September 20, 2022
By Joseph von Benedikt
Although common—in both the literal and the literary sense—Stevens single-shot, break-action scatterguns are somewhat difficult to research and document. Hundreds of thousands were manufactured under the Stevens name, but none were serialized until the Gun Control Act of 1968 required serial numbers. As a result, it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint when one was made.
The Tenite-stocked Model 94B variant shown here was made sometime between World War I and 1960. Stevens was purchased (after much drama surrounding a failed purchase attempt by New England Westinghouse) by Savage Arms in the spring of 1920. Most postwar guns are marked Savage, as is the one detailed here. Moreover, it’s marked with Savage’s Chicopee Falls address, which Savage left sometime around 1960.
Since the Stevens single shot is a simple, hardworking tool for putting small game in the pot, historical documentation mattered little. Few collectors pay them much mind, and these days, few hunters do, either. It could be said that single-shot field pieces are becoming an abandoned and forgotten breed.
Still, a sleek, simple one-shooter chambered in the mild .410 Bore is near impossible to beat as a youth gun. The 94B shown here weighs just 5.25 pounds, so it’s easy for small hunters to pack in the field. Operation is basic and intuitive, so safe handling is easier, too. With the break-action gun open, it’s immediately clear to all around that it’s in a safe condition. And unlike a semiauto or double-barrel gun, after one shot it’s not immediately ready to fire again with another press on the trigger, which is another safety-enhancing feature for young and inexperienced gunners flustered by the roaring flush of a forest grouse.
Most guns were manufactured in 12, 16, and 20 gauge, but the least common .410 Bore and 28-gauge versions are by far my favorites. Unfortunately, the 28s are especially hard to find.
Most guns of this type are fitted with somewhat clunky wood stocks. However, some of the Stevens single shots featured Tenite stocks. Writer Phil Bourjaily once penned, “Much as I dislike plastic stocks,
I have a soft spot for Tenite, which is a wood cellulose plastic invented in the ’20s and very much a techno-polymer of its time. It was used for eyeglass frames, radios, telephones, and other items, and it’s still in use today. It pains me when people take perfectly good Tenite stocks off old guns and replace them with wood in a misguided attempt to add some class. There is nothing like the grain of fine AAA Tenite on an inexpensive shotgun. Plain, hardwood stocks certainly can’t compare.”
Stevens Model 94B guns feature a single barrel that interfaces with a sleek, top-lever action with an exposed hammer. To take the gun apart, pull firmly down on the forearm tip. It’s secured by spring tension and will rotate down around 30 degrees. However, it does not come entirely free, so don’t apply too much horsepower.
Press the thumb lever to the right and rotate the barrel to the open position. It will disconnect from the action. The forearm will be left attached to the front of the action. Reassemble in reverse order.
To load, open the action using the thumb lever. Insert a .410 shotshell into the chamber and close.
To fire, simply cock the hammer and press the trigger. There is no safety per se; a rebounding halfcock hammer position serves that purpose.
Cocking the hammer requires a considerable amount of thumb strength, which is just fine. However, it pays to be cautious when lowering the hammer after an anticipated shot doesn’t come to pass. Be sure to pay attention and maintain good control or that heavy hammer can get away and fall, potentially causing an accidental discharge.
To unload, open the action. The spring-loaded ejector will send the empty or unfired shotshell zinging rearward.
When my family and I relocated to Idaho, we became friends with the folks who had built our home. At one point, while poring over barn plans at his place, the builder began pulling old guns from his closet. He kindly loaned me the Model 94B you see here for review.
As he related to me, as a boy, he was bird-dogging the pheasants from a stretch of timber and brush for his father and uncle, when a mule deer doe stood up in front of him. An appropriate deer tag—his first—was in his pocket, and the .410 was in his fist. The deer was close, and a stout payload of lead pellets quickly turned his pheasant hunt into a successful deer hunt.
This particular Stevens 94B sports an easy-handling 26-inch barrel, and it is the epitome of handiness. Over the years, it has accounted for a lot of small game.
Grouse season isn’t quite open as I write this, but on my morning walk today I saw seven birds. I have a dog that’s enthusiastic but inexperienced on grouse, and she put several up into trees. When opening day comes around, I may have to put this nice old single shot to work. Meanwhile, to get a feel for how it shoots, I repaired to my back ravine with a handful of biodegradable clay targets. My wife flung them for me, and I managed to break most of them into charcoal-colored dust against the blue sky.
Function was flawless. Recoil was nearly indiscernible. Granted, I was firing 2.5-inch target loads, but still, it’s easy to see why kids love .410s so much.
If you’re a fan of simplicity and appreciate history, find one of these old single shots. You’ll pay between $75 and $250, depending on condition and chambering.
Such guns still have a profound place in the grand scheme of growing young hunters. Even though my children have access to compact pump and semiauto small-gauge shotguns, to my surprise, they’ve gravitated to these simple single-shot guns. I should have expected that because there’s just no gun type as intuitive as a little break-action, exposed-hammer shotgun.
Stevens Model 94B Specifications
- Manufacturer: Stevens/Savage Arms
- Type: Break-action, single-shot shotgun
- Gauge: .410 Bore
- Cartridge Capacity: 1 round
- Barrel: 26 in.
- Overall Length: 42 in
- Weight, Empty: 5.25 lbs.
- Stock: Tenite plastic
- Length of Pull: 13.75 in.
- Finish: Blued barrel, case-colored action
- Sights: Bead front
- Safety: Halfcock notch
- Trigger: 6.0-lb. pull (as tested)