The Winchester Model 50 Shotgun

By David Tong

Winchester Model 50.
Photo by David Tong.

A Winchester Model 50 shotgun came into Albany Guns, my usual emporium for arcane long guns. A prior owner had installed a Poly-Choke Deluxe onto its original 30 inch barrel. This Poly-Choke differs from others I have seen in that it also has three sets of muzzle brake cuts in parallel over the forward length of the choke.

The Poly-Choke, for those unaware of its function, has a hardened spring steel collet that can be open or closed by twisting a serrated collar to control the shot pattern. I found this very beneficial in the field. I have nothing against the now prevalent internal threaded interchangeable chokes, as they probably throw more precise patterns, but it means stopping shooting and carrying a wrench to adjust one's shot pattern. This slows things down a fair amount, needless to say, when birds spot your position and quickly change their altitude.

The receiver group is attached to an American Black Walnut buttstock and is quite heavy relative to the weight of the gun's plain barrel. To me, this is all to the good as it helps place the weight between the hands and the shotgun points more quickly as a result. I was most interested in this shotgun, as I would use it for both hazing birds and forays to the trap range with other members of the Guns and Shooting Online staff.

Winchester has had a checkered history producing semi-automatic shotguns since the turn of the 20th Century, when they turned down John Browning's royalty request for the manufacturing rights to the celebrated long-recoil Auto-5. (Remington bought those rights and has led in U.S. autoloading shotgun sales ever since.)

During my recent experience in asset protection while Starling Hazing at local Willamette Valley, Oregon vineyards, I used a trio of 12 gauge pump-action shotguns. Despite all three having so-called recoil pads, my shoulder was taking a pummeling after shooting about 1,200-rounds. It was a relief to transition to an autoloader.

The Winchester Model 50 was built nearly entirely of milled steel components, save for the machined aluminum trigger guard and housing. There are no castings, MIM, plastics, or stampings anywhere in the design, which debuted in January of 1954. These shotguns were built until 1962 and approximately 190,000 were built.

I also became quite enamored of the Poly-Choke click adjustable choke system, a once-popular aftermarket item fitted to many plain-barreled shotguns between the 1940s and 1970s. The Poly-Choke requires only a twist of a serrated ring to adjust your choke from cylinder bore to extra-full in six positions and this made hitting the birds quite a bit easier.


David "Carbine" Williams evidently had a leading role in providing the basic design of the Model 50. Best known for his short-stroke piston on the WWII U.S. Cal. 30 Carbine and from which his nickname emanates, he also designed a floating chamber that increased the recoil for the Colt .22 LR caliber Service Model Ace pistol and a .22 LR Conversion Unit for the redoubtable Model 1911 .45 ACP pistol.

After a rather quick internet search to learn how to field strip the Model 50, I was intrigued by the interesting engineering solution David Williams devised. Compared to the long recoil system of Browning's Auto-5, which features both the barrel and bolt recoiling together, the Model 50 uses a floating chamber insert that incorporates a locking cut for the bolt's retractable lug. Locking is accomplished by a top-mounted lug.

On firing, the bolt and chamber insert remain locked together and move away from the fixed barrel. Then, the bolt tilts downward and the retractable top bolt separates from the hole in the chamber insert. The chamber insert is then free to return into place in the barrel with the help of a small, captive spring-loaded pin at its left rear that supplies the small amount of force necessary.

The bolt body itself tilts downward at its rear during recoil, via a pair of diagonal tracks machined onto the bolt that use machined pins on small arms on both sides to cam it out of battery. A machined steel, flat rod engages the recoil spring in the stock. The front of the rod is pinned to the bolt body and pivots downward slightly during its rearward travel. I surmise the bolt motion is used to increase the amount of time your shoulder feels recoil, which decreases the subjective slam.

The insert reseats into the barrel accurately by exterior shape using a bottlenecked cut similar to that of a rifle cartridge case. Some gas flows back onto the outside of the insert, but it would take many hundreds of rounds fired before cleaning becomes necessary to ensure proper function.

The barrel is attached via interrupted right-hand threads, similar to the Winchester Models 97 and 12 shotguns. However, the Model 50's magazine tube is limited in length to hold just 2 rounds. This means the M50 was originally designed strictly for hunting upland game or waterfowl.

A final interesting thing about the Model 50 is the location of the ejector. It is a fixed part that protrudes at three o'clock from the bolt's breech face on recoil, or when the action is manually opened. I have never seen any other repeating shotgun with this design and it may be there to ensure reliable ejection, given the very fast cycle time of the action.


Winchester Model 50 stripped.
Photo by David Tong.

Within the stock is the gun's recoil spring, known then as the inertia system. This system requires re-timing the action if the shotgun is completely detail-stripped, which I found no need to do.

