The ’97 Wild Bunch Shotgun

Right profile view of the Wild bunch shotgun

I have tested quite a few shotguns during the past few months. Many of them have been pump-action shotguns. This pump-action clone of the Winchester 1897 is my hands down favorite for fun shooting. While affordable, it is of good quality, reliable, and offers a period look that cannot be beat.

Right profile view of the Wild bunch shotgun
The Wild Bunch shotgun is a great looking piece with good reliability.

The ’97 Wild Bunch gun has become a favorite recreational shooter. After firing some 250 mixed shells in this shotgun over the past few weeks, I have found it reliable enough for personal defense. I would rather have it than some of the more modern appearing economy grade shotguns. It is that good! Let’s look first at the great, great granddaddy of them all.

The Winchester 1897 shotgun was manufactured from 1897 to 1957. At one time, the ’97 set the standard for combat shotguns. With a five-round tubular magazine, fed by a helical coil spring and featuring a reliable slide action, the ’97 is a rugged serviceable shotgun. The exposed hammer is the trademark of the ’97.

Winchester Model 1897 shotgun
The author’s original Winchester isn’t quite as smooth as the Norinco Wild Bunch shotgun.

This shotgun was used with great effect during the Philippine war against the Moros and emerged with a solid reputation. During World War I, a special version with heat shield and bayonet lug was known as the Trench Gun. This was a particularly famous version of the ’97 noted for deadly efficiency.

I own an original; a 1957 model that has been cut down into a riot gun. The modern clone gun is popular in Cowboy Shooting. This is primarily, because they are correct for the new Wild Bunch side matches.

Wishing to evaluate this modern clone, I first tried to obtain the Trench Gun version but that soon proved too difficult. I settled for the plain, short-barrel version with no heat shield or bayonet lug. I do not think I missed much. Fit and finish are much better than expected. The wood is well turned out and attractive.

The Wild Bunch shotgun operates in an identical manner to the original. The truth be told, it is smoother than the original. I have fired this replica of the ’97 a great deal. It looks right, and it is fun to fire.

Bob Campbell rapidly firing the Norinco Wild Bunch shotgun
This is how it is done—holding the trigger down and pumping out the Fiocchi reduced-recoil buckshot loads.

The simple bread front sight usually results in the load being centered about four inches high on the target. The action is smooth enough, and the exposed hammer offers a degree of safety in handling. I do not recommend keeping the chamber loaded for home defense; rack the slide and load the chamber when ready to fire.

I began the test firing a good quantity of Winchester No. 7 ½ birdshot. I found the shotgun smooth in operation. The pump action is a bit longer than most modern actions but very fast. Switching to Fiocchi No. 4 Turkey loads, recoil was stronger but not difficult to control.

I also fired a representative example of the Fiocchi reduced-recoil 12 gauge buckshot loads. These are ideal practice loads and viable for personal protection. A trick inherent in the design of the ’97 is that the trigger may be held down and the hammer will fall as the action is cycled. While I fail to see the tactical advantage of this system I have never faced a charging Moro.

Cutaway drawing of the Winchester PDX buck and ball load
Winchester PDX buck and ball loads are a formidable combination.

Most shooters attempting a run with the ’97—in this firing mode—hit significantly low as they over compensated for recoil. It is preferable to control firing with the trigger rather than the slide. Just the same, with a bit of practice, this firing mode might be a lifesaver. At any rate, it is fun to try occasionally.

The shotgun appears to be disassembling itself as the action is worked. The shell carrier actually protrudes from the lower receiver. The shotgun has some advantages over modern designs other than the lack of a disconnect.

The large ejection port is open more on the top than simply just the side. This makes quickly loading the chamber easier than with the modern pump-action shotgun. The shotgun has proven easily handled, and while different, the balance is good.

While only time will tell as to longevity, at present these shotguns are giving plenty of bang! for the buck. Wild Bunch shotguns have been around for a few years in America, and after seeing some use in SASS shoots, they seem to be holding up well. I am no stranger to pump-action shotguns. I have compared the ’97 clone to the Remington 870 and even the Benelli Nova Tactical.

The Benelli has a large ejection port and ghost rings sight; it is quite a versatile shotgun. But there was little I could do with the Benelli I could not do with the ’97 at 10 to 15 yards. During the test, I used the Winchester PDX to evaluate the shotguns recoil—after all, it doesn’t have a butt pad. Recoil was never uncomfortable. This loading uses three buckshot balls over a one ounce slug. The slug offers plenty of knockdown power, the buckshot offers hit probability. I like this load a great deal.

Traditions single action .45 pistol
You have to have a good, Traditions .45 to go with the Wild Bunch gun.

When all is said and done, the Wild Bunch clone gun is a great choice for many uses. It is well suited to Cowboy Action shooting, and it will defend the homestead as well. Pride of ownership is there, and this piece is a lot of fun. The ’97 Wild Bunch is a great buy as well.

Pietta 1873 SAA

More on the Wild Bunch—since it was a retro kind of day, I also worked out the Pietta 1873 SAA in .45 Colt. I enjoy packing and firing this revolver very much and often carry it when hiking. It just feels right and it is brilliantly fast into action. While accurate and well made and well suited for Wild Bunch Competition, the Pietta is one of my favorite outdoors revolvers. I like the 4 ¾-inch barrel length for general use. The Fiocchi 250-grain Cowboy load will group three shots into less than two inches at 15 yards. For town carry, the Winchester 225-grain PDX JHP is a serious defense load. The .45 Colt is a respectable cartridge that offers excellent ballistics without heavy recoil. Sometimes, the cowboy way makes a lot of sense.

