I have always loved the Model97. Just it’s look is iconic. I doubt any one has made it to adulthood as a gun enthusiast and not seen pictures of Marines in the Pacific, GIs in Vietnam or even some Doughboy in the trenches with a M97. That isn’t counting all the police units who have used it over the years. And even in the hands of lowly Joey Shmoe in the woods and fields for hunting,
The M97 is another masterpiece from the Master , John M Browning himself. A more refined and beefed up version of the earlier M1893. It’s production running from 1897 , Natch, to 1957 with over 1 million made by USRAC, AKA Winchester. It came in a variety of barrel lengths and in take down and non take down models but offered only in 12 and 16gauge. On top of that we have seen clones from varies over seas makers since then.
The shotgun is like most in that it feeds from the bottom into the magazine tube and the “pump” is used to cycle the ammo with empties ejecting from the right hand side ejection port. It does however have an external hammer and a slide does travel reward outside of the action while cocking the external hammer. If you are not familiar with this, care has to be taken with your grip or you may end up getting a little love bite from the gun. Capacity is 5 rounds in the magazine plus 1 in the chamber of an un plugged gun.
The M97 also lacks a disconnector for the trigger. Yes that means that as long as you hold the trigger to the rear, and work the action the gun will fire as soon as the action closes and achieves lock up. The gun can be fired very quickly this way and it is a big thing for guys now a days to want this. It’s usefulness is arguable though and in less experienced hands it can be dangerous for the careless. But then again, what isn’t dangerous when in the hands of the careless? Oh, and the safety is the trigger at half cock.
The saw action in all those ways I mentioned above, and more. It has certainly qualified as being in any gun hall of fame. I’m not going to go into its vast detailed history here since everyone and his mother in law has a website somewhere talking about it. I am going to show how mine shoots.
I fired some 00 bucks and rifled slugs through the gun only. My number 4 buck and various other shotgun loads are all 3 inch shells and the old ’97 is a 2-3/4 shell only affair. Hopefully I will round up some more variety later and edit it into this and repost in the near future.
Having an open choke. I kept it to normal shotgun ranges. I did intend to fire slugs out to 100 but there is only so much the old shoulder can take from a hard buttplate.
First picture below is one round of 00 buck at 20 yards. I fired this at the head of the target and all but one pellet stayed on the “head” zone.
Above is one round of 00 from 25 yards. Well within what I would want it to do. I have noticed though that the federal “military ” 00 buck full brass buck does not shoot as tight as the federal low recoil low brass 00 buck load the local police use. I did not have it on hand today , but in the past the low recoil load shoots excellent in every shotgun I have used it in. For a look at that check out my review of the Inland/Ithaca trench gun review from last year. If you are too lazy to do that here is a target fired with the excellent federal low recoil 00 loads from the other shotgun. This is pretty standard performance in all shotguns when using this ammo in my experience. It shoots nearly identical in the m97. The patter in the orange stick is from the shotgun.
You can see how well the low brass/low recoil load shoots even at distances I would never actually risk shooting at some one with if I were a cop in a urban environment. I wish I had some for this test by I had grabbed the wrong loads before I left sad to say.
Next up was the federal rifled slug load.
Above you can see my 3 shot group from 40 yards, off hand. I really surprised myself because I hate and dread shooting slugs. I hate shooting them and if I had some other sucker with me I would have made them shoot the slugs as I am wont to do. The hole that looks like another slug hole is from the wadding from an earlier shot. The top left hole that seems to be a flyer was a slug I fired from 75 yards as I was finishing up. I aimed a little higher and since I was off hand and hate firing 12ga slugs , I wasn’t able to put it into the group from 40 yards. But I will take it! I also fired two last slugs at the “head” from 50 yards and was able to keep them nice and tight. This was from a supported position.
The gun is pretty old but it is still very capable in these modern times. It is fast to the shoulder, handles terrific and the action is slick and fast.
Beyond all that is just the plain cool factor. It is a classic and has been something I wanted for many years. Mainly since I saw William Holden and his pals wasting people in The Wild Bunch. A film that obviously has spawned the wild bunch matches in cowboy action shooting. Those matches have done more than anything to drive up the prices of models and make them harder to find. Shooters of those matches quickly scoop up any original riot/trench model they can find as well as longer barreled models for conversion. Even the Norinco 97 copy has become a collectors item more or less. Even made in China it is fine gun if you do run across one by the way. Do not hesitate to buy one if you find it and wonder.
The Model 97 Winchester is one of my favorite guns and when I see it and use it I always think of The Wild Bunch. In fact the two are so intertwined in my mind I sought out the display at the NRS museum while in D.C. a few years ago and took a picture. The display model is the gun used by Holden in the film.