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Modifying a Winchester 97 for Competition
by Roy Seifert

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Disclaimer:  This article is for entertainment only and is not to be used in lieu of a qualified gunsmith.  Please defer all firearms work to a qualified gunsmith.  Any loads mentioned in this article are my loads for my guns and have been carefully worked up using established guidelines and special tools.  The author assumes no responsibility or liability for use of these loads, or use or misuse of this article.  Please note that I am not a professional gunsmith, just a shooting enthusiast and hobbyist, as well as a tinkerer.  This article explains work that I performed to my guns without the assistance of a qualified gunsmith.  Some procedures described in this article require special tools and cannot/should not be performed without them.

Warning:  Disassembling and tinkering with your firearm may void the warranty.  I claim no responsibility for use or misuse of this article.  Again, this article is for entertainment purposes only!

Tools and firearms are the trademark/service mark or registered trademark of their respective manufacturers.

The Winchester Model 1897 (or just Winchester 97) was designed by John Moses Browning, one of the most famous American firearms inventors.  The Winchester 97 was first listed for sale by Winchester in 1897 as a 12 gauge solid frame model.  The 12 gauge takedown was offered in 1898, and the 16 gauge takedown in 1900.  The 97 was produced as an improved, stronger version of the Winchester 1893 and was designed for use with smokeless powder shells.

Many cowboy action shooters use a Winchester 97 pump-action shotgun or similar replica for their main match gun.  I never got the hang of loading one shell and cycling the action.  Some shooters practice until they get really fast, but after trying and fumbling, I went back to a double-barrel.  Grab two shells, load two shells, middle finger on the rear trigger, first finger on the front trigger, bang, bang, open, jerk out the empties, and I’m ready to go again.  However, now that I own one I may just use it for cowboy matches.

Often times, however, my club has a Wild Bunch side match based on Sam Peckinpah’s movie The Wild Bunch.  In that movie you see the characters use such iconic guns as the Colt 1911 .45 ACP, Winchester 97 pump shotgun, and Strother Martin uses a Springfield 1903 .30-06.  Wild Bunch side matches require the use of a Winchester model 97 or model 12 shotgun, a 1911 .45, and a pistol-caliber lever-action rifle.  I own two .1911 45s, and a Marlin 1894 in .45 LC, but I didn’t have the shotgun.

I found a vintage Winchester 97 on for $280.00; what a steal!  By the time I paid shipping and transfer the price came to $332.00, still a great deal.  Since cowboy action shooting is becoming so popular, and the U.S. no longer allows Chinese imports of firearms, these old Winchesters just keep climbing in price.  The serial number indicated that it was manufactured in 1907 so I am now the proud owner of a 100 year old gun.  However, this gun is a shooter, not a wall-hanger.


This shotgun came in 12-gauge with a 28” full-choke barrel, and was the takedown model.  There is something about a takedown gun that has always appealed to me.  It also had a cracked stock as you can see in the above photo, which was fully disclosed by the seller.

I thoroughly inspected the gun and found the butt stock was also cracked on the other side in the same place.  Also, a large piece had feathered off the left side and was re-glued in place. 

Improvement Plan
Once the shotgun arrived I disassembled it and gave it a thorough inspection and cleaning.  I wanted to avoid buying additional parts; otherwise this gun wouldn’t be such a great deal!  I wanted to perform the following:

  • Repair the cracked stock
  • Cut the barrel to 18 1/2” – 18” is the minimum legal barrel length for a shotgun.  This is not a collectable gun, for me it’s a shooter and I want to be able to use it for both cowboy and wild bunch matches.
  • Ream and tap the barrel for internal choke tubes
  • Install a flush improved cylinder choke tube
  • Install a new bead behind the end of the choke tube
  • Cut down the butt stock to adjust length of pull – the length of pull was way too long for me
  • Install a recoil pad to the butt stock
  • Install an Evil Roy magazine 6-round conversion kit