Normal cleaning is as follows. First, unload the shotgun by racking the bolt handle firmly to the rear to eject rounds. Leave the bolt locked to the rear. Unscrew the knurled fore-end knob until it freely moves forward, but remains captive. Pull the fore-end straight toward the muzzle and set aside.

Gently ease the bolt forward by depressing the button carrier release located on the right front of the receiver and maintain pressure on the bolt handle to keep it from slamming forward. Remove the chamber insert by pulling it gently forward; there will be no force required to do so. Use a small wooden dowel approximately 1/4 inch in diameter to press out the trigger group retention pin.

Breaking the shotgun down to hose out the receiver, bolt and cleaning the insert and barrel was a breeze. I was finished in less than 15 minutes. I used some Birchwood Casey aerosol degreaser to remove the light powder residue in the receiver group, but did not remove the bolt and bolt handle, as this was unnecessary. This is an easy shotgun to maintain in the field.

Reassembly, as they say, is in the reverse order. Ensure that the bolt has not dropped out of line when replacing the chamber insert. Replace the barrel in its seat by turning it ninety-degrees to the right and reattach the fore-end. Replace the trigger group by racking the action completely open, depressing the cartridge stop against its spring and slide the group forward and upward until seated, then replace its locking pin. Done.

I used both Ballistol and Slip 2000 synthetic Extreme Weapons Lubricant to keep the action working smoothly, as well as to protect the M50 from the occasional rain encountered while hazing starlings. I used rather liberal amounts of these products under the removable fore-end to protect the barrel metal.


The Model 50 was throughout for the last week I was in the field hazing birds and I found it to be an accurate, easy shooting shotgun. Despite being equipped only with the original Winchester hard rubber buttplate (no recoil pad), subjective recoil felt halved compared to the pump-action guns I had been shooting.

Moreover, the rapidity of fire and the surety of feeding and function were both better at awkward angles, especially overhead shots, than the pump guns had been. This was handy when facing literally hundreds of birds descending into the areas of individual vineyards I was tasked to protect.

The trigger pull measures about 4.5 pounds and is crisp with no discernible take-up, lash, or over-travel. It is a delight to use.

Since the piece is recoil operated, it is necessary to shoulder the shotgun, so there is a firm base of support. I was using Federal Top Gun 12 gauge, 1-1/8 ounce shotshells loaded with #8 shot. These shells are made for trap shooting. I experienced some failures to fully cock the hammer when attempting to shoot the piece with the buttstock held under my armpit, even though it was gripped securely.

I would expect the M50 would function reliably with any low base target or high base field loads. For an autoloader, it is not particularly persnickety about ammo selection.

The dimensions of the buttstock on this postwar Winchester repeating shotgun are, for me, a joy to behold. The length of pull, drop at comb, drop at heel and pistol grip inside radius all fit me quite well. Due to this stock design, I found myself centering birds in the pattern more often than I did when shooting the pump actions I had been using the previous four weeks.

When my cheek hits the comb, I find my right eye directly behind the small faux ivory front bead sight, centered in the receiver's serrated top. The checkering patterns on the butt and fore-end more or less replicated the patterns used on the Model 70 bolt-action rifles of the era, which is not a bad thing at all.

One final ergonomic nicety is worth mentioning. Due to my long interest in pistol shooting, primarily with single action automatics, I have long held them in low ready position with my finger alongside the trigger guard. Then, flipping the safety lever downward and making a fist before my finger touches the trigger blade to make ready for fire as it comes up on target. The Model 50's push to the left safety button, located at the front of the trigger guard and operated by the trigger finger, is similarly ergonomically correct for a right-handed shooter.

I would like to point out that the shell plate must be unlocked by use of the button. Keep your fingertips out of its path as it snaps back out into position. Use the side of your finger or thumb to load rounds. Loading is a tad slower than shotguns with floating shell plates, but it is not that much of a bother.

Having roughly 70% of its original New Haven bluing, with a few small (neutralized) rust spots here and there (on the barrel mostly) and a few dings on the buttstock, this gun is not going to win any beauty contests. However, it gets the job done nicely.

If there is a downside to this Model 50 as it sits now, it is that the piece is very long. This makes it difficult to remove from a vehicle and slow to swing. I would like to lop off a few inches of barrel and re-mount the Poly-Choke (approximately three inches in length itself). Unfortunately, I have been told by my local gunsmith this is not practical, as the Poly-Choke is permanently attached and cannot be removed and re-installed.

A Winchester Model 50 takes one back in time to when guns were made of machined steel and stocked in hand-checkered American black walnut. It has a unique operating system, interesting construction and functions great. It was also inexpensive. What more could you want?

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Copyright 2016 by David Tong and/or All rights reserved.