I grew up on a single-barrel shotgun. I don't claim to be the only one, but I am among those ranks.
In my neck of the woods, kids usually graduated from a BB gun to a .22 rifle (open sights) and then to some form of shotgun, usually a single-shot model. We shot squirrels and sitting rabbits and whatever else we needed to with the rifle, but when we moved on to running rabbits, grouse and crows buzzing the cornfield, we needed a shotgun.
No doubt there were a lot of different brands of single-barrel shotguns around that you could hand a kid back then. It might have been a Harrington & Richardson 12-gauge that kicked like a rented mule or just as likely an Iver Johnson, (named for its Norwegian-born founder), and in my part of the world it was usually called an "Ivy Johnson." Both of these were perfectly serviceable firearms that went boom when they were supposed to, which is all these simple weapons needed to do.
In my family, however, we were staunch followers of the Winchester Model 37 single-barrel shotgun.
Winchester made the Model 37 from 1936 to 1963, with more than a million sold. There were two basic models of the 37, the standard and the Boy's Model, which was first offered in 1958. The shotgun was made in 12, 16, 20, and 28 gauge as well as a .410. (The .410 was my first Model 37 and, boy, do I wish I still had it.) I always thought that Winchester making this shotgun in 28 gauge showed a certain sense of style, something a gun company would almost surely not do today.
A couple of interesting things about Model 37 history: The shotgun in its entire production run had no serial numbers or date of manufacture stamped on the guns, and there are no records of yearly production for these shotguns. Until 1948, these guns were produced with red enamel paint in the stamped lettering, and these became known as "red letter" Model 37s. Another fun fact that always fascinated me is that during World War II, some National Guard units were issued Winchester Model 37 shotguns.
The Model 37 single-barrel shotgun was perfect for a kid to carry, as far as safety concerns go, because it had break action, with a cocking hammer but no other buttons or actions to worry about. When starting out with the new hunter, the careful parent could have the kid walking around without any shells and could dispense ammo to the little hunter when the opportunity arose. In this way, Dad did not have to worry about accidental discharges or his little buddy shooting in the wrong direction.
Some of you old shotgunners are way ahead of me here, but the single-barrel shotgun and doling out ammo to the shooter in a stingy manner also does something else: It teaches the shooter to be careful, take your time, don't shoot too quickly and make every shot count. Now boys and girls, these are basic principles that all hunters and shooters need to be taught. A young shooter (or an older new shooter) is much less likely to learn these things if we start them out on a pump gun or semiautomatic; it's just human nature. If the ammo is there in the gun, we will just keep shooting until we are out, we hit the target or we don't.
Winchester doesn't make the Model 37 anymore (more is the pity), but there a few single-barrel shotguns around.
I ran into one not long ago in the form of the Stevens 301, from Savage Arms. This break-action shotgun has a black matte finish and synthetic stock and forearm, an exposed hammer for cocking and a safety. This stock is going to take most anything you and your kids can dish out. The shotgun comes in two configurations: standard (26-inch barrel) and compact (22-inch). The compact has a reduced length of pull as well, which is important for kids, ladies and other shooters of smaller stature.
Another option here for an inexpensive .410 with the young shooter in mind (or Dad if he wants to use a .410 with TSS loads for turkeys) is the Rossi Tuffy line of shotguns. The Rossi Tuffy .410 comes in two models: an 18 1/2-inch barrel with cylinder choke and a 26-inch model with screw-in chokes. It is a great little gun for the kids (and Dad) to hunt with, and it would also make a good "truck" gun.
Right about here is where the internet experts usually start preaching to me about light shotguns, synthetic stocks and what a pounding the young shooter will take if you shoot heavy loads in this gun.
Well, here is an idea for you: Who said you had to start your kids or any new shooter with heavy loads? Is it really necessary to shoot magnum turkey loads on clay targets, pop cans or the odd rabbit or squirrel?
No, I don't think so. In fact, when dealing with young or tender shooters, I don't think it is ever necessary to load up with nuclear shotgun shells. Light field loads may be all you need. Aguila Ammunition makes a really cool half-size round (1 3/4 inch) called the MiniShell, perfect for kids and timid shooters.
If only for old times' sake, it would be nice to see more young hunters out there with a single-shot shotgun. The sight of a kid with one of these guns in the squirrel woods or trailing behind a couple beagles in a briar patch can take you back to a time when things were a whole lot simpler.
"Guns & Cornbread" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at email@example.com.