By Marshall Williams.
My first "store-boughten" reloading equipment was an
ancient Lee Loader for the three inch .410.
I bought it in 1964, so long ago that it came in a solid red box
and cost only about six dollars. It
was worth every penny.
For anyone who might not remember the cornerstone on which the Lee
reloading business was built, the original Lee Loader was a small boxed
set of hand held tools with which you could load shotgun shells on a table
top. The set consisted of a
rammer, body, decapper, capper, shot measure and powder measure.
The .410 kit included an additional item, a tapered shell mouth
expander which made it easier to start the little wads in the .410 case.
The three inch .410 kit had a shot measure fixed for 3/4 ounce of
shot, but the larger gauges had a shot measure adjustable from 7/8 ounces
up to 1 3/4 ounces. The
powder measure, made of aluminum, not plastic, by the way, dipped 16
grains of 2400, a charge intended for paper and fiber wads in paper cases.
At the time I bought my Lee Loader, I shot skeet nearly every
Saturday and Sunday. I
usually kept about three or four boxes of mixed paper .410 shells.
During the week, I reloaded all my .410 shells and on Saturday
morning, I went out and shot them all at Skeet.
On Sunday morning, I reloaded them all again and repeated the
process. I would guess that I
loaded 150 to 200 shells each week with the little Lee Loader.
I continued this practice for about a year, and, allowing for
replacing worn out shells with new ones about once a month, I probably
loaded about 5,000 shells with the little Lee Loader.
I shot nearly all of these shells through a little Mossberg
bolt-action .410 and became a creditable Skeet shooter.
Reloading components for the .410 were not as widely distributed as
those for larger gauges. I could find .135 cards and 1/4 inch fiber wads, but I always
had trouble finding "B" cards to close the roll crimped shells.
At first, I made them by thinly slicing .135 cards using a razor
knife. One day I noticed that
the three hole punch in my office made nearly a .410 inch diameter hole.
I experimented with shirt cardboards, if anyone remembers what
those are, and found that the three hole punch made very passable
The old Lee Loader worked very well with the paper shells, even
roll crimping the case mouth. The only weakness I noted was that they did not resize the
brass, but this rarely proved a problem in my bolt-action shotgun.
Eventually, my situation improved and I got both better Skeet guns
and better reloaders, first a MEC 600 Jr. loader with 28 ga. conversion
unit and later, a MEC 650 progressive. Let me rephrase that: I got more suitable guns and reloaders,
but probably not better ones.
Reloading the .410 is a bit more tedious than reloading larger
gauges. As a result of a
number of minor nuisance problems, I find my production of .410s slower
than bigger gauges using similar machines.
The shot column in the .410 is very long, comparable in length to
the heaviest magnum loads in larger gauges.
The half ounce load in the 2 1/2 inch shell has a shot column equal
in length to the short magnums in the larger gauges and 11/16 ounce load
of the three inch shell is as long as the shot column in a 3 1/2 inch 12
gauge shell. Thus only the
slowest burning powders are suitable for reloading. Even so, the .410 shells develop the highest chamber
pressures of any shotgun shells, running up to 14,000 psi in the 2 1/2
inch shell and 15,000 psi in the three inch shell.410s.
I have much experience with Alliant 2400, IMR 4227, and Winchester
296, and that nearly exhausts the powder possibilities.
The only other powders which come to mind are Hodgdon's H110 and
H4227. I have used an occasional can of H-110. I found it to be very much like Winchester 296, and,
therefore, a very good .410 powder, especially in the Winchester AA .410
case. I have no experience
with H4227, but judging from loading data, H4227 is very similar to IMR
I would point out that, while the longer .410 shell is three inches
long and the pressures are the highest of any shotshell, traditionally it
is not considered a magnum.
The biggest nuisance in reloading the .410 is that shot tends to
fall part way down the drop tube and "bridge" or stop where the
tube narrows down. Then, when
you raise the handle and start to move the case, the shot falls out and
runs on the floor. In my
experience, the bridging is much worse when reloading the long three inch
cases. Whenever I load three
inch .410s, I tap a screwdriver against the drop tube as I raise the
handle and listen to hear the shot go into the shells.
If I don't hear the shot fall, I tap the drop tube again before
raising the ram above the case mouth.
On most presses this is the shot drop tube also serves as the wad
ram. If it is too close a
fit, particularly if it is an old one designed for paper and fiber wads,
it can catch on the inside of a plastic shotcup.
Then, when you raise the handle, it pulls the wad out of the shell,
also spilling shot. I prevent
this by gripping the shell body between forefinger and thumb and this
holds the wad down as I raise the reloader handle.
Compared to the larger gauges, the .410 shells have the least
amount of internal capacity, and the most crowded need for it.
