Friday, December 18, 2015

Why the love for the .410?

12 gauge on the left.  .410 on the right.  Original image from Guns and Ammo.

Names for most shotgun chamberings are based on the number of “round balls” that can be cast from one pound of pure lead.  It should be obvious that larger round balls will weigh more and will result in fewer balls-per-pound.   
Thus, a 12 gauge is larger than a 20 gauge.   

A 12 gauge round ball weighs twelve-to-the-pound or 1-1/8 ounces while a 20 gauge round ball weighs twenty-to-the-pound or a little bit less than 7/8 of an ounce. 


The only exception to this naming convention is the .410 which is named after the nominal inside diameter of the barrel.  By the standard measure, the .410 would be a "68" gauge.

Pundits poo-poo the .410 saying that is inadequate even as a starter gun for young people.  They point out, correctly in my thinking, that the 20 gauge offers more versatility, more commonly available ammunition and, surprisingly, less expensive ammunition.  They also point out that the 20 gauge is easier to “hit” with.  It offers more gross capacity.  And when loaded with “light loads” it patterns better than a .410 with a similar payload.

Shooters versus hunters

A couple of the guys I drink coffee with are .410 enthusiasts.  Their average age is in the upper 70s.

They agree that the .410 is not a good choice for the novice shooter.  They contend that the .410 shotgun is the gun-of-choice of the master hunter.

Their arguments follow:

There is nothing a 12 gauge with a full choke can do at 40 yards that a .410 with a full choke cannot do at 25 yards*.  Most failures of shotgunning involve “running out of pattern”.  A half ounce of #7-1/2s out of a .410 at 25 yards has better pattern density than 1-1/8 ounce of #6 shot at 40 yards.  Both will kill rabbits dead if you can hit them.

The definition of a skilled hunter is one who knows his limitations (and his equipment's limitations) and practices the woodcraft to get close enough to the game to nullify those limitations.  He does his hunting before he pulls the trigger. Native Americans killed countless whitetail deer with extremely primitive (by today’s standards) bows.  The magic lives within the magician, not the wand.

An old man can tote a single shot .410 all day long.  It is pretty hard to kill game when your weapon is still in the gun safe or the trunk of the car.

Shooting a .410 out of a 5 pound single shot it will not shred an old man’s rotator cuff.  The same cannot be said of a 12 gauge.  You better be ready to catch your dentures when you touch off a 5 pound 12 gauge.

An old man can walk all day with five .410 shells loaded with #7-1/2 in one pocket and 3 slugs in the other and never know it.  The same cannot be said for a 12 gauge.

That same single shot can live in the barn or shed.  It is not a big deal if it gets a few rust freckles on the outside.  After all, it is just a working gun.  Used .410 single shots cost about $80 at the time of this writing.

Image from SoCal Bowhunters
Some writers dismiss .410 slugs as not suitable for any animal larger than a jack rabbit.  The old men point out that the FBI recently switched to the 9mm handgun.  If a handgun shooting 124 grain bullets at 1100 feet-per-second is the best choice for stopping drug-crazed, 240 pound felons**, then a 125 grain slug leaving the muzzle at 1500 feet-per-second should suffice for harvesting a shy, vegetarian, 170 pound deer.

Critics will point out that the .410 shooter will likely have to track the deer a greater distance before bringing it to bag.  The old men scoff at this.  They realize that tracking is part of the game.  Only novices expect the deer to collapse in a cloud of dust.  Most novices do not look hard enough, or long enough.  The old timer knows that there is a dead deer out there somewhere.  He just needs to find it.  He does not quit until he finds it.

Mr Pepper (age 81) is the coffee table’s greatest advocate of the .410.  He loves Alaska and in his mind he is ready to strike off into the bush, filling his kettle with meat as he goes.  Barring the chance encounter with mama bears and the occasional moose with a bad attitude, there is nothing he would feel under gunned with when carrying his .410.  If the small game is within 25 yards then Mr Pepper knows he can take it.  The same goes for larger games at fifty yards with a slug, especially if the game is relaxed and unaware of the hunter’s presence.

Image from Wikipedia
Mr Pepper points out that there will always be far more ptarmigan, grouse and snowshoe hares than caribou and Dall sheep.  A fellow will eat far more steady if he looks down under the bushes rather than across the valley.  Another factor to consider is that a person can carry a boatload more .410 shells than he can carry 12 gauge shells.

Image from Fred Miranda.

And then there is the economics of weight.  Shooting a 3 ounce whisky-jack *** for the pot with a 1.5 ounce 12 gauge shell, really?  You would be further ahead carrying a 1.5 ounce candy bars.

The biggest drawback the .410 has for the master hunter is the lack of shell availability and their cost.  I am tempted to start reloading .410, even though I don’t own any.  It is rent I am willing to pay for the privilege of enjoying a piece of Mr Pepper's fantasy.

A few “Internet” recipes.  Use at your own risk:

BPI Thug-slug recipe
2.5” Cheddite hull, fold crimp`
Ch209 primer
10 gr Unique powder
One “Thug-slug” (125 grains)
1505 fps

2.5” Fiocchi hull, fold crimp
Fio 616 primer
10 gr Blue Dot powder
MG410 wad
½ oz. lead shot (recommend 7-1/2)
1200 fps

2.5” Winchester AA HS hull, fold crimp
Win 209 primer
13 gr Hodgdon Lil Gun powder
Winchester or Claybuster wad
½ oz. lead shot
Velocity not listed
2.5” Winchester AA HS hull, fold crimp
Win 209 primer
15.5 gr Hodgdon H-110 or Winchester 296 powder
Winchester or Claybuster wad
½ oz. lead shot
1200 fps

* The same argument can be made for the 12 gauge with a cylinder (no choke) at 30 yards and the .410 at 20 yards.  The use of the smaller shot is justified because the shorter range results in higher pellet velocity when it impacts the target...the shooter can "give away" some shot weight to get more pellets.

** The FBI switched from the 40 S&W to the 9mm Parabellum because they believed that the 9mm is easier for most people to shoot well.  Only hits count.  The same can be said of shotguns.  .410 is less likely to produce flinching and 125 grains at 1500 fps is "enough" within fifty yards.

***Albert Johnson (The Mad Trapper of Rat River) subsisted primarily on Canadian Jays during his flight from the Canadian Mounted Police.


  1. The .420 fulfills a certain niche, many that you covered. With slugs, it's basically a musket with all the limitations those impose. Still, many a squirrel, cottontail, and coon has fallen to the .410 in these latitudes and it maintains its place as a barnyard varmint deterrent. I agree that it's not a proper gun for the novice, I start those out on the 20 gauge, my favorite bore size.

    However, my wife has a .410 pump shotgun that her Dad gave her sometime around 1962. It's a Stevens/Savage pump and has accounted for more than its share of small game. She used it last year at a church turkey-shoot to win first place in the ladies division, against 12 gauge shotguns at 40 yards. She's shot that gun for 50 years and knows it inside and out.

  2. I also love the 410. But I haven't seen a used single shot on sale for a long time. Where are you seeing them? This type was my first gun, used one for hunting everything from small game to deer from age 12 to 15. Overall, just a lot of fun and everything in your article says is spot on.