Countless volumes have been written over the years on why the Winchester Model 12 is a great shotgun.
This is not one of those articles.
In fact, if you are reading this far, I expect you already know the Winchester Model 12’s a fine shotgun. I am here to help you find one and to teach you what problems to look for when you do.
For starters, you need to sit down and decide what you want to do with this gun.
Light target shooting?
There are Model 12’s in just about every gauge and flavor to suit all of these. If you want a dedicated turkey/duck/coyote blaster, you’ll want the Model 12 Heavy Duck. The Heavy Duck comes with 3-inch, 12-gauge chambers for greater versatility. Add a modern Bismuth Shotshell to this setup and you have a lightning bolt from Thor that will make ducks fall out of the sky in style. If upland hunting over a dog is more your style, then one of the lighter sub-gauge models is perfect for walks in the field behind a dog.
One very important thing to keep in mind is that these are fixed choke guns. Winchester chokes also run on the open side. A Full will measure more like a Light Modified and a Modified will generally measure closer to an Improved cylinder. This has been my experience in the hundreds of Model 12’s that have passed through my hands over the years. The good news is with modern shotshell technology out today, the need for super tight chokes isn’t as necessary as it was back in the day. Regardless of what you pick, you should always pattern your gun and I bet you will be very impressed with the results if the right shell is used.
So, you know what you want to kill with it now where do you find it?
I highly recommend you don’t buy a Winchester Model 12 online if you can avoid it. The fact of the matter is these are collectible to a lot of people, and they do command higher prices online. You should find these at pawn shops and hole-in-the-wall gun shops. The reason is the limited market. I haven’t paid more than $500 for any Model 12 I have ever bought, way below the median price online, and out of those 20 or so guns all but one was a pawn shop find. This is not a matter of people not knowing what they have, this is a matter of them realizing that half their clients either don’t know or don’t care what it is and so it is priced accordingly.
Now as with any gun, there are several factors to consider. Probably the most common thing I find on used Model 12’s is aftermarket recoil pads. Please watch out for this. Do not ever buy a shotgun that is too short for your length of pull. Some were cut short, some were not cut at all, and the length of pulls runs the whole spectrum. I am a giant Shrek of a man and as such can’t do anything shorter than a 14-inch. Figure out what measurement you are and check. Most field-grade guns came with a plastic butt plate whereas the Heavy Duck model comes standard with a Winchester factory red/orange pad.
As a general rule, sub-gauge models will command a higher premium. This is because there were simply more 12-gauge guns produced. Be ready to pay a little more for a 16-gauge or 20-gauge model. There were Model 12’s produced in 28-gauge, but these are very rare and well out of my realm as a casual shooter price-wise. The best deals to be had are on standard field grade 12-gauge models. These are the most common and generally go for less. Sub-gauge guns are sexier with the upland crowd thinking a 12-gauge overkill and some people think a 2 ¾, 12-gauge gun with a fixed choke barrel isn’t all that great for waterfowl. Let these people believe what they want because it means you are going to get a steal of an amazing gun. Keep in mind the Heavy Duck models will sometimes get lumped in with other 12-gauge models and you will be able to get them for a bargain as well and have 3-inch chamber capability.
The hunt is the best part. That is the rush I chase. Go hunt some dusty pawnshops and bring what is arguably the best shotgun design John Browning ever came up with back in the field. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, just be smart and be patient.