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May the Purple Hull Society will forgive this bit of heresy, but I've found a 12-gauge that's a 16-gauge at heart.

The slogan among 16-gauge fans is that the 16 hits like a 12 and carries like a 20. That's a compelling sales point until you find a 12-gauge that's lighter than most 20-gauges, with recoil comparable to a 20-gauge.

The Winchester Select 101 has those attributes.

The Select 101 is the modern incarnation of Winchester's legendary and beloved 101, which was made in Japan by Olin Kodensha from 1963-87. It was available in 12-, 20- and 28-gauge in many different configurations, including field grade, Pigeon Grade and Diamond Grade. The Kodensha guns are excellent, but they are also heavy, and they have a reputation for formidable recoil.

In the early 2000s, Winchester reintroduced a new line of over/under shotguns made in Belgium by Fabrique Nationale, which also made the highly esteemed Belgian Browning Auto-5, as well as the first and finest over/under of them all, the Browning Superposed.

By then, however, Browning's Miroku-built Citori and Beretta had captured the over/under market. Winchester's new offerings never caught on despite their excellent quality. One reason for their unpopularity was their quirky styling, especially the textured grip surfaces that replaced traditional checkering.

Gradually and quietly, Winchester rebranded its over/under as Select Model 101. It also reverted the styling closer to the original 101, but not quite. It's actually closer to the Superposed.

I held a Winchester Select 101 at a local sporting goods store, and I was intrigued. I loved how it hefted, pointed and swung. The price was good for the retail chain's branded version, but I didn't like the wood's muddy finish and the assymetric engraving of game scenes on the receiver.

With a diligent search I found a standard field grade with the features I wanted for about $100 less. The retro high gloss wood and metal finishes accentuate highly figured burled walnut. The deep engraving on the receiver combines the scrolled style of the old 101 and the Superposed. A White Line Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad adds a 1960s-style touch, as well. The checkering contains 20 lines per inch, and all of the diamond points are sharp and shiny.

The length of pull is 14 1/4 inches, which is about right for me. The stock configuration aligns my eye instantly with the end of the barrel.

Get this. With its 26-inch barrels, the Winchester Select 101 weighs only 6 pounds, 12 ounces. With 28-inch barrels, it's only 7 pounds.

A Browning Citori Lightning, in comparison, weighs 8 pounds, 2 ounces. Beretta's 686 Silver Pigeon I is advertised at 6-8, but it costs about $1,100-$1,200 more. Having once owned a Beretta 686 Onyx, I assure you that it's not a thousand dollars better than the 101. In fact, I don't believe it's one dollar better.

The Winchester points and swings nicely, but its light weight increases felt recoil.

It is chambered for 2 3/4- and 3-inch shells, but to align with the 16-gauge comparison, I test fired 2 3/4-inch target loads that are comparable to standard 16-gauge field loads. They were Estate 1-ounce with No. 7 1/2 lead and 1 1/8-ounce 7 1/2 Remington Premier STS Light Target.

Against a mere T-shirt, the Winchester Select 101 was sharp on the shoulder. A padded shirt or vest would dampen it. Also, I naturally anticipate and brace for recoil when shooting at a stationary target. I don't feel recoil when I shoot at live birds.

As primarily an upland gun, the 101 is not appropriate for 3-inch magnum loads. I have semiautomatic shotguns that are better suited for magnum firepower, and they're also better suited for the types of hunting where I want magnum firepower.

The Winchester 101 Select is threaded for Invector Plus choke tubes, and it comes with three in Full, Modified and Improved Cylinder. The tubes are available in many constrictions, so you can adapt the 101 to conform to most any shooting situation.

Because of its weight, the Winchester Select 101 certainly carries a lot easier than any current production 16-gauge over/under or side-by-side. Even with its twin barrels, it's still lighter than my Browning Auto-5 Sweet 16, which weighs a tad more than 7 pounds.

I still enjoy shooting my Sweet 16 more than any other shotgun, but this Winchester 101 is mighty sweet in its own right, and I look forward to giving it plenty of work.

Sports on 11/11/2018

Print Headline: Winchester Select 101 a worthy successor for a legend


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