get lucky and get one that works the first time.

Good luck,


(name withheld by request)


 hi ak this is the squibber .I am a cowboy shooter and also one of the best for fixing or doing action jobs on 97 shotguns . I live  in Arizona also I do almost  all the work for interstate arms on the norinco 97 .most of the top cowboy shooters use my guns . if you would like more info please email me at dustybunch@yahoo.com   ..   thank you tom aka the squibber


Added 03 Oct 2002:

I have my grandfather's 1897.  Don't yet know date of manufacture but he was born in the 1880's and bought it as a young man. I just printed the date vs. serial number list off the net and am at work so will find out later.  Kind of rough, but periodically I get it out, clean it up and oil it, and go out with it.  This past weekend, Sept. 1, was the opening of our dove season. My brother, my nephew, my son, and I limited out in two hours shooting over a pond.  They were all shooting Remington 1100's, and I was shooting grandpa's gun.  I shot the best percentage (not so many wasted shots) and my son was very impressed with how the old pump still tracks down the birds. I believe Cabela's now has a buttstock for the 97 in their new master catalog.  I think grandpa retrofitted a single shots stock onto his after some accident because it does not match up well, but it does its job.

Here is another option for cleaning, if wooden parts are protected or removed.  In my case, the buttstock sometimes works its way loose, so I don't mind removing it since I have to remove the butt plate and tighten the screw any way.  An aerosol can of carbuerator cleaner will dissolve the gunk, and with the extension tube attached can get the solvent into small spaces with some pressure to literally blow the crud out of the action.  Following up with an aerosol like Rem Oil both rinses away the solvent, and lubes the action.  Any excess can then be wiped away.  This method does not require complete disassembly of a complicate action but still seems to work well.

(name withheld by request)


Hi AK,

I'm writing to you to tell you how much I enjoyed your internet article on
the '97. I purchased one in the 60's from an old gentleman for $50.00 .. It seems
that when he and a hunting buddy were negotiating a barbed wire fence, he had
it in full cock, and nearly shot his foot off..  It's in real good condition
to this day due to the care I have given it through the years. A non-take
down in 12 ga. , it can down the ducks and rabbits with the best of them..  I
don't know how old it is axactly, but the serial number is  1011XXX..   It is
as superb a shotgun that you could ask for...

Thanks,

(Name withheld by request)


Added 27 Dec 2002:

Hi AK-

I'm a 97 nut from way back!! I currently own 4, three 16's and a factory solid frame riot in 12 gauge.

The 16 gauge 97 is the finest shotgun ever made (in my unbiased opinion)  and will outshoot 12 ga  870's and 1100's any day of the week!!

Most recently acquired a 16 ga gun with a 25" cylinder bore, known as a brush gun  (see Madis - The Winchester Book)  It's vintage 1903, C serial number 175xxx. Excellent shooter!

One caution about the 16 gauge guns, though - they were manufactured with 2 9/16 chambers up until 1931 when they were finally chambered 2 3/4.  Shooting the longer shells in these short chambered guns could prove disastrous!!

2 1/2" ammo is available from The Old Western Scrounger and also from Ballistic Products Corporation.

Tell your readers to do themselves a favor and try a 16!!  If they don't like it they can always give it to me!!

Tim


Added 08 January 2003:

I liked your article on the 1897 Winchester. I have owned 2. About 5 years ago one of our local pawn shops burned down. A truck load of guns were burned, some beyond use. In the pile was a 32" full solid frame 1897 in 12 ga. with a charred stock and burnt forend. I bought it for $50.00. Scrounged up a disassembly sheet from a friend and tore it down to just the receiver and barrel. Spent many hours with steel wool and mineral spirits cleaning it up. Checked all the springs and reassembled. Refinished stock. Added a new forend from Boyd's and a new front bead. Started shooting it some. Found out the extractor hole was worn in the breach block causing it to sometimes hang up on the receiver.

 A hunting club member showed up one day at the club with a new looking takedown version of the 97 with a 30" full choke barrel. It had been re-blued. I bought it from him for $200.00. It works GREAT!  I have killed several deer with it with 00 buckshot and its a good crow gun too. It's a keeper too. I sometimes contemplate cutting the barrel back to 26". Sold the solid frame one to a friend for $200.00 so I about broke even. The solid frame I had was made in 1919 and the takedown I have now was made in 1921. I take care of it but don't baby it, meaning if I want to shoot several boxes of shells through it at one outing I will. They are tough old guns just like my mdl. 12's.

