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Back to the Future: The Winchester Model 59

This shotgun was well ahead of its time, and not widely accepted when it first came out. Now, it is a sought-after gem among used guns.

The Winchester Model 59 features technological advancements and innovations never seen before when it was released in 1960. A six-pound twelve gauge semi-automatic that is reliable and easy to clean proved it to be ahead of its time. There are no gas valves, inertia systems or complex mechanisms that make this gun function. A super-simple floating breach is the heart of the gun.

The floating breach consists of the chamber and forcing cone, however it is a separate piece from the barrel. Upon firing, the floating breach acts like a short piston and moves to the rear about 1/10 of an inch. That slight movement sets the bolt into rearward travel under its own momentum. A return spring pushes the bolt forward again where it picks up and feeds another cartridge.

The innovation does not stop there. The barrel is ultra light-weight. It is a metal tube that is wrapped in over 500 miles of fiber thread that fused and bonded. This process is similar to the carbon-fiber barrels that are increasingly popular on rifles. The barrels come with optional choke tubes. Interestingly, these choke tubes were the first wide-spread commercially available hand-removable choke tubes, and they also are vented.
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A lightweight receiver of aluminum alloy compliments this light, durable marvel. Hunting scenes are engraved on both sides of the receiver. The obvious quality continues with a gold-colored trigger guard and carrier release button. The unseen interior also shines with quality and care. The entire trigger mechanism is gold-colored and the bolt and carrier are engine-turned.

The whole package is rounded off with hand-finished and hand-checkered walnut stocks. A pistol grip with a comfortable angle and a slim, rounded forearm make the pointing qualities of the shotgun superb. It also breaks down into four parts very quickly due to the interrupted threads on the barrel and the quick-release knob that secures the forearm.

Due to the ultra-light barrel, this gun is distinctly butt-heavy. For an experienced shooter this is not insurmountable. In fact, a short familiarization session with practice executing a deliberate swing is all it takes for most people to get used to, and appreciate this shotgun’s handling qualities. The weight in the butt design is especially noteworthy to small shooters.

Most shooters have no trouble managing the butt of the gun because of the two anchor points created by the shoulder and grip hand. What we all commonly see is a shooter struggling to manage the weight of the barrels in their lead hand. Often, this results in the leaning-back posture that the shooter takes to try to gain leverage to lift the barrels.

Well, this shotgun solves the problem and is a dream for the small shooter, particularly ladies and teenagers. Nearly four pounds of weight is equally distributed between their shoulder and grip and the remaining two pounds is extended over the 26 to 30 inches of barrel.

Some die-hard grouse hunters have taken to straightening the pistol grip stock and shortening the barrel of these shotguns to create the ultimate quick-handling grouse slayer.

If you want to get hold of one of these shotguns, hurry. Only 82,085 were made. If you want a brand new one you’ll have to go back to 1960, as they were only manufactured from then until 1965. You can thank Marshall “Carbine” Williams for inventing the floating breach while you’re there. When you come back to the future, you can probably find one at your local gun show. I’ve seen them recently from $175 to $450 depending on condition.


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Back to the Future: The Winchester Model 59