The last few posts have leaned political in nature, so I thought I would get back to a more pure gun story. One of the reasons I’m so passionate about guns is the memories and emotions I associate with them. Today, you’ll learn the story of another one in my collection, a Winchester Model 12 shotgun.
Originally known as the Model 1912, this shotgun was introduced in—you guessed it—1912. Known as the perfect repeater, it was designed by Winchester engineer T.C. Johnson, and followed many design cues of the Model 1893/97 designs of John M. Browning. A pump-action shotgun, it was introduced as a 20 gauge. In 1913, the 12 and 16 gauge versions were released. From its introduction until 1964 when it was discontinued, nearly 2 million Model 12s (shortened from 1912 in 1919) were produced.
While the Model 12 used a combination of forged and machined parts, it’s primary competition became the Remington 870, which was released in 1950. Ultimately, the Model 12 became too expensive to produce at a competitive price. As an owner of both a Model 12 and 870, I can attest to the higher level of machining and production costs of the Winchester.
My Model 12
As near as I can tell based on serial number searching, my Model 12 came off the production line in 1930. I don’t know for certain when my paternal grandfather bought it, but I don’t know of a time when he didn’t own it. This one is chambered in Sweet 16; a wonderful compromise between the larger and harder-hitting 12 gauge and the smaller and lighter 20. The receiver of my Model 12 is significantly smaller than my 12 gauge 870, which makes it very handy and fast handling. At first, I didn’t light the straighter pistol grip. In fact, it’s almost a straight grip—much more so than my 870. However, after shooting a few rounds of clays with it, I found it to be very natural and easy pointing.
There is definitely some wear on the gun wear my grandfather “Pappy” carried it for many deer, pheasant and rabbit hunts. In fact, that’s why it’s so special to me.
Hunting with the Grownups
I was probably 10 or 11 when I first got to go deer hunting with my dad and the rest of the hunting party. I don’t remember everyone who went along, but I know Pappy was there. He wore a big set of Sorrel boots, heavy grey wool pants topped with a red and black plaid Woolrich coat. I don’t really remember too many details of that hunt. It’s more like snapshots. Riding out to the woods in my dad’s rust-orange Chevy pickup. Pappy packing his pipe. The crisp, cold air. Eating hot dogs cooked over an open fire for lunch. And the Model 12. I can still see it leaning up against a fence post. The graceful lines, the corncob fore end. The way the bluing was worn off around the receiver where it had been carried for so many years.
The Final Hunt
Fast forward a few years. I was probably 14. My parents had split up, my dad moved away. And I desperately wanted to go deer hunting. Quite often during that year, my mom would run us up to Brighton, which was halfway between Honeoye Falls and Webster. We lived in the Falls, Pappy lived in Webster. He would pick us up in his early ‘70s brown Caprice Classic—a land yacht of a car. My sister and I would ride up to his house and stay with him for the weekend.
I loved going to Pappy’s. He lived out in the country and had a lot of land around the house. I could take my Nylon 66 .22 up there and go shooting in the woods out back. Sometimes, he and I would sit on the pool deck at night and pick off rabbits trying to steal from his garden. It was calm, peaceful and a lot of fun.
Pappy wasn’t in the best of health. He had a bum knee that caused him to limp sometimes, especially when it was cold and damp. He really wasn’t up for traipsing through the woods on a deer hunt. But I was 14, what did I know? Well, I knew I wanted to go hunting. And I couldn’t go by myself just yet. I pleaded and begged. I am pretty sure I started asking in June if he could take me hunting when the season opened. In November. Unbelievably—now that I look at it—he relented.
I convinced my mom to let me skip school on opening day. The weather was terrible. It was probably 30 degrees and couldn’t decide between rain and snow. So it sort of did both. All day. Pappy and I drove out to a right-of-way not too far from his house. Back then, you could hunt the right-of-ways. Looking back, I see why he chose that spot. It would be a fairly easy walk in for him, and we could pick a tree to sit down under and see what happened.
Also looking back, I’m pretty sure he chose that spot because the chances of seeing a deer was slim. I didn’t realize it then, but now I think, “What on earth would he have done with a deer?” He was limping badly by then, and I’m sure the last thing he wanted to do was clean a deer. Still, he knew it was important to me to get out, so he sucked it up and out we went. It was probably 20 years before I realized what a sacrifice that was for him.
