Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Winchester 1887 - 1901

I had no idea what kind shotgun the old man had for the longest time. Dad had seen a notice posted at a little general store on the road between Winnemucca and Battle Mountain, Nevada: SHOTGUN FOR SALE - $50.00. Now, Dad wasn’t really looking for another shotgun, but then he was ‘never not’ looking for a shotgun. A trait my Wife insists I inherited from him.

After getting directions from the store/bar keeper we followed what claimed to be a road to a shack in the desert. It was like something out of a movie. The owner, a slender stooped old man, heard us coming and was waiting in the door as we pulled up.

When Dad told him why we had come the little old man looked my Father up and down then said, “Well, you might be able to handle my shotgun,” and disappeared inside the shack.

This galled my father; he was over six feet and had done hard physical labor every day of his life. The man reappeared in the door with a huge lever action shotgun and a handful of BIG brass shotgun shells. He showed Dad how to load it through the open breach and pointed out a gas can several yards away that had outlived its usefulness.

Dad cycled the lever and took the first shot. I’m guessing these must have been black powder cartridges, based on the roar, smoke and fire that erupted from the weapon. I had never heard anything like it. Dad rocked back from the unexpected recoil.“Had enough?” the Desert Rat asked from his doorway of his shack. With a grim set to his jaw Dad cycled the action and fired off the next three rounds. After the second shot there really wasn’t much left of what had been the old gas can!

Dad handed the shotgun back to the old man saying he didn’t really think he was interested. He seemed to favor his right shoulder for the next couple of days. For the rest of his too short life Dad told the story about the big old lever action shotgun that kicked like a mule.

Today I know the old man’s shotgun was probably a Winchester 1887, perhaps a 1901, but definitely a 10 Gauge. I didn't see a weapon like this again (to recognize it) for the better part of ten years. It was on a short lived TV show called Dundee and the Culhne. I didn't realize what the scary on man on the show (he looked A Lot like the guy I met in Nevad) had until he fired and cycled the lever for a second shot.

In years since I had seen a number of these fine old shotguns. I even had a chance to fire one in twelve gauge belonging to a friend. When I would see them at gun shows I wanted to sit down in the isle and bawl, remembering Dad could have gotten one for $50.00.

For years the 1887 had been on the wish list under "It would be nice someday." Then out of the blue some years back Helene, my wonderful wife, presented me with a Winchester 1901 shotgun for Christmas.

For those not in the know it’s a version of the Winchester 1887 that started production in 1901. I believe the primary difference was the 1901 had some stamped parts and was only available in 10 Gauge. The big lever action shotgun never fails to draw interest when we are displaying Western Firearms, or lecturing on the subject. I have always treasured it, not just because it is such a wonderful addition to my collection, but because it brought back a shadow from my past.

Of course most folks today know the Winchester 1887 not from its Old West or long sporting history, but from the 1991 movie TERMINATOR 2 – JUDGEMENT DAY. The fact is, my 1901 narrowly escaped the ‘Terminator Chop’.
It was at one of our favorite gun stores in Houston when Helene and another customer found it at the same time. This 1901 had been marked down because it had been re-blued.

Helene knew I couldn’t care less about re-buling, we have a teaching and shooting collection. The other guy was delighted he had “one of these things” cheap enough to convert to the “Terminator Gun”. Both were going to have to put the weapon on lay-away. Helene (and I) got it because she wasn’t going to cut it up.
With the popularity of Cowboy Action Shooting the Winchester 1887 is back in production by a couple of companies, notably Chiappa Firearms. Folks have rediscovered its fine handling, and there is a supply of weapons available for the ‘Terminator Treatment’ without cutting up the old timers. The fact is, cut down 1887s go back a lot further than the Terminator movies. A number of them turned up in shootouts and raids during the roaring twenties. Even police found it handy to have such a lethal weapon that could be hidden under a coat.

Not too long ago Steve at THE FIREARMS BLOG announced Chiappa is coming to the aid of those needing to channel their “inner Arnold” with the T-Series 1887 shotgun. In some news releases this has been described as “Shotgun Pistol” but the 18.5 inch barrel makes it a shotgun and spares buyers the hassle of Class 3 or AOW paperwork.

The forearm is wood, but the grip is rubberized to aid in recoil issues. I had read somewhere (and now can’t find it to reference) that they were also planning a version called the “Bootlegger” that would have all wood furniture.
I’m delighted that my 1901 was spared the chop and wouldn’t change it. Still, I wouldn’t mind having one of the T-Series in my collection. As I said, cut down 1887s were quite popular in times past. A bootlegger T series would fit some of my programs nicely – not to mention being all kinds of fun!

UPDATE - My thanks to a reader who sent me a link to a photo of the "Bootlegger".

Also, my friend Hangman reminded me on facebook that the 1901 was stressed to handle smokless powder. I can't believe I forgot to mention that.

Folks like these make this Blog much more special than I could alone.


  1. You never met a gun you didn't like, dear!
    Maybe one of these days....

  2. Greetings from Falls County, Texas
    Pretty much anything built by Jennings. Fit for fishing weights.

  3. Yeah, bootlegger...not only wood but w/o the ugly "t-series" logo...

  4. Great Article.
    How can a guy tell the difference between an original 1887 and a 1901?

  5. Hello,
    Sure is an informative website! GREAT! Anyone know where you can get parts for a Winchester 1887??
    Please e-mail me at,