Why on Earth Would Anybody Want a .410 Shotgun?

If you shoot it with a shotgun.

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Why on Earth Would Anybody Want a .410 Shotgun?

Postby Outpost75 » Wed Sep 16, 2015 3:50 am

I have alot of experience with the .410. I carry one sometimes on my woods walks and around the garden to shoot garden varmints, but a 12-ga. Winchester Model 12 pump riot gun is the "go to" gun for things which go bump in the night. If you will own ONLY ONE shotgun, then you better get a 12-ga. pump.

But the .410 has utility as an extra gun. Old outlaw ridge runners loved the .410 because it was handy, having a minimum weight and cube of ammo. It works when ranges are short! Moonshiners and poachers kept their .410s handy and they were very popular during the Great Depression when their ammo was still relatively inexpensive, not like today.

The .410 slugs are accurate in some guns, but whether they are in yours can be determined only by testing. In my experience .410 slugs are mostly ineffective on game larger than coyotes, or at ranges beyond about 30 yards. Grouping of shotgun slugs from a plain, bead-sighted single-barrel shotgun at its optimistic very best is about 1 inch in spread per ten yards of range. But YOUR gun may or may not hit where it looks. Using .410 slugs is a pure crap shoot unless you test brands and practice. It will take $30 in ammo just to find out they aren’t worth sour apples for you... A .410 slug weighs about 80 grains. While its initial velocity is high, it loses half its striking energy in the first 50 yards. At 50 yards its energy compares to a .25-20 rifle firing black powder loads. No bear gun!

Much better than .410 slugs for defense are 00 buckshot loads which are now popular for home defense and widely available. The five pellet 3 inch load of 00 buck is the best choice. It puts the same number of pellets on a silhouette target at 25 yards that a 12-ga. riot gun firing 9-pellet 00 buck does at 40. Fired from a cylinder bore barrel you can expect 4 of 5 pellets striking an Army "E" silhouette at 25 yards, and probably 3 out of 5 at 40 yards, which is barely adequate, and no better than 2 pellets out of 5 at 50 yards, a sure wounder, unless you get lucky and hit a vital spot or your particular gun likes the load.

I spent $250 in ammo to test fire enough .410 rounds through three guns, a full-choke, high-dollar Beretta, a sawed off cylinder-bore Iver-Johnson and a modified choke H&R youth gun to prove the above to my satisfaction. If you think that your .410 is a stone killer it may indeed be that you have a great gun and that mine are just POS, because luck of the blind monkey rules in these sorts of things.

Each 00 buckshot pellet fired in the .410 has about the same striking energy at 25 yards as a .32 ACP pistol slug. Less than 3 pellets hits of 00 buck cannot be considered confidently effective for defense or use on deer sized game. Three hits is marginal. The longest range at which you can expect all 3 pellets hitting when using 2-1/2 inch shells is about 20 yards from a typical single-barrel shotgun. So use the 3" shells with 5 pellets if your gun will handle them!

Firing .410 buckshot in the Judge revolver you might get 3 hits at 7 yards in the optimistic best case, based on the gun I tested, which did not inspire confidence. Velocity REALLY drops off when .410s are fired from a handgun. Winchester 5-pellet 00 buck gets about 1230 fps from a standard-length shotgun, about 800 fps from the short-barrelled Judge revolver and 880 fps from the long-barreled one.
When using a .410 with bird shot in hunting small game, it works OK when within its severe range limitations. The most important thing to remember is that given its small payload of 1/2 oz. of shot in the 2-1/2 inch shell and 11/16 oz. in the 3 inch shell you have very few pellets in the pattern. In order for a shot pattern to be dense enough to be effective on a game animal the size of a rabbit, or a bird the size of a pheasant or duck, you need to achieve a number of pellets hits equal to the shot size, such as six No. 6 or 8 No. 8 within 20 square inches or a 5 inch diameter paper plate, about the size of a rabbit. Having less than 200 shot in the shell makes this difficult beyond about 10 yards because the pattern spreads about 1 inch per yard. Using shot larger than 7-1/2 in the 3 inch shell or No.8 in the 2 inch shell is ineffective unless you limit shots to 25 yards from your shotgun, and 5 yards with the Judge revolver.

It is important to fire test patterns with your gun and ammo and to PRACTICE with the smaller gun, learning to acquire the target and shoot quickly, so that you have a clear knowledge of its capabilities and develop better skill on your part to somewhat make up for its reduced effectiveness. The biggest drawback in using a .410 is that developing skill requires buying and shooting up more ammo in testing and practice to obtain that knowledge and maintain that skill.

