June 2009

Duel at the Mostly OK Corral: 12-Ga. Cowboy Action Shotguns

The Model 1878 side-by-side’s double hammers and double triggers provided two certain and accurate shots every time, giving it an edge over a Model 1897 pump-action hammer gun.

Cowboy Action Shooting members, whose increasing numbers show no need of a stimulus package, have developed their hobby into a tribute to the gun battles of the Old West—both real and fictional. Shotguns often figured into these armed conflicts, normally giving the scattergun handler a distinct advantage over opponents armed with a handgun or rifle, as long as the battle was up close and personal.

One of Hollywood’s classic depictions of how a shotgun could turn the tide in a gun battle was in the 1966 movie The Professionals, featuring Academy-award-winning actors Lee Marvin and Burt Lancaster.

Marvin, armed with a Winchester Model 1897 pump-action shotgun, faces down eight mounted bandits armed with bolt-action rifles as they meet in a narrow canyon. With just a little help from Lancaster, himself armed with a Winchester lever-action rifle, Marvin clears the canyon of bandits as he touches off seven shotgun blasts in rapid succession. Most of the bad guys don’t even have a chance to get off a shot before they are knocked out of the saddle.

Although the battle is pure Hollywood, this type of shotgun action and its recreation on film has become a driving force behind the increasing popularity of the veteran firearms. Both the side-by-side hammer guns and the pump-action hammer guns of old left a distinct mark in history and are now resurfacing in the form of replicas finding favor at shooting competitions across the country. The popularity of the simple and easy-to-handle shotguns is also growing among people interested in home-defense firearms.

For our trip back to the past, we selected both a side-by-side and a pump action to see if there is any advantage or downside—other than the number of shots—with either Old West style shotgun.

Our test shotguns were a Cimarron T.T.N. Model 1878 Coach Gun 12 Gauge Side-by-Side and a Cimarron Model 1897 Pump 12 Gauge Shotgun,both carrying a price tag of $480 in the new gun rack at Dury’s Gun Shop in San Antonio (www.durysguns.com). Because of the popularity of the firearms, we waited more than six months to receive the back-order Model 1897.

Both of the shotguns are recreations of solid, dependable and well-used scatterguns of the Old West. With their 20-inch barrels and simple actions, the two firearms are also fulfilling a modern duty as self-dense shotguns for home owners. Shotguns firing typical hunting loads in a home-defense situation have the advantage of providing stopping power that will not pass through walls like handgun or rifle slugs.

To determine the effectiveness of both shotguns, we selected three distinctly different types of ammunition for our testing. For the Cowboy-Action range, our ammunition was Rio Target 2.75-inch loads with 1 ounce of No. 8 shot that produced an average muzzle velocity of 1,210 fps. For our home-defense loads, we used Winchester 00 Buckshot 2.75-inch loads firing nine pellets at an average muzzle velocity of 1,325 fps, and Remington Express Power Piston 2.75-inch loads with 1.25 ounces of No. 6 shot pushed at an average muzzle velocity of 1,330 fps.

In the home-defense simulations, we limited our patterning tests to a range of 20 feet (recreating a shot across a typical room) and relied upon Birchwood Casey Shoot-N-C 12-inch targets to determine pattern effectiveness. Here’s our test report:

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