Trench Guns

Posted by Bruce Canfield

It may come as no surprise that one of the most popular U.S. martial arms collecting themes is military shotguns, especially the so-called "trench guns."  Although the term "trench gun" was never an official designation, it is widely used today to denote those short-barrel military shotguns fitted with a handguard/bayonet adapter assembly and sling swivels.   Such guns first appeared during World War I and variations continued up through today.  They are impressive-looking as well as being quite interesting and historically significant weapons.  Compared to other contemporary weapons such as M1 rifles and carbines, M1903 and M1917 rifles, etc., trench guns were made in much smaller numbers.  This relative scarcity and high desirability has, of course, resulted in ever-increasing prices for genuine trench guns as more and more collectors are chasing fewer and fewer original collectible specimens.  Trench guns that may have sold for $200 or $300 twenty or thirty years ago can now bring fifteen to twenty times as much (and in some cases a lot more).  Unfortunately, the scarcity and very high price tags have resulted in con artists trying to make a fast buck by "creating" trench guns and selling them to gullible and/or uninformed buyers.  This situation has gotten to the point that the overwhelming majority of trench guns seen for sale today either have "problems" or are outright fakes.  Some of these fake guns are laughably bad but others are very well done and could easily fool a lot of people who may not be familiar with the subtle nuances between bogus specimens and original guns.   I must hasten to add that not all of the "put together" trench guns were done with the intent of defrauding anyone but were the result of someone wanting to have a "look-alike" trench gun without having to pay the inflated prices of today.  Anyone is free to do whatever they wish with the guns they own and if cobbling together a gun that resembles a trench gun makes them happy, so be it.  However, when such  guns change hands, which almost all do at some point, a subsequent owner may not know about the origins of the piece or may not share it with another subsequent owner.

I get quite a few inquiries either via email or through the American Rifleman asking about conversion of a standard commercial shotgun into a trench gun "look-alike," typically by adding a reproduction handguard/bayonet assembly and sling swivels.  The gun most often mentioned is the Winchester Model 1897 since it is perhaps the most popular trench gun variant.  Since my opinion was asked, I always advise against it.  My chief rationale is that it would be a shame to turn an "honest" commercial shotgun that may be 75 to 100 years old into something it never was.  While a standard commercial shotgun may not have anywhere near the value of a genuine military trench gun, it would, in my opinion, have more value, and certainly more collectability, than a fake trench gun. 

I know some people will not agree and that's perfectly fine.  Nevertheless, with the plethora of questionable military shotguns on the market today, it behooves a potential buyer to do their homework before a sizeable sum is spent.  I always subscribe to the old adage that it's better to miss on a good gun than to drop a bundle of cash on what turns out to be a fake.


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