Sunday, January 20, 2013
I used to know how old he was. Now I'm not sure if he said he was seven or eleven when "Pappa" bought him the little 410. I know it was something that ended in "even" so it had to be one or the other. I could ask him now but he won't even know who's asking.
Back sometime in the late 1930s or early 1940s, my Grandfather bought my Dad a Stevens 410. Its a tiny little gun. Single barrel with full choke and an extractor. The ejector version retailed for fifty cents more.
My Dad hunted with it when he was a kid. In his case, there was more to the hunting than there was for most kids because his Mother was horribly abusive. She came by it honestly. If you've read my post about Mary Ann you can just imagine the torment she lived under but he didn't know the truth about Mary Ann for decades. He couldn't understand why she treated people the way she did so hunting was a way to escape for a while.
When I was a kid, I was the only one in the family with an interest in hunting and I hunted with it too. My best friend was a tall, heavy kid named Gettise and we'd get up early on Saturday Mornings, pile in the back of his Dad's truck and go hunting with his Dad and his Dad's best friend. They'd drop us off to hunt squirrels while they went further into the woods after real game.
One particularly cold morning, we were huddled in the back of that truck freezing in the wind as the four of us headed out to the forest. It was so cold, I put on an extra jacket. They dropped us off in the usual stretch of woods and we stalked around for a while until Gettise got a little winded.
Gettise was a big boy. I don't mean fat. I mean big. He was a good four to six inches taller than anybody else in our grade and he's a big man today. He wasn't particularly athletic so he got winded quicker than a scrawny little kid like me did. Well, Gettise spied a broken tree trunk leaning against another tree and decided to sit down. No sooner did he get his full weight settled on it and satisfy himself that it would hold than there was a loud crack and that broken tree trunk snapped and dropped him on the ground.
I was laughing my head off and he was cussing me and the tree and probably fate for all I know when my eye caught something moving in the tree right above him. A fox had used that trunk as a ramp to get up into the tree and with all the commotion, that fox was working on a way to get the hell out of there but his ramp was gone. All I knew was here was this rabid fox (all dogs but our own, including wild ones had it. Just ask my Mother) fixin' to jump down out of that tree onto the nearest soft landing place and that landing place was my best friend. So I yelled "FOX!" and I let that fox have it.
Now a three inch 410 loaded with #6 shot isn't really the optimum gun on foxes. It didn't kill him outright. It just knocked him out of the tree right next to Gettise who was still trying to get up. So Gettise starts trying harder to get up and is stumbling trying to get away from the fox and the fox has a broken back and can't use but his front legs so he's running around Gettise in circles. Didn't matter what direction Gettise tried to go, that fox wound up in the way.
By this time, I had figured out that I need to put another shell in the gun but I was wearing the extra coat and all my shells were in the pocket of the first coat. I had to get the second coat open to get to the shells and I was wearing gloves so it took a little more time than you'd expect a couple of great white hunters to take when dealing with wounded dangerous game (remember the rabies). I finally got another round chambered and sent the poor beast to fox heaven whereupon Gettise promptly tossed his breakfast. Gettise had a weak stomach and you couldn't so much as step on a caterpillar without him getting nauseated. The sight of his first head of "game" in its death throes was too much.
Before too long, the grown ups showed up with nothing shot but the morning and asked us what we had been shooting at. We told them about the fox and they confirmed from their vast experience in the woods that any fox that acted as this one had surely had rabies and I had done a heroic deed. They wouldn't let us put it in the truck but had me cut its tail off and bury the rest. I salted that tail and kept it in my room for years. Funny how it was OK to cut the tail off a confirmed rabid animal.
Another time we were in the back of the truck when the "adults" hit the brakes and piled out with shotguns blazing hollering "QUAIL!" A covey was feeding at the edge of the road and they just opened up. I got one with the little 410 and we grabbed our birds and took off in a cloud of dust. They hadn't noticed in their zeal to blast away at the birds but the covey had been in somebody's front yard. When the shooting stooped and they realized where we were, they hauled ass. I still wonder what the homeowners must have thought seeing four lunatics piling out of a truck with guns blazing thirty feet from their front porch.
So I didn't have the greatest mentors at the start of my hunting life but that's the kind of memories that I have of the little 410. I imagine that my Dad had some as lively.
