The 410!

By: Manley L. Rusho

Volume 19, Issue 4, April 2024

Grindstone Island Circa 1940-41

My first look at the 410 was as it sat on the seat of the 20-foot wooden Cupernall boat that my father drove to and from work on Round Island. The gun was loosely wrapped with brown paper; he handed it to me and said, “Look at this.” There in my hands was a gun like I had never seen before – brand new and so shiny, totally unblemished. I could not speak, except a “wow!” Oh, how I clung to that gun as we walked up the hill to the farmhouse. At the house, I finally relaxed enough to take a good look at my new treasure – a single barrel 410 Winchester shotgun. As I ate my supper that night, the 410 was a distraction as it sat propped up in the corner of the dining room, in full sight. After supper, I began a closer inspection of the new gun. The stock was welded to the barrel, so close that there was no gap, and a screw in the stock tightened the barrel. I finally got the nerve to lift the bolt and slide it to the rear and back again.

I was too excited to sleep that night. I got up several times to carefully check on the gun and would look it over each time. My dreams about the Winchester were very vivid each night – in them, I would fight off bands of wolves, wild hogs, tigers, elephants, and wild native armies. The world was now mine and there was no end in sight for me with my little Winchester by my side. I kept the gun wiped as clean a whistle and as time went on, the desire to take it outside for some real action was getting stronger.

On the first day of October, the season began for small bird hunting. My father worked for the Digel Family of Round Island, and they sent about a dozen people to Grindstone to hunt quail and pheasant. I wanted to go with them so badly. I was desperate to join in with all those men with guns and their trained hunting dogs. Within minutes, they were gone, and I was not allowed to join them.

Manley Rusho with his 410!

There were two days of hunting; most of the men were older gentlemen who were not used to hiking. The only role that I could possibly play on this team was retriever, but I was not even allowed to play that part in the game. Soon the duck hunting season was opened and once again, about a dozen hunters arrived at our place with their guns, dogs, and fancy rain gear. Because of my youthful age, the only role my father allowed me to play was cleaning the dead birds. Two days of hunting brought over one hundred ducks for me to pluck the feathers from and clean. After they were cleaned, the birds were packed in ice and shipped to Digel’s home in Pennsylvania.

Hunting season had come and gone. My new gun remained standing in the corner of the dining room, no hunting had been allowed that year for me. Only in school could I brag – even though many of my schoolmates had bigger guns, I told them my Winchester could shoot further than their guns.

October came around again and went; the weather was wet and windy. One gloomy afternoon, I was still thinking about my Winchester, and nothing could brighten my mood. My father told me to get my gun because there was hunting to do. I ran fast to the house and returned with the Winchester. My father told me to cut out the shape of a duck from a piece of cardboard. He then produced two boxes of shotgun shells, which were a hot commodity at this time during the war. The shells were Super X, not just standard shells but Super X. We moved to the west side of the farmhouse.

Dad gave me further instructions to use tacks to fasten the cardboard duck to the upright wooden part of the unused garden cultivator. I stood anxiously waiting for my dad to load the gun and hand it to me. All I had to do was pull the hammer back, aim at the cardboard duck and pull the trigger, but I was scared since I had only fired my gun in my dreams. Nothing could have prepared me for the recoil. BANG!

I dropped the gun, and my dad quickly grabbed it before it hit the ground. In a flash, I learned a lesson – to never play with a gun. I quickly recovered, my father said nothing about the dropping of the gun, he only said to check the duck target. Much to my disappointment, there was not one single pellet in the cardboard duck.

Once more, I grasped the gun tightly, pulled back the bolt and the empty cartridge fell to the ground. I then inserted a new shell, pulled back the bolt, aimed at the target, and pulled back on the trigger. The recoil was sharp again and I repeated the process six more times. After that failed sixth shot, dad said, “Now let’s work on your aim.”

On the ground in front of me he drew a picture of the shotgun, explaining the rear sight with a rather large U and at the end of the barrel was a brass knob. He told me to aim so that my target fills the rear U. No more just firing away. Now, I was going to shoot using the sights. I grabbed the gun, loaded it, and aimed as my father told me to and actually hit the duck! When I checked my target, there were 6 or 7 holes in the cardboard!

Without shooting, I practiced over and over aiming and when I did shoot the cardboard duck, I practically blew the head off! I knew now that I was ready to hunt and that night, my little gun got an extra good cleaning. But, as things would happen, school and farm life got in the way of hunting, although I continued to practice aiming my gun every night.

I knew very little about my father’s life before he was married, but I knew he loved to duck hunt. He grew up on the family farm on Grindstone Island and worked with his father on the family farm business. His father, Manley A. Rusho was quite an entrepreneur; he owned a milk business among other farming-related businesses. So, my father would have spent most of his time on the farm with cows. There were four men on Grindstone Island who were very close to my father: Ben Calhoun, Louie Calhoun, Freeman Rusho, and Ernest McFadden. These all were men to know if you wanted a wild bird for a special occasion or wanted to hunt or fish. Sadly, a hunting accident took the life of Ernest McFadden many years ago, however, the incident did not dampen my father’s love of duck hunting.

