A Cinderella of a Different Sort: Stevens Model 520


Fred Fuller
December 12, 2007, 01:05 PM
I never met a Cinderella 870 that I wouldn't adopt, if the price and condition were right. But yesterday a Cinderella of a different sort followed me home.

It was a typical expedition to Fayettenam- I had a doctor's appointment, and a lunch meeting at Thai Pepper with a good friend who just got back from A'stan the night before. After lunch we trolled the string of FFL dealers we favor along Bragg Boulevard. At the last dealer's shop, which features a 30-foot long double sided floor rack of used long guns, I noticed something different. A loooong shotgun barrel protruded from among the more conventionally sized rifles and shotguns on the rack.

It was a Stevens Model 520 pumpgun. It had been a long time since I saw one of these old girls, the last one being a US military marked riot gun that a friend had bought in an estate sale several years ago (for a mere $125 I might add). Obviously this one was a purely civilian sporting gun, given its 30" full choke barrel.

It showed little wear from use, but some storage inattention was evident from a freckling of rust here and there and a thick coat of dust in the crannies and recesses. But the bore was bright and shiny and the action, though dry and gummy, felt solid and mechanically sound. Exterior metal finish was at least 80% overall.

Unfortunately the stock was badly cracked in several places at its junction with the receiver, to the point that a chunk was missing on the right side of the lower receiver tang. Luckily it isn't oil soaked and rotted, so it can be repaired with fiberglass if a replacement doesnt offer itself to hand at a reasonable price.

Other than that, there was nothing to criticize. The asking price came to $180 out the door. Given today's inflationary environment, IMHO guns in the safe are better than dollars in the bank. And so out the door this one went, after the paperwork was done. The paperwork was pretty irrelevant in this case- the old girl lacked a serial number, not unusual among working class guns manufactured before the Gun Control Act of 1968 came along.

I've been casually looking for a field grade Winchester Model 12 at a reasonable price for some years, with the intent of converting it to the equivalent of the riot gun I used to carry when riding reserve for a small-town Alabama police department. I wanted a Model 12 because I have long wanted a reliable take-down pumpgun. I'm satisfied enough with an M4gery as a carbine- punch two pins and you have two components short enough to easily pack into luggage hard or soft. But I wanted a shotgun that would do the same thing. And that's about the only real drawback to my beloved 870- no matter what else you do, you can only make the receiver part so short due to the fixed magazine tube.

The Stevens Model 520 is a classic design from the master himself, John Moses Browning. Browning's Patent Number 781,765 was filed for on 10 July 1903 and granted on 7 February 1905. The design is an artifact of the shift in sportsmen's tastes from single shots and double barrels to the new magazine repeaters, both pump and lever action, from any number of manufacturers. The old J. Stevens Arms and Tool Company of Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts had a history since 1864 of producing successful single shot and double barrel shotguns, and they wanted to get on board the burgeoning pumpgun movement too.

So the company bought the manufacturing rights to the new design from JMB in the spring of 1903, and the Stevens Model 520 entered the marketplace early in 1904. It would stay in production until the similarly-designed but more streamlined Model 620 completely supplanted it in 1932.

The Model 520 has a long history as a fighting shotgun. The history of Stevens fighting shotguns goes back at least to the days when a Stevens-manufactured Wells Fargo 'messenger gun' was used by Wyatt Earp to kill "Curley Bill" Brocius at Iron Springs (now Mescal Springs), Arizona in the aftermath of the famous gunfight at the O. K. Corral.

At the request of the War Department when the US entered World War I, Stevens submitted a prototype trench gun based on the Model 520 sporting shotgun. The prototype's 20" cylinder bore barrel was outfitted with a Stevens-made bayonet adapter and a perforated sheet-metal barrel shield necessary when using a bayonet mounted on a hot-barreled shotgun.

The early 520s featured the 'humpback' receiver typical of the Browning Auto 5 shotgun, plus an additional "step" machined into the top of the receiver profile. Later 520s had a straight profile to the top of the receiver. Also, the early 520s had the old style Browning 'suicide safety,' a sliding safety bar set into the front of the trigger guard and protuding inside, that had to be pushed forward to fire and slid back to safe.

The military version of the Model 520 made a good impression on the War Department, but it arrived on the scene too late to really compete with designs from Remington and Winchester. Still, it is believed that a small number of Model 520 Trench Guns were delivered to the War Department before the Armistice was signed. With the Armistice, all military contracts were cancelled.

Coming up soon: The Model 520, The Depression, and World War II


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Fred Fuller
December 12, 2007, 05:52 PM
The Model 520 is indeed a robust design. The receiver itself is machined from a solid steel drop forging. Since the hammer is enclosed within the receiver, there are no protruding snags to hang up on anything. On later production Model 520s, the safety is a top tang sliding button. There are also some Model 520s with a crossbolt safety behind the trigger as well. The action release button is inset on the left rear of the trigger guard. Thses control locations make it lefty-friendly, though the ejection port is on the right.

