Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
What exactly is a trench gun? It’s a shotgun, typically a twelve gauge. The name came from the fact they were designed and used in the trenches of World War 1. These guns were quite well known during the First World War, enough so to get an official protest from the Kaiser. Ever since then, the trench gun has been a fixture in American firearms. While we aren’t fighting in trenches anymore, the trench gun has stuck around.
In recent years we’ve had a bit of a reinvigoration of the classic trench shotgun. When you have nothing new to produce, bring back a working design. On top of that, there are plenty of authentic trench shotguns still on the market, or at least clones of those guns. I love these guns. I like the heat shields, the bayonets, the wood furniture, and all the classic touches, and I can’t be the only one. With that in mind, I’ve gathered my favorite trench guns, both new and old.
Table of contents
Norinco 97 – A Classic Trench Gun
The easiest way to get into the world of classic trench guns is the imported Norinco 97s. These Chinese-made guns are imported somewhat randomly and pop up on the used market somewhat regularly. The Norinco 97 clones come in riot gun varieties as well as trench gun options, although the trenches are rare. The riot model can be converted to an authentic trench model with the right people. Still, the Norinco 97 does present the easiest way to get into the classic trench market without spending a fortune.
These Norinco 97s aren’t antiques and are produced for modern loads. You don’t have to worry about destroying a classic antique with modern 2.75-inch rounds. The Norinco 97 series are surprisingly well made, and they tend to be real shooters. They are popular on the SASS market and are the most common option for those rocking pump guns at these shoots. These guns can’t handle 3-inch magnum rounds, and steel shot isn’t recommended, but the bare bones 2.75-inch stuff works perfectly.
They simply work. You might wonder about slamfire, and yes, the Norinco 97s slamfire without a whole lot of complication. Any shotgun with an external hammer will seemingly slamfire. Is slamfire useful? Not really, but it can be fun. The Norinco 97 series works well for a Chinese shotgun, and while they aren’t the prettiest guns, they offer affordable functionality in an old-school cool way that’s unbeatable.
Mossberg 590 and 590A1 Retrograde
Mossberg is responsible for bringing back the trench gun in the current era. Their ingenious move to release the retrograde series shouldn’t be ignored. They breathed new life into their classic fighting shotguns by making them old-school. It’s deliciously ironic, but I sure appreciate it. I can almost hear the Kaiser quaking in his boots every time I work the action on my 590A1 Retrograde.
The 590 and 590A1 series are both produced in Retrograde configurations. The 590A1 expectedly has the thicker, stronger barrel that was part of the military spec for the platform. The 590 series features the standard barrel. With the Retrograde 590A1, we get ghost ring sights as well. The 590 Retrograde uses a standard bead sight. Other than that, the two guns are fairly similar. Both feature dark wood furniture, a parkerized finish, and both a bayonet lug and heat shield.
The sum of all this results in two modern trench guns that are widely available for the willing shotgun enthusiast. These guns are fantastic and live up to the quality and reliability that Mossberg is known for. They are pump-action fighting guns that are just waiting for a bayonet to complete the picture. The 590 and 590A1 Retrograde series have been a surprise hit for Mossberg, and they jumpstarted the retro shotgun revolution.
READ MORE: Old School Cool; Mossberg 500 Retrograde
While they are great guns that are still in production, I’m not impressed with the longevity of the wood finish. It chips and scratches easily to reveal the lighter wood underneath it. A refinish may be necessary to get them up to fighting standards.
Inland Manufacturing M37 Trench Shotgun
Mossberg invigorated the retro trench and riot gun market, but they weren’t the first to create a retro trench gun. Inland Manufacturing, which is well known for its World War 2 replicas, produced an Ithaca 37 Trench gun clone. It’s recently been discontinued, but you can still find the gun bouncing around, especially used models and some new old stock. The Ithaca 37 didn’t make it to the First World War but served through WW2, Korea, and Vietnam.
Inland reproduced these guns in a hardcore trench gun format. They featured the classic wood furniture for better or worse. Thai includes the teeny tiny corn cob forend and wood stocks. Across the barrel sits a parkerized heat shield that also holds the bayonet lug. This is a faithful reproduction of the classic M37 trench gun that served the United States for decades.