One area that is often ignored and not well taken care of by firearms owners is the magazine tube, and this shotgun was no exception.  Due to years of neglect and lack of cleaning, the inside of the magazine tube had rusted and caused the magazine spring to also rust and break in two places.  The inside of the tube was pitted, but luckily it had not rusted through.  Case in point here, if you have rifles or shotguns with magazine tubes, take a few minutes to remove the plug, magazine spring and follower and run an oiled cleaning patch through it.  This will save problems sometime down the road.  I have a Marlin 1895 Cowboy in .45 LC that the magazine tube got so dirty the follower jammed during a cowboy match!  I now clean the magazine tube as part of my normal cleaning routine after every match.


I unscrewed the action slide sleeve screw cap and removed the action slide from the magazine tube.  To remove all of the rust I used electrolysis (refer to my article Rust Removal via Electrolysis).  I made up five gallons of electrolysis solution mixing 1 tablespoon of Arm and Hammer Washing Soda (not baking soda) to each gallon of regular tap water.

I took a steel rod (not stainless steel; stainless steel produces harmful byproducts) and placed a rubber cork at either end and inserted it into the magazine tube.  This steel rod is the anode which I connected to the positive (+) side of my battery charger.  The negative (-) battery charger lead I connected to the magazine tube making sure I had a good electrical contact.  I immersed the tube into the solution, connected the battery charger leads as explained above, and plugged in the charger.  I immediately began to see bubbles appear, which were caused by the water breaking down into oxygen and hydrogen.  I left the tube in the solution with the battery charger connected for 3 hours.  I unplugged the charger, removed the tube from the solution, and thoroughly dried it in preparation for cold bluing.

Once the tube was dry I immersed it into Shooter Solutions™ Rugged Gun Blue which has become my favorite cold bluing solution (refer to my article Shooter Solutions™ Rugged Gun Blue).  This put a protective layer of bluing on the exposed metal.  I washed the tube in running water to remove any traces of cold blue solution, then thoroughly oiled the tube.  I reassembled the action slide onto the magazine tube and made sure everything was smooth and well lubricated.

I ordered a replacement magazine tube spring and follower from Numrich for a total of $11.00 plus shipping.  Even though I plan to install the Evil Roy 6-round conversion I wanted to have the original parts on hand.

Disassembly, Cleaning, and Lubricating
I completely disassembled the gun and found a few spots of rust inside, but the internals were in good shape.  However, they were very dry and dusty.  I cleaned all parts with solvent (Ed’s Red) and a nylon bristle brush, sprayed them with brake parts cleaner to remove all traces of solvent, then oiled them with Break-Free® CLP.  I put Brownells Action Lube Plus® #083-050-002 on the bolt rails and the action slide groove in the carrier and reassembled everything.  Before disassembly the action was stiff, especially when moving the action slide forward.  Now everything was light and smooth with no hitches or binding anywhere in the action cycle.

Repairing Butt Stock
The butt stock was cracked on both sides of the wrist so I decided to try my hand at repairing the butt stock.  I took a tapered wooden plug and forced it into the round opening at the front of the wrist to open the cracks just a little; about the thickness of a business card.  I mixed some JB Weld epoxy and forced it into the cracks with the edge of a business card.  I removed the plug and clamped the wrist to hold it tightly closed.  As the epoxy was forced out of the crack I wiped off the excess.

Since the stock was cracked in two places I wanted to install two reinforcing pins to keep the crack from spreading.  I threaded a piece of 1/16” brass rod with a 4-32 tap.  I drilled a hole with a #44 drill bit from the top of the wrist through each crack. 


I cut enough threaded rod so it would fit into the hole I drilled, and into the chuck of my drill.  I coated the threads with epoxy and used the slow speed of my drill to screw the pin into the hole.  I removed the pin from the chuck and cut it flush with the stock.  I filed the end of the pin so it was flush with the stock.