The bolt is locked into a cut through the top of the receiver by Browning's rising lug locking system. The locked lug is easily visible and locked status can be determined by touch as well, feeling for the locking lug level with the top of its recess. The bolt is designed with a safety interlock that keeps the gun from firing unless the bolt is fully forward and locked. As is common with designs of this vintage, the Model 520's fire control system does not include a disconnector- the Model 520 too can be slam fired, like the Winchester Model 12 and the Ithaca Model 37. I say this NOT to encourage such shenanigans but as a warning to those unfamiliar with designs of this sort. If your safety consciousness and trigger finger discipline are not up to snuff, you can easily ND (negligently discharge) a shotgun which lacks a disconnector. It happened to a State Trooper who had borrowed one of "my" PD's two Model 12 Riot guns one night on a raid on a shothouse (an illegal drinking establishment). Upon entering the premises being raided, the trooper racked the Model 12 and simultaneously blew a hole through the ceiling with a load of 00 buck. In this case the mythical sound of a pump shotgun being cycled DID have its legendary effect- there wasn't an intact window left in the place as the startled inhabitants of that den of iniquity leaped through every available opening to escape. I still think the roar of that round of buckshot going off had a lot to do with it though :D. Fortunately the ceiling and the roof (not to mention the windows) were all that suffered.

Given that the locking lug and its recess are among the most stressed areas in any given shotgun, insetting the locking recess into the receiver top is a familiar weak point in repeating shotgun designs of this vintage. The famous Winchester Model 12 design suffers the same weakness, with the rear of the bolt locking into a recess in the top of the receiver, and wear is reflected in increasing headspace. Both receivers and locking lugs are subject to significant wear over many thousands of rounds fired, and repairing wear damage to the receiver requires significant surgery on the part of a gunsmith.

The wooden forearm of the Model 520 is pressed onto the metal tube that is in turn attached to the single action bar that runs on the left side of the action. This action bar is a robust piece of steel, despite its double-dogleg bend where it attaches to the forearm. The action parts are almost all machined steel parts or tempered flat springs typical of the era.

The action is designed so that a forward impulse on the forearm as supplied by recoil is necessary to unlock the bolt upon firing. In a properly timed Model 520, pulling back on the forearm while pulling the trigger will not allow the action to unlock- the forearm must move forward a fraction of an inch to unlock the action.

The takedown system on the Model 520 is intriguing. Designed similar to the system used by Andrew Burgess ( http://www.shootingbums.org/hvr/burgess.html ), the system utilizes a series of engaging ribs and grooves in the receiver and barrel/magazine block. The whole thing is locked in place by the threaded magazine tube, which when tightened holds a pair of wedges into V notches in the side of the receiver when the magazine tube is screwed back into place.

The brief venture into supplying fighting shotguns to the War Department for WWI had a lasting effect on Stevens, and the company continued to supply guns to the police and security market. Even after Savage acquired the entire capitol stock of Stevens in 1920, the production of fighting shotguns as well as sporting arms continued apace.

But competition from other pumpgun designs was having an effect. Winchester's streamlined Model 12 was an attractive and popular design, as was Remington's Model 10. The Stevens Model 620 was introduced in 1927 to compete with these modern-looking shotguns. Internally, the 620 was essentially identical to the 520. But the production of the svelte new model didn't completely eclipse the 520 until five years later in 1932. Model 520s were still being warehoused until then.

In the frantic era of rearming after Pearl Harbor, all of Stevens' warehuse repeaters- including the Model 520s- were purchased by the War Deprtment. They were considered standard military shotguns until 1943, despite the shortage of spare parts available from the factory. Some of these shotguns were equipped with the trench gun bayonet adapters. About 35,000 Model 520s wore the US and flaming bomb ordnance marks during WW2.

After WWII ended, many of these guns went back to the arsenals. Some of them later found their way to participation in the conflict in Southeast Asia.


Dave McCracken
December 12, 2007, 07:01 PM
Thanks for the info on this classic, Lee. What are your plans for your newest project?

December 12, 2007, 08:10 PM
Lee , we MUST be brothers!

Fred Fuller
December 12, 2007, 11:27 PM

I put in a bid on a good condition 20" barrel for it at one of the auction sites, and ordered a replacement stock today. I have no use at all for a 'goose gun,' but this one is really in too nice condition to cut down to a more manageable length- unless the 30" barrel won't pattern worth a darn and I lose that auction... :evil:. I've given it a lick-and-a-promise cleaning and it has slicked up to a wonderful degree. The bore lived up to its promise completely once the dust was wiped out, and the chamber looked good too. BTW, this one is clearly marked on the chamber for 2 3/4" shells. Right now it's sitting in the corner muzzle down so nothing drains into the stock to cause more problems.

The takedown system is very easy to use once the simple steps are learned, and it goes back together easily too. It seems to be a more durable arrangement than the interupted thread approach. The more I see of this design the better I like it- if ol' JMB had just had access to music wire coiled springs... .

