I got my first shotgun for Christmas when I was ten years old, a J.C. Higgins single barrel shotgun. After learning the safety rules and some practice shooting, my first hunting experience was with Uncle Jim. Technically he wasn’t my uncle, but great-uncle, on my mother’s side. Uncle Jim was in the Air Force in 1963 and they were home on leave from Germany that Christmas. Two days later we went to another family member’s farm to hunt. We woke up the first morning to about one foot of snow on the ground, unusual for Alabama. So all we had to do was hunt. The gun he carried that trip was a Winchester Model 42 .410. That is the gun I have. During that trip I saw him shoot rabbits and squirrels with it.
But that wasn’t the only time we hunted together. When he retired a few years later they moved back to the area and he became my hunting mentor. Uncle Jim was a small game hunter. He not only enjoyed it, but also did it for the meat. He had other guns he used for quail and dove, a 12 and 20 gauge, but the Model 42 was his “go to” gun to put meat on the table. We spent many a morning hunting oak woods for squirrel and field edges for rabbit and that .410 was deadly in his hands.
My favorite story to illustrate that occurred when we were hunting the oak bottom behind his house for squirrel. He had a little feist dog Sarah who hunted with us. We were approaching some undergrowth and Sarah starting yipping. Uncle Jim said, “I’ve never heard her do that. Go around the other side.” A few seconds later my young ears heard an unusual flapping sound, the bark of the little .410 and a thud as something hit the ground. Uncle Jim was big and had a deep guttural laugh. He laughed and said, “Come here boy.” There on the ground laid a turkey. He killed a turkey on the fly with a .410 shotgun! I don’t even know if it was legal in 1967. It was dead and we ate it. Many more hours in the woods and fields with Uncle Jim followed. I don’t remember hunting with anyone other than him until I went to college.
After college I went into the Army, we didn’t get to hunt together much, an occasional dove shoot, and time passed. Then in 1985 we returned from Korea at Christmas and went to visit Uncle Jim and Aunt Louise. He had aged and was no longer able to hunt. I’m guessing the gun had similar meaning to him as it does to me. He called me down to the basement where he kept all of his hunting gear and guns and said, “Don, I don’t hunt any more. I want you to have this gun.” He handed me the Model 42. By this time the bluing was worn and the stock showed its age.
When I got to Fort Bragg a friend hooked me up with a local gunsmith who spent meticulous time restoring it as closely as he could to original condition. A couple of years later my mother called to tell me they had found Uncle Jim dead in his recliner looking out on that same oak bottom we hunted. I like to imagine he was thinking of our hunting there when he passed. I’ve not shot the gun much since then; an occasional clay target and maybe take it out for squirrel once or twice a year. That’s why I had it on the New Hampshire trip. Every time I heft its weight and slide shells into the magazine I see Uncle Jim looking up into an oak tree on a cold November morning and here that deep laugh at a young boy stretching his hunting wings. I hope you have a gun that gives you that same feeling.