William W. (Bill) Gabbard
As the bird flushed and the old single-barrel shotgun roared, I shouted, “At least the feathers flew!” My Dad dryly responded, “Yep but they all flew in one direction.” My brother roared with laughter and still does today when the incident is brought up. A follow-up shot was out of the question as I got my pocket knife and dug out the spent hull out of the ancient shotgun with the broken extractor. But then again, follow-up shots were usually out of the question when hunting with a single-barrel.
Most of us grew up using single-barrel shotguns and learned the importance of a good first shot the hard way. As time passed, I moved on to double barrels, pumps and semi-autos, but the allure of the single-barrel still has me looking through them any time I am around a gun store. A .410 single was the starting point for most young shotgunners and is probably where most should start today! The light weight and light recoil were the primary reason that most of us were started on these shotguns. We soon learned that if we could make clean kills with the .410, then kills with a 20, 16 or 12 seemed easy.
Savage/Stevens has brought a shotgun to market that is going to create some interest on several fronts - the new Stevens 301 Turkey. Your first thought is probably, “What are they thinking? A .410 for turkey?” But on second thought with a 26-inch barrel, extra full extended screw-in choke, removable rail for optics, bead sight compatible with TruGlo sights, 3-inch chamber finished in Mossy Oak Bottomland or Obsession and paired up with Federal Premium’s new HEAVYWEIGHT TSS turkey loads, they might be on to something!
The little shotgun went together with ease and operated smoothly. A couple of changes from the breakdown shotguns I used as a youth were the addition of the pushbutton release for the forearm and the safety. The pushbutton release should solve the problem that I had on some of the (let’s put it kindly) well-worn shotguns I used - the occasional accidental takedown. The addition of the safety is definitely a plus, especially if younger hunters will be using the shotgun.
Let’s see how it performs. I probably made my first mistake by removing the optics rail and attempting to use only the bead front sight. I should have either attached an optic or a set of TruGlo sights. I simply used the front bead and “gave it a shot.” The results using a couple of different .410 shotshells were about as I expected until I tried Federal Premium’s new HEAVYWEIGHT TSS. At this point I began to realize why folks are talking about using a .410 for turkey. This combination put an impressive number of pellets in the kill zone at 20, 30, and even 40 yards! Beyond 40 yards, consistency became an issue when using only the front bead. At 40 yards there is no doubt that the little Stevens is a “Stone Cold Killer” when paired with the TSS. The addition of good optics or a good set of sights would only make it better.
There are numerous reasons to give the Stevens 301/Federal Premium HEAVYWEIGHT TSS combination a try. If you are interested in returning to your roots and hunting with a single-shot .410 like you did as a youth, this is the ticket. Another reason could be that you aren’t as young as you once were but relish the thought of carrying a lightweight shotgun that doesn’t kill at the back end but does great at the front end. Some folks might just want the challenge of hunting with the .410.
I sincerely expect that many of these little shotguns will end up in the hands of young folks going after their first turkey. If they all perform like my test model, I suspect that there will be a lot of satisfied hunters!