When asked about the “Gun That Won the West,” many cowfolks will point out various handguns and rifles that have traditionally vied for that title, but very few will point to the ubiquitous shotgun. The “scattergun” crossed the plains with settlers and put food on the table, while at the same time it stood guard behind the cabin door. It was a favorite of lawmen, stagecoach and express guards, who appreciated its rapid firepower and intimidation capacity—bad guys like Black Bart and Killing Jim Miller liked it too, for the same reasons. It was also seen resting across the saddle pommels of many Confederate cavalry troopers during the War Between the States. Today Cowboy Action Shooters (CAS) in Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) and National Congress of Old West Shootists (NCOWS) matches utilize the shotgun as an integral part of their competition battery. So let’s take a look at what kind of shotguns are out there for today’s shooters that replicate those made during the latter half of the 19th Century when the West was still largely untamed.
In all of the SASS and NCOWS shoots I have attended, the odds-on favorite shotgun is the double-barrel 12 gauge. Yes you see a scattering of exposed hammer sidelocks and a few doubles in 20 gauge or even .410, but most seem to favor the box-lock, side-by-side 12 gauge with short 18- to 22-inch barrels. These “Coach Guns” are simple to shoot and operate, making them safer to use—especially in the hands of less-experienced cowpokes. Here’s a peek at three different models…
I have no idea about what percentage of the CAS market-share Stoeger has tied up, but if my observations are any indication, it’s a goodly amount. I see their Coach Gun doubles on the firing line at every match I attend and a well-used plain blue model with a few minor modifications can usually be found in my gun cart. These are real “keep-it-simple” shotguns; simple to operate and economical for new or experienced cowpokes. The basic blue model has 20-inch barrels and will chamber 2¾- or 3-inch shells, the barrels are choked improved cylinder and modified; you can have your choice of 12 or 20 gauges, plus a .410 bore is also available; all have a brass bead front sight. Double triggers are standard, but a single-trigger variation can also be had. Besides a blue finish, for a little extra you can get nickel plate—matte or polished and even a model with a black hardwood stock. Standard stocks are checkered with a hard rubber buttplate and a tang-mounted safety. If your tastes run to a bit more extravagance, a new Supreme model is available with a handsome AA-grade walnut stock with rubber recoil pad, optional interchangeable choke tubes (12 and 20 gauge only) and two-tone polished blue barrels and stainless steel receiver or all-over polished nickel finish.
Suggested retail price for the standard model is $449 and $499 for the Supreme.
For those preferring a concealed-hammer double-gun with a few more amenities, there is the 1881 Hammerless Coach Gun from Cimarron Firearms Company. This model is available in 12 gauge only with a blue finish, barrel lengths are 20, 22, 26, 28 and 30 inches, plus removable choke tubes are standard, along with a 3-inch chamber. These scatterguns have a single trigger and brass bead front sight. The walnut stock is checkered and comes with a recoil pad; there is also a tang-mounted safety. If you want to spend a little more, the deluxe version can be had in 26- and 30-inch barrel lengths and comes with a better grade of walnut along with some light engraving on the plated receiver and triggerguard.
Price on the standard 1881 model is $740.60 and the deluxe 1881 model goes for $908.60 Yankee dollars.
TAYLOR’S & COMPANY:
If you are really looking to imitate Old West realism then there are few better ways to do it than to use an exposed-hammer double barrel. There are some fairly inexpensive guns on the market today, but usually you’ll pay more for a quality hammer-gun than you will for a box-lock shotgun. Taylor’s & Co., Inc. have a nice one on their website called fittingly enough the Hammer Coach Gun. It is billed as a Model 1878 reproduction and has twin rebounding “mule ear” hammers just like the original. It also has inertia firing pins and double triggers, just like its Victorian-era predecessors. What it doesn’t have is Damascus barrels and soft steel like the old-timers, but is constructed of modern ordnance steel and will handle all smokeless loads up to 3-inch magnum shells. There is a tang-mounted, sliding safety and brass bead front sight. The side-locks and receiver are color casehardened and barrels are a polished blue. The satin-finished, pistol-grip, walnut stock is laser-checkered and has a steel buttplate.
This Coach Gun is available only in 12 gauge with 20-inch barrels and has a $905 MSRP.
In the world of Western Action Shooting pump-guns are generally Winchester Model 1897 originals or replicas. Granted there were some others out there like the 1894 Marlin pump, which see some CAS use, but nobody is making any modern replicas at this time. There are plenty of operational Model 97 shotguns available; I use an original circa 1902, just be sure to have yours checked out by a gunsmith before shooting it. Replicas primarily produced in China and Japan abound and quality over the years has ranged from not-so-hot to excellent. While the Winchester Model 97 was not the first slide-action shotgun, it is the most well-known, having had a lot of Hollywood exposure in movies like The Wild Bunch. It also saw use by the military in two world wars and numerous smaller skirmishes, plus it was a favorite of peace officers and hunters. The Model 97 also had a production span of some six decades (1897-1957), with over a million manufactured. It comes in a close second to the double barrel in CAS matches and in one SASS side-match, the Wild Bunch Match, it is a requirement. With some judicious shopping you can find a used original for about the same price or less than a replica, but some competitors are loath to use an original gun due to possible collector value or safety concerns.