Many military surplus stocks are pinned in this manner.  I could have cut each pin short, cut a notch in the end, screwed it below the surface of the stock, then filled the hole with epoxy and wood dust to completely cover it up, but I like the fact that the pins are visible.  All of my shooting friends tell me this gives the gun character, and I got to keep the 100-year old stock.

Re-Bluing the Butt Stock Screw


The butt stock screw and washer were heavily encrusted with rust.  When I removed them to remove the butt stock the screw was loose, which is probably why the butt stock cracked.  This screw had probably never been removed and became loose over time.  I bead blasted the screw and washer with glass bead media which removed all the rust and put a matt finish on the parts.  Because rust is corrosive you can see how pitted the screw was after the rust was removed.  I dipped the screw and washer in Shooter Solutions™ Rugged Gun Blue, washed off the excess solution, then coated it with Hoppes® gun oil.  The photo above shows the process and the results.

Reaming and Threading the Barrel for Internal Choke Tubes
My long-time shooting buddy, Jon (a.k.a. “Lone Star”) also purchased an original Winchester 97 12-gauge shotgun with a 32-inch full-choke barrel for a very reasonable price at a local gun show.  The price was reasonable because the barrel was dented.  He wanted to make the same modifications to his gun that I wanted to make to mine so he came over to use my shop and my tools.  He also wanted to cut the barrel down to 18 1/2“ and ream and thread it for internal choke tubes.  The rules of Cowboy Action Shooting™ allow shotguns with interchangeable choke tubes so long as they do not protrude beyond the end of the barrel, i.e. internal choke tubes only.  I already had the tooling from adding internal choke tubes to my Winchester 1300 Defender (refer to my article “Threading a Shotgun Barrel for Choke Tubes”).  The process described below was for Jon’s gun, but I did the same thing to mine.


We removed the barrel from the receiver and removed the magazine tube from the barrel.  We marked the barrel at 18 1/2“ plus 1/16”, then placed some blue painters tape and a hose clamp at that point.  The hose clamp acted as a guide so the cut would be fairly straight.  The cut was just a bit at an angle because the hacksaw blade actually cut into the hose clamp.  Not a problem because the barrel reamer squares the muzzle face anyway.

Next we reamed and threaded the barrel to accept Win-Choke type of internal choke tubes.  According to the instructions that came with the tools, the barrel needed to be at least 0.845” diameter and ours measured 0.849”.


The barrel bushing was too large to fit into the barrel but I don’t have a lathe to turn it down.  Instead I installed the bushing onto a 1911 barrel bushing mandrel that I purchased from MidwayUSA #749359 and used my mill/drill and a bastard file to turn it down until it just fit into the barrel.  As the bushing was turning I coated it with a blue marker to help keep the file straight and turn it down evenly.  After 3 or 4 passes with the file we tested the bushing for fit in the cutoff portion of the barrel.  We continued to file and fit until the bushing fit snugly into the barrel.

Reaming the Barrel
Threading a shotgun barrel to accept internal choke tubes is a two-step process.  First we had to ream the barrel so it had the proper internal profile to accept the choke tubes.  A professional gunsmith would use a lathe to perform the barrel reaming, but again, I don’t have a lathe so we reamed the barrel by hand.  We installed the barrel vertically in a padded vise, installed the barrel bushing onto the reamer, lubricated the reamer and bushing with cutting oil, and inserted it into the barrel.  Using a large tap wrench to ensure we applied equal pressure we began the long process of reaming the barrel by turning the cutter clockwise. 

We both became tired pretty quickly and developed blisters on our hands.  We realized we would be here a long time so I devised a method of applying pressure to the reamer with minimum exertion on our part.


I placed a 4” x 4” steel plate on top of the tap wrench, and then set three boxes of bullets on top of the steel plate.  There was probably close to 50 pounds or more of bullets applying downward pressure on the reamer.  One of us kept the boxes square and balanced while the other one turned the tap handle.  Each time we removed the reamer to clean metal chips we switched places.  We stopped when the rear of the reamer squared off the muzzle face.

