I did it again!
Less than two months ago, after my friend Dave Rooney of Saratoga Springs “forced” me into buying a 20-gauge Browning BPS slug gun, I bought yet another shotgun.
It was all quite accidental. I stopped into Hart’s Trading Post in Ballston Spa to talk fishing. As always, I check out Bill’s gun racks for something I don’t need and noticed a single-shot shotgun. Its design, a bit different than most single shots, attracted me. and unfortunately, when I picked it up and shouldered it, I knew I was in trouble because it felt good.
It was obviously well-cared for, in excellent shape, and imprinted on the barrel was: “Winchester Repeating Arms, New Haven, Conn., Model 37 STEELBELT 410 3 IN–full choke.” What it didn’t have was a serial number. The “Blue Book of Gun Values,” said it was manufactured between 1936 and 1963, but without a serial number, it would be hard to tell its actual age.
What are the chances the previous owner of this gun would walk into the shop while I was holding it? His name is Henry Wacksman of Ballston Spa, and he had the answers to all my questions. According to Henry, the gun was originally ordered from Winchester by his cousin, Earl Matral Kreuzer of Morehouseville, in 1941, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor when Winchester was in the process of changing over to making military weapons. Matral was lucky to get one of the last they had.
Hearing that, I knew I’d be leaving with the little .410. It would be nice to own a gun that’s older than me. That, coupled with the fact it would make a good story, would be all I would need as a “reason” to bring it home.
According to Henry, Earl started his guiding career when he was 10 as a guide’s helper, then later went on his own. He was also a trapper and carried this gun when he walked his trap line. At one time, his trap line was 50 miles long, and quite often, he slept out at night, wrapping himself and the Winchester in a World War I officer’s blanket.
But there was another surprise I never would have found if Henry hadn’t walked in that afternoon. He told me that underneath the butt plate of the shotgun, Earl had put one of his copper trapping tags with his full name and address impressed on it. Being wrapped in an oiled cloth, it was still in excellent condition. This tag is now safely tucked away in my gun cabinet.
Two days later, I was at the range with a handful of three-inch Federal .410 No. 7.5 shot to see how well the gun patterned. This load sends 241 pellets out at about 1,135 feet per second — an excellent rabbit, squirrel or bird load. I stepped off about 15 yards for my first shot and was quite pleased with the number of pellets in the 12-inch circle on the cardboard, more than enough to down any of my intended targets. The second shot, at 20 yards, was equally sufficient, and I knew then that within the next few days, “we” would be in the woods. In the back of my mind, I had some thoughts of trying some of Federal’s three-inch No. 6 shot and throwing 117 pellets at a fall turkey. I plan to try that later this month.
Several days later, the Winchester and I did a little turkey and deer scouting in the Northern Zone on a farm I’ve had permission to hunt for quite some time. One of the reasons I picked this spot was because almost every year I went there, I saw grouse, the season for which opened the day before. I knew there were always squirrels and crows around because of the crop fields that surrounded the woods.
It was crisp the morning I entered the woods and quietly went right to where I’d shot a tom in May, but as the sun came up, I didn’t hear any fly-downs, so I decided to make a few calls. Surprisingly, within 15 minutes, I heard what turned out to be a hen coming in from the field. She was about 70 yards out when I saw her as she looked for the other hen, me, and then disappeared. I sat there for about a half-hour, then moved in the opposite direction from which she had come.
My next setup was on the edge of a freshly cut corn field, where I saw several crows and about a dozen geese feeding. The early goose season was still open, but I didn’t have any steel shot for the .410, and I really wouldn’t shoot geese with this little gun unless they were at the end of the barrel. The crows were legal, but they never offered me a good shot and they all quickly left when I shot a gray squirrel running the edge of the field at just under 20 yards.
Just before leaving, I decided to look at the area I’d flushed several grouse from while spring turkey hunting, but didn’t see or hear anything. Standing at the edge of the field, I watched a small flock of geese set their wings, glide in and land. While watching the geese, I caught a glimpse of movement to my left, near a brush pile. This, I thought, would be my second squirrel, and I readied myself for the shot when and if it appeared. But it didn’t. I knew it had to be there, so I whistled loudly and a head popped up, but it wasn’t a squirrel, it was a grouse. It broke cover on the fly as I shouldered the gun. I got lucky — 1-for-1 this season, so I guess I can say I shot every grouse I saw this season — for now.