A .410 In The Right Hands

Dear Readers,

The .410 is much-maligned as a hunting cartridge, and rightly so most of the time. An SR reader wrote me the following hunting tale that shows just how effective the .410, even when being used in a Winchester Model 42 pump gun, can be in the right hands and used at conservative distances. I am an unabashed fan of Winchester’s little Model 42, but have little experience hunting with it as I’m not as confident that I have the discipline to keep my distances short. I found this story very interesting and perhaps you will too.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck The Technoid writing for
Shotgun Report, LLC (Often in error. Never in doubt.)
Dear Bruce,

Just thought Id fill you in on my recent quail hunting trip with my son.

Trey and I got up about 0300 on the Monday after Thanksgiving and headed out IH10 west across Houston toward San Antonio and, eventually Uvalde, Texas. There wasn’t much traffic this time of the morning, even in San Antonio. We turned into the Spanish Dagger ranch off US Highway 90 a little after sun up, seeing two whitetail does feeding near the rough road leading to the main buildings on the ranch.

We arrived right at 0800. My brother Bo and his two son’s, Brice and Bart, were up and moving. They had spent the night in the bunk house and had just finished breakfast. I let my 2 year old yellow lab, LCpl Rock, out and he zinged around the area, dragging me along on his leash, all of which started the ten or so German Shorthair pointers barking in their kennels.

I intended to use my Model 42 with 3″ shells and #7.5 shot, but I put my 12 gauge G. & S. Holloway SxS in the gun rack on the front of the truck, just in case.

Bo and I took the front seats on the front bumper carrier of the hunting truck and “the boys” climbed aboard to the top seat above the 8 kennels on the back of the one ton truck rigged to haul hunters and dogs across the 2000 or so acres of grass, prickly pear and mesquite. The truck’s kennels held seven pointers and LCpl Rock.

As we bounced slowly down the road to the hunting area Bo and I were talking. The truck crawled up and over a hill. Just as we started down the shallow slope on the other side, a large rooster pheasant sans his tail feathers ran out into the road about 20 yards in front of the truck and stopped. Our guide and dog handler, Bennie, asked if we wanted that pheasant and I said “Yes” figuring the bird was hurt and that I’d just put him out of his misery. I was mistaken on both counts.

I loaded the Model 42 and proceeded to shoot the bird. The modified pattern kicked up dust all around the bird who promptly jumped into the air and flew off at a high rate of speed. I was thunderstruck, and jumped off the carrier to follow the pheasant. Bennie put one of the pointers and Rock on the ground and we headed into the bush. We struggled through the mesquite and prickly pear for another twenty yards or so and the bird took to the air. Shooting between the mesquite limbs I hit him again, but other than seeing the feathers ruffle there was no indication I’d hit him. I fired another time as he sailed around a large bush but missed completely. As far as I know he’s still in there. I was totally disillusioned about the little guns capabilities.

When I got back into the truck I told Bo that I was going to use the Holloway since the cost of the hunt precluded fooling around and letting too many birds get away. I had done quite well with my UltraXS 28 gauge last spring and felt that the .410 would work. Besides, Steve and David said it would, but they are Texas State Skeet Two-Man Team champions, too, so you have to take that into consideration.

We drove on another half mile into the heart of the ranch and stopped. We put the dogs on the ground about 0845 and from then until 1400 we shot quail, chukar, and pheasant. I went through a box of Remington Light Handicap 3 dram 1 1/8th oz. of 7.5’s. About 1320 I was out of shells for the 12 gauge. I was pretty tired so I decided that I would give the .410 another chance.

I want you to know up front that this gun can get to be habit forming. It was nice to put two boxes of shells in one pocket and you could hardly tell they were there. The gun felt good and light.

The banter in the family had become somewhat braggadocios. Brice and Bart were somewhat amazed at the old “cannon” their uncle was shooting. Bo, of course, was shooting his 26″ Beretta 470 SxS and taking birds right out from under Bart’s gun. Brice and Bart were shooting their 1100’s. Trey was shooting the camera.

I told them that I would have more birds in the bag from this point on with my Model 42 .410 than they would with their Model 1100 12 gauges before we quit for the day. I didn’t lie.

The first bird that came up was a low flying bobwhite and the .410 took it cleanly at 25 yards. The next bird up was a rooster pheasant moving from my right to left at about 20 yards. I felt unsure about shooting the bird but was pleasantly surprised when the rooster folded dead in the air. Five more quail and a male chukar were added to the bag, including a double. I regained all the confidence I’d lost in the gun. Since the shots were relatively close the gun worked just fine. I had no idea why The Tailless Pheasant wasn’t DRT (dead right there), or at least DOA (dead on arrival) after shooting these other birds.