CIMARRON 1897 PUMP:
This “repro” Model 97 has a blue finish, a 20-inch open choke barrel with removable choke tubes a chamber accepting 2¾-inch shells and a brass bead front sight. The tubular magazine will hold five shot-shells and just like John Browning’s originals it has an exposed hammer and a push-button slide-handle release. The American walnut buttstock on the Cimarron version has a pistol grip that is somewhat square-shaped at the bottom and a solid rubber recoil pad. The sliding forend has circular serrations down its length. This scattergun is a close copy of the short barrel “riot gun” offered by Winchester as the standard barrel length on a 12 GA sporting model was 30 inches.
Price on the Cimarron 1897 is $560.94 and there is but the single version available.
IAC COWBOY 97W:
Another pretty close copy of the Model 97 Riot Gun this replica from Interstate Arms is very much like the Cimarron offering. It also has a 20-inch barrel, but has a fixed cylinder bore choke, with a 2¾-inch chamber and bead front sight. The American walnut stock has a more rounded pistol grip and with no recoil pad; the forend is serrated/grooved. Shot-shell capacity is five rounds and the weight of this shotgun and the aforementioned gun from Cimarron is just over 7 pounds empty. The Model 97 was used in the Philippine-American War (1899-1902), but a true military design did not come along until 1917 when the U.S. entered World War I. IAC makes a replica Model 97 Trench Gun (97T) complete with perforated steel hand-guard, bayonet lug and sling swivels, but its date of manufacture would preclude it from WAS use.
Price on the 97W model is $434.95.
Another John Browning design was the Winchester Model 1887 lever-action shotgun. Browning argued against this type of action for a shotgun, preferring a slide-action, but Winchester was adamant that that they were recognized as a lever-gun company and that’s what they wanted. Browning did not think the lever-action scattergun idea would last and the action was designed around blackpowder shells. At the time it could be had in both 10 and 12 Gauge; later after smokeless powder shells became available, the Model 1887 was updated and designated the Model 1901 and was only chambered in 10 gauge as Winchester did not want it competing with their 12 gauge Model 97! The lever-shotgun was dropped from the Winchester line in 1920. The Model 1887 remained relatively obscure until a futuristic cyborg “Terminator” used one in a sci-fi movie. Cowboy Action Shooters have also rescued the Model 1887 and today they are available from several different importers/distributors.
CHIAPPA MODEL 1887:
This company probably makes more versions of the Model 1887 than any others I have seen. Their website indicates that they have variations with two finishes that include all-over satin chrome, in two different barrel lengths (22 and 28 inches) and both have a 2¾-inch chamber. The barrel also features three removable choke tubes (IC, M, F), bead front sight and a five-round tubular magazine. Like the original it has an exposed hammer and no manual safety. Standard finish on this gun is a blue barrel/magazine, with a color casehardened receiver, lever and buttplate. The satin chrome model is in a word stunning—it has contrasting blue screw heads, trigger and barrel band. The pistol grip stock is crafted from attractive European walnut.
Made in Italy, the retail price on a basic Chiappa 1887 is $1,225 with satin chrome models starting around $1,400.
TAYLOR’s & Co.:
The Model 1887 was the world’s first successful magazine-fed, repeating shotgun and Taylor’s & Co. has a selection of six models. So as not to rehash previously supplied information, they come in two barrel lengths like the others, there standard version in both of those lengths and the same models with a chrome finish. Likewise, there are two versions of the 22-inch Fast Action “cowboy” scattergun; one in standard finish and one in satin chrome. Features, shell capacities, etc. are again the same as previously mentioned.
MSRP for standard model is $1,241 for the 22-inch and $1,270 for the 28-inch if you want satin chrome it will be $1,403 and $1,514 respectively.
For a blue/color-case 22-inch Fast Action the MSRP is $1,241 while the chrome is $1,452.
So there you have it, the three most popular types of shotguns in the Cowboy Action Shooting game today. Yes there may be some others, but by-and-large these are the reproduction styles you will see on the firing line at most NCOWS and SASS matches. Some companies offer only a model or two, some like Cimarron offer them all…yes they have a Model 1887 too. Any of these shotguns will serve you well. Practice makes perfect and fast with the repeaters, which is why the side-by-side double appears to be the most popular with non-speedy cowfolks. What is the “Gun that Won the West?” Perhaps you’ll agree with me that the shotgun may very well have a claim on that title. ✪
For more information on the Shotguns, visit:
Chiappa Firearms or call 877-425-4867
Cimarron Firearms Co. or call 800-749-4861
IAC Imports or call 978-667-7060
Stoeger Industries or call 800-264-4962
Taylor’s & Co. or call 540-772-2017
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