A casual shotgunner needs to fire about 100 shells a year at clay birds to simply maintain basic skills. To improve your skill you'll need to shoot a case of 250 shells a year in deliberate practice. And .410 ammo costs about TWICE as much as the same number of 12-ga. or 20-ga. shells because the factories don't produce or sell as many. If you shop seasonal promotions you can buy case lots of "dove & quail" no. 8 or or "duck & pheasant" no. 6 12-ga. or 20-ga. loads reasonably, but not .410s. My advice is to get either a 12-ga. or 20-ga. gun and stock up on bargain ammo whenever you find it.

You won't find any bargains in .410 ammo. I've never seen any on MY planet. In some areas it is difficult to find .410 cartridges in shot sizes smaller than No.6. Marketing people try to make up for the .410s lack of killing power by pushing sales of larger shot, which is pure lunacy, particularly with large shot such as No.4, which entirely useless beyond 20 yards unless you happen to have a full choke barrel which "likes it". In rare cases a gun may pattern so tightly that you must shoot it like a rifle, which means that you could have used your .22 rifle to shoot the grouse on the ground and saved a dollar!

Shot sizes of No. 6 or larger should only be used in choke bore .410 guns which pattern the particular load well, within the ranges at which you have determined that they are "effective." A shot load throwing "effective" patterns means that you can reliably depend upon putting a number of pellets equal to the shot size, such as four No. 4s, five No. 5s, six No.6s, seven No.7-1/2s or eight No. 8 shot on your 5-inch paper plate at your given range. This means firing in a rapidly thrown-up 2 second instinctive snap-shot. Misses with a single buckshot do not count for anything Given the modest shot capacity of a .410 the maximum useful range at which you can expect effective game patterns with any confidence is only 25 yards under the best circumstances. With cylinder bore guns you do no better than 20 yards...With a Judge revolver not more than 5-7 yards. I can kill grouse with my slingshot that far for less money and more silently.

There is NO substitute for patterning your gun. You do not have to dissect shells and shoot on a big piece of paper, count all the pellets, draw circles and figure pellet percentages unless you are an anal retentive skeet shooter. But it is necessary to determine where the center of your pattern falls in relation to the sights, and to assess whether patterns are uniform, or if they tend to be thicker towards the center or patchy around the edges.

I take a roll of wide butcher paper, roll it out and hang it along on a barbed wire fence. Then take 5-inch paper plates, a good representation of a rabbit, duck or pheasant. Staple these every 4 or 5 feet or so along the rolled out butcher paper until you have five or six of them. Then take your shotgun, load, walk TEN paces away from the fence, turn and fire quickly at the first plate you see. This should be natural-point snap shooting as you would at a flushing bird. Turn around, walk away another 5 paces, repeat, turn and shoot the next one, etc. until you have fired five patterns at 5 paper plates, the closest at ten paces and the farthest about 30 paces away. Try 35 paces if you are a dreamer... Looking these patterns over and repeating the exercise again with each shot size and counting the hits on the plate will give you a crystal clear perception of what your little .410 will (or won't) do.

Use the .410 only where the reduced weight and cube of gun and ammo is worth its extra cost. My .410 is a rifle-shotgun combo packed in the survival ruck. It is NOT my only shotgun to depend on. The .410 is an EXTRA gun, for the survival ruck or for occasional use by a recoil-shy family member.

You will then buy a hundred rounds of 5 pellet 00 for defense use, 250 rounds of 3-inch No. 7-1/2s to hunt small game with and 250 rounds of 2-1/2" No. 8 for clay bird practice. Have users also pattern the gun so they can see where it hits FOR THEM, and everyone should PRACTICE with it. We use ours for shooting hand thrown clay birds on July 4th while the charcoal is getting ready. Fireworks after supper.
A neighbor of mine uses only 5-pellet 00 buck in his .410 garden gun. He shoots everything from rabbits and foxes to deer with it. He quit buying birdshot altogether, his reasoning being that if he needed to grab and use the gun in a hurry it was probably going to be for something that could "bite'cha."

I was curious at his reasoning, so I shot five patterns from my cut-off, 20 inch cylinder bore Iver-Johnson at a NRA life sized rabbit targets at 20 yards. No rabbit target didn't have at least one solid body hit when fired in quick 2-second snap-shots. The average number of 00 buck pellet hits on the bunny rabbit was three. One target out of five got all five pellets on the bunny silhouette somewhere. This would be a sure 20-yard defense or deer load. Getting 3 or 4 pellets of 00 buck in the torso of an E silhouette at 25 yards from the .410 approximates what expect firing a 12-ga. 9-pellet 00 from a 20" cylinder bore riot gun at 40 yards.

The 00 pellets fired from the .410 would shoot through a 2x4 pine 100%. My particular .410 doesn't put slugs anywhere close to where you look, so buckshot is the only thing which makes it a viable defense or predator gun. I'm going to come up with a recipe to cast and load my own buckshot and when I figure it out I will share the knowledge. Thought inquiring minds would want to know.