These guns are made to be shooters as well. Faithful reproductions allow you to hit the range and beat the hell out of them without worrying about destroying history. One downside some with not exactly appreciate is the lack of a slam fire mechanism. Lacking slam fire isn’t a big deal. However, if you ride the reset, the trigger dies and requires you to work the action again.
Don’t ride the trigger is my best advice. Do yourself a favor, grab a bayonet, a classic one, and destroy yourself a few pumpkins. The M37 is a factory-made trench gun that can be a ton of fun at the range.
Tokarev USA TX3 Retro Riot Trench Gun
Trench guns are often collector’s items, SASS competition guns, and often fun range toys. The problem is that these guns are often expensive. If you want a cheaper option, then we do have the Toakrev USA TX3, also known as the Retro Riot gun. This doesn’t replicate a known classic trench gun by any means, but it is its own take on the design. It features a heat shield, as well as a bayonet lug that is admittedly sold separately.
The Tokarev USA TX3 comes in both a black and nickel finish if you like to make things shiny and take it as far from the trenches as a trench gun can get. The wood furniture is very nice for such a cheap gun. Impressively so, although it does lack any real texturing, and that likely keeps the price fairly low. The TX3 HD does have classic looks but isn’t completely old school.
The retro design leaves with the high visibility front sight, as well as the rear ghost ring peep sight. In front of the peep sits a small section of rail that makes mounting a red dot easy. With the price and the fact it’s easy to find, the TX3 could double as a home defense gun. No one wants to use an authentic trench gun for home defense and risk putting a century, and some change gun in an evidence locker. With the TX3, that isn’t a concern.
Rock Island Armory TPAS
Since we’re already talking about affordable shotguns of the trench variety, let’s take a peek at the Rock Island Armory TPAS. I’m not 100% sure what TPAS stands for, but I assume it’s Trench Pump Action Shotgun. The TPAS is a clone of the Ithaca 37, but not quite your standard trench gun clone. RIA imports the gun from Turkey, and it also swings in on the more affordable side of firearms.
The TPAS series uses the Ithaca 37 design with bottom ejection and slab side design. This particular model features a heatshield, but it’s not the standard heat shield and bayonet design from actual M37 trench guns. The heat shield covers about 3/4s of the barrel total, and we don’t get a bayonet option. To me, the bayonet is a must-have, and I’m a little disappointed it’s not present here. Admittedly, neither is slam fire and if you attempt to do so, you will kill the trigger and work the action again.
The RIA TPAS series of shotguns feature a fairly smooth operation, more so than I’d expect from a Turkish shotgun. The same goes for the finish on the stock and forend. The forend features a corncob-type pump which is small and on point for an Ithaca 37 clone. The rear grip is quite nicely textured and feels good. The length of pull is manageable, and the gun is even set up for an old-school sling.
The TPAS won’t blow your mind, but it’s a fun gun to take the range and won’t kill your wallet.
Winchester Model 1897 Trench Gun
Finally, since we are talking new and old guns, the Winchester Model 1897 Trench Gun is the O.G. of trench guns. The Winchester Model 1897 was the first successful pump action shotgun. It became immortalized by World War 1 in its trench gun format. These guns featured 20-inch barrels with heat shields and, of course, a bayonet lug. It was a fearsome weapon in the trenches and left many of the Kaiser’s finest scrambling for cover.
They are highly collectible, and with that in mind, there is a fairly large market for them. Heck, there are even custom M1897 shops out there to restore, refinish, and produce custom models of the gun. You can even convert older 1897s into trench guns if you want to take that route. However, there are still some authentic trench guns out there for sale.
They are quite expensive and likely not well-suited for most modern loads. The Winchester 1897 shotguns are very well made, but the shells have changed a bit, and it’s wise to make sure they are inspected thoroughly by a competent gunsmith. The OGs are certainly more of a collector’s item than a range gun, and the price reflects that. However, if you want an OG, then the 1897 is the most OG of these guns.
Trench Gun Up
Trench guns are defined by their all-metal construction, their wood furniture, heat shields, and often bayonets. They have a certain old-school appeal that is really timeless, as far as I am concerned. With that in mind, I hope this fad sticks around, and I hope we see more and more hit the market.