A Boy And His .410 Shotgun

Image of a .410 break-open, single-shot shotgun

My father introduced me to shooting guns when I was six years old. We were on open farm ground in eastern Colorado, and he held my grandfather’s .22 caliber rifle as I pulled the trigger to shoot at an empty coffee can. We had only a handful of rounds that we had pilfered from my grandfather’s desk, and I remember hitting the can two or three times at a relatively short range. When my dad took his turn, the number of hits increased dramatically.

I had played with plastic guns and watched cowboys shoot at each other on television, so the experience with the rifle satisfied my boyish desire to use a real gun without exposing me to any of the dangers of doing so. I observed my father’s careful handling of the weapon, and we talked about safety issues that he would repeat often until I finished high school. I don’t know what happened to my grandfather’s .22, but my guess is that one of my cousins has it or that the auctioneer sold it with the dishes, furniture, and farm equipment after my grandfather’s death.

Although I did not inherit that rifle, I did receive from my grandfather a .410 break-action shotgun (pictured throughout this post), and my parents allowed me to use it on the farm as I grew up. The little shotgun, which weighs less than seven pounds, was perfect for a boy who wanted to hunt doves in milo patches, quails in hedgerows, and rats in plowed fields.

I was never a heartfelt hunter, though, and my game-stalking days ended abruptly when I killed a large owl that was perched atop a telephone pole. As I lifted the magnificent bird by one foot and its colorful wings spread and then drooped, it dawned on me that I had no intention of doing anything constructive with it. Both its life and its beauty were wasted. I left the owl’s carcass in the grass and walked away thoughtfully.

That night, I swore that thenceforth inanimate things would be the only objects of my sport, and now I shoot exclusively at clay pigeons, paper targets, tin cans, hedge apples, and an occasional plastic milk container filled with water. I hold fond memories, however, of those days when few people followed rules and few rules existed to follow. At the same time, I have great respect for the development of hunting safety and licensing codes as well as for the men and women who abide by them.

Image of .410 break-open, single-shot shotgun broken into its three components

Not long ago, I dusted off my .410 shotgun and took it to a gathering of friends to show it to two fellows I knew to be interested in firearms. One of them is from Argentina, and in the conversation, I learned that he refinishes gunstocks and manufactures wooden displays for rifles, shotguns, pistols, swords, and knives. When he heard the personal history of my shotgun, he offered to recondition it for me, and knowing his perfectionist tendencies, I readily accepted. Unfortunately, I did not take photos of the weapon to show its state before the maestro worked his magic on it, so all of the images you see in this article are of the finished piece.

Image of Iver Johnson manufacturer's label on a .410 break-open, single-shot shotgunAfter removing the oxidation from the shotgun, the stamped manufacturer’s information became more visible, especially with the help of camera lenses and computer-zoom features. The model is Champion, the maker is Iver Johnson, and the place and year of manufacture are Fitchburg, Massachusetts, sometime between 1909 and 1919.

Although Iver Johnson’s products played an important role in the Second World War and weapons enthusiasts celebrated their quality for more than a century, events have mottled some of the company’s past. In 1901, Leon Czolgosz assassinated President William McKinley in Buffalo, New York, with an Iver Johnson .32 caliber revolver, and in 1968, Sirhan Sirhan used an Iver Johnson .22 caliber revolver to shoot and kill presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy.

Image of butt of .410 break-open, single-shot shotgunThose blemishes, along with the ones that once darkened the surfaces and cavities of my .410-gauge shotgun, are history, and now I intend to use my newly refurbished Iver-Johnson treasure for shooting clay pigeons and as a decoration on the wall of my den. I am grateful to my Argentinean friend for breathing life into this wonderful piece and for reawakening in me such warm and vivid memories of my childhood.

The Birthday Gift – A Remington .22 Caliber Bolt-Action Rifle

2 comments… add one

  • Sharon January 13, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    I’ve never understood guns and all that. Perhaps, because I am female, but, maybe it has nothing to do with gender. It may have more to do with relationships and gender stuff. My Mom never packed heat, nor did she introduce guns to us in the socialization process as females I wonder what that may have been like, had she done that. But I’m with you. I see no sense in killing stuff that, wasted, has no use. Killing for the sake of killing seems strange to my psyche; I vote for tin cans and decoys. And, you know…I do think there is something to the firing of a gun that people don’t talk about: the firing of the gun and the release that follows. That ‘release’… produces profound change if you’re a good shot… in that your reality changes ‘de repente’…less than a split second and poof…the field has changed. That is the experience of the shooter. Nobody seems to talk about that physiological/psychological event. I wonder why…cuz it is an important dynamic.

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  • Doug Eikermann January 13, 2013 at 7:47 pm

    I agree, Sharon, that shooting a firearm is magical. It’s like any activity that includes aiming and shooting at a target. A successful shot produces a centering effect that does indeed change the shooter, and in the case of hunting, changes the prey shot at as well. This psychological phenomenon may be rooted in the distant past when survival was directly linked to the ability to hit a target.

    The feeling that accompanies a successful shot seems to be present in all sorts of activities, like firing guns at tin cans, shooting arrows at targets, and pitching baseballs at catchers’ mitts. The change you refer to may be temporary in young people, but if one engages in the activity long enough, substantial lessons may be forthcoming. I often see women at the trap/skeet range, and I think that’s a healthful development. We all gain from the focus that aiming and shooting at a target provides. Thanks for commenting.

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