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 Post subject: Wards Model 31 (Stevens 520) review
PostPosted: Tue Aug 06, 2013 6:50 pm 
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WARNING!!! Old Smokepole shotguns are addicting and might blow up and kill you and put in you in the graveyard! You should be a responsible adult who understands they do not shoot three and a half inch magnums, and cannot be made to shoot them, and you should never even shoot "hot" modern loads in some old clunker that was new when your great grandfather was winking at your great grandmother. But let's say you have one, or two, or five or ten modern shotguns, and you are hankering for some old smokepole of a pawn shop beater to rescue, so you can just have fun with it. One of the very cheapest, and a good and acceptable "starter" smokepole is the ever popular Stevens Model 520. It was made from about 1904 through the late 1930's, when it was discontinued for the more modern Stevens 620. It was a John Browning design. It has really cool looking break down system that looks like it could never shoot loose, but it will shoot loose, and don't buy one if it's barrel and frame are "wobbly". The usual asking price is anywhere from fifty to one hundred and fifty dollars, depending on condition and features. This one cost $140 today at a retail gun shop, out the door price. I may have overpaid about $20 for it, but hey, it has a solid rib and the deluxe vented Polychoke and that makes me want one all the more. The Sears and the Wards guns should be cheaper than the Stevens marked guns, but they are all the same good old smokepole.

My cat is never impressed with my new to me old shotguns. But he is very curious.

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This one was made before 1930, because it has the "double hump" and the "suicide safety". From the lack of USA stamped on it, I'd guess that it was made before 1925 or so:

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We are used to all these years later a Stevens being a cheap gun and rough finished. That was not the case back in the early part of the 20th century. A Stevens didn't cost as much as a Winchester, but it was on the same par as a Remington. Notice what's left of beautiful cold rust blue on this gun that was sold through Montgomery Ward:

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John Browning got all pissed off at Winchester about 1900 because they wouldn't pay him a royalty for the Auto Five, and had to design this shotgun around his own patents for the Model 93 and Model 97 after he quit Winchester. This was the Browning design Stevens used beginning in 1904. It's impressive, but those lugs can and do wear, and when they do all the gunsmiths that knew how to tighten one of these up died many years ago. The magazine tube turns to loosen up the front section, and the gun comes apart. There is no plastic or pot metal in these righteously rugged old shotguns:

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When you get down into the sub $150 "smokepole" range of shotguns, I sincerely believe a Polychoke adds value to the gun. Otherwise you are usually stuck with a full choked old gun that needs to be reamed out to make it versatile. Brand new Polychokes exactly like this vented model are still made today, and are worth the $200 more or less you have to pay to have your old gun shipped off to get one installed and get it back home. Or you can just buy an old shotgun that already has a Polychoke and be ahead of the game:

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What are these old guns good for? They are good for everything you'd want to use a 12 gauge shotgun for. The Polychoke will handle steel shot, if you are forced to shoot steel, and for those of us that don't use steel you can shoot trap, skeet, sporting clays and hunt anything that flies, runs, creeps, or crawls that you can legally hunt with a shotgun. This particular old gun is extremely dirty inside, but I don't think it's very badly worn out. You can get parts, but parts are expensive and often hard to find, so buy one in better shape than this one if you can. The plan is to take this old Stevens 520 down to the farm to have a readily available "ATV" gun for the bed of my Rhino. If it falls out of the Rhino and I loose it in the woods I'm not out very much, and the odds are this old gun will still be shooting in another hundred years. I'll probably strip the old varnish and make it pretty with boiled linseed oil and touch up the "bald spots" with Oxpho Blue, and if I get really ambitious I might put a recoil pad on it. Or I might just decide to shoot it as is. There is not one thing you can do to these old gun that causes them to be worth another twenty dollars at the most. Try to buy a really good one, to begin with.

Each time I buy one of these, I take it out to the local gun club and shoot it. If they have a Polychoke, like this one does, I'll pattern it to see if it shoots point of aim, and bend the barrel until it does shoot point of aim in a big wire spool. If you get used to shooting old shotguns, your skeet score usually won't suffer one bit using these old guns. Our great grandfathers had every bit as useful equipment as we do today. And we can shoot their guns for peanuts, and enjoy looking at the old technology.

