The use of the full choke in the .410 may account for some of the claims that the .410 is a crippler, It is a well known and frequently observed phenomenon that choking causes the center of patterns to be denser than the fringes. The tighter the choke is, the denser the center. The smaller the bore is for degree of choke, the denser the center. Therefore, the pattern of a full choke .410 will have the densest center and sparsest fringes. I remember a particular gun, a Remington Model 11-48 with full choke, which I used for hunting blue quail in South Texas many years ago. This gun seemed to be extremely particular about whether the birds were centered or not. Those birds which were centered came down like stones. Those which weren't centered frequently came down flapping. They did come down though, and I did collect them. Of course, I had to wring their little necks. I have seen the same things in larger gauge guns which were tightly choked. With them it happens at longer range.
An interesting sequel to this occurred a couple of years ago. I had an another identical gun which I frequently used to shoot skeet. With my skeet reloads I generally did as well as with any of my .410 skeet guns, but when I used factory skeet shells I shot skeet poorly. When I patterned the gun with both types of shells, I discovered the cause. My reloads, made up using cheap soft lead shot, gave wide, round, well distributed patterns practically identical to a good skeet gun. The factory shells, loaded with best quality hard shot, gave very tight patterns
The .410 cartridges deserve some discussion. I think the .410 bore dates back to around the turn of the century possibly a little earlier. I can't find any definitive date for it, but it may well stem from the practice of putting up shot loads in .44 brass cases similar to the 44-40 case. The Marble "Game Getter," the original .410/.22 over and under, was designed for such .44 shot loads. According to Robert Sears, the original paper shell was the European 12 mm gas cartridge, and this accounts for the .410 being sometimes called a 12 mm shell. Early shells were shorter than present being 2 inches rather than 2 1/2 and 3 inches. The older load for the 2 1/2-inch shell was 5/16 or 3/8 oz. rather than the present 1/2 oz.
The 3-inch shell with 3/4 of an ounce of shot was introduced by Winchester about 1933 along with their delightful little Model 42 pump gun. Some 3-inch shells are loaded with 5/8 oz. of shot. This includes most English and European brands. The present 3-inch American shells are marked 11/16 oz.; older ones are marked 3/4 oz.
For comparison, I weighed the shot charges from some 11/16 oz. shells and from some old shells marked 3/4 oz. Not too much to my surprise, both shot charges averaged identical weights of .71 ounces or about midway between. When I reload 3-inch shells, which is not too often, I use the same 3/4-oz. measure I use for my 28-gauge shells.
Some older writers no doubt considered the older .410 shells having the small shot charges when condemning the .410 as inadequate. Some of them didn't notice when things improved. William Harndon Foster, in his book "New England Grouse Shooting," (Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1942), dismissed the .410 as a "plaything" while saying 28 gauge is adequate and even calls the 5/8 oz. load "spiteful." This was some seven years after the 3-inch .410 with its 3/4 oz. load was introduced, a load at least the equal of the 5/8 oz. 28-gauge load. Mr. Foster is also remembered as the inventor of the game Skeet.
Another problem area for the .410 is shot size. I once listened to a sporting goods salesman, a person well known as a good groundhog hunter and relatively knowledgeable about guns in general, advise a customer. The customer wanted some .410 shells to shoot starlings. The salesman's advice was to use number five shot in the 2 1/2-inch shell. That was a poor recommendation; the only worse would have been 4's or slugs. There are only about 85 pellets in a half ounce of 5s. Starlings are small birds. Assuming an evenly distributed 30-inch pattern at 30 yards, there would be only one pellet per 8.3 square inches of coverage. Such a pattern would not assure regular hits on small birds. In contrast, a half ounce of 9s would provide more than 290 pellets in the pattern. That would be one pellet for each 2.4 square inches. A pattern this dense would assure several hits on each bird. Using 3-in. shells with Number 9 would result in more than 400 pellets in the pattern; one pellet for each 1.75 square inches.
Small shot may be objected to on the grounds that it lacks killing power. Like the full choke argument there is some logic to this contention. Clearly a Number 5 will have more energy and momentum than a Number 9, more than three times as much, but the same load of 9's will have more than three times as many pellets. There are two other considerations to be taken into account: The .410 should be used at short range, where energy is still high in the small pellet; and the denser pattern of the small shot is much more likely to result in multiple hits which have a cumulative knockdown effect and increase the likelihood of hits in vital areas.
American factory shells in both lengths are available in shot sizes 4, 5, 6, 7 1/2, and 9. I think that shells loaded with 8s or 8 1/2s would make the .410 a better bird gun than either 7 1/2s or 9's. I generally use 9's on doves and quail and 7 1/2's I expect to see a rabbit or two. Were I shooting rabbits or squirrels only, I might consider 6's . I don't think I would ever use anything larger because I consider the .410 a relatively close-range gun and the smaller shot penetrates well at close ranges, while the larger shot thins out the pattern too much for reliable hits. I use 3-inch shells for nearly all of my hunting, but I have successfully used the 2 1/2-inch shell with 9's for doves. I try to limit my shots to 25 yards when I use the shorter shell.
Reprinted curtesy of :- The Gun
Digest, 37th edition 1983, Author :- Marshall Williams.
The Maligned .410 bore - Page 2