Finally, the day to hunt arrived for me. It was a Saturday; we ate early and walked to the empty, deserted marsh. I remember the marsh grass was mostly dead or dying. The west wind blew hard, making the water rise. Quietly, we walked along and then my father stopped, sat down, and lit a cigarette. While we sat, we talked in muted voices, and it seemed like a long day to me.

We found a small forgotten wooden sailboat in the marsh with only the bow above water, which we used as a duck blind. From this vantage point, we could see most of the pond. Dad told me to load my gun and have extra shells out and ready. I was so nervous, and my heart was thumping out of my chest. I felt like a grown up, finally hunting with my own gun. Suddenly, a lone duck splashed into the pond, making more noise than an airplane. My father quietly said, “Take him.” This was my moment, as the bird continued to swim around quacking loudly. I lined up my sight on the gun and pulled the trigger. I never felt the recoil this time, but the fowl was dead, and my nose was bleeding because I held the gun too close. Nevertheless, I had killed my first duck!

I cut a couple of sticks like slingshots with longer handle shoved into the mud and the dead duck became a nice decoy. I now took time to look around and to see where we were. Under my feet was the reminder of one of Louie Calhoun’s trapping boats. The bottom coat of lead paint was red, which was Louie’s trademark. The “shelf” that I had used to sit my shells on was a piece of cedar from the boat.

Dad left me alone as he went off to scout the various bog holes that covered the old Potter farm. The wind had increased and there were more ducks flying and in different directions. A few singles and some large flocks; my mind was adrift as two of the large black ducks landed near my decoy. The pair settled down, my gun was loaded and cocked, so I waited until both settled and their heads came together. Then with one shot, I got both. I waded into the pond to retrieve and set the two dead ducks as additional decoys. The scene was perfect in my mind. I returned to my blind and now the wind was blowing even harder, and the marsh was active with nature. A large flock of ducks were now flying extremely high, a few crows were on the ground around my feet, a marsh wren was looking for seeds or bugs. A marsh hawk was walking towards me, and a muskrat was putting a final coat of wet mud from the pond bottom on top of his house. This was a huge muskrat house; it was at least four feet high above the water level of the pond. The strong wind broke loose a summer squirrel nest, and it dropped into the field. Milkweed seeds and marsh pods filled the air. I was daydreaming again when a small group of teal ducks landed, took off for the brush pile, and then a big black landed, but I was not ready, so I had to scramble quickly, to get a shot off. I hit the bird as he was swimming away, so now, I had four ducks!

I stood up and there was my dad on the other side of the marsh, waving to let me know it was time to go home. Excitedly, I retrieved my four ducks and walked out with my wading pole in my left hand and my faithful shotgun in my right hand. As I proudly walked along the side of the marsh looking for dry ground, a muskrat surfaced near me, startling me. I fell face-first and accidentally shoved my gun into the blue mud, barrel-first. I pulled my gun out of the wet mud and crawled towards the dry ground. When I looked at my poor gun, it was encased with blue mud and thick clay. I pulled off my boots and emptied them of water and wrung out my wet, muddy socks. I put my socks and boots back on and headed for home. The four ducks were held together at their feet by a wire that I found in the old boat, and they were getting very heavy as I walked back home. My father was waiting for me at the fence and by the time we reached Boneyard Hill, he offered to help me carry the ducks. I accepted his offer and was sad, knowing that my gun was probably ruined.

I stopped at our barn and tried a little water on my gun, but the blue clay would not yield. Onward to the farmhouse. What a mess I must have looked coming up to the house, bloodied nose, covered in mud. Mom took one look and knew a trick or two about cleaning things up, including my gun. She used hot water and lye soap. It was a miracle, the blue mud vanished after a couple of gentle scrubs. I took the gun completely apart, removed every screw, and with the help of a toothbrush, I scrubbed with more hot water and lye soap. At this point, the wooden stock had no finish left. My father stained the wood again, and it came out darker and more beautiful than the original finish.

Memories from my first day of hunting as a young boy included getting four ducks and many tales to tell. I cleaned up the ducks and then myself, while my mother cooked the partridge that my father had killed that day for our dinner. I slept well that night. Many years later, after I was grown and not living on the island anymore, my mother killed a rabid fox with my shotgun. That was my mother – quite impressive!

I don’t know what happened to that little gun, but it brought so much joy to a 10-year-old boy, and it still lives in my heart some 80 years later.

By Manley L. Rusho

Manley Rusho was born on Grindstone Island nine+ decades ago. Back in 2021, Manley started sharing his memories with TI Life. (Manley Rusho articles) This Editor and his many friends send our very best throughout the year but this month in particular, as Manley will celebrate a special birthday in April (Shhhh) We know Manley has moved and is now in a residence where we are sure his fellow mates are enjoying his stories as much as we do. As always, we thank you sir, most sincerely, for sharing - "as the life and times on Grindstone Island are special and should never be forgotten."

Manley Rusho articles - Enjoy!

[Shhhhhh...  By the way, Manley can be reached by snail mail at: Manley Rusho 3655 W. Lake Mary Blvd. Lake Mary, FL 32746'

Posted in: Volume 19, Issue 4, April 2024, History, People, Places

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