The second time I did this I made sure the barrel was vertical by placing a level on top of the steel plate before adding any bullets.  I also put a second steel plate on top of the brown box shown in the photo above.  With the leveled barrel and extra steel plate I was able to turn the tap wrench by myself without any additional assistance.  It took about 90 minutes to ream each barrel using this weighted method.

Threading the Barrel


We removed the brass bushing from the reamer and installed it onto the tap.  We again applied cutting oil to the bushing and the tap threads and started cutting the threads.  A little downward pressure got the tap started.  After every half turn we backed off the tap to cut the chips.  We didn’t have to apply any weight to the tap handle because once the threads were started the tap pretty much fed itself into the barrel.  After the tap bottomed out we removed it and thoroughly cleaned out all remaining oil and metal chips from inside the barrel, then coated the inside with gun oil. 

I had a few spare flush-mount choke tubes lying around the shop so we installed an improved cylinder choke into the barrel.  I used some choke tube lube to lubricate the threads before installing the choke tube.  If I didn’t use the choke tube lube the choke tube would be very difficult to remove after the barrel and tube heated up from repeated firings.

Installing a New Bead
Typically a shotgun bead is mounted 1/2“ to 1” behind the end of the barrel, but that area would be either  too thin because I reamed it to accept choke tubes, or would be in the threaded part of the barrel.  I marked the barrel 1 3/4“ back from the end of the barrel which is behind the choke tube in a thick part of the barrel.

Finding the top center line of a round barrel is not always easy.  It’s easy to find the center of the barrel, but if the barrel is canted the center may not be in line with your line of sight.  There are a couple of ways to find the center line but I devised a tool to help with this.


I took a scrap piece of 1” x 4” wood and milled a V-groove down the center.  Then I drilled a hole in the center of the groove with a #12 drill bit.  I placed this on the top end of the barrel with the hole positioned over the spot where I wanted to mount the bead and held it in place with a rubber band. 


I placed a 3/4“ x 12” aluminum bar on top of the wood and placed a 1 1/2“ x 12” aluminum bar over the sight notch in the receiver.  I rotated the wood block until the two bars were parallel.  The two aluminum bars were actually my homemade M1 Garand barrel indexing tool (refer to my article Rebarreling Two M1 Garands).  I inserted the largest hole center punch I purchased from Brownells #080-732-000 into the hole in the wood block and marked the barrel.  Just to make sure it was correct I taped a piece of string from the center of the sight notch to the center of the muzzle and the string fell perfectly across the mark.


I drilled the bead hole using a #33 drill bit and tapped the hole with the 6-48 tap.  I made sure there were no burrs left inside the barrel.  The barrel is now ready to receive a bead.


I decided to make my own bead.  Modern beads are a round ball with a threaded stem, but older beads were more flat.  I took a 1/8” brass rod and threaded it with a 6-48 die I purchased from MidwayUSA #136898.  I cut the rod 1/8” above the end of the threads and dressed the top so that it was flat and the sharp edges were slightly beveled.  I installed my homemade bead into the bead hole and found that the threads protruded into the barrel so I used a cutoff wheel on my high speed rotary tool to trim the threaded end.  I used a little blue Locktite® on the threads to hold it in place.

Extending the Forcing Cone


The forcing cone in a shotgun barrel is the transition from the wider chamber to the narrower bore.  Typically the chamber is long enough to allow the plastic hull to open completely so the wad and shot can exit the hull with a minimum of resistance.  The Winchester 97 was originally designed to shoot 2 3/4” roll-crimp shells.  If the forcing cone was too short for 2 3/4” star-crimp shells the hull would not open completely which would form a constriction and could cause an unsafe increase in pressure for a 100-year old gun.  This can also cause a decrease in accuracy due to shot deformation.  I purchased a 12-gauge chamber gauge #080-546-012 and a long forcing cone reamer #080-661-012 both from Brownells.