I haven't pulled the trigger plate out of it yet because I don't want to start drifting pins unless I have to. I stripped it down to the complete receiver, washed it down with SLIP2000 and let it drip out, that got a lot of crud out of it. If it needs more attention I'll mix up a basin of Simple Green in hot water and soak it in that for a bit, then rinse it out in more hot water and dry it in a warm oven. No plastic in this one to worry about!

I'm going to pattern it tomorrow and see how it does with small shot. If it's impressive enough I might try it out at the fire department turkey shoot on Friday night. It would be the best looking old gun there, I'd bet, no matter how well it shoots.


Stranger things have happened :D. I just can't help it, I'm a sucker for a Cinderella pumpgun in good shape at a good price. I'll definitely be looking out for a 620 now too.


Dave McCracken
December 13, 2007, 09:32 AM
Thanks, Lee. Pics will be nice.

Glad to hear some places still have turkey shoots.

December 14, 2007, 08:19 PM
Great write up. I love the 520/620 series. They are a blast. The take down system is well done.

I have a 620 Riot that is always high on my grab and go rotation when it's range time.

Can't wait to see your pics and see what becomes of the project.:D

December 16, 2007, 01:35 PM
I have an excellent condition 520 and a very good military marked 620 Riot as well.

Great Guns!

The 620 Riot continues to serve on "active duty" as one of my HD guns.

March 6, 2010, 09:01 PM
hello-these 520's ,the later ones without the double hump, are they refered to as a 520a? also what was the total production of the 520's and did they make any trap models or any with ribed barrels and if they did what were they numbered as??

Fred Fuller
March 7, 2010, 09:46 AM

The later models of the 520 were known as the 520-30. They're distinguished by a single hump receiver that looks a lot like the Pardner Pump in profile. The 520-30 also has a top tang safety. They were in production until 1932. I don't know any details re. the other questions you asked...


March 7, 2010, 09:54 AM
I have one of these in 16 gauge that someone actually took the trouble to re-blue, cut the barrel to 19" and have chokes installed!:what:

It had such an old timey lawman vibe that I had to get it. The fact that it was $150 didn't hurt either.

March 7, 2010, 12:01 PM
I passed on one of these fine shotguns (fine compared to what? Well, fine is subjective.:D) through sheer ignorance and not being informed.

I could kick myself.:banghead:

March 7, 2010, 12:04 PM
Reading this, just made me kick myself AGAIN. I passed on a 16ga western field model 30 (aka stevens 520) last year at a gun show for $100...grrrrr!

March 7, 2010, 05:36 PM

I would guess I'm not telling you anything new, but the barrel will likely need some fitting if you change it. Not usualy a huge problem, but some work required just the same.

My past guns included a 620 in 20ga. , and a 520 military riot gun in 12ga. I am also a fan of these two models.

March 7, 2010, 11:24 PM
I have a real clean one in 20ga that I want to sell. Nice walnut & blue, 28" barrel (including the Polychoke w/compensator). I will post an ad tomorrow.

March 8, 2010, 01:20 AM
Okey dokey...This is the one area where THR let me down.......I asked about an ol' Cinderella that I picked up.........Another shotgun in a bag for wheeler44..I got it back together..... but....There were several changes made during production....Mine was made using ONLY an inertia block ...later models had a "spring" added to assist the inertia block.....I understand that the spring could be retrofitted into an inertia block only shotgun...Can anybody help a poor shooter "fix" an old "shooter"?

Lee let us know how the barrel swap works......mine is wearing a piece of tape at about the 20" mark of its' 30" barrel.. I can't cut the barrel until you report back.....

I really like the old gun...even if it is slow to fire due to the inertia block jamming ....It makes me take a better first shot... but no good for HD at all...

Fred Fuller
March 8, 2010, 12:57 PM
So far I've ben outbid on every barrel I've tried for. I guess I oughta quit shooting off my mouth about neat old shotguns, they get too popular and the prices go up. :D


March 13, 2010, 11:13 PM
I have a real clean one in 20ga that I want to sell. Nice walnut & blue, 28" barrel (including the Polychoke w/compensator). I will post an ad tomorrow.
hello-i am looking for a 20ga 520-30 (the one without the double hump) send me a pic and price,thanks

April 21, 2010, 09:07 PM
What's your question about the barrel swap? I think I may have been one of the winning bids over you Lee, sorry, but I lost about a half dozen auctions before I managed to snag an ugly 520 30" barrel for my new project. I had no "real" trouble with the barrel, except it is very tight, and it seems every time I take this gun down she finds a way to cut me.
Mine started out with a 29" barrel with a polychoke, that I'm keeping as the original. I cut it down to 20", drilled and tapped the barrel for a new bead, and then dropped the bead. Six days later, I found the thing in my cellar. Cleaned it again and function checked the gun by dropping the hammer on a piece of dowling, the dowling jumped and I knew the gun was working fine. Took the gun to the range, and she went "click" - it seems I broke the firing pin during my function check. Now I'm waiting on a new firing pin. Except for being VERY quiet, she's really a very nice, well built gun.

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