The first time these big guns got to shine was in the trenches of the first world war. Winchester Model 1897 was dubbed as the “Trench Broom” because it was so effective at cleaving through the defenses in trenches with its devastating buckshot. It proved itself on the hunting ground as a hunter, at home as a home-defense weapon, and the battlefield as a force to be reckoned with.

Since its debut in the trenches, shotguns continued to evolve in the late 20th century. American shotguns now have to contend with the likes of Italian’s Beretta and Benelli, which have carved up a fair chunk of the semi-auto and double-barrel shotgun market. American shotguns then have to evolve or be left in the dust. Although pump-actions sell well, autoloaders started to dominate the market.

I have here a list of three iconic American shotguns from Ithaca, Remington, and Winchester that set the standards for the late 20th century shotguns.

Table of Contents

1. Ithaca Mag-10

Small-gauge shotguns became popular among waterfowl and turkey hunters because shotshells got better, which improved the performance of small bores. But they did not know that they needed a bigger gun until Ithaca Mag-10 was introduced in 1975.

Big bore shotguns were popular in the late 19th and early 20th century, mainly because the shotshell offerings were not as powerful as modern loads. Nowadays, 12-gauge shells and smaller just outperform the antique black and smokeless powder ammo.

So why do waterfowl and turkey hunters love small bores so much? They picked up the 10- and 8-gauge for a very simple reason. More shots equal more dead birds. Unfortunately, 8-gauge was no longer legal in the 1930s for waterfowl hunting, but 10-gauge was not. So, you usually see those in double- and single-barrel shotguns from that time.

Then, Ithaca Mag-10 was brought into the market. A three-shot gun that could spit out 3.5-inch shells? Goose hunters got goosebumps and welcomed the Mag-10 with open arms. It was a tough thing to beat. It came with 32-inch full-choked barrels and utilizes a gas-operated system. Although heavy, it is still a common sight in duck blinds and turkey woods. The Mag-10 had a really nice run on the market until Remington bought the design in 1989 and made the SP-10.

2. The Remington 1100

Similar to the Auto-5 that came before it, the Remington 1100 changed how people viewed shotguns. It was not its gas-operated system that set it apart from others. That title, the first-ever gas-operated shotgun, belongs to the Model 58.

The Model 58 featured an innovative mag cap hat dialed, adjusting the gun ports to cycle light or heavy loads. Remington dubbed it the “Dial-A-Matic” load control feature. Unfortunately, it was not that effective. Then, in 1959, they shifted to the Power Piston, which allowed for loads cycling without adjustment.

Robert Kelly and Wayne Leek took it upon themselves to design the Remington 1100. It used barrel ports to bleed gasses, which push the action sleeve back. This sleeve is attached to a bolt carrier, and in that backward motion, the action would be opened, the shell ejected, the carrier release tripped, then a new shell would be fed from the mag into the chamber. Long story short, this system was much more reliable than the Model 58.

The 1100 was well-received by the public for a number of reasons. The first and most prominent one was the recoil reduction. Using the gas to work the action means less force to push on the shooter’s shoulder. This means less flinching and better concentration on the target. It is the difference between a shove and a sharp jab. Gas-operated auto just feels better than pump-action, break-action, and recoil-driven shotguns.

Another thing people love about the 1100 is how well it points. The shotgun can be used comfortably by many shooters. This means, more consistent performance across the board no matter who is behind the gun. Did you know that the 870 and 1100 share the same receiver? Because millions of people grabbed the 870, it was smart that Remington would also use the same receiver design on the 1100.

Another thing the 1100 got going for it is the wide variety of sizes. It is offered in 12-gauge down to .410 bore. That means, it does not matter if you are a clay shooter, big-game hunter, waterfowl hunter, or working in law enforcement, the 1100 will be your first option.

One downside of the 1100 is the gas system. It is not light load friendly and it requires a fair bit of maintenance, especially if you feed it cheap loads with dirty powders. Remington was well aware of that, and so they introduced the 11-87 in 1987. It regulates gas usage by sending more gas into the piston when you use light loads, but less gas if you use heavy loads. This dynamic gas regulation is now in pretty much every gas gun today.

3. Winchester Model 50

After turning down Joh Browning’s A-5 royalty request, Winchester was on a hunt for a marketable semi-auto shotgun design. While the Model 12 was incredibly popular for decades, things began to change in the early 1950s.

Remington’s 870 exploded in popularity, so Winchester needed to do something to hold their ground or risk losing their hold on the shotgun market. So, they got their man, one David “Carbine” Williams to work on their next best shotgun.

Winchester Model 50

As a side note, Williams got that nickname for his US .30-cal carbine rifles deployed in the second World War and beyond. So, he knew what he was doing. After laborious hours at the design table, Williams put together the Winchester Model 50. It was pushed into the market in 1954 but the reception was lukewarm at best.

It featured a short recoil system similar to Jonathan E. Browning’s design. Val Browning also created a unique short recoil shotgun for his Browning Double Auto.

After this underwhelming reception, it was back to the drawing board. Williams made major overhauls to the original design for the Model 50. The barrel did not move back into the action similar to the A-5 or the Double Auto. It was static, so ejection actually used a floating breech system that moved back .1 inches when you pull the trigger. This pushed the bolt backward, therefore ejecting the spent shell and loading a fresh one into the chamber.

To be fair, there was nothing really wrong with the gun other than the reception. But it was not what Winchester was looking for. And so, in 1959, Winchester introduced the Model 59 into the market. It comes with a barrel wrapped in fiberglass and an interchangeable choke system. Unfortunately, it was a bit ahead of its time, so production ceased in 1965.

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