I also tested 200-grain lead .44-40 Cowboy loads and .425 roundball loads assembled in 5in1 Blank cases, in my old sawqed-off, cylinder bore H&R single-barrel .410 shotgun. Roundball loads did exactly as I remembered, 4-5" ten-shot groups 25 yards, firing offhand, "snapshoot plinker-style." The .44-40 lead 200-grain Cowboy loads keyholed and scattered all over the paper at 25 yards, but would stay on an E silhouette "across the bar room floor" at 25 feet.

FIRST let me stress that you must NEVER shoot SOLID ball in any CHOKED shotgun, unless the ball is small enough to fall through the choke of its own weight. Otherwise you WILL burst the barrel. My pre-WW1 H&R .410 is marked ".410-12 mm." The 12 mm (.472”) dimension refers to the diameter of the .410 CHAMBER, not its bore or choke diameter. Some barrels were marked ".410-12mm choke," indicating that the gun had a choked barrel, but not all choked barrels were so plainly identified, which I found out the hard way….

As a kid my mentor Frank Marshall told me about how during the Depression they used to shoot .44-40 Game Getter round ball loads in a .410, so of course I had to try it. I used cast balls I already had for my .44 cap & ball revolver, and loaded them in .44-40 brass with 5 grains of Bullseye. These were great fun as 50 foot can plinkers, but were, admittedly a bit "oversized." I shot hundreds of them over several years until one day I came across a hard-cast ball of other than gumball soft pure lead, which refused to squeeze through the full choke. Upon firing, the gun made a hollow, funny sound and actually recoiled FORWARDS!

I looked at the muzzle and found it had split about 3” behind the muzzle, spreading open like the hood of a cobra! A few passes with a tubing cutter removed the split muzzle end. We carefully inspected and slugged the remaining barrel behind the cutoff, the bore ahead of the forcing cone being verified sound and now a true .427” cylinder bore, just like a .44-40!

“Now you’ve got a real .44 Shotgun me Boy~!”, said Frank, imitating the actor Robert Newton as Captain Long John Silver in Treasure Island! A new front bead was installed, the muzzle recrowned and I was back in business with a 20” cylinder bore snake gun I still have. While .410 chambers accept and fire .44-40 shot cartridges, the .410 case is cylindrical. The “5-in-1 Blank” cases from Starline which I use to load my .44 shot are tapered to fit in anything from a .38-40 to .45 Colt or my .45 ACP Blackhawk! Upon firing, the mouths of .44 cases will expand grossly to fill the .410 chamber walls.

Because of risk of case body splits, firing .44 Shot in .410 chambers is discouraged and not "officially" recommended. I choose to continue doing so, using only new Starline brass, and so far have had no "issues," but if YOU choose to do so, you are on your own nickel.

Starline “5 in 1 Blank” cases work only for loading shot in using MILD charges. Blank cases have an oversized 1/8” flash hole intended to prevent them from backing out and freezing cylinder rotation against the recoil shield of revolvers when firing blanks. Using large flash-hole cases in full charge loads risks blown primers. In my experience they work just fine with standard "Cowboy" charges of Bullseye or similar pistol powders as long as the shot load is lighter than the standard bullet for the caliber.

Typical shot payload is 1/3 oz. or about 150 grains, vs. a 200-grain bullet in .44-40, 230 grains in the 45 ACP or 250 grains in .45 Colt. I use 5 grains of Bullseye or 6 grains of WST or 231, but no more. Insert a Federal 1/2 oz. skeet load .410 plastic shot cup over the powder, cut flush to the case mouth, add 1/3 oz. of No.9 or No.8 shot, thumb a Walters .38-40 card wad over the shot and glue with Elmers. Speer shot capsules for loading .44 Magnum or .45 Colt brass hold the same 1/3 oz. payload and are two-piece, consisting of a rigid blue plastic shot container which breaks apart upon firing and a soft plastic base obturator which plugs the open end of the capsule, retaining the shot inside and also serving as the over-powder wad.

Effective range of .44 shot is limited to 20 yards in a SMOOTHBORE shotgun and 20 FEET in a RIFLED revolver or carbine. No. 8 shot is the largest which makes any sense, because paterns with larger shot become ineffective, due to low pellet count.

To evaluate effectiveness of patterns, my reasoning is that the number of pellets striking a 5 inch paper plate should equal the shot size, i.e. eight hits with No.8 shot, or better. The .410 cylinder bore produced wonderful results at 25 to 50 feet, fully expected given its efficiency as a fenceline game getter. Beyond about 50 feet cylinder bore patterns became thin rather quickly. Twenty yards is about maximum for a cylinder bore .410, a modified choke adds about 5 yards, a full choke ten.

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