What else that goes bang up to five times and shoots 12 gauge shotgun shells can you buy for so little money?

Have fun!


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 Post subject: Re: Wards Model 31 (Stevens 520) review
PostPosted: Tue Aug 06, 2013 7:29 pm 
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I've never owned one, but I've seen them around, and they look pretty darn cool. I'll have too keep my eyes open! Thanks for the heads up.

You're right about the poly-chokes. A very nice Ithaca 37 16 gauge from 1952 should arrive at my lgs tomorrow that I picked up off gun broker. It looks to have been packed some and shot very little with a nice hand cut checkered stock. It has had it's full choke barrel cut down and a poly-choke added. It was mine for $215 plus shipping. That's the great thing about poly-chokes. You can pick up dandy old shotguns that no one else will give a second look.

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 Post subject: Re: Wards Model 31 (Stevens 520) review
PostPosted: Tue Aug 06, 2013 7:51 pm 
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I've got two shotguns like that except that mine are the newer version without that extra hump in the receiver. One of mine is a 20 gauge and the other is 12 gauge. The 12 gauge had a 30" full choke barrel on it when I got it years ago, but I had the barrel shortened and had a Polychoke put on it.

Both guns still work to this day, but the 20 gauge always was and still is rather stiff to pump. I've cleaned it, lubed it, shot it and done almost everything I know to smooth it out, but it's still not slick or smooth. The 12 gauge, OTOH, is very smooth to pump.

BTW, the 20 gauge is marked "J.C. Higgins" and the 12 is marked "Montgomery Ward".

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 Post subject: Re: Wards Model 31 (Stevens 520) review
PostPosted: Tue Aug 06, 2013 8:13 pm 
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A few of my "dial - a - ducks"... I have less than $500 total in all three guns.
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I don't have anything nearly as interesting as yours. I do have several turn of the century shotguns , including a Marlin model 19N. Similar to a Winchester 97. I shoot mostly RST's in mine , no steel or heavy stuff for these old girls. The top one is a Savage 775A in 16 gauge. The middle one is a JC Higgins model 20 pump in 12 gauge and the last one is a Mossberg 190 also 16 gauge.


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 Post subject: Re: Wards Model 31 (Stevens 520) review
PostPosted: Tue Aug 06, 2013 8:59 pm 
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I am fascinated with all those old collet and compensator chokes. On the bottom, you have a Mossberg 190 Celect Choke (I have one) that has both a collet and a compensator. The JC Higgins in the middle has the "backwards" Cutts compensator where the tubes stick back inside the cage. The top might have an actual Cutts Compensator with a collet type choke on the front, or it might be a Lyman choke,,,or something else. They made lots of them, all either compensated (vented) or collet (squeezing down steel petals) except for one old choke (at least) that was on an A5 that I sold years ago. It was a Polymatic, and instead of a collet it used the principle that if the choke was extended, the shot would fly through about two inches where the column had to spread apart and then constrict down and if it was closed the choke was right at the end of the barrel and didn't constrict as much. It did seem to work, and could be set at locked in full, locked in modified, and then you could shoot the first shot as a modified and it would extend and the next shot go through a full choke. Or at least that's how I remember it.

And the insides of this old Stevens 520 are as complicated as Chinese arithmetic. I'm not brave enough right now to take it all apart, but it has "Auto Five" John Moses Browning roots,,,,and then some.:) WD40 is the old smokepole owner's friend. Nothing but nothing removes grime, crud, and sludge like WD40 and an air compressor. We'll see how it works and go from there.


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 Post subject: Re: Wards Model 31 (Stevens 520) review
PostPosted: Tue Aug 06, 2013 9:31 pm 
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SuperXOne wrote:
And the insides of this old Stevens 520 are as complicated as Chinese arithmetic. I'm not brave enough right now to take it all apart, but it has "Auto Five" John Moses Browning roots,,,,and then some.:)


Yeah, they're not nearly as simple as a Rem 870 or a Mossberg 500. I disassembled the insides of my old 20 gauge J.C. Higgins once just to see how it works. It took me several days to get it back together, but that was quite a few years ago. I think I know a tad more about guns now than I did then. But if you're careful and go slowly, you can get it back together. Besides, you've got digital cameras now to take pics as you go (if needed).

