THE MALIGNED .410 BORE
... has been a lot better than its publicity for the last 40 years.
By Marshall R. Williams.
The most maligned shotgun gauge is the .410 bore. Every expert on shotguns declares it is as a poor choice, suitable only for poachers, experts, cripplers, taxidermists and so on down the line. Experts notwithstanding, I find it to be effective and useful within its limitations.
My first shotgun was a .410 bolt action Mossberg with interchangeable choke tubes marked modified and full. And a very good little gun it was. On December 16, 1955, my father bought it for the grand sum of $24.95. A box of three-inch shells cost another $2.15. The hardware store owner threw in a silicone wiping cloth for good will.
My father suggested we pattern it, and we went out to a vacant lot in the country and shot the gun at shirt cardboards at an estimated 30 yards. We discovered two things: the patterns were dense enough to kill small game and the modified choke tube shot a slightly more open pattern than the full choke tube. I rightly concluded the full choke tube would kill farther than the modified tube. I wrongly concluded the full choke was a more desirable choke and used it exclusively for some years. Shortly afterwards, I went rabbit hunting and used the little gun to shoot the first game I ever killed. I got two rabbits with two shots, and they were taken quite as well with my little .410 as any other rabbits shot with twelve gauge guns that day.
For many years, this was the only shotgun in our household, and, in addition to rabbits, we used it on quail, doves, crows, buzzards, squirrels, skunks, possums, chipmunks, raccoons, one catfish, and goodness knows what else. Eventually, I grew up, joined the U.S. Air Force and learned to shoot skeet using this gun.
Of course, all of this happened while I was yet naive about shotguns and, more or less, a boy. My father had somehow imbued me with the notion that a .410 bore shot its pellets just as far and just as hard as a 12 bore did, and the fact that there were fewer pellets didn't matter at short range. This is more or less true. Actually, the twelve shoots its pellets a little harder, but it doesn't matter at short range.
Eventually I outgrew the little Mossberg and gave it to a friend whose son and daughter were young enough to use it. The children promised to pass on the little gun to another kid when they outgrew it. I've lost track of the friends and the gun, but I hope somebody somewhere is still using it, and I hope that person is a beginner.
When I outgrew the Mossberg .410, I got a 12-gauge Remington Model 870 pump Skeet gun and a Remington 11-48 automatic .410 with full choke. I also borrowed a Winchester Skeet gun with Cutts Compensator. I used all three guns to shoot Skeet and frequently did better with the .410's than with the 12
The skeet shooters are muttering, "This Turkey has got to be kidding." Nevertheless it's true. One day in particular stands out in my memory. I broke 15 out of 25 of the 12 and followed it up with a 23 out of 25 with the .410.
Here I learned something new. The 12-gauge gun kicked and roared, and I was recoil and noise-shy. The .410 punched and popped and I wasn't afraid of it. As a result, I concentrated on the fundamentals of skeet and ignored the gun. Of course, I had learned to shoot with the .410 and had confidence in it. I had been shooting the 12 for just a couple of months.
Since those halcyon days, I have owned a large number of shotguns and many of them were .410's. There have been several Remington 11-48's, several Winchester Model 42's in different configurations, a Remington 1100, a Remington 870, a High Standard pump, and perhaps others I have forgotten. Most of these were skeet guns, but some were choked differently. I have made it a point to shoot as many other .410's as I could talk their owners into letting me use, and have shot and used Browning, Winchester, Daly, and SKB over and unders, and Fox, L.C. Smith, Iver Johnson, Ithaca, and one fabulous Winchester Model 21 in side-by-side doubles. All of these guns were delightful to shoot and play with. Some of them I shot well and some not so well.
I patterned as many as it was convenient to pattern. I occasionally break 25 at skeet with the .410, and once did so with frequency. I believe I have now learned a little about these guns and understand why they get short shrift from shooters less familiar with them.
There have been a number of things going against the .410 over the years. Not the least of them was, and is, the general unavailability of good quality, well-constructed working guns. The only repeaters available now are the Remington Model 1100 Automatic and the same company's Model 870 pump and Mossberg's Model 500 pump. If you can afford the price, you can get over and unders in .410 from Browning, Winchester, and SKB if you fancy a double, you may have to shop for one of the European imports. I do not know whether the Fox Model B and Stevens 311 will be available. I believe the Mossberg bolt action is still available, and of course the various single barrel guns. However, the average gun store will probably not stock .410 bore guns except in the cheap single barrel models. Thus, while .410's can be had, they are more trouble to obtain and frequently require special ordering. It isn't nearly as simple as walking into K-Mart and getting a 12 gauge.
Another problem, and perhaps the biggest overall, is the general unavailability of any choke except full choke in the more common .410's or the choice of full choke when more open choke is available. While there is some apparent logic behind such a choice, I think it fails under critical examination. The logic runs thus: the .410 is a small bore with a small shot charge; therefore, in order to kill cleanly at maximum range, we want a tight pattern, and that requires a full choke. While that logic is unassailable, who picks a .410 for a long range gun? My observations lead me to believe that the tightest choked .410 cannot be an effective 40-yard gun, but an improved cylinder or skeet bored .410 will do nicely to 30 yards.
Reprinted curtesy of :- The Gun
Digest, 37th edition 1983, Author :- Marshall Williams.
The Maligned .410 bore - Page 1