Are you a fan of the ’97? How does the Wild Bunch rank among your favorite shotguns? Share your answers in the comment section.


About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (10)

  1. I understand some may say that there’s no reason to leave a rifle or shotgun chamber loaded – first off – with most shotguns – it weakens springs, and of course a drop can cause one to discharge.

    If you have an intruder – or an opponent – one thing you want most of all is the element of surprise – and racking a shell is one noisy operation – negating any surprise. If you think everyone will run hearing that – you’re not accounting for those a bit more desperate – or those who are drug-impaired – they won’t give a damn.

    The Model 1897 is the exception. You can have one in the chamber – and lower the hammer – on a half-cock – and it’s perfectly safe. No springs become weakened – and it’s ready to go in an instant.

    Even better, one can quietly hold the trigger down, and silently cock the hammer back to fully cocked. Thus, you maintain surprise – no noise getting the weapon into battery.

    The Model 97 to me is the ultimate shotgun defensive weapon – for this very reason.

  2. I was lucky enough to come across an old 97 a few years ago. Stuck way back in a friend’s gun cabinet. He had been holding it and a rifle for an acquaintance that was going thru a divorce. That was 10 years before I saw it and asked about it. My friend hadn’t heard from the guy since he left the gun. We tried to track him down and found he had passed 7 years earlier, no next of kin. My friend told me “you can have it, don’t want it”. I did….took it to gunsmith, had cracked stock and pump replaced with original copies and had it all checked out. Perfect…no problems, made in 1902-1903. We think it may have been part of a prison arsenal or a trench gun, but there was no indication of it ever having a bayonet. Shoots good. The other gun.?? A 1951 version Marlin 336 in 35 Remington !!! A little beat up, but in perfect working order. Had been drilled and tapped, I can’t shoot open sights well with my vision, so mounted Leupold scope and it rocks. After research on both, I ended up giving my friend $300 total for both guns….not bad for me and good for him for 10 years storage rent.

  3. I acquired a Norinco 97 at a local gun show several years ago. Like the author of this review, I was…..and am…..captivated with the “period appearance” of this shotgun. Being a pump action piece with an external hammer, the Norinco 97 offers an interesting and utilitarian feature not found in more modern pump and semiautomatic shotguns, since it is possible to recock the gun for a second strike on a recalcitrant shotshell. The Norinco model also has a “safety” in the form of a button that can be depressed to lock the hammer in the traditional “safety notch” or even at the half-cock, so it is possible…..if one chooses… keep the hammer from contact with the firing pin when a round is in the chamber.

    While some may disregard Norinco firearms as less than desirable due to their origins in the PRC, Norinco has gone to considerable lengths to provide some models of firearms that are reminiscent of the Old West. Such a case-in-point is their Model 87 shotgun…..a clone of the old Winchester Model 87 lever action shotgun, which I also have in my collection, as well as the Norinco Coach Gun… external hammer fired double barrel side-by-side shotgun.

  4. Good article on a great AMERICAN classic.
    Why buy a chinese knock-off when you can pick up the real thing for the same price at any gun show or on Gun Brokers. Norinco is one of the main suppliers of arms, armored vehicles and tanks to the bad guys in the middle east.
    I have 3 Model 97s and 3 Model 12s that I shoot in the SASS Wild Bunch matches. I’ll be dipped in outhouse hole before I buy a Norinco gun.
    CW4(r) HC Hunt
    AH1S(FM) COBRA pilot
    C Troop 4/7th Cavalry
    Desert Storm
    Norinco tank killer (7)

  5. I have owned two Model 97’s (still have one), and in trying to load and fire fast in CAS, I cut myself on the sharp edges of the shell carrier when the action is open. Not enough training with the gun, I’m sure, but now I like to use it for opening day doves with my own black powder shells.

  6. I’ve had a D series model 97 since 1968. I’ve never had a problem with it.
    I’ve got enough parts to build three more so I don’t worry about breakage. The only part that breaks is the ejector spring which is held in place by a screw on the outside if the receiver. I’ve heard that a replacement can be made from a fishhook. My gun has been ticking since 1905 . I bought it because I thought it was the best pump gun made Nothing has made me regret buying it.

  7. RE: Recommendation to leave the chamber empty??? Does this shotgun have a floating firing pin (ala 1911)? if so, then leaving the chamber loaded with the hammer down is a safe carry or ready condition. Yes?

    1. There is no good reason for leaving a shotgun or rifle chamber loaded in the home. It takes but a moment to rack the slide. This is institutional policy and has been for over 100 years. It is good enough for the FBI and good enough for me. During a test some years ago of pump action shotguns by the FBI, half fired when dropped chamber loaded, including Remington, Winchester, Savage and High Standard, from five feet. The Winchester 97 and all other long guns should be treated with the same respect. To do otherwise is a devil may care attitude not well suited to firearms. When on the stalk or when hunting or ready for immediate action chamber loaded is a different story.

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