It was the summer of 1991 when the eagerly anticipated movie “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” hit the big screen. A memorable scene in this iconic sci-fi thriller is the motorcycle versus 18 wheeler chase through a series of concrete drainage canals. The young John Connor, future savior of mankind, flees from the villainous T-1000 on his dirt bike. The heroic T-101 cyborg, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, arrives clad in black leather astride a Harley Davidson motorcycle just in time to save the day. Oozing an attitude of pure cool, the T-101 draws a pistol-grip 1887 Winchester lever-action shotgun that he cocks and fires single-handed from the moving Harley. You’ve got to love Hollywood.
More than 20 years later, this series of movies still has plenty of fans. Not only that, but more shooters than ever are engaging in organized role-play shooting events with clothes and firearms inspired by movies, TV shows and video games. Cowboy action shooting events held by the Single Action Shooting Society have the B-Western division, inspired by the cowboy movies of the 1930s and 40s, along with a Wild Bunch division inspired by the movie of the same name. A more recent trend among shooting clubs is setting up Zombie Shoots, which take their cues from movies like George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead (1968),” “28 Days Later” and “ZombieLand.”
In this Hollywood-enriched shooting market, it only seems logical that some gun manufacturers would strive to fill the niche for movie-style guns. The Italian gun manufacturer Chiappa Firearms already has a fan base among SASS shooters who use its 1887 lever-action shotguns in competition. This year, the company has reached out to sci-fi and zombie movie fans by adding the “Terminator 2” inspired T-Model to its lineup, which will be available exclusively through Taylor's & Co., Inc.
Using the same proven action as the full-size 1887 lever shotgun, the T-Model features an 18.5-inch cylinder bore barrel with a gold bead front sight, and it’s been drilled and tapped for mounting a sight rail. The shoulder stock has been replaced with a rounded pistol grip, which is sometimes called a birdshead or chicken head grip. The gun has a matte-black, oxide finish and is available with either oiled hardwood or black “Soft Touch” rubber coated furniture.
The shape and balance of the T-Model gives the impression that it’s a sawed-off shotgun. Some who handled it during testing asked if it's a National Firearms Act (NFA) regulated firearm, which states that a shotgun must have a minimum barrel length of 18-inches and an overall length of 26-inches in order to be sold over-the-counter (without the NFA tax stamp) in the United States. The T-Model's 18.5-inch barrel and overall length of 27.5 inches places it safely within the size requirements, so it can be sold off-the-rack along with the rest of the pistol-grip shotguns provided by licensed dealers.
Taking the T-Model to the range was a blast, both figuratively and literally. It really is fun to shoot, eliciting plenty of laughs and smiles along the way. I shot the T-Model from the hip with both hands firmly engaged as this grip and stance seemed like the best testing approach for the following reasons. First is the gun's grip shape. A standard vertical shotgun pistol grip allows the shooter to keep a strong, straight, supportive wrist position if the shotgun is lifted to chest or eye level. The nearly strait grip of the T-Model forces the shooter to bend the wrist at an unsafe angle if the gun is lifted much above the waist line. Second, it was possible with the gun at waist level to get the support hand locked firmly on the barrel to manage the recoil. Finally, I had no desire to find out what the kick of a 12-gauge load would feel like shooting it one handed and I certainly did not want to experience the gun recoiling into my chest or face because of a slip of grip. Some mysteries are better left unsolved.
The T-Model reliably fed, fired and ejected a wide variety of shotshells with no mechanical failures or problems of any kind when the lever was operated properly. This lever-action shotgun, just like the modern pump-action, can be subjected to user-induced jams known as short-stroke. Be firm and quick in getting the lever all the way forward before pulling it crisply all the way back to eliminate jams.
The T-Model accepts 2 3/4-inch shells only and does not have an exterior access point to the magazine. The lever is used to open the action and expose the chamber, shell carrier and the magazine follower. The specifications for this shotgun say it has a 5+2 round capacity. This is because after loading five shells into the magazine and one shell into the chamber, an additional round can ride inside the receiver in the shot shell carrier when the action is closed.