Again, I don’t remember much from that day. I know we spent most of the morning nestled under a big pine tree, trying to stay somewhat warm and dry. Shortly after lunch, he told me we probably should head in. The deer, he said, would be hunkered down just like we were. It was unlikely we’d see any, and we were just getting cold and wet. I’m sure I was really disappointed.
The last memory I have of that day—and of my grandfather—is him walking in front of me, down that sleety, snowy, rainy right-of-way, under the power lines, carrying the Model 12 in his left hand. Same Sorrel boots, same grey wool pants, same red and black plaid coat, his hunting license pinned in the middle of his back. Yup, he even had to pay for a license just to take me out for a single cold, wet morning.
A few weeks later, on a Saturday morning, while still buried under the covers of my warm bed, I heard my mom on the phone. I couldn’t hear all of what she was saying, but I knew from her tone that Pappy was dead. It turns out he finished dinner, sat down in his chair to watch TV, had a massive heart attack and died. We never got to hunt again, and I didn’t see the Model 12 for almost 35 years.
Coming of Age
A few years went by. I was old enough to take my Hunter Safety Training course and get my own deer license. Problem was, I didn’t have a gun. Money was in tight supply, and I couldn’t afford one. I wasn’t close to my dad at that point—he had remarried and moved to Florida. But I reached out to him to ask if I could have Pappy’s shotgun. He said no. I was devastated. And angry. I didn’t know why he would say no. And it would be another 20 years before I would learn why.
In 1995, at the urging of a mentor of mine, I sent my dad a letter. By that time, we hadn’t really seen or spoken to each other for nearly 15 years. But I realized that whatever feud we had going needed to come to an end. Thankfully, it did. We reconciled and a year later, my family and I drove to Virginia where he was living with my stepmom—different from the one in Florida, he finally got it right—for a visit. One evening, sitting in the living room, he said, “Son, years ago, you asked me if you could have Pappy’s shotgun and I said no. I said no because I was worried what would happen to it. I never thought you’d sell your Nylon 66, and I was worried you’d sell off the Model 12 if you got bored with it.” He’s right. I sold the Nylon 66 to pay for something I don’t even remember now. It’s the only gun I’ve ever sold and I regret it to this day. “But you’re a grown man now,” he continued. “I think it’s time you have the gun. I’m going to clean up, get it appraised and then it’s yours.”
Now, there’s something you need to know about my dad. He’s a bit of a procrastinator. It’s not intentional, he just loses track of time and forgets to get things done. He sorta procrastinated forever. In 2008, he died very unexpectedly during what should have been a routine outpatient procedure. Medical malpractice—it kills nearly 10 times as many people as guns do every year. He was one of those victims.
On a trip through Virginia in 2013 with my friend Mark, we stopped in at my stepmom’s and I saw the Model 12 for the first time in 35 years. I think I cried a little when I saw it. Pappy was, by far, my favorite grandfather. When my parent split up, he was the only one I felt stuck around when all the other adult males hid for cover. Holding that shotgun was like seeing him again. I could almost smell the pipe smoke.
A Thorough Cleansing
I don’t know how often Pappy cleaned that Model 12. I can confidently say it hadn’t been cleaned in a long time when I got it back. After getting it home to SoCal where I was living, I took it out to the garage and broke it down. It was a mess. I think I spent the better part of 3 hours cleaning it all up. By the time I was done, it was running smooth as silk.
A few weeks later, my friend Ken and I hit the sporting clays field. Having never fired the gun, I didn’t know what to expect. It fits and points way different than my 870, but it turns out it works well for me. The lighter 16 gauge is soft on the shoulder but it dusted the clays nonetheless. I kept looking at it, and thinking of the stories it could tell. And I couldn’t help but see him again in my mind, walking through the field in the snow, going out for one last hunt with his grandson.
The Anti-Second Amendment people keep parroting that guns are only designed to kill as many people as possible. They’re wrong. This gun brought a grandfather and grandson together. Years later, it brought a father and a son together. And today, it’s a physical link to my past. It’s a reminder of the good times I had with my Pappy. It’s an absolute joy to shoot. And there’s no way in hell it leaves my collection until I’ve passed on to the other side.