This creates some problems not normally encountered in larger
gauges. The .410 requires the
least room for crimping and a correct load fills a case nearly to its
mouth. Sometimes a pellet or
two bounces out when the case moves or is moved to the crimp starter or
crimping station. One of my
friends informs me that he had to disable the automatic shell advance on
his MEC 9000 .410 press for this reason.
This crowded condition makes matching components for compatibility
very important. As an
example, the Winchester AA .410 case, one of the best for reloading, has a
smaller capacity than either Remington or Federal cases.
As a result, the bulkier powders, 2400 and 4227, take up too much
room for best results. In
contrast, the Remington case appears to have the greatest capacity. In the
Remington case, dense powders like 296 take up so little room that the
crimp may collapse inward. Hercules
2400 takes the middle ground, and, while I have used it in both Winchester
and Remington cases, it works best in the Federal case. The .410 wad aggravates powder selection because it has no
collapsible mid-section to compress a little.
When using the Winchester three inch shell, I have found it
impossible to get an 11/16 ounce load of shot using any powder except 296.
However, if you want to load the old 3/4 ounce load in .410, the
three inch Remington SP shell has enough room to accommodate it.
The .410s have the shortest case life.
When I used the old paper shells, sometimes pin holes appeared
around the periphery of the case where the brass joined the paper even
when the factory shell was fired and always after the first reloading.
By the fourth reloading, the brass would frequently separate from
the paper. The plastic cases are a big improvement, but, if I do not
watch my cases closely, I get an occasional "zinger," a case
separation which sends shot, wad, and plastic case out the barrel.
It makes an unusual sound, hence the name.
As a sidelight, when I get a zinger with a Winchester AA case, I
frequently break the target, but I do not remember ever breaking a target
with a zinger in the Remington shell.
So far as I can determine, all presently available .410 wads are
designed specifically for the one-half ounce load in the 2 1/2 inch shell.
Remington, and possibly others, formerly offered a wad for the
three inch shell with 11/16 ounce of shot, but it was discontinued many
years ago. The 3 inch shell
may be loaded with the shorter wad, but only about two-thirds of the shot
receives the shot cup's protection.
A common criticism of .410 bore guns is that the long thin,
"pencil thin," shot column damages too much shot by scrubbing it
against the barrel. The
suggestion is that all this damaged shot flies off erratically and is lost
from the pattern. I cannot
find any evidence to support this. Damaged
shot may not fly as straight as round shot, but it does not disappear.
My .410 patterns are excellent, every bit as good as my 28 gauge
All manufacturers' .410 wads appear quite similar, but there are
tiny differences. The WWAA
and Federal wads appear to take up the same amount of space.
The Remington wad appears to take up slightly less room in the
case, and I prefer it when loading the WWAA shell which has the least
capacity. Among the shells,
the WWAA shell has the smallest capacity.
The R-P and Federal cases are similar.
For the best crimp, I recommend WW 296 in the WWAA cases, Hercules
2400 in the Federals, and IMR 4227 in the R-P cases.
My favorite .410 Skeet loads in 2 1/2 inch shells, all push 1/2
ounce of #9 shot at 1,200 feet per second are:
My favorite three inch load is 11/16 ounce at 1135 fps, 8 1/2s for
doves, 8s for quail, and 7 1/2s for rabbits:
Due to the occasional unavailability of components, I sometimes
substitute wads and can discern little difference.
Unlike the larger gauges where collapsible mid-sections vary widely
among different manufacturers, all .410 wads are very similar.
When loading the 2 1/2 inch .410s, I can not convince myself that
there is any practical use for shot larger than 9s.
Viewed at its best, this load is maxed out at 25 yards, and at 25
yards, 9s have ample energy to kill quail and doves, or even rabbits for
My experience in shooting tight choked .410s is that the soft shot
9s gives noticeably more open patterns than hard or "magnum"
shot. I once had a full
choked Remington 11-48 in which the effect was enough to permit the gun to
be useful for casual Skeet with soft shot reloads, while similar loads
using hard shot patterned far too tight for close range shooting.
In the longer shells, I now prefer 8s for most things, even
cottontails, although 7 1/2s might be better for rabbits.
For doves, I prefer 8 1/2s, but I probably am splitting hairs.
If I were squirrel hunting the old fashioned way with a full choked
.410, I might use 6s. I don't
think I would use a larger shot size in the .410.
Larger shot gives its biggest advantages at long range and .410s
are not long range guns.
While .410s are the greatest nuisance to reload, they also provide
the greatest savings. I buy lots of cheap Dove and Quail loads for my 12s, 16s, and
20s, at a cost of less than $4.00 a box.
Reloading such shells costs about $2.50 a box, and I save $1.50 a
box. There are no cheap .410
loads, and presently the basic 2 1/2 inch shells cost about $6 a box
wholesale. However, since the
shot charge is so tiny, I can reload a box for around $2.00, saving $4.00
Reprinted curtesy of Shotgun Sports Magazine, P.O. Box 6810, Auburn, CA 95604. www.shotgunsportsmagazine.com