Just like the original 1887 Winchester, and other older lever-actions, the T-Model has just one external safety. With the action closed, the shrouded hammer can be set into a half-cock position. This hammer position locks up the action so that the trigger cannot be pressed to fire the gun and the lever will not cycle. In order to release the safety, the hammer is pulled into a fully cocked position. The low-profile hammer is fitted with a heavy spring to ensure proper function, which makes it stiff for both setting and releasing from the half-cock position. Setting the safety should be practiced with the gun completely unloaded. If setting the hammer to a half cock still feels a little dicey, which it may for those who are used to cross bolt or frame-mounted safeties, then the next logical option is to carry this shotgun with an empty chamber.
The shot patterns produced by the T-Model's 18.5-inch cylinder bore barrel were in harmony with other defensive shotguns, which is a spread of about 1 inch per yard of distance from the target. At 7 yards, birdshot and buckshot patterns opened up to around 7 inches, and at 15 yards, the shot covered the silhouette targets from side to side. Felt recoil was manageable with birdshot loads, stout with buckshot loads and nearly painful with slugs. The Winchester Winlite and the Remington Managed Recoil buckshot loads showed a significantly reduced level of felt recoil in the T-Model compared to standard buckshot loads and slugs. A good pair of shooting gloves came in handy to help protect the knuckles of the shooting hand from the lever during recoil and the palm of the support hand from the heat of the barrel.
A couple of burning questions seem to be following the T-Model wherever it goes. Top of the list is whether shooters can flip cock (also called spin cocking) this 1887 style lever gun the same way that Arnold Schwarzenegger did in T2, along with other TV and movie stars. Several factors make the answer to this question a resounding no. You should not try to do it.
The Hollywood guns spin cocked on screen have enlarged loops to allow the gun to swing around the hand of the shooter without crunching up their knuckles in the process. The T-Model has a standard size lever loop that doesn’t leave room for the swinging motion. Secondly, the flip cocking action, much like flicking the cylinder of a revolver in and out single handedly or smashing a magazine into a semi-auto, is damaging to the action. Finally, and most importantly, do we really need to point out that swinging the muzzle of a loaded shot gun around like Indiana Jones' bullwhip is a bad idea? It violates pretty much every gun safety rule in existence. If you've just got to scratch that Hollywood itch, skip the flip cocking and go straight to the Rifleman's style of rapid-lever hip shots. That way the muzzle will stay pointed in the right direction.
The other question on people’s minds is if the T-Model is good for self-defense. It certainly has the power and shell capacity for the job. It seems to be just about as reliable and quick at cycling shells as a pump-action shotgun, once the operator is familiar with how to run the lever. On the other hand, the T-Model is slow to reload and cannot be loaded on-the-go like most modern defensive pumps and semi-autos. It has an old-fashion safety system, and working with any shotgun fitted with a pistol grip will severely hamper accuracy when compared to the same model fitted with a shoulder stock.
Instead of worrying about how to use the new Chiappa 1887 T-Model lever-action 12-gauge as a tactical or defensive tool, it should be considered for what it is. It’s an interesting, movie-inspired, fun-at-the-range gun that you and your friends can enjoy shooting at Zombie matches or for blowing up watermelons. But just in case there ever is a Zombie Apocalypse or a Cyborg invasion, you will look very cool with a T-Model in hand as you save the world.
Manufacturer: Chiappa Firearms; Chiappafirearms.com Distributor: Taylor's & Co., Inc.; Taylorsfirearms.com Model: 1887 T-Model Action: Lever Action Shotgun Caliber: 12-Gauge, 2 3/4" Shells Only Finish: Matte Black Oxide Grip & Forearm: “Soft Touch” Black Rubber Coating or oiled hardwood Sights: Gold Bead Front Optics: Drilled & Tapped for Scope Mount Barrel Length: 18.5” Overall Length: 27.5” Weight: 6.6 lbs. Capacity: 7 Rounds (5+2) Choke: Cylinder Bore Suggested Retail Price: $995