Barth Crouch is a serious bird hunter.
From Sept. 1 through Jan. 31, hardly a week passes in which he's not out chasing a variety of gamebirds.
His shotgun of choice isn't a fancy 12-gauge loaded with super-duper magnum ammo.
"I just shoot a .410 on about everything," said Crouch, of Salina."
He's killed many limits of wild Kansas quail, pheasants, prairie chickens and doves with his little over/under.
A .410 is so small, it's sized by caliber rather than gauge. For generations, it was seen as a good gun for kids because of the small ammo. Not so.
"It's an expert's gun, not a beginner's," said Marc Murphy, owner of Michael Murphy & Sons, a firearms dealership specializing in nice shotguns near Augusta. "It's a lot harder to hit and kill anything and be effective because you have so few pellets in your pattern."
The 2 1/2-inch .410 shells Crouch prefers have one-half to one-third the number of pellets of many 12 gauge loads.
He could get more pellets if he opted for 3-inch .410 shells, but said the pellets are spread inconsistently in the pattern.
Crouch said the added challenge isn't the only reason he carries the small shotgun.
"I guess one reason is that you get lazier as you get older," he said of the gun's lighter weight and recoil. "You can carry it all day and never really notice it, unlike with a 12-gauge."
But he's not expecting 12-gauge results from his .410, especially with wild pheasants.
"I have to be able to get a good shot at the head or I just won't shoot," Crouch said. "If I shoot a rooster anyplace but in the head, it'll just fly off giggling."
As well as pheasants, he's frequently reached his daily limit of two on prairie chickens, both shooting the birds as they flush or fly past.
Doves are a favorite for Crouch. The small birds don't take a lot of power to down and his lightweight gun helps him swing fast enough to keep up with the speedsters.
Crouch has used his .410 with good success on ducks. For them he shoots shells loaded with Bismuth shot, which have pellets heavier than steel, are safe for the environment and about $2.75 per shell.
"You really want to make sure you kill something when you pull the trigger with Bismuth," he said. "You just don't want to send that much money down range without getting something."
Even regular lead-loaded ammo isn't cheap in .410s. By shopping and buying in bulk, Crouch can sometimes get a box of 25 rounds for about $10 per box.
Most stores sell them for about $15 per box. That's twice the price of many 12-gauge hunting loads.
Murphy said he sells some .410 shotguns, but sells more 28 gauges, which are also considered a small shotguns by most shooters.
"It's kind of a gentleman's gun," Murphy said. "They're often bought by guys who are shooting a lot of (pen-reared) preserve birds that flush close. It's a way to help make it more challenging."
Tom Turner, of St. John, thinks the 28-gauge has a place for wild birds in central Kansas, too.
He often starts the bird seasons shooting an over/under 28-gauge on doves and keeps shooting the gun on quail, prairie chickens and pheasants.
A 12-gauge is his preferred shotgun for waterfowl.
He said 28 gauges are known to shoot consistent patterns, especially with his preferred loads with 7 1/2 shot pellets.
"I like a challenge, but I think the challenge is overrated with a 28-gauge. I really can't see any significant difference between it and a 20-gauge," Turner said. "But the gun weighs less and the shells weigh less. I've shot a lot of roosters with a 28-gauge. But if it's not a pretty good shot, I just don't shoot."