THE WINCHESTER 59, by Dave McCracken
About the time the DeSoto went out of production, Winchester came out with a Model 50 autoloader. A blowback or recoil operated action of innovative design, the 50 made little headway against the tide of A-5s and Remington 11s, 11-48s and 1100s, and disappeared from the scene to be replaced by the legendary X-1. The design included a floating chamber conceived by Marsh Williams, the moonshiner and designer of the M1 carbine.
Before all that, the folks at Winchester brought out a superb upland shotgun based on the 50 and called it the Model 59. It had a few brand new ideas and features. That proved to be both blessing and curse.
First and foremost, it had fiber wrapped around a steel barrel liner and epoxied to produce a strong, straight barrel of much less weight than the usual barrels. One sees this method on rifle barrels now,but still not on shotguns. A shame...
Second, some of those barrels were threaded for tubes that contained various degrees of choke. While the first choke tube patent in the US was granted before the Civil War, no widely available shotgun was offered with tubes until the 59. Now, few new shotguns are offered without them.
The result of the barrel and the lightweight design was a very light shotgun, on the order of 6 lbs and sometimes less. Many were snapped up by grouse hunters in New England, whose hunting grounds mostly occur on a slant. Grouse hunters need good legs and light shotguns, the 59 solved half of it.
Among others, Frank Woolner got his hands on one and fell in love. After some modification, his weighed even less than usual and killed grouse very well. Since Frank was a widely read writer, the 59 got some good ink and attention. We can still run across some bright eyed oldsters with 59s they used since JFK was president and happy they are with them.
Of course, there's a downside.....
That light barrel means the thing's muzzle light, with the COG further back than we're used to on repeaters. I shot one a friend had yesterday, and noted it felt more like a SxS does than one of our weight forward repeaters. I went 4X4 on wobble birds, so the lack of inertia is not unsurmountable.
And a COG that far back means a quick gun, and that it was. It swung like Zorro's rapier.
But with little built in inertia, one has to work harder to keep the swing swinging.
The light weight overall means these are best shot with lighter loads. Dropping some duck loads in this and popping them off may leave one with a new flinch and a nosebleed. This doubtless contributed to the lack of sales for the 59.
Shotgunners back then loved raw power as much as they do now. And we're a conservative lot, slow to change.
With the cornucopia of new light loads we can access, there's no need to punish ourselves with Testosterone Specials. An ounce load now is more efficient than the 1 1/8 oz of 1960. These will dovetail in beautifully with the 59.
The concept of the 59 may deserve reconsideration. A light upland auto would be welcome to all us aging Boomers who find the hills steeper than in days of yore. amd the fast swing of the light,wrapped barrel could make up for our aging, slower reflexes.
Meanwhile, if one turns up for sale, snatch it up.....
Dave McCracken has been shotgunning longer than many shooters have been alive. He regularly posts on TheHighRoad.org and TheFiringLine.com. This article is reprinted here with his permission; reprinting or redistributing this article without his permission is expressly prohibited.