May 24, 2011
By Ben OBrien
I don't recall ever before dropping nine straight ringneck pheasants without a single miss, but I did just that during several days in a wonderful place called South Dakota. To top it all off, I had not previously hunted with the gun I was using, a Winchester over/under choked Improved Cylinder and Modified. While that gun was new to me, the Model 101 and I go back more than a few hunting seasons.
Winchester introduced the Model 101 in 1963 in 12 gauge only, and it sold for $284, compared with $360 for the Browning Superposed. Whereas the Browning was built in Belgium, the Winchester was built under the supervision of Winchester at the Kadensha Corporation plant in Japan. I bought my Model 101 in 1966, the year the 20-gauge option was introduced. A field-grade gun, it has 26-inch barrels with fixed IC and Mod chokes. I have hunted a lot of different birds in a lot of different places with that gun, not only close to home but in Alaska for ptarmigan and Argentina for doves. Even today I shoot it as well as any shotgun I have ever held in my hands.
When designing the 101 back in the 1960s, Winchester engineers pretty much copied the breech lockup system of the Browning Superposed. In both guns, a rectangular locking bar travels forward from low in the standing breech of the receiver to engage a recess at the foot of the barrel monobloc. The Model 101 also has the H-pattern combination safety and barrel selector of the Superposed. Metal-to-metal fit inside the Winchester was as good as the Browning, and while its exterior finish was not, it was good enough on a gun that cost $76 less at a time when a dollar was worth something.
The 28-gauge and .410 chamberings were added to the list of Model 101 options in 1968, and it was eventually offered in a number of variations designed for both hunting and clay target shooting. The standard field-grade gun in 12 gauge had 23/4-inch chambers, while the Field Magnum handled three-inch. Skeet guns in 20 gauge were chambered for the 23/4-inch shell, but as far as I know, all field guns had three-inch chambers. The one I kick myself for not buying was called the Skeet Set, and it had barrels in 20 gauge, 28 gauge and .410, all in a nice leather case. One of the rarest 101s today was offered to trap shooters and came with a single barrel for handicap yardages as well as over/under barrels for the doubles event.
I am not exactly sure what year Winchester discontinued production of the original Model 101, but I believe it to be around 1989. Later over/under shotguns such as the Supreme, which was introduced by U.S. Repeating Arms in 2000, and the Select, which came along a bit later, have worn the Winchester name, but their actions differ a bit in design. The Winchester known today as the Model 101 is actually the Select action and barrels wearing a stock and forearm that pretty much duplicate the appearance and dimensions of the original Model 101. And rather than being built in Japan like the original, its parts are machined in Belgium and assembled in Portugal.
One thing is certain. They did a great job of duplicating not only the feel, but the exterior appearance of the original Model 101 field-grade gun, right down to the shape of its stock and forearm and the checkering pattern on both. The noticeable difference is in their locking systems. Whereas lockup of the original Model 101 is at the bottom of its monobloc, the latest gun has a locking bolt there plus a pair of locking pins that engage the top section of the monobloc as well. The Model 101 has long had a reputation for strength and durability, and like mine, many built in the 1960s are still in service. The additional locking bolts of the latest version can only make a great shotgun even better. Another difference is that the barrels of the old Model 101 hinge on a transverse pin at the front of the receiver, whereas those of the new gun hinge on trunnions machined into the inner sides of the receiver.
The Winchester 101 is presently available in six 12-gauge variations, all with chrome-plated chambers, barrels overbored to .742 inch and Invector-Plus interchangeable chokes. Beginning with clay target guns, the Pigeon Trap has a Monte Carlo-style stock and comes with 30- or 32-inch barrels and three chokes in Improved Modified, Full and Extra Full. The stock is also available with a height-adjustable comb. Switch to a standard stock and chokes in Skeet, IC, Modified, Improved Mod and Light Full and you have the Pigeon Sporting. Both guns have a chromed receiver, ported barrels with TruGlo fiber optic sight and extended chokes. Except for its blued receiver and lower price, the standard Sporting is the same as the Pigeon grade.
Moving on to hunting guns, we have the Field Grade and the Deluxe Field, both rated at seven pounds with 26-inch barrels and a quarter pound more with 28-inch tubes. Both guns come with IC, Mod and Full flush-fit chokes, but the Deluxe has more extensive engraving coverage on its receiver, a bit more contrasting figure in its walnut stock and a Schnabel-style forearm.
The latest version of the Model 101 is the Light, and it is the one to buy for wingshooting in the uplands. Weight is reduced to six pounds by the use of an aluminum receiver with steel inserts in its standing breech along with a steel barrel hinge pin. During the South Dakota pheasant hunt, I used Winchester's 12-gauge Super Pheasant load with 13/8 ounces of No. 4 shot at 1,300 fps. When alternating one day to the next between the Light and standard versions of the field gun, I could detect very little difference in recoil. No doubt this is due to proper stock dimensions along with the excellent Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad. I only wish it were available in 20 gauge like my old Model 101.
The Essentials Gear Box.
Our editors have hand-picked these essential pieces of gear to make you a more successful hunter when you hit the game trails this season.