Considering a .410? Why would you want to do that?
I have alot of experience with the .410. I own a couple used for woods walking and to shoot garden varmints, but the 12-ga. pump riot gun is the “go to” gun for things which go bump in the night. If you will only own ONE shotgun, get a 12-ga. pump. I recommend the “reduced recoil” law enforcement loads if females and youngsters will use the same gun. Their recoil compares to a standard 20-ga. load.The .410 slug loads are accurate in some guns, but you can determine that only by testing. They are mostly ineffective on game larger than coyotes, at ranges beyond about 30-40 yards. Grouping of shotgun slugs fired in a plain, bead-sighted single-barrel shotgun is no better than 1 inch spread per ten yards of range. And the gun may or may not hit where it looks, so it is a crap shoot unless you test and practice. It could take $20-30 in ammo just to find out that it doesn’t work in your case… A .410 slug only weighs about 80 grains. While its initial velocity is high, it loses half its striking energy in the first 50 yards. At that range its energy compares to a .25-20 rifle firing blackpowder loads.
Better than .410 slugs for defense are the 00 buckshot loads which are now widely available. The five pellet 3 inch load of 00 buck is the best choice. Fired from a cylinder bore barrel you can depend on 4 of 5 pellets striking an Army “E” silhouette at 25 yards, 3 out of 5 hitting at 40 yards, and probably no better than 2 out of 5 at 50 yards, if you are lucky and your particular gun really happens to like the load. I spent over $250 in ammo to test fire enough rounds through my three guns, a full-choke, high-dollar Beretta, a sawed off cylinder-bore Iver-Johnson and a modified choke H&R youth gun to determine this to my satisfaction. If you truly believe the .410 can do better then please SHOW ME YOUR TEST DATA. If you have shot over 100 patterns I’ll be happy to review your evidence would retain an open mind. It may indeed be that you have a couple really great guns and that mine are simply POS, as luck of the blind monkey rules in these sorts of things.
Each 00 buckshot pellet in the .410 has about the same striking energy as a .32 ACP pistol slug. Less than 3 pellets hits totalling less than 500 Joules (about 350 ft.lbs.) in kinetic energy cannot be considered effective for defense or use on deer sized game. The longest range at which you can depend upon getting 3 hits out of 3 pellets when using the shorter 2-1/2 inch shells is about 20 to 25 yards from a typical single-barrel shotgun. Using the Judge revolver this distance is no more than 7-10 yards, that being the best case, based on one gun I tested.
As for using the .410 with bird shot for hunting small game, it works OK within its rather 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, achieving 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 circle, requires a minimum of about 200 shot in the pattern. This means that using shot larger than 7-1/2 in the 3 inch shell or No.8 in the 2 inch shell will be mostly ineffective unless you limit ranges to about 20-25 yards from a single-barrel shotgun, and maybe 5 yards with the Judge revolver.
It is VERY important to fire test patterns and to PRACTICE with a smaller gun 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 drawback in doing so is that using a .410 requires buying and shooting up more ammo in testing and practice to obtain that knowledge and maintain skill. A casual shooter needs to fire about 100 shells a year at clay birds to simply maintain basic skills and not decline. To improve your skill you’ll need to shoot a case of 250 shells a year just in practice. And .410 ammo costs roughly 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 often 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 can.
You won’t find any bargains in .410 ammo. I’ve never seen any. In some areas it is difficult to find .410 cartridges in size 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 those rare cases the gun will pattern so tightly that you must shoot it like a rifle, which means that you could have used the .22 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. And no, misses with single 0 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 25-30 yards under the very best circumstances. With cylinder bore guns you may do no better than 20-25 yards…With a Judge revolver probably not more than 5-7 yards.. I can kill grouse with my slingshot that far for alot less money and more silently.
There is NO substitute for actually patterning your gun. You do not have to put up a big piece of paper, count all the pellets, draw circles and figure pellet percentages. But it is necessary to determine where the center of your pattern falls in relation to the sights, and to assess whether the 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 wire fence. Then I take 5-inch paper plates, which are a good representation of the vital area of a rabbit, duck or or pheasant. Staple these every 3-4 feet or so along the rolled out butcher paper until you have five or six of them. Then take the shotgun, load it, 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 not less than five patterns at 5 paper plates, with the closest at ten paces and the farthest about 30 paces away. Try 35 paces if you want. You are dreaming, of course. Looking these over and repeating the exercise again with each shot size will give you a crystal clear perception of what your little .410 will (or won’t) do.
After doing this exercise you will probably come to one of two conclusions, which I did: Use the .410 only where the reduced weight and cube of gun and ammo is worth its extra cost. Such as when you have a rifle-shotgun combo for the survival ruck and it is NOT your only shotgun to depend on. The .410 is an EXTRA gun, OK for the ruck or for 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. Then have users also pattern the gun so they can see where it hits, what it does and PRACTICE with it. Or
Buy a 3″ magnum chambered 20-ga. gun instead. It can use either 3″ magnum or 2-3/4 inch shells. You should buy 100 rounds each of slugs and 3 inch magnum No. 2 buckshot for defense, and 250 rounds each of 3 inch magnum No.6 and 2-3/4″ 1-oz. 7-1/2s for small game and birds. If you will be teaching other family members to shoot and intend to throw clay birds for practice, buy an additional 500 rounds of 7/8 oz. No. 8 “dove and quail loads” too.
C.E. “Ed” Harris is well known to readers of American Rifleman, the Gun Digest and the Cast Bullet Association’s Fouling Shot magazine.During 12 years on the Technical Staff of the National Rifle Association he was a consultant to numerous military, law enforcement and firearms industry organizations and was officially commended by the U.S. Marine Corps Development Center, Quantico, Virginia for expert technical assistance provided during the Development and Operational Testing of the M16A2 rifle. He is a graduate of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, holds the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Professional Development Certification in Emergency Management and for 22 years he has worked for local government in Northern Virginia.