My best day hunting involved some flighty quail and a little Winchester Model 42, a .410, and I truly loved it. My old Model 42 was an early straight gripped skeet gun with 26 inch barrel and Simmons rib, probably added after the gun left Winchester, although it is faintly possible it was done at the factory. The little gun weighed less than six pounds, fully loaded. At times, the gun was a marvel. When I was "on" with the little gun, I was really on. Goodness knows how many 25 straights
I shot using it at Skeet.
On the other hand, for some reason, I occasionally had mediocre days with it. When I did, I just got out my other Winchester Model 42, a longer barreled, pistol gripped gun with a Cutts Compensator. I never had bad days with this gun, and it always got me out of the doldrums with the other gun. At any event, I rarely had bad days with the little gun, and once, I had a great day with it.
The day itself was one of the dun colored "grey days" so common to late autumn/early winter in Virginia. The sky gets grey and that's that. It is not cold, rain does not threaten, and the wind does not blow, but the sky becomes completely overcast. I would hate to be a pilot and fly through something like that, although the ceiling was actually fairly high on my particular day, well above the little mountains in Central Virginia.
I lived on an old farm with a big old-fashioned house, backed up against a big hill and surrounded on three sides by pasture and about 100 acres of largely unused farmland. To the front was a garden and hundred yards farther the lightly traveled highway.
I had no bird dog and, in fact, I barely hunted. Usually I just took my gun along because I wanted to walk, and might see a rabbit, not because I wanted to go hunting. However, I saw rabbits often enough and quail frequently. I knew where to walk to see them.
On this particular day, I walked in what in retrospect was an unlikely direction. I went over the hill in back of the house. Near the top, and off to my left side, was a brushy green shrubby area which rimmed a steep incline. The cows which pastured there probably avoided because it was steep and on the shaded side of the hill where little grass grew. I immediately got up a quail. As it flushed, I swung very naturally onto him and shot him when the lead was perfect. Well, why not. I was good shot
with my little gun. And I thought, that certainly makes the walk a pleasure. As I walked up to gather the bird, I got up a pair. I neatly shot one as the two crossed to my right, but my little gun ran into a cedar tree when I tried to swing onto the other. Nevertheless, I twisted quickly and tried to bend my body around the tree. No luck.
Well, two birds in three shots was good shooting, highly satisfactory, a real pleasure. And they would make a meal for my wife and me ... if I got two more birds.
I walked towards where the escapee had flown and suddenly got up another bird, or maybe the same one. In any event, he took off down hill and was going for glory when I popped him with a load of 8 1/2s from the little gun. Now things really did look a little like a meal for two. Feeling quite satisfied, I wended my way across the hill top and caught another bird on the rise.
Wow, I never did that well, even with a dog. Five shots and four birds and my only miss caused by a tree bumping into my gun. Golly, what would the wife think of that.
I leisurely crossed the hill top to my right and approached a big blackberry patch. Although the berries were long gone, I sometimes saw bear tracks around it and thought I would just skirt around it and see what sign might be there. The berry patch was big, a quarter acre or more, but about twice as long as it was wide.
As I walked up to it, two more quail took off, a left and right pair. I took the left bird first and then shot the right one, two clean shots, two dead birds.
However, I was a nearly automatic pumper on the little shotgun, and when I slammed it shut after the second shot, it doubled. Perhaps I held the trigger back a little, or maybe the sear was dirty. This made the little gun "fan" or "double" occasionally. Well, I would have to disassemble the little gun and clean out all the accumulated powder (Hercules 2400) inside the gun and especially the sear notch.
Still I had enough birds for a supper and maybe even one left over. Wouldn't that be great!
I circled around to my right and followed the fence line around another part of the pasture on my way home. As I did so, I had woods to my left and pasture in front of me and the house a quarter mile distant. It was one of my favorite places. There were several springs in the hillside and they led down to a growing stream which made a nice little creek in front of the old house. The ground was a little boggy up near the springs and I had often found woodcock sign in the area in season.
This time, I found another quail. He got up, and I shot him, and that was that.
I had taken a thirty minute walk behind the house, fired nine shells, and bagged seven quail. I would have been happy, even if I hadn't had the excuse that two of the shots fired were not misses, but mistakes and happenstance. The tree stopped my swing on one and the other was a result of a trifling malfunction of my gun. Wow, who ever had a better day than that?
I walked home in the gathering dusk content with all the world and my place in it. At that moment, I would not have traded places with the president of the United States. (Nor would I trade places with him now, either.)