By Marshall Williams.


The Order had done a round of sporting clays, always a humbling experience, especially the rabbits and teal.  Now the members were seated at the round table finishing up a second cup of ALOOF coffee, licking their wounds, and enjoying one another’s company. 


Among the litter on the round table was a new Winchester catalog and the Major picked it and started thumbing through it.  This was a time-honored pastime among the members and no one would have considered him rude for ignoring the other conversation of the other members.  Besides, he had turned off his hearing aids to shoot and had not bothered to turn them on again.  No one wanted to talk to him in that condition.


Suddenly, the Major said, “Hey, Winchester has a new lever action model 94 and it says it’s chambered for the .410 shot shell.  Now there’s a neat original idea.”


Topper was just sitting down with the last cup from the coffee pot.  It looked more like warmed over dregs than coffee, it was dark s midnight and tasted a little grainy towards the bottom of the cup, but the Order seemed to like it that way.  Topper looked at the ad and said, “It’s a fairly original idea.  I don’t think it has been tried more than a couple of times by the other big name makers of lever action rifles.” He stopped and thought a second and added, “Unless you count some odds and ends.”

Topper now noticed the blank but expectant look on the Major’s face.  Recognizing the problem, Topper motioned the Major to turn on his hearing aids.  He did so and Topper repeated his observation.


The Major respected Topper’s collector’s knowledge and sought answers. “I never heard of a lever action .410.  Who ever did it?  And when?’

Topper said, “I think it was in the 1920s.  Both Savage and Marlin offered lever action .410s.  Savage offered a special take down version of their famous Model 99 with a rifle barrel chambered for the .30-30 or the .303 Savage with an extra interchangeable barrel for the .410.  Of course it wasn’t a repeater and it was a convertible rather than a dedicated shotgun.  Marlin’s gun was a genuine .410 repeater made on a variation of the Model 1893, the predecessor of the popular Model 36.  That was a predecessor of the 336.  It was not a great seller and the company gave them as premiums to anybody who bought four shares of stock in the company. I would say both are pretty collectible.”  

The Major was intrigued.  “What about the odds and ends?”

 “Oh, I would put the smoothbore Winchester Model 73s and 92s in the same category.  The .44 shot cartridge was the predecessor of the .410.  In the 60s and 70s, Ithaca made a lever action single barrel gun.  I don’t guess that one counts.  There might even be some other obscure ones.” 

These were obscure enough to suit the Major, and he said so. 

The Judge mentioned that he had seen an actual Model 94 converted to .410, then added.  “The owner said it was done in Japan where it was used to shoot deer.  Apparently  they could not have rifles.”

Feeling adequately edified, The Major returned to the ad and announced, “Hey the ad says it has a cylinder bore and throws a pattern at 25 yards that is just like a full choke pattern.  Perfect for rabbits at 25 yards”

Sunny chimed it with becoming modesty and observed “Can’t no cylinder bore shotgun shoot no 70% full choke pattern.  No way! No how!  No time!  Somebody ought to bring a truth-in-advertising suit.”

The Judge’s interest was piqued at this point.  Indeed, anything touching on patterns in general and .410s in particular was likely to get his rapt attention.  He said, “Lemme see that ad.”

He perused it and pontificated, “Sunny, you ought to get Grundoon to parse this language for you before you sue ‘em.  I admit it does look like it was written by a lawyer who had his facts straight, but thought his case was weak.  I think what the ad says is that the cylinder bore shoots a 70% pattern at 25 yards, comparable in pattern density to a full choke pattern at 40 yards.  If that is what they say, then I agree, a cylinder should throw a 25 yard pattern that looks like a 40 yard pattern from a full choke.  That ought to do OK for rabbits at the closer range.  Or Skeet.” 

As the Judge actually had experience shooting rabbits with a .410, Sunny accepted his word as gospel, but he could not square things.  “Judge, the 2 ˝ inch .410 holds only a half ounce of shot.  It ain’t possible that it could it be as good on rabbits as a big gun with a full choke at 40 yards? I mean 70% of an ounce of shot is a lot more than 70% of a half ounce of shot.  Probably twice as much.  It seems to me it ought to be twice as many BBs in the 40 yard pattern.”

The Judge eyed Sunny the way a heavy weight boxer eyes a fly weight. “Sunny, you are absolutely right, but tell me, what size shot do you use on rabbits at 40 yards?” 

Sunny felt he might have set himself up, but he plowed ahead anyway,  “Sixes, of course.  What else?”

The Judge asked, “And how many 6s are there in an ounce?” 

“I dunno.” Sunny replied.  “What’s your book say?” 

The Judge did not need to look in his book but promptly replied, “Sunny, there are 225 number six shot in an ounce.  More or less.  But at 25 yards, you could use smaller shot and get the same pattern density.  There is no exact fit, but a half ounce of 8s has about 205 pellets and a half ounce of 8 1/2s has about 240 pellets.  That brackets the 6s.”

Sunny was an experienced hunter and said, with some feeling, “But Judge, 8s don’t hit as hard as 6s.”

The Judge said “Sunny, 8s at 40 yards don’t hit like 6s at 40 yards, but number 8s at 25 yards ought to about equal 6s at 40 yards. The shot is going faster and has more killing power.  In fact, there have been a couple of scientific studies of the subject which pin it down pretty exactly, but in my experience, 8s hit as hard at 25 yards as 6s hit a 40 yards.  If you used a half ounce of 8s in a cylinder bored .410 at 25 yards and an ounce of 6s in a full choke at 40 yards, I bet the average bunny could not tell the difference.”

Then the Judge thought about the day’s outing and added.  “I would point out that if you shot bunnies the way you shot the rabbit targets at the sporting clays range, at 25 yards, you would miss them by only 5/8 as much as you miss them at 40 yards.”

Sunny muttered, “Don’t give the old fart any more coffee; he’s got a mean streak in him.”  Everyone chuckled when he said it.

The Major had been quietly cogitating during this phase of the conversation but then got back into things with the observation, “You know, there are not too many .410 repeaters around, especially with a cylinder choke.  Maybe the Model 94 would work as a Skeet gun.  What do you think Judge, could you work the action fast enough to shoot doubles?”

The Judge responded, “Some people can work a lever action might’ nearly as fast as a pump.  Herb Parsons showed how to work a Model 94 in ‘Showman Shooter.’  It might be fun to try for a round of Skeet, but I don’t think it will be a serious Skeet gun.  For one thing, it has rifle sights.  Of course, that might help some people.  I don’t think it will be a great choice for a .410 hunting gun either.  It only handles the short 2 ˝ inch shell; the three inch shell makes a better hunting gun.   However, it’s not aimed at those markets.  Instead, it fits right in with cowboy action shooting crowd.  They can pretend to be Buffalo Bill using his old Model 73 to shoot glass balls from the back of a galloping horse.  Or maybe just standing still.  The crowd would not need to know the gun is a smooth-bore and the shells full of shot.”

The Judge’s mention of pumps caused Topper to think about the Judge’s favorite .410, a delicate little Winchester Model 42 Skeet gun with straight grip and ‘rat tail’ fore end.  Topper liked the little gun and thought he would dangle a lure. “Say, Judge, do you think you will trade off your little .410 pump for a Model 94 in .410?” 

The Judge hesitated not so much as a nanosecond, and shot back, “Nope, not for a hundred of them.”



Reprinted curtesy of Shotgun Sports Magazine, P.O. Box 6810, Auburn, CA 95604.