Mike


Added 26 January 2003:

After reading this site a couple of times I just can't resist. I'm sitting here looking at my great grandfathers (1913) 97 in 16 ga. which was handed down to me from my father.( In fact nobody really cared for it)  My dad always told me that it was now an unsafe firearm and so it sat in our basement for years. It was just to be a conversation piece until a good friend of mine was over having (you
guessed it) a conversation on guns when he mentioned that he had been hunting with his grandfather's 97 in 12 ga and how well it handled and shot. I laughed and told him about that old 16 and how it was too loose to shoot any more. He looked at me sternly and said "Let me have it".

And in the course of time that it takes a dog to smell all the tires and leave his mark, my friend had it apart and back together with no more wobble in the barrel. He threw it back at me and told me "Take it hunting!". "Yeah right, I'll shoot my eye out". I exclaimed. You see I've had semi autos, pumps, currently a couple of citori's and just couldn't see why anybody in his right mind would want to go hunting with this relic.

The thing is ugly, no blueing left, a slight bulge in the barrel when great gramps (he died in 1929 and lost the farm) accidently shot it with the barrel in the water duck hunting. The stock had been cut down for his short stature and what in the world would people think about me lugging that thing around.
Well, the romantic side of my nature got the best of me and I took it out just for a little pheasant Hunting. Three shots, three dead and I mean dead roosters!

No vent rib, no glowing front bead, heck I never even had any money in it and I can't miss with the darn thing. I'm still asking myself, why does this gun fit and shoot so good. Oh yeah the cycle of the action takes some getting used to but it has a full choke, shoots like a rifle ( tight pattern), and I'm knocking down stuff up close, far away ( I won't say how far cause I don't want to lose my credibility) and have made some incredible shots. Well, enough of my ramblings. Lets not let this secret out, I want to buy
another 97 (or two) before everybody gets the fever!

thanks

Brian
(email witheld by request)


Added 21 February 2003 from a reader in New Zealand:

AK,

I just bought a Norinco Model 1897 copy and went looking on the web for some information - and stumbled across your web-site.  I thought I'd drop you a  line.

I had wanted a Model 1897 for years.  My Uncle Jim had one that he bought sometime prior to WWII.  I was never allowed to touch it.  My Dad hated guns (something remaining from his WW II experiences I think - because he grew up with them).  He used to say I was just like my Uncle Jim - mad about guns. Your comment about the lack of a disconnector put me in mind of the story my Dad tells of a near tragedy at their farmhouse in Trenton Ontario Canada back in the 1930s.  As the story goes, my Uncle Jim was sitting in the kitchen (the one room that had electricity) with his feet up on the wood stove, cycling rounds through the action of his 16 Ga Model 1897 Takedown. Somehow - we don't to this day know how, something caught the trigger and - you guessed it, the shotgun discharged into the ceiling next time the action came was cycled.  The charge went through the ceiling into the room above, where my grandmother was sewing - narrowly missing her.  She had been seated next to the stove-pipe to take advantage of the warmth it offered.  She was not best pleased, and my Dad never let his brother forget that day - or me either.  Sadly Uncle Jim passed away last year of cancer.  I wanted to get that Model 1897, but it went to one of my cousins.

When I saw that Norinco Model 1897s were on offer, I placed an order for one.  It arrived Friday, and I was off like a shot to get the pick of the litter from my local dealer.  I knew he had ordered 10 of them and pre-sold 9, so I wanted to get first crack.  Good thing too, as the first three out of the boxes had cracked wood in the pistol grip.  I think though, that appalling wood aside (mine is in good shape but looks more like plastic than wood), Norinco have sorted out some of the problems your other correspondents have noted.  Mine works a treat.  I put more than 50 rounds for it the first day, more on Sunday, and no sign of loosening parts or any incipient failure.  It seems a good solid piece of engineering.  Patterns are good, well centred and without a lot of holes, and the only problem I had was a round that stubbornly refused to fire in spite of repeated tries.
Bad primer I guess because it was well-struck.

Mine will be used for cowboy action shooting and occasional plinking.  I may actually give it a go for sporting clays just for a lark.  I am well pleased with it in the short time I've had it.  I may look at replacing the wood down-stream sometime.  Now if they would only do it as a take-down...

Yours truly,

David B.


Added 04 April 2003:

My dad gave my son his 97 in 1992. 30 days ago my son took it shooting and a screw fell out of the bottom of it. It was a screw that held the next round in the mag. How may I get a new one? Find a new one?  Thank you! 

Troy (name & email address used with permission)


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