The .410: What Good Is It?

By Randy Wakeman

That's a tough one to answer. My first shotgun was a .410 bore, a bolt action Mossberg given to me at the age of five years. I shot a .410 shotgun before I had a BB gun, and it was bigger than I was. I carried it to the dove field, but my Dad ended up carrying it back to the car most of the time. Actually, make that all of the time.

I have no idea who originally developed the .410, which is a caliber, not a gauge. If it were a "gauge, it would be something approximating a 67 gauge. It is used to introduce younger shooters to the sport with its low recoil and by expert skeet shooters, but it really doesn't belong in the game fields at all.

Originally available as a 2" shell, then 2-1/2", and later 3", it patterns so dismally that it is best left in the venue that keeps it alive: the skeet field. There it serves as a method of increasing the challenge of the game. Early on, the .410 was considered a "taxidermist's shotgun," as the pellet count was so low the possibility of severely damaging a mount was decreased.

The .410 makes limited sense in certain states where rabbit and squirrel cannot be hunted with rimfire rifles and handguns, but with its dismal pattern and high cost per shot it is neither practical nor particularly effective. In comparing the National Skeet Shooting Association scores, you might be surprised how close the top shooters do in 20 gauge class vs. 12 gauge, with 28 gauge not all that far back. Only when you examine the .410 bore scores do you see a rift developing across the classes. It is the worst performing commonly available shotgun gauge/caliber that can be had, and a horrible crippler of game if not used within its severe limitations.

If it goes bang and is fun to shoot, I generally like it. For clay games, if a .410 is your choice, then so be it. What is bad is when it is promoted as "ideal" for the new shooter or hunter. It can be a needless source of cost and frustration, particularly when low recoil 20 gauge loads, and soft-shooting 20 gauge shotguns are so readily available. Breaking clays and bagging birds builds confidence, is enjoyable, and breeds enthusiasm. Missing is just no fun, and there is certainly no glory--only shame--in wounding game.

A fairly common trivia question is "What has the biggest pattern at 30 yards, a 12 gauge or a .410 bore?" Actually, the .410 does, because its pattern is spread by a much higher percentage of deformed shot diverging from the main pattern. But, it does not have the larger effective pattern. The 1/2 or 11/16 ounce shot mass of the .410 cannot possibly populate a pattern with as effective a density as a standard 1-1/8 ounce 12 gauge field load.

For clays games, or trying to spend the most money per ounce on lead as possible, the .410 has its place. As a pleasant introduction to shotgunning, it fails miserably compared to 28 gauge or light 20 gauge loads. The .410 can be a nasty prank to play on your son or daughter. On the other hand, if you have to buy the shells, the last laugh may be on you!

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Copyright 2006, 2013 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.