Favorite Firearms: A Recovered Winchester Model 12

posted on April 2, 2024
Winchester Model 12

My dad gave me a Winchester Model 12 Featherweight for Christmas in 1966. He had instructed gunnery in Harlingen, Texas, during World War II, and my grandfather had given him a Model 12 Skeet gun upon his assignment there. So, he felt I needed my own Model 12. It served me well shooting trap and hunting, and I began reloading 12-ga. ammunition for it.

In 1972, the family purchased a farm, and my gun was kept around all the time because there were all sorts of varmints, crows and starlings flying out of the barn. Dad said to think of them as Japanese Zeros. I graduated from college in 1974 and got a job offer in California in 1977. When that happened, things got exciting. The shotgun was kept in the shop that was attached to the downstairs two-car garage. I had to be in California in February 1978. As I was putting things together one day, I couldn’t find the Model 12. I asked family members if they had seen it, and no one knew where it was.

I flew back to Pennsylvania for Christmas of ’78, and one day, after visiting some friends, I stopped by the sheriff’s office and reported it stolen. I had no serial numbers, but I told the deputy of three unique marks on the gun. After I left the sheriff’s office, I went to the gun shop, since the owner, Mike, was a friend of mine. When I asked him if he had any Model 12s, he said there were three up on the wall. I walked back and saw a Featherweight just like mine and asked him to see it.

It was my gun!

His records showed who had brought it in, the state police were called and an arrest was made. The arrestee had picked up milk in the basement and, on the way out, had also taken the gun and put it in his vehicle.

—Thomas E. Hile


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