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 Post subject: Re: Wards Model 31 (Stevens 520) review
PostPosted: Wed Aug 07, 2013 5:38 am 
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I have one of these that I won on auction recently. I took mine down nearly 100% and cleaned it up, including the nastiest bore I've ever seen (which now shines like a mirror). The only thing I didn't remove was the ejector and the shell stop (I don't have the special wrench for the little nut).

It's back together now and functions correctly but needs repair to the wood. Haven't shot it yet, but very smooth action. 32" tube. Should be a nice shooter-thinking about piecing together a 20" riot setup for it.

Word of advice: Use this old Army manual to take your gun apart for cleaning. It addresses the 620 specifically, but there is no real functional difference between the 620 and yours. Follow the instructions in order. It helps immensely.

http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/cgsc/carl/w ... 5_1942.pdf

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 Post subject: Re: Wards Model 31 (Stevens 520) review
PostPosted: Wed Aug 07, 2013 7:13 am 
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The amount of machining on these old guns is so nice to see compared to new. Still not a poly choke fan. The original careful balance of that gun John Browning designed in is now lost by all that extra mass on the end of the barrel. Yes they are versatile but open the fixed full choke to mod or light mod and good for most everything too now that steel is required for waterfowl. I find brake cleaner much better at blasting crud from old guns. Just think how rusty, dirty, grimy brake calipers, pads, and drums are on a truck and that stuff removes it and leaves no residue, but you should take the wood off or risk damage to the wood's finish. It worked wonders on a Browning Double Auto for me. Remington gun scrubber solvent was like trying to use water compared to the brake cleaner. Use gloves with the brake cleaner as it's nasty on skin as it pretty much degreases and dries out your skin too.


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 Post subject: Re: Wards Model 31 (Stevens 520) review
PostPosted: Wed Aug 07, 2013 11:22 am 
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Y'all do know y'all have cause Virginian to lose his appetite, or at worst maybe toss his cookies with these picts. of those tater turner blobs on the ends of those shotgun barrels don't you? :lol: He's allergic to those thangs you know..


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 Post subject: Re: Wards Model 31 (Stevens 520) review
PostPosted: Wed Aug 07, 2013 12:03 pm 
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Yes, we know. We're going to have to have an intervention with Virginian.

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 Post subject: Re: Wards Model 31 (Stevens 520) review
PostPosted: Wed Aug 07, 2013 1:56 pm 
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I bought this Stevens 16g Bolt Action earlier this summer for that same C note. It actually shoots just fine although "balance" is not a term this gun is familiar with:

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 Post subject: Re: Wards Model 31 (Stevens 520) review
PostPosted: Wed Aug 07, 2013 2:37 pm 
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Hey Super....the one in the middle is a Pachmayr powr-pak. That gun is a tank. A little heavy , but slicker than snail snot.


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 Post subject: Re: Wards Model 31 (Stevens 520) review
PostPosted: Wed Aug 07, 2013 6:53 pm 
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Yes, that is a Power Pac, and I made a mistake calling it a "backwards Cutts Compensator",,,,although in effect that's how it works. The Power Pac was a very frequent option on one of the finest old smokepole shotguns ever known, the fabulous High Standard manufactured JC Higgins Model 20!

But a pawn shop scrounger cannot live on High Standards alone. Sometimes you need to branch out to one of those Stevens Model 520 pump guns! BTW, I cannot believe that the Polychoke came on my old Wards Model 31. It was likely added sometime later, but it might be possible that it was original, as the Polychoke was patented in 1927 by ER White, the patron saint of cheap shotgun scroungers ever since. Nothing makes an old shotgun so more versatile and so ugly that it keeps the Poly haters from running up the price of old iron!.:)


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 Post subject: Re: Wards Model 31 (Stevens 520) review
PostPosted: Thu Aug 08, 2013 9:02 am 
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SuperXOne wrote:
It was likely added sometime later, but it might be possible that it was original, as the Polychoke was patented in 1927 by ER White, the patron saint of cheap shotgun scroungers ever since. Nothing makes an old shotgun so more versatile and so ugly that it keeps the Poly haters from running up the price of old iron!.:)


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 Post subject: Re: Wards Model 31 (Stevens 520) review
PostPosted: Thu Aug 08, 2013 1:25 pm 
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SuperXOne wrote:
Yes, that is a Power Pac, and I made a mistake calling it a "backwards Cutts Compensator",,,,although in effect that's how it works. The Power Pac was a very frequent option on one of the finest old smokepole shotguns ever known, the fabulous High Standard manufactured JC Higgins Model 20!