LCpl Rock was on the ground for all of the hunting. When the pointers got hot or tired they were substituted, keeping two fresh pointers on the ground all the time. When the pointers would lock up, I’d hold him at heel until everyone got in place then send him in to flush the birds. He soon got the hang of it. He was in on as many retrieves as he could be, finding lost birds and even finding, flushing and catching a cripple in the air as it went airborne. He didn’t have any trouble sleeping that night, either. He was a “dog tired” to coin a pun.

We ended the hunt with 45 bobwhite quail, 12 chukar and 15 pheasants. Granted these birds are from a shooting preserve but most were strong flyers and were not give me birds.

Trey and I availed ourselves of the hospitality of good friends in Bracketville for the evening. It was a really good visit. Early the next morning we were off down US Highway 90 toward Van Horn and Interstate 10 after some famous breakfast “Johnson” tacos, named after a U. S. Border Patrolman that wanted some of everything in them.

We arrived at the Motel 6 in Sierra Vista, Arizona, home of Fort Huachuca, about 2200.

The next morning we went to Wal-Mart and got our three day small game hunting license and some other supplies for desert hunting. We met our friend, Mike, at the main gate of the Fort where I went through the usual bureaucratic BS to get a vehicle pass to drive through the Fort to get to the mountains on the back side to hunt Mearns quail.

We turned off the road onto a dirt track that ended in a dry creek bed that had about two feet of water in it last year. Remembering how the climbing was last year and how well the Model 42 did at the Spanish Dagger, I decided to be brave and take the Model 42. Mike shoots a Browning UltraXS in .410. He shoots the 2.5″ shells with 8’s or 9’s, and does quite well, usually better than anyone else. However, hes usually up with his pointer and flushes the birds so hes in the best position to get a fast shot off before the birds disappear around a bush or over the hill. Almost all of this shooting is close range and fast.

We turned out Rock and Patches, Mike’s 9 year old German Shorthair who has probably had more Mearns shot over him than any other bird dog in history, and made our way across the rocky wash. We started the long climb up the steep scrub oak covered hills.

About two hundred yards into the uphill climb through a narrow canyon Patches pointed. I couldn’t see them so Trey and Mike flushed the birds. Mike got two. These were young birds; big but with the harlequin mask not fully developed on the males.

Mearns love to be about a third of the way up the side of these steep hills in ankle high grass under the protection of the oak scrub in the rocky draws. A Mearns will almost always fly uphill when flushed from these coverts. While they will run some after they land, they are not as apt to go to the next county like Scalies or Gambles quail. However, another favorite trick is to arc across the canyon to the adjoining hillside, necessitating that you crawl down into the arroyo then climb up the steep hill to get another chance at them. This can be very tiresome.

Since these had gone up the same hill we were on I made my way up the ridge to the left of Mike and Trey. As we looked for the birds I stopped to rest. Suddenly a bird thundered into the air close by and headed right at my head. By the time I dodged and turned he was headed down hill back the way I had come, down that long hill I had just struggled up, back down into the protection of the scrub oak and undergrowth way down the hill. Of course, I hurried and missed.

It went on like this for an hour and a half. We worked the hill, trying to pick up some singles. I finally got another shot. Patches jerked to a stop, pointed, and a hen jumped from next to my left foot. It headed low for the edge of the hill crest like a bottle rocket. I didn’t think. I just let the gun do the work. I shot, seeing the bush the bird had just passed sway from the edge of the shot pattern just as the quail disappeared out of sight. I thought I had missed but Patches instantly disappeared after the bird. In a couple of seconds he came back with the dead bird. I was getting to like this gun more and more.

At one point during the hunt Trey killed a nice rooster by shooting across the narrow canyon. Rock found the bird in the brush and brought it to me. It was a young rooster like all the birds up to this point. While these birds were young birds, they were also big, fast and tough.

Mike had a dentist appointment and had to leave for a while. By then we had 7 Mearns and 8 or 9 dove that Trey had killed.

Trey and I started out working another draw and couple of hills. This hunt lasted for another hour and half and netted only some dove that Trey killed. When Mike got back we made another round up yet another draw, eventually swinging back to where we’d jumped the first bunch. On this trip Trey and Mike were working the south side of the arroyo and I was up on the hill on the north side. Rock was working back and forth on this hill while Patches looked for the birds on their side. Patches pointed and when they flushed Mike killed one and Trey knocked one down that we never did find.

