By Dave Workman
Perhaps it was nostalgia—reinforced with no small amount of laziness—that led this writer to get his greasy little paws on a side-by-side Stoeger Uplander shotgun chambered in .410.
Many years ago, a junior high school pal of mine had a .410 S/S shotgun with which he learned to hunt upland birds and small game, and that little beauty grabbed my heartstrings and never let go. I only saw it once, but it’s like your first girlfriend: You never forget.
Leap ahead more than four decades and fate finds me cruising different gun-company websites on a research project and spotting
Stoeger’s lineup of double-barrel Uplander shotguns. There, to my delight and amazement, was an image of this cute little double in .410 bore.
MAKE MINE A DOUBLE
In the interest of full disclosure, I happen to prefer S/S double barrel shotguns and I own two: a handsome 12-gauge Beretta with deeply blued barrels and a roll-engraved nickel receiver with a straight grip Monte Carlo stock, and a 20-gauge Uplander model. Both guns have fixed chokes in full/modified configuration, and both are chambered for 3-inch shells. They are proven grouse killers, and I have shot more pheasants with the 12-gauge than I can remember.
Yet, always back there in the shadows of my memory was that little .410, a gun that seemed so practical to “just have” for pleasant afternoon walks in early autumn, or maybe later in the winter when cottontails are plump and tasty over the coals of an open fire.
Over the years, I’ve snooped around gun shows and gun shops, finding a .410 double here and there but the sellers were asking so much for them that budgetary constraints and self control simply got the better of me.
Not everyone can shoot a side-by-side as well as a stack-barrel or a pump or semi-auto. It takes getting used to. The guy from whom I acquired my 20-gauge had tried it out on a clays range and couldn’t hit anything, even though he had a history of waterfowl shooting and a pretty good record. But he did all of that hunting with a pump or self-loader, with one barrel, and he didn’t quite understand that S/S shotguns are regulated so that the pattern will be “on” at a certain distance, say 25 or 40 yards. His loss; my gain.
Not that I’m a sizzler with a shotgun, but I can do OK working a patch of timber for grouse or crossing a cornfield looking for ringnecks. I’ve also shot chukar with a side-by-side and managed to put several in the bag over the years.
A few months ago, I was chatting with a fellow at a gun show who was offering for sale an older Lefever .410 for the princely sum of $1,200 or thereabouts. After I recovered consciousness and got up off the floor, it occurred to me there must be something more affordable, and then I spotted the Stoeger.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND
The .410 bore is the smallest of shotguns, and it is not a .410 gauge. This shotshell is actually a true .410, measuring .410-inch in diameter, although it is commonly paired in guns from Thompson/Center and now Taurus and Rossi with the .45 Colt cartridge.
Quite possibly the most practical grouse gun ever made for meat hunters was an old Harrington & Richardson .410 pistol called the Handy Gun. But it was outlawed, or at least restricted, by the 1934 Federal Firearms Act because some damned fools in Congress must have thought this little gem was a sawed-off shotgun used by criminals. Never underestimate the stupidity of people on Capitol Hill.
ALL THE RIGHT FEATURES
Stoeger’s Uplander is not exactly a classic, but it does have some classic touches. First and foremost, my test gun came with double triggers and fixed full chokes in both barrels, which measure 26 inches. It has a single brass bead front sight and a handsome dark walnut finish on a checkered American walnut stock. There is no recoil pad, which makes perfect sense because even when stoked with 3-inch shells, recoil is virtually unnoticed even after repeated shooting.
Takedown is exactly the same as on my 20-gauge gun. There’s a small lever on the forearm that may be gently pressed, allowing the forearm to be pulled away from the underside of the barrels. Then it is simply a matter of pressing the break-open lever, and the barrels come free from the receiver.
My field-grade test gun was delightful, with a deep blue finish on the barrels and receiver. It is fitted with extractors rather than ejectors, so fired shells are gently pulled out of the chamber. The right (front) trigger controls the right barrel, and the left touches off the left barrel. The top tang safety automatically engages when the barrels are opened.
Wood-to-metal fit was not perfect, but certainly good enough for a modestly-priced S/S smoothbore, especially one in .410, which is not all that common these days, and the older models, as noted previously, fetch phenomenal prices, depending upon their condition.
Weighing 7 pounds, which may seem a bit heavy for a shotgun, it sure didn’t seem heavy after packing it for a couple of miles across central Washington Cascade ridge tops. That’s the lightest 7-pound scattergun I’ve ever carried, and it comes up fast and swings quickly.
SMALL BORE, BIG ATTITUDE
I rounded up a selection of shells from Federal and pulled a couple of boxes of 2Â½-inch shells from Nobel, and even found a half box of Winchester AA No. 8Â½ loads for clay targets to run this shotgun through its paces. Without a doubt, anybody using a .410 for big blue grouse or even Pacific Northwest ruffed grouse would go with the 3 inchers, and those Federals in No. 6 or 7Â½ would be my first choice. If the game is doves or quail, the 2Â½ inchers should work quite well provided nobody tries to over-reach with this gun.
It is probably because of the small shot charge that both barrels on the .410 model have full chokes. That will reach out a bit and bring down birds with a reasonably dense pattern at reasonable ranges. I rarely allow a flushed bird to get out there beyond 20 to 25 yards, and the farthest I think I ever hit a bird was on a straightaway shot at a fleeing ringneck some years ago. One can argue that within 15 to 20 yards, that pheasant up against the right .410 loads—say a No. 5—would be in the cooler.
A lot of people might balk at the thought of hunting with a .410 shotgun, but what do they say about someone hunting with a 28-gauge? In my book, there’s not much of a difference because both use very small-bore shells and require the shooter to really be on his game. After all, you’re putting out less than a 1-ounce shot charge—whether steel or lead—and that column doesn’t stretch very far, nor does it throw a dense pattern.
NOT JUST FOR BIRDS
The Uplander is certainly worth what you pay for it, which is a lot less than somebody’s heirloom, and maybe it’s a little tougher. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price is certainly reasonable for a dependable S/S shotgun, and with a little shopping around, you might find some pretty good bargains.
I can see the .410 Uplander as a perfect shotgun for winter rabbit hunting. The cottontail and snowshoe hare are thin-skinned critters, and it does not take a lot of lead to put them in the bag. Within 20 yards or so, a .410 will put a permanent hurt on them, and the advantage of the .410 is that you can pack a lot of shells without feeling like you’re packing a lot of shells.
At the end of the day, if you have used up those shells, it hasn’t cost a fortune and you typically have game in the bag. The Uplander in .410 is a keeper.
STOEGER UPLANDER IN .410
|Barrel Length||26 inches|
|Overall Length||42 inches|
|Stock||A-grade satin walnut|