I measured the chamber and found it to be very short.  The end of the chamber should be even with the first groove in the gauge to accommodate 2 3/4“ shells.  As you can see from the above photo, the chamber was very short.  Because this gun was manufactured in 1907 the chamber was probably cut for 2 3/4” roll-crimp paper shells.  Roll-crimp paper shells don’t open as far as plastic star-crimp shells, so if the previous owner was shooting 2 3/4“ shells in this barrel, the star crimp would not be able to open completely causing a constriction and the pressure would have been increased. 


I used the long forcing cone reamer to lengthen the forcing cone until the gauge was 0.100” away from the first groove as shown in the above photo.  In a Winchester 97 shot shells headspace on the headspace ring inside the receiver which is 0.100” thick, so I left the 2 3/4“ groove 0.100” back from the face of the barrel.  Now 2 3/4“ shells will be able to open completely with no constriction. 

(Note:  When I originally performed the work I lengthened the chamber so the gauge fit up to the 2 3/4“ groove.  A reader of the Kitchen Table Gunsmith pointed out to me that this would be incorrect and the chamber would be too long so I have corrected this article.  5/8/2015)


To finish the job I polished the chamber and new forcing cone with a 12-gauge chamber Flex-Hone® I purchased from Brownells #080-608-512.  This tool is a wire brush with abrasive balls on the ends of the bristles and comes with a 9-inch shaft.  It requires the use of Brownells Flex-Hone® Oil #080-008-609 to ensure the polishing is performed correctly.  I attached the hone to my drill and applied the oil to the hone.  I polished the chamber, forcing cone, and barrel by running the drill at a slow speed (<750 RPM) and moving it in and out.  Since the tool could only polish half of the barrel, I installed a cylinder choke and polished the front half of the barrel by inserting the hone from the muzzle.  I flushed the barrel with brake parts cleaner, then oiled it with CLP.  Now the bore is clean and polished smooth.

Cutting the Butt Stock
The length of pull (LOP) of this gun just felt too long to me.  Plus, if I was to use it for Cowboy Action Shooting™ I wanted to try to load with my right hand and I really had to stretch to reach the ejection port.  There are a number of methods for measuring LOP, but it boils down to how it ultimately feels to the shooter.  With the gun mounted on my shoulder I measured from the tip of my nose to the first knuckle of my thumb, which measured exactly 2-inches.  For correct LOP this measurement should be between 1” and 1 1/2“.  To facilitate loading with my right hand I wanted the stock to be a little bit shorter so I decided to remove 1”, and since the new recoil pad I was adding was 3/4“ I would have to remove 1 3/4“ inches from the butt stock.


The other measurement I needed to take into account was pitch.  Pitch can best be described as the angle of the butt in relation to the receiver and barrel.  I set the butt flat on a window sill so the end of the receiver was just touching the edge of the window frame.  As you can see in the above photo the barrel was angled away from the window frame.  So this gun has up or positive pitch.  (Think of it this way, you have to climb up hill from muzzle to receiver.)  You will almost never see neutral or down (negative) pitch.  Negative pitch would have the heel of the stock (top) sticking out farther from the toe (bottom) which would make it difficult to mount and could cause bruising of the shoulder.

To find the degrees of pitch I measured the distance from the window frame to the tip of the barrel which was 1.127”.  The distance from the point where the receiver touched the window frame to the end of the muzzle was 22” which formed the hypotenuse of a right triangle.  So using the formula ARCSIN(1.127/22) gave me an angle of 2.9 degrees of positive pitch.

I removed the stock from the receiver and put a strip of masking tape around the stock where I planned to cut.  I adjusted the fence on my table saw to cut 1 3/4” and laid the butt against the fence.  I adjusted the miter gauge so it was in line with the top of the stock at the 2.9-degree setting and cut the stock.

