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The .410 Bore

By Chuck Hawks

The nominal bore of a .410 shotgun is.410 inch. Which is why it is properly called the .410 bore instead of the .410 gauge. In Europe it is sometimes called the 12mm, which is an inaccurate designation as a .410 bore has an actual diameter of approximately 10.4mm by metric measure. If the .410 had been named in the traditional fashion, by the number of lead balls .41 inch in diameter needed to make one pound, it would be about a 67-68 gauge. Many years ago it was also called the 36 gauge, and I have seen a picture of an old box of Remington shells marked "(36 GA.) .410-2 1/2 IN. (12 MM)." However, the "36 Gauge" designation was very inaccurate, as a true 36 gauge gun would actually have a .506 inch bore diameter.

.410's are generally the lightest weight shotguns and kick the least. Recoil energy generally runs about 7 to 10 ft. lbs., depending on the load, in a 5.5 pound gun.

Unfortunately, .410's are also the hardest guns with which to kill birds or break clay pigeons. This is because the diminutive .410 shells contain less shot and consequently the patterns are thin. Most .410 guns have full choke barrels in order to concentrate the available shot, which makes for small patterns at the close ranges where .410's are most effective. The relatively small, thin patterns make the .410 the least effective of the standard gauges. I have owned a couple of .410 shotguns and, although it is often thought of as a beginner's gun or a youth gun, I tend to think of the .410 as an expert's gun.

However, for the person of small stature or anyone very sensitive to recoil, the .410 may be a good choice as long as shots will be within about 25 yards and the birds small. It is a good gun for a youth to learn with, and probably about all the gun a pre-teen can handle. Some .410's are available in lightweight Youth Models, with reduced length stocks for smaller shooters.

The most common type of .410 shotgun is the simple break-action, single barrel, such as those from Harrington & Richardson and New England Arms. Another type of .410 sometimes encountered is the bolt action, in either single shot or repeating models. There are also a few .410 pump guns, including popular models like the Mossberg 500 and Remington 870. Excellent but expensive .410 double-barreled guns are available from Browning, Charles Daly, Weatherby, and others.

.410 shells are widely distributed and are not particularly expensive (although they generally cost more than promotional 12 and 20 gauge shells). They are available in 2 1/2 inch length containing 1/2 ounce of shot, and 3 inch length with 11/16 ounce of shot. The high brass 3 inch shell used to contain 3/4 ounce of shot, but was reduced to 11/16 ounce a few years ago. I don't know the reason for this.

.410 bore guns are probably at their best with shot in sizes 7 1/2, 8, and 9. I used to like #7 1/2 for most hunting applications and #9 for shooting clay targets. #6 and larger shot makes for very skimpy patterns with a .410 bore gun because there simply are not enough of them in the maximum 11/16 ounce load. If you consider 225 pellets (the number of #6 shot in 1 ounce) necessary for adequate patterns, the limitations of the small charges of shot in .410 shells quickly becomes obvious.

The typical .410 bore 2 1/2 inch target shell, used primarily for small bore skeet shooting, contains 1/2 ounce of #9 shot. There are approximately 292 pellets in these loads. This is also a good load for informal shooting at clay targets thrown from a hand trap, and for teaching beginners the fundamentals of wing shooting.

The 2 1/2 inch game loads carry 1/2 ounce of shot in sizes 4, 6, and 7 1/2. With #7 1/2 shot this amounts to about 175 pellets per shell. This makes for pretty thin patterns, and I can see no point to the larger shot sizes in 2 1/2 inch shells.

The 3 inch "maximum" .410 load now carries 11/16 ounce of #4, 6, or 7 1/2 shot. With #7 1/2 shot this amounts to about 241 pellets, which is more like it. The same load contains only about 155 #6 pellets or 93 #4 pellets, which makes for patterns so thin that hitting anything at normal hunting ranges is mostly a matter of luck, at least at my skill level. The thin patterns resulting from the larger shot sizes in .410 shells are poor killers, but frequently wound game.

There is also a 1/5 ounce (around 86 grains) Foster type rifled slug load available for the .410 shotgun. The muzzle velocity is nominally 1830 fps. This rather anemic slug should be limited to game with a live body weight not exceeding about 25 pounds and ranges not exceeding 50 yards (at the outside).

.410 buckshot loads are usually not offered, as the case is too small to hold a reasonable number of such large pellets. However, in 2002 Winchester introduced a 2 1/2 inch shell loaded with 3 pellets of '000' buck (Q1483). I have a correspondent who has some of these in his possession, and they are offered for sale in boxes of 25.

The .410 shotgun, although reasonably popular, remains something of an enigma. It is either a beginner's gun or an expert's gun, but is seldom seen in the hands of average shooters and hunters.

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Copyright 2002, 2015 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.