I have an old Winchester model 1897 that I bought in a pawn shop back in the 70's. I am toying with the idea of cutting off the barrel to 18-20 inches and using it as a home defense gun. What think ye?
It really depends on the shape of the gun. If the action and stock are pristine, you might consider it a collector gun as is. If the stock is rough & the action has some rust or scratches.....go for it. The gun as a HD platform is very good. Rock solid and nothing will stop it from firing (for the most part).
phatcyclist is correct in that the 1897 does not have a disconnecter and can be slam fired. Hold the trigger back and work the action and it turns into a pellet hose.
I have cut many of these old shotguns down for cowboy action shooting and not felt bad about a single one of them. If someone wants to give you grief over cutting down a "valuable collectors piece that's worth $XXXX", give them the option to buy it from you at that price. When they refuse, tell them to mind their own business and cut away. 19 to 20 inches is a good length for this gun as they handle real well at that length.
I would suggest that before relying on a gun that is (at least) 52 years old for HD have it checked out by a smith that knows these old guns. There are a few things that can break or jam up on this design that will either render the gun unreliable or turn it into a single shot.
There is even an old school modification that can be done that will allow you to have it broken down (if a take down model) with a fully loaded magazine tube. All it requires is a drill bit and a grenade pin