It is amazing how life can run full circle at times. Such is the case with vintage waterfowl shotguns. When steel shot for waterfowl was mandated nationwide in 1992, the use of the older shotgun models pretty much ceased due to the steel used for the barrels of those guns not being able to handle the pressures and hard pellets used in steel loads. The introduction of lead-free, non-steel loads over the past few years have changed that significantly, as there are multiple shotshell loads for waterfowl available for those coveted old vintage guns.
When it comes to waterfowl, hunters like guns that can take a beating from water, mud, ice and other somewhat uncomfortable wintertime elements. Here is a list of guns that that have stood the test of time and can stand up to the rigors that hunting ducks and geese can present.
When it comes to vintage waterfowl guns, you have to start with the Browning A5. This was the first mass produced semi-automatic shotgun in history. The gun was designed by John Browning in 1898, patented in 1900 and put into production in 1902. Waterfowl hunters loved the five-shot capacity of the gun and the recoil-operated action was unique and functional. Its squared “humpback” design proved to be popular as well. Browning produced the A5 in 12, 16 and 20-gauge models.
Browning tried to sell the patent for the gun to Winchester but could not reach a deal with them. He went to Remington too, but that did not work out either, so he wound up signing a manufacturing agreement with Fabrique Nationale de Herstal (FN) in Belgium. FN manufactured the guns from 1902 till the start of World War II and from 1952 until production moved to Japan in 1975. Those Belgium Brownings are highly coveted by waterfowl and upland hunters nationwide.
It is hard to imagine that the most popular shotgun in history can be considered a vintage firearm. The Remington 870 was introduced in 1950 and since that introduction, more than 11 million 870s have been produced. The original 870 guns featured fixed chokes and plain or vented rib barrels. In 1986, Remington changed the landscape of their most popular model by introducing the interchangeable RemChoke system, which gave the gun a wide array of use options.
The Remington 870 was called the Wingmaster and in the 1990s the company offered a more affordable Remington Express model that helped skyrocket sales of the 870 design format. The early models featured barrels that were not Steel Shot Approved, so be sure to look for the Steel Shot Approved stamp on the barrel before using steel loads.
Ithaca Model 37
Even though it is still produced today, the Ithaca Model 37 pump action shotgun was introduced to the hunting world in 1937. The gun was designed as a takeoff from the Remington Model 17, which featured both bottom loading and ejection. Ithaca originally planned to introduce it in 1933, but they realized that they had to wait for the patent on the original design to expire.
Over the years, the Model 37 was produced in many configurations and gauges. Ithaca Gun Company changed hands numerous times over those years, but the design of the Model 37 is still the standard for the bottom ejection, bottom-loading shotgun. Because of this consistency, the Ithaca Model 37 has the longest production run of any shotgun in history.
Winchester Model 1912 (Model 12)
Perhaps the most iconic waterfowl gun ever produced was the Winchester Model 1912 pump action shotgun, which hit the market in 1912. The name of the gun was changed to Model 12 in 1919. Strangely enough, the initial Model 1912 guns were chambered in 20 gauge only for 2 ½-inch ammo. The 12 and 16-gauge models were put in production in 1913 and after 1927, most of the guns were chambered for 2 ¾-inch loads.
From a waterfowler’s perspective, the most coveted Model 12s were the 3-inch chambered Model 12 Heavy Duck guns. These guns featured 30-inch fixed full choke barrels and actually have the word “duck” stamped on the bottom of the receiver.
Winchester produced the Model 12 in 12, 16, 20 and 28-gauge models until 1964 when the company decided that the gun had become too expensive to produce. The early Model 12 came with either a plain fixed choke barrel or with a solid rib.
A.H. Fox – Super Fox” Side by Side
If you want to talk vintage duck guns, let’s just wrap this list up with what might be the most coveted of all duck guns – the Super Fox by A.H Fox. This 3-inch chambered side by side was specifically developed by Fox to shoot the Winchester Super-X loads developed by Western Cartridge Company in 1922. The gun featured 32-inch barrels that were overbored to .740 by Philadelphia gunsmith Burt Becker. How rare is this vintage piece of art? Over a 20-year period, only around 300 Super Fox guns were ever made, not only can we call this gun “vintage,” it is also very rare.
It was a Becker bored Super Fox that legendary writer Nash Buckingham lost near Clarendon, Arkansas, only to have it resurface in Savannah, Georgia, many decades later. That gun, affectionately known as “Bo Whoop” is now in the Ducks Unlimited Museum. It was purchased at auction for just over $200,000 and then donated to DU.
If you are fortunate enough to get your hands on one of these legendary side-by-side shotguns, just know that you are holding waterfowl hunting history in your hands.
These are just a few of the great old shotguns still being found in duck blinds and goose pits around the country. Each of them has a story to tell that is certainly worth a listen.