I watched from the top of the adjacent hill and saw a lone bird bust through the tree tops and make a long arching curve to the head of the draw about two hundred yards west of where I was. He set down right in the juncture of the two hills where the draw started. I had no intention of walking and climbing down that far for a single bird.

However, it ended up that I did just that. We were running out of daylight. Mike and Trey wanted to swing back down to where we had jumped the first big covey. I had to either walk down to the end and swing over to the other hill via the saddle where they joined or crawl down the steep hill I was on and up the steep hill they were on. I opted for the walk instead of the crawl and climb.

By now I really appreciated the carrying characteristics of the light Model 42 as opposed to lugging a heavier gun up and down the sides of these steep rocky hills. All of the shots at Mearns are almost always fast and within twenty-five yards, well within the little shells limits.

While I was moving around to the other hill, Mike and Trey were trying to located the lost downed bird. Rock was getting tired and was puttering around not paying much attention to anything. We reached the end of the ridge and started swinging around to the left, crossing the head of the draw just above where I saw the quail land thirty minutes before. I figured that the bird had run off since they are prone to doing that sort of thing. Wrong.

Rock was on my right, a little up hill from me, as I made the swing around and started back on the opposite side of the draw. He stopped, turned back and started moving back and forth into the wind, his ears up and his nose working overtime. I told him to “hunt him up” and that’s just what he did. He started nosing through the tall clump of grass right next to the rocky gash in the ground that was the head of the draw about 10 yards to my left and downhill.

Rock must have put his cold nose on the bird’s butt because it erupted in a thunder of wings right next to his head. This was not a pen raised or young bird, but a full grown, mature Mearns rooster and he had no doubts about where he was going or what he was going to do. In less than an instant he was shooting across the draw at Mach 2, heading to the other side and arcing right in an evasive downward curve, streaking just above the ground heading toward the nearest scrub oaks about sixty yard away. The Model 42 caught up with him about 25 yards out and the shot pattern killed him dead in the air. He continued to fall in the graceful arc and landed on the far side of the draw and about 35 yards down hill. Rock was there almost before he disappeared from sight in the grass. He found the bird and brought him back. Though I didnt know it at this point in time this was to be my last quail of the hunt. He was a beautiful, full grown rooster with the full harlequin mask and black lower stomach feathers. He would have been a good one to mount. After I joined up with Mike and Trey we worked for another two hours checking out yet another small canyon for Mearns with negative results on quail.

A subplot to this story is the dove hunting. We saw quite a few dove and they were not nearly as wild as those that inhabit Texas. Trey managed to kill 15 or 16 dove wearing a blaze orange hunting vest and, on occasion, orange wool cap. We would ease along looking for quail and jump a bunch of dove from the draws and canyons. If they were within Trey’s Browning SxS’s range he’d usually collect one or two. Except for one occasion I did not shoot at the dove with the Model 42. They usually jumped twenty-five or thirty yards out. This was no problem for an improved cylinder and light modified 12 gauge with an ounce and an eighth of #7.5s, but is really too far for the little shells even with the modified choke.

When we came back down into the flat area next to the creek bed the dove were in the trees along the bank and in the meadow. I even got one with the .410 when it got up about 15 yards in front of me and Rock. The bird fell in a tall patch of grass about 25 yards away. It took both Rock and me a few minutes to find the bird. Mike and Trey worked the trees along the creek bank on the way back to the trucks.

At the end of the day we had 9 Mearns and 19 dove. Rock was learning how to work with pointers and to hunt quail on his own. His nose saved more than one bird from being lost, not that Patches isn’t a good retriever even if his mouth is a little on the rough side.

I nor Trey nor Rock had any trouble sleeping that night. The next morning we slept late and met Mike for a trip over to the southeast side of Tombstone for a go at Scalies and Gambles. About 30 minutes will get you to Tombstone via the back road and another 30 minutes on the other side down county roads took us to a private ranch that allows hunters to hunt for free after signing in with name, address and hunting license number. The only thing asked is to log the time in and out and how many birds of what species you get. We noted two other hunters had been in earlier that morning for a couple of hours but only garnered 2 Scaled quail for their efforts.

We started a little after noon and covered a lot of desert. Today Mike brought along a young female German Shorthair named Sadie, opting to let Patches rest. Sadie is a wild lass and often goes out of sight over the hill, sometimes far enough that her collar beeper can’t be heard. Rock was beginning to get foot sore and tired. He’d been at it hard for three days. Even though he’d rested a day between and only hunted a half day the day before, the traveling, the mountains and the long distances were beginning to tell.

