There is something about a stately old shotgun that lures us in and tempts us to pick it up, shoulder it and dream of where it’s been. Worn bluing and scarred walnut gives a hint of the days in a duck blind, grouse woods or a trap and skeet field.
Most of those venerable shotguns started out in factories and on gun shop racks, and hunters and shooters across America chose the ones they thought were best. Eventually, the greatest guns stood out.
Browning Auto Five. Many would consider John Moses Browning a genius, a point to which the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), the Browning .50-caliber machine gun and the Colt 1911 pistol can attest. Browning also designed the Automatic Five shotgun (four in the magazine, one in the chamber) in 1898 and first took his idea to Winchester, a company he had done business with on many other projects.
Things did not work out at Winchester or Remington at the time, and Browning next landed at Fabrique National (FN). Soon after, the Automatic Five shotgun was first made in Belgium in 1902 (Hence the moniker “Belgium Browning”).
Browning later secured an agreement with Remington in 1905, and the newly rebranded Remington Model 11 became the first auto loading shotgun made in America.
Many will tell you that the A-5 is known for kicking like the proverbial mule. To some fans of the A-5, it will always be known as the “Humpback” due to its trademark squared receiver. Most who shoot the A-5 say that the gun shoulders very nicely and is quick to get on target. The big, broad receiver gives shooters an instant sighting plane, leading to the ease of aiming.
John Browning reportedly said the A5 shotgun was his greatest achievement. Coming from a man with dozens of firearms to his name, including that little number called the Colt 1911, that says something.
H. Fox Sterlingworth. Recent years have seen a renewed interest in reasonably priced American-made double guns. Shotgun lovers that do not wish to venture into the world of expensive British shotguns feel they can stay domestic and collect the odd Lefever, a Winchester Model 24, maybe an L. C. Smith or a Fox Sterlingworth.
Ansley Herman Fox was well known in the shotgun world of the early 1900s. Known as a hotshot in the live pigeon and trapshooting scene, Fox went through a confusing series of gun manufacturing company ownerships in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
By 1910, Fox was producing a gun he called the Sterlingworth, an entry-level Fox shotgun and the grade most hunters chose.
Like most American-made doubles of the day, the Fox Sterlingworth featured a box lock action and the “lump-through” method of connecting the barrels. On a double-barreled shotgun, the “lump” is the projection extending downward from the breech end of the barrels. In the “lump through” method, a separate piece of machined steel is fitted and braised onto the barrels.
Most of these guns featured color case-hardened receivers, and this is usually the first place to show wear. The Sterlingworth was and still is known as a sturdy, dependable (and I think lovely) companion in the field.
Ithaca Model 37. The Ithaca Model 37 pumpgun is something of a paradox. On one hand, it has been a nimble and lightweight sporting arm carried by thousands of sportsmen. On the other, this shotgun has been a warrior. Like the Winchester Model 97 and 12 and the Remington 31, the Ithaca saw military service from WWII through Vietnam.
If that was not enough, this dependable shotgun was adopted by many police departments in the US and abroad. Part of the Model 37’s appeal was the shotguns unique feature of loading and ejecting through the port at the bottom of the receiver, making it an ambidextrous firearm.
Ithaca waited until a patent owned by Remington expired in the mid-1930s and borrowed from a design by John Pederson. Like others of that day, Ithaca sought a competitor for the Winchester Model 12.
The company introduced the gun in 1937 in what may have been the worst climate possible for a new sporting arm. War was looming in Europe, and the country was still suffering in the Great Depression. Despite that, the Model 37 remains as the longest in production pump action shotgun to date.
Winchester Model 12. It should come as no surprise that the basis for this iconic pump shotgun came from John Browning. Little-known Winchester engineer T. C. Johnson improved on Browning’s Model 1897 and gave the world the Model 12. Winchester produced this shotgun from 1912 through 1964 with more than two million being made. For many years, the Model 12 set the bar that all other pumpgun makers tried to reach.
Oddly, when the first guns were produced in 1912, they were only available in 20 gauge. After a year in production, 12 and 16 gauges became available. A 28-gauge model was also produced later.
This shotgun was the darling of thousands of hunters and trap and skeet shooters for many years. When this shotgun debuted in 1912, it was the first shotgun with an internal hammer and a streamlined receiver the American public had seen. The Model 12 also had hand-fitted machined steel internal parts, interchangeable barrels, nice walnut stocks and forearms and beautiful deep bluing.
The Model 12 sold strongly until the introduction of the Remington Model 870 in 1961. By then, a new age of shotguns had begun.
No doubt many of you will say that your favorite did not make this list. Remember I keep telling you the editors will not give me that five page section of the paper that I asked for. I guess we will just have to visit this subject again sometime.