Sometime, maybe ten to fifteen years ago, my sister saw a snake in her yard. Since all snakes are poisonous (just ask my Mother), the little 410 went to her house where it stayed inside the Grandfather clock in the hall until needed for the snake. The snake never went inside the clock so the gun was never used. Eventually, I started asking about it. Sister said she had taken it back to our Parents' but they had no idea where it was or whether she really brought it back. My Mother searched the house and found nothing but a BB gun and we finally deduced that my sister's second ex-husband had probably sold it for beer money. So I have been learning and looking for one ever since.
I suspect the little 410 was used when it came to my Dad. Its built on a special 410 frame and Stevens quit building their 410s on a dedicated frame long before he was born. Besides that, its not just a 410, its a featherweight 410. Those were a special frame, smaller even than the regular ones, made for women and kids. They didn't build a lot of those.
Stevens built a whole bunch of related shotguns that were called Model 94 starting back in the late 1800s. Most had a letter designation to differentiate them from the others and I can't keep track of all the variants but there weren't many like Dad's. I know this because I have been on a quest for over two years to find a replacement for his little 410. I have bought old catalogs and reference books. I have communicated with people who collect all things related to Savage Firearms. I have bought junk parts guns on Gunbroker thinking I'd assemble one whole from the pieces. I have learned some by detective work and some by just plain dumb luck but I know what it was.
The breakthrough came with my second parts gun. I had bought a gun identified as a Stevens Model 94 that had been in a fire. It was all there but the wood and my plan was to buy wood for it but the wood that I bought for a 94 didn't fit. Most "94s" are built on a bigger frame than the originals. OK, fine. It didn't feel quite right but it had no wood so what should I expect? I remembered it as a small gun so the wood not fitting made sense. A few weeks later, I saw another one on Gunbroker and it had wood so I bought it. It was a very used gun. The fore end iron was missing and had been replaced with something made of epoxy putty and the front fight bead was positioned at eleven o'clock. As I sighted down the barrel trying to figure out if a previous owner was cross eye dominant or something the gun just felt right and I knew. You don't forget your first girlfriend's perfume or how it felt to hold her. You don't forget your first hunting gun either. When I got it home and compared it to the one from the fire it was smaller. I got goose bumps on my arms. This was one like my Dad's. But what was it?
I bought a catalog reprint from around 1900 and found mention of the featherweight. The description fit this one perfectly. There was no picture but I knew.
This gun and the one from the fire were the same basic design but the little one was shrunken. Both frames were the same width and had the same number of screws and pins but the little one was not as long and not as deep. They had taken the 94 and miniaturized it.
I studied the two guns to learn the visual clues that would tell me which one I was looking at when one would show up on Gunbroker. The underlug and the extractor are the two most obvious differences. The featherweight frame isn't as deep so the lug isn't as tall and the angle in the lug below the extractor is different. There's other ways to tell but that's the easiest. I set up my account to email me whenever someone listed a "Stevens 410." I have lost track of how many times I have emailed sellers to ask for a picture of the extractor. So far, none has been the Holy Grail.
At the Lakeland Gun Show, I told my brother that I really wasn't looking for anything in particular except for a 410 "Like Daddy's" and that I had some hope of finding one there because it was the collector show. We went through the whole show and never even saw a Stevens 410, much less a featherweight.
The Lovely Bride and I met my brother for breakfast Sunday Morning and afterward he told me to hold on a minute because he has something for me. He opened his trunk and there lay a dainty little gun wrapped in a towel. I knew.
My brother is in town to visit and is staying at my Parents' house. Our Mother had him helping her clean out a room that was used for storage. It was mostly full of crap from my sister's house. Old broken furniture, old clothes, old mattresses and crap like that. Sometime after she turned all vegan and liberal on us, my sister had brought the gun back and put it in that storage room with all her other crap. Nobody had found it when they looked for it because nobody thought it would be in a room full of junk.
So for the first time in almost 40 years I got to hold the old girl. I cleaned it and sighted down the barrel. I pointed it at sepia foxes in trees and quail in an old farmhouse hedge. I mentally dropped squirrels running flat out down branches high in oak trees. I shot 'coons (that's raccoons for anybody that might wonder) out of trees at my Great Uncle's farm again and I didn't even leave my living room.
My Quest is over.