Some Tips on the Model 97
The Winchester Model 97 (and M1897) shotgun is still very popular for sport and Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS) more than 50 years after the
model was discontinued. There are a few simple reasons for this: the pump guns are easier to load and shoot than a double, they're durable and
reliable, the exposed hammer makes them legal for CAS competition, they are easily cleaned and maintained, and, for many, they are nostalgic
of earlier times.
The Model 97 may go its entire useful life without a single part replacement under normal field use. However, its popularity with CAS shooters
results in somewhat harder use and increases the likelihood of part failures (usually the ejector and right-hand extractor). Slam firing the Model 97
(holding the trigger back while cycling the slide) will increase wear on the hammer and sear, as well. The M1897 pictured above is from Model Series
D and has been in use for over 100 years. Its hammer and sear were replaced about 30 years ago. The rollmarks on the upper barrel indicate that it
is also from a Series D shotgun; the rollmarks on the lower barrel indicate that it is from an earlier Series C shotgun and it had to have its threaded
shank shortened to fit this Series D receiver. Most of the Model 97's still in use are from Model Series E and have shell stop release buttons on the
sides of the receiver.
Since the shell ejector and the right-hand shell extractor can be replaced with the firearm fully assembled, it would be a shame to have a shooting
session terminated by failure of either of these two parts. Spare parts that should be kept on hand include the ejector (and its retaining screw) and the
right-hand extractor (and a spare plunger and a couple of spare plunger springs). The extractor plunger and ejector screw are not likely points of failure
but are easily dropped and lost. Other parts that are less handy to replace but may be kept on the workbench are the hammer spring, the slide latch,
and the left-hand extractor.
Replacing the right-hand extractor requires a thinly-bladed screwdriver (such as a jeweler's screwdriver). Place the firearm on a padded surface or hold
the firearm with the muzzle pointing up and the butt on a solid surface and open the action about halfway. Using a fingertip, pull the extractor toward the
outside of the ejection port, stick the screwdriver blade on the top of the plunger, and hold the plunger against spring pressure. Now pull the extractor out
of its recess and gently let the spring pressure up. The replacement extractor will snap into place without tools.
The ejector can be replaced by removing its retaining screw and lifting it off the side of the receiver. Again the thin screwdriver can be used if you lack the
fingernails for the job. Put the new ejector in place and put the retaining screw back in.
If more detailed disassembly is undertaken, it is best to have a guide reference handy such as The Gun Digest Firearms Assembly/Disassembly book
that covers shotguns. According to gunsmiths at the Colorado School of Trades, it is supposedly possible to reassemble the firearm with an internal part
in backwards. If this happens, you will will not be able to cycle the action. Hang the disabled firearm on the wall and go buy another one; the fix involves
milling access slots in the receiver to extract the offending part.
The Model 97 does have some operating peculiarities that are good to keep in mind.
When assembling or disassembling a Model 97 takedown version, hold the firearm muzzle down to keep the slide forward so that the slide arm doesn't
scratch up the left side of the receiver. The barrel-magazine-slide assembly should be rotated in and out of the receiver's interrupted threads with the
operator's hand on the barrel extension to avoid twisting the barrel assembly and wearing out the barrel band alignment notches.
The barrel and magazine are held in alignment by a barrel band that has screws on both sides that engage a notch in the underside of the barrel. When
disassembling, it is best to completely remove these screws to avoid gouging unsightly grooves in the barrel. When reassembling, line up the band with
the barrel notch and put the screws in carefully so that they engage the notch. After the screws are tightened down, they are actually drawn up against
the band's internal bushing. Tightening the screws will likely cause the bushing to rotate and bear against the magazine tube, restricting the free
movement of the tube and leaving scratches in the tube if it is forced against the friction of the bushing. To free the magazine tube, after tightening the
second screw, go back to the first screw and use it to rotate the bushing a little until the magazine tube can be rotated with the least amount of force.
After the hammer falls, the slide has to move forward slightly to unlock the action. In shooting, recoil will take care of this automatically but, when
lowering the hammer on an empty chamber or pressing the action unlock button at full-cock, the operator must provide the motion manually. Since
the Model 97 will slam fire if the trigger is held back while the action is cycled, the operator must develop the habit of removing the trigger finger from
the trigger after each shot. (This is a desirable feature for CAS.)
The Model 97 does not have a safety and should be tested for inadvertent hammer fall from the full cock and half cock position. Cycle the firearm
while empty and have it repaired if the hammer follows the slide or if the hammer can be jarred off half or full cock. Place it at half cock and have it
repaired if the hammer can be dropped by pulling on the trigger. Pull the hammer back from the half cock position and drop it back to half cock with
the finger off the trigger. If the hammer fails to be caught in the half cock position, have the firearm repaired. On shotguns that do not have the
chamber length stamped over the chamber, have the chamber depth checked to assure that it is sufficient for modern 2-3/4" ammunition.
The safest way to carry the Model 97 in the field is with the hammer down on an empty chamber or with the action slightly open with the chamber
empty and cycling the action to load the chamber when a shot is presented. If no shot is taken, empty the firearm and reload the magazine, leaving
the chamber empty. Some of the oldtimers would partially extract the chambered round and carry the Model 97 with the action partly open, closing the
action and firing when a shot was presented. Unfortunately, a small stumble could close the action and make an accidental discharge likely.
The way to carry the Model 97 with a round in the chamber is with the hammer at half cock and the finger off the trigger. To place the Model 97 at half
cock over a loaded chamber, point the firearm in a safe direction, and place the shooting hand thumb so that the thumb is pressed into the space
between the hammer and the firing pin. Pulling the trigger lets the hammer loose from the sear and the trigger finger is now removed from the trigger
guard. Carefully lower the hammer to half cock. While waiting for a shot, keep the thumb of the shooting hand on the hammer spur and cock the
hammer only when a shot is presented. After taking the shot and cycling the action to reload the chamber, lower the hammer to half cock while keeping
the firearm pointed in a safe direction and, again, with the thumb pressed between the hammer and firing pin.
Be safe and have fun.