By Mike George
Wednesday, 16 May 2012
Secondhand Winchester shotgun review: Any Winchester over-under shotguns you find on the market today will fall into two main families – those which are part of the famous 101 family, and those which are not.
GUN EXPERT: Mike George
USEFUL BUY: Winchester shotguns
SECONDHAND COST: £100- - £1,300
In a nutshell, the 101, although designed by Winchester engineers in America, owes much of its design characteristics to Browning.
It has a rather tall action, and jointing is via a full-width hinge pin. Post-101 Winchesters pivot on stub pins, have shallow actions, and seem to owe their design to Beretta principles.
The 101 O/U was one of the finest-handling shotguns ever made. It was introduced as a 12-bore in 1963, and the smaller gauges of 20 and 28-bore and .410 came three years later, although they never really took off in the UK.
Magnum field models, plus skeet and trap models, also came out in 1966.
The XTR models, which replaced previous field models, came out in 1981, and Diamond-grade guns in trap and skeet configurations appeared in 1982.
Multichoke versions date back to the late 1970s, and a UK favourite, the 101 Super Grade Game, dates back to the 1980s.
I had always assumed that 101s sold in the USA and Europe were made to the same specification, but now I am not so sure.
An authoritative American book published in 1976 suggests that European-market barrels were built on the monobloc principle for a lighter construction.
“Europeans like light guns, and use light loads”, confides author Ray Bearse.
Be that as it may, all 101s were built in Japan on the Olin-Kodensha plant which was part-owned by Olin Industries, Winchester’s then parent corporation.
This also applies to three guns built specifically for the European market, the 5000, 6500 and 8500, the last of which came into the UK in the late 1980s.
The very last of these European-market guns were sold under the Classic Doubles name.
The Kodensha plant then closed down, and Winchester seemed to lose interest in the over-under for a while.
THE ITALIAN FIASCO
> The 1980s were somewhat turbulent years for the company, which was sold by the Olin Corporation and bought by Browning.
The era also signalled one of the company’s few real failures – the ill-fated Model 1001.
Built for Winchester by an Italian company, it was introduced in the USA in 1993 and withdrawn in a great hurry two years later – on safety grounds, it was rumoured.
I never did get to the bottom of the real story, but I believe the small number of UK customers were able to exchange their guns for Mirokus.
THE BROWNING WINCHESTERS
> All then went quiet on the Winchester over-under front until 2001, when the Supreme came out.
It was produced by Browning in Belgium, although it differed from all other Brownings by having a Beretta-style action hinged on stub pins.
Sporting Gun’s tester, Jason Harris, gave the gun a cautious thumbs-up in the Spring of 2001.
The gun was good but not totally right, and since the launch date it has seen a number of improvements. These led to a re-introduction in 2004 as the Select Energy series.
The current range comprises Select Energy Sporting and Trap Adjustable Signature models, the Select English Field 12M, the Select Light Gold 12M, the Select Sporting II 12M, and the Select Sporting II Top Cote 12M Signature.
And that’s the story so far – in the UK at any rate.
However, a few months ago a Sporting Gun reader contacted me to ask if I had seen the new Model 101 on sale in the USA.
Excited by the thought that the old 101 design might have been resurrected, I got on to Winchester’s USA website, and found the new gun.
Close examination of the pictures led to slight disappointment, however.
The new 101 is built on the same stub-pin action as the “Select” series. Makes sense for Browning Winchester, I suppose: if you want a gun that handles like the old 101, then buy a Browning!
WHAT TO PAY
> Despite a shortage of spare parts, the 101 series has held its value well. Good 6500 models in sporting and trap configurations now have asking prices of up to £1,000, and immaculate Diamond Grade 101s can be even more expensive.
Of the modern series, a Select Energy Sporter with all the knobs and whistles is around the £1,300 mark.
> From the UK importers, BWM Arms, Moorbrook Trading Estate, Didcot, OX11 7HP. Tel: 01235-514550.
Website guide to current guns is at www.winchesterint.com
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