Sadie busted a small bunch of Scalies. Unlike Mearns or Bobwhite, these birds seldom hold for a dog if they are bunched up and run like track stars on the ground rather than fly. When forced to fly, usually the flushed birds will split up into two groups at each flush and head in different directions. If they are marked down accurately they can be hunted as singles and pairs and they will sometimes – and I stress the sometimes- hold for a pointer.

I was able to put a single up from this first bunch but I missed. Mike got one. The desert was dry and it was apparent that the rain of last year was missing this year. I’m sure it effected the birds breeding rate. Last year we found two or three coveys after covering this much desert.

Finally, we turned back north toward a windmill next to a stock tank to give the dogs a rest and a drink. Always when hunting, Mike and I carry water bottles for the dogs, stopping often to give them a drink, but they always welcome a swim in a stock tank. It was cool, but not cold and the distances can really dehydrate a dog.

Mike’s theory, which proved correct, was that if there were any birds around they would be close to water. Trey saw them first, a single bird running on the ground and called out. Rock and I were on the left flank and started to double time toward the mesquite next to the tank. Sadie ran through the covey before we were in a good position and they started coming out like rockets in all directions. The first, last and only shot I had at these birds was one coming right over my head from straight in front. I wasn’t expecting it and, of course, I missed straight up.

Mike, Trey and Sadie went up the side of the large hill behind the tank trying to find those that went that way, but to no avail. Rock decided to go swimming two or three times while we waited on them to work the hillside out. I was tired too, and set down on the tank dam to rest.

When they came down we headed toward the three singles I had marked down. They weren’t there. Scalies cover a lot of ground on the ground. We headed back in the general direction of the trucks and toward where Mike thought they might be. We ran into them again on the top of a rise and the covey split into two groups, one going down the left side of the hill and the second bunch down the opposite. Trey and Mike marked the group to the right down and headed toward them. I was on the left, the off side of the birds they were chasing and had to get over to top of the hill. They flushed them again before I got to the top and Trey got one and Mike lost one. Neither of the dogs could find it, either.

By now the Model 42 had won my heart. I was tired, having walked several miles over desert hills, and had almost as much to go to get back to the trucks. The light weight was a real blessing at this point in time.

There was a scarcity of dove here. Trey had taken a couple of long shots but I don’t think he killed any here. We made the long journey across the desert back to the trucks arriving tired, with but two Scaled quail but generally in good spirits. The sun was going down, painting the sky red, gold and purple. Trey and I briefly considered staking out a water hole on down the road for evening dove, but decided that it wasn’t worth it. We cleaned the two birds and put them on ice.

I didn’t have any trouble getting Rock in the truck. We loaded up and headed back. Trey and I got to Tombstone just before the shops were closing. We bought our wives a little something and headed on in to Sierra Vista for some supper.

Mike had to work the next day, Friday, so Trey and I decided that we’d cut the hunt a day short and head back home. We left at 0600 the next morning, AZ time. Trey wanted to take the scenic route so we took the back way through Bisbee, Douglass, and Columbus, New Mexico then headed for the Guadeloupe Mountains out of El Paso and cut through White Sands, New Mexico, and on back into Texas a second time. We headed toward Interstate 20 via Tarzan (I kid you not, that’s the name), Texas, and Big Springs. We were at his home just outside of Fort Worth by 2200.

Saturday we cooked the nine quail for supper and I headed south to Houston. I got in a little before 2100 Saturday. Rock and I both were glad to be home.

LCpl Rock is on the promotion list for Corporal and I’ve learned that the Model 42 is great for close work on preserve and wild game if you use the right ammunition AND limit your shots to the thirty yard mark. You just can’t push it. It was a delight to carry. It was fast to get into action and very fast on the second shot, as anyone who has used this pump well knows. Doubles (or triples for that matter) are not a problem if you have targets within range. It still has a niche as a serious hunting gun, but it is a narrow niche. You can not make it a Plus 30 Yard gun, no matter what you do; but under that, on upland birds its as deadly as a bolt of lightening and just about as fast.

I wonder what The Tailless Pheasant is doing right now? Making fun of the two band tailed hawks we saw, I bet.

M. D. Beale, Jr.

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One Response to A .410 In The Right Hands

  1. Thom Williamson says:

    Ha…who would name a dog “LCpl…”? Of course my Golden Retriever’s name was “Gunny”!!!


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