Installing a Recoil Pad
I purchased a grind-to-fit Kick Eez® recoil pad from MidwayUSA #926512 to add to the butt stock to help dampen some of the recoil.  The original butt stock measured 1 5/8” wide by 4 7/8” long; the new recoil pad measured 2” wide by 5 5/8” long and 3/4“ thick so there was plenty of pad to grind off and fit. 


When I cut the stock I also cut off both holes so I had to drill two new holes.  This is much better than having to fill and re-drill an existing hole.  I marked the center of the butt stock and marked where I wanted to drill the first hole.  There are two pencil lines in the above photo, my first line was not in the center.  I used a #28 drill bit to drill the first hole, then drove the screw into the hole to cut the threads.  I mounted the recoil pad onto the butt stock with the first screw and inserted the second screw.  I rotated the pad so the second screw would leave a mark; where that mark intersected the pencil line I drilled the second hole.

I mounted the oversized recoil pad onto the butt stock and scribed a line around the outer edge of the butt stock.  I removed the recoil pad and used an 80-grit sanding belt on my belt sander to grind the pad down to the scribe line.  I did this in three stages:

Stage 1:  I ground the sides and the top of the recoil pad flat up to the scribe line.

Stage 2:  I mounted the recoil pan onto the butt stock and ground the toe at the same angle as the stock again, up to the scribe line.

Stage 3:  I remove the recoil pad and finished grinding the bottom sides to the scribe line

I took some 220-grit sand paper and rounded the sharp edges on the soft surface of the recoil pad that were left from the grinding.  I also sanded the newly ground sides to smooth down the surfaces.  I finished by coating all surfaces with paste wax.

I installed the butt stock onto the receiver, then installed the recoil pad onto the butt stock.  I was really quite pleased with the results.  The length of pull is now much better for me and the gun fits my shoulder perfectly.  I can reach the ejection port much more easily with my right hand for loading single shells for cowboy matches.


With the shortened barrel, shortened butt stock, and new magazine tube spring and follower I loaded five 2 3/4“ dummy shells into the magazine and tested all of the functions.  The shotgun functioned perfectly and all shells fed and ejected as they should.  So now my 100-year old great deal is ready for 21st century competition.

I already had most of the tools mentioned in this article.  I purchased the chamber gauge and a forend retaining nut wrench #080-548-012 from Brownells.  New parts and tools cost me a little over $60.00 which still made this gun a great deal.

Addendum 10/17/2014

Photo Courtesy The Online Outpost

As mentioned before this gun was originally designed to hold six 2 5/8” shells, but would only hold five 2 3/4“ shells.  I purchased a 6-round conversion kit from The Online Outpost which consists of a new, aluminum follower and a shorter magazine tube spring.  It works because when the shorter spring collapses it allows more room in the tube for a full six rounds.

Wild Bunch Match October 25, 2014
Finally, after almost a year of preparation, I attended my first Wild Bunch match sponsored by the Walnut Grove Rangers in Ellenboro, NC.  We fired 25 shotgun rounds spread over six stages.  My modified Winchester 97 functioned flawlessly!  I did not have any jams, failure to feed or failure to eject malfunctions.  Other shooters had problems with their 97’s but mine worked perfectly.  While working on this gun I discovered that I could not “short-stroke” it; it needed to be pumped fully to the rear, and fully to the front.  If I didn’t use complete, full strokes the gun would jam up and I would have to finish the full stroke.  So I practiced working the gun at home using dummy rounds.

Since I had never fired the gun prior to the match, the match officials allowed me to try it out before the match started.  I loaded six shells in the magazine and pumped and fired them as quickly as I could.  Since I had no problems I felt the gun was ready for competition.

Believe it or not, I had two stages where I missed a shotgun target!  Well, as they say, there is no target big enough, or close enough that you can’t miss.  Now if I can only get the hang of loading one shell at a time for cowboy shooting. 


   © Copyright 2013-2014 Roy Seifert.