But a pawn shop scrounger cannot live on High Standards alone. Sometimes you need to branch out to one of those Stevens Model 520 pump guns! BTW, I cannot believe that the Polychoke came on my old Wards Model 31. It was likely added sometime later, but it might be possible that it was original, as the Polychoke was patented in 1927 by ER White, the patron saint of cheap shotgun scroungers ever since. Nothing makes an old shotgun so more versatile and so ugly that it keeps the Poly haters from running up the price of old iron!.:)


you should really look up the history of that gun. if both halves have the same serial number then i know it's a rarer one because of the solid rib on the barrel. they only did those for skeet or higher end models. someone obviously added the polychoke later but 99% of the time all 520's just have plain looonnnngggg barrels

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 Post subject: Re: Wards Model 31 (Stevens 520) review
PostPosted: Thu Aug 08, 2013 3:21 pm 
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The regular model was Model 30, (520). Same as the Stevens 621 or 521. The 1 was a solid rib.
I have 2 16 ga. shotguns both marked Montgomery Wards. One 520 and one 620.


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 Post subject: Re: Wards Model 31 (Stevens 520) review
PostPosted: Thu Aug 08, 2013 8:38 pm 
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Ya know SuperX, sometimes these old shotguns call out to us just like that spindly little Christmas tree did to Charlie Brown and the latest, greatest, shiny, new gun aint gonna do it.


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 Post subject: Re: Wards Model 31 (Stevens 520) review
PostPosted: Sun Aug 11, 2013 10:11 pm 
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Thie old Polychoke gun was the worst "off shooting gun" I can remember seeing, and I've seen a bunch of old clunkers with Polys that didn't shoot point of aim. It was off about 2 feet left at forty yards, and after three attempts bending the barrel to the right, I got it too far, and had to bend it three times back left and a shade upwards to where now it shoots dead center point of aim at forty yards. How somebody used that shotgun for so long and so much as bad as it shot to the left I cannot imagine, but they did. Probably never noticed it.

Thanks to that old armorer's manual I've built up the courage to drift out the trigger guard pin and drop the trigger group, then remove the bolt, the ejector, and the shell stop. This gun has more brown, hard, dried oil varnish inside that I believe I've ever seen. I'm soaking it 24 hours in a Mason jar full of carb cleaner, and the action soaking beside it. That this gun functioned at all (which it did) with such gunk, varnish, and gum is a testament to the design skills of John Moses Browning and the engineering of Stevens. It's incredible how badly varnished up the inside of this one is.

I'll report if I get all the pieces back together. There are surely enough of them, and I don't want an extra one when I'm through.


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 Post subject: Re: Wards Model 31 (Stevens 520) review
PostPosted: Mon Aug 12, 2013 5:42 am 
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That manual is a great help. It served well with my A5 clone also. Here is a pic or two of my westernfield model 30. I won it on Gunbroker for $46. it was missing maybe $30 worth of magazine tube parts, which i found at numrich for cheap. it has a 32" tube, but i am thinking of cutting it down to 20" for an old school lawman look. Can anyone tell me why it has two serial numbers (one is lined out)? I don't think it's an assembly number-other 520's I've seen only have one number. I suspect this was regular Stevens production re-allocated and numbered to fill the Wards contract. Can anyone shed some light on this one?

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 Post subject: Re: Wards Model 31 (Stevens 520) review
PostPosted: Mon Aug 12, 2013 7:50 pm 
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I got everything back together, and it works great. I had to take a small file and square up the slide handle notch so it didn't occasionally slip off the bolt. Well worth the time and trouble, and I've gained an appreciation for the design of the Model 520. It's amazing to me that such a complex design could have ever seen 190,000 produced. There's not one tiny part that's not well made and there is more machining inside one of these than I think any other shotgun I've ever taken apart.


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