Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A cool old gun

I’ve lately had a hankering to kill a bird with a sweet little shotgun of my Dad’s that’s been in my possession for a while now. I’ve hardly used it and had never taken a bird with it but Dad used to shoot a few ducks and pheasants with it just because he liked it. I’m not a gun snob nor a collector but there is a soft place in my heart for old guns, particularly American made guns. Over the years I’ve gotten hold of a couple of old doubles that I like and expect to use until my shooting days are over, but when I spotted the sweet little pump gun in the back of my gun safe I figured it was just too cool a gun to spend it’s days unused. How Dad came upon it is a story I’ve heard many times. The details can change a bit with each telling and I can’t attest to the accuracy but it’s still a good story.

Shortly after Dad left the Navy he and his brother walked into Haskell’s Hardware and spotted two Winchester Model 42’s on the rack and had to have them. My uncle was shorter than Dad so he took the 26” barreled full choke model. Dad’s has a 28 inch modified choke. The year was 1947 or ’48 and they each paid $37.50 for their little .410’s. Dad proudly showed it to his pheasant hunting companions and they quickly kidded him about his little popgun. Then he turned his spaniel loose and promptly filled his limit without a miss. Over the years I’d heard the two guns had consecutive serial numbers, but my uncle’s 42 was sold or traded or somehow disappeared long ago.

The 42 doesn’t fit me very well and I don’t shoot it very well, but if I bear down and concentrate I can hit with it, sometimes. I took it to the skeet club a few years ago and the boys lined up to try it. Fit or not, it’s fun to shoot but I have guns I do better with and never really thought about taking it out to shoot birds. I wouldn’t consider changing it, but the modified choke is a little too tight for our grouse woods and it’s hard enough to hit with a .410 in the best of conditions. I’ve killed ducks with a single shot .410 when I was a kid and we used lead shot for waterfowl in those days, but those days are long gone.

Paul called and reported moving good numbers of grouse and woodcock near his shack and thought we should get together for a hunt. Sounded good to me and a good chance for the Model 42. With enough chances I may have some luck. I loaded Jack and the little gun in my truck and went for an afternoon in the woods.

We turned Jack and Scarlett loose in good looking cover but the dogs hunted hard with no results for the first half hour and I started to wonder if I was gonna get a chance to try the .410. Even Paul said he was eager to hear the popgun go off. Things started to heat up when Jack pointed off to the left and Scarlett stopped in the cover to the right of the trail we used. As I moved in front of Jack I must have passed close to the grouse that flushed behind me and was fast escaping when I found the safety and swung the gun around to shoot. Thank goodness for a good forearm to grip, I believe that thin little shell-shucker could fly right out of my hands! My shot was way behind and I had to remember to chamber another round so by then it was too late. The grouse flew off unscathed.

When I was in high school I bought a 12 gauge pump-gun, a used 870, and it was my meat and potatoes gun for a long time. I shot small game, ducks, birds, varmints, critters and furbearers with that gun. It was the days before choke tubes so I bought another open choke barrel for it. I shot on a trap league and skeet with it and I still have it. I was pretty good with it but now I have to think to work the action and you know what that means. 

It didn’t take long for Jack to lock-up again and I approached with my finger on the trigger-guard safety button so I wouldn’t have to search for it when the time came. A woodcock went up and offered a very good opportunity climbing for the treetops. I threw the featherweight gun up and shot too quickly and missed. But I jacked another skinny round into the chamber just as the bird topped out and the woodcock went down! The good thing about those skinny little shells is you can fit a lot in your pocket. I was going to need them. Scarlett showed up at the action and beat Jack to make a lovely retrieve. I’d killed a bird with the .410 and was feeling pretty good. We took a break then to water the dogs and I took a couple of photos. The afternoon went on and we had chances at a few grouse and more woodcock.

 I’d started out hoping to kill one bird, but when I dropped another I was suddenly thinking “limit.” And I had chances for a limit, but of course I missed. Again and again.

It was near sundown when we were walking the logging road out and a grouse surprised us from the side and flew straight down the trail. Paul called “take im!” and it was a great chance to kill a grouse with Dad’s little 42. My finger searched painfully long for the safety in its unfamiliar location and when I finally found it I snapped the firing pin on an empty chamber. I’d forgotten to cycle a fresh round after shooting at the last bird! I can still hear Paul chuckling.

That Model 42 is a neat little gun and I had a fun afternoon with it. I can’t say how often I’ll use it – I know I can bag more game with another gun, but… then again, now I’d kinda like to take a grouse with it. 


  1. Great story. I started out with an 870, and was able to adapt to just about any type of shotgun ( auto, double triggers, ect) but I could never wrap my mind around working those beautiful model 12's and 42's. they are single shots at best in my hands, since the safety is in the "wrong place" compared to the 870.
    Speaking of old guns, I will be able to show you what I did with that reference photo in couple days. I can send you a copy if you like. Thanks again!

  2. Yes, I'm eager to see what you did with the photo. I'm putting away the shotguns for the rifle now and heading for deer camp this afternoon. Have a good season and thanks for the comment.