By Marshall Williams.


Sunny was off at his cabin in Maine and The Major was shooting an IPSC match with his new revolver.  (The Major was ALOOF to the core.) Thus, Saturday morning found Cosmo and the Judge enjoying a rare day at the range without any other members of the Order around. 

The Judge and Cosmo were two of a kind in one respect; neither seemed capable of shooting the same gun two days in a row, and today both were was playing with their favorites, the Judge had a slender little .410 bore over and under.  Cosmo, as he often did, was smashing targets with a neat little 28 gauge double that might well have stood as collateral for the down payment on a house.  As they went around the field, hit or miss, they were just about neck and neck.  If Cosmo hit well, so did the judge.  If Cosmo missed one now and again, so did the Judge. 

At the end of the round, both had broken 23, and Cosmo commented, “Judge, it  surely takes an expert to shoot so well with a ‘mousegun.’  Why it’s little more than a toy.  You ought to be shooting dragonflies with that thing.” 

The Judge’s feathers always ruffled at the term ‘mousegun.’  He had in fact shot all manner of game with a .410 and probably knew its capabilities about as well as the next person.  “It ain’t no toy, and I did shoot dragonflies with it.  At least until I shot one when Miss Howiggins was here.  She got a little upset; it turns out she really likes dragonflies, so I promised not to do it again. At least not in front of her.” 

Then thought of Miss Howiggins and the dragonfly brightened the Judge’s mood and he made Cosmo an offer. “Say Cosmo, you do so well with the 28, why don’t you try my little .410.  It might change your opinion.”

Cosmo scoffed at the suggestion, “Sure, I ought to waste the price of a box of those expensive little shells and a round of Skeet to break about four targets.  I think I could break the incomers at station 1 and 7 where I could wait until the range is down to ten yards, but nobody can hit diddly-squat with those things except a few real experts.  I don’t know why they even make them.  They are no good except for experts, poachers, and taxidermists.  Major Askins, Elmer Keith, and every respectable gun writer who ever lived said so.”

The Judge kept his calm, but judging from the cloud upon his face, it may have been the calm before a storm.  “Cosmo, did you ever shoot a .410?” he asked.

Cosmo realized the question was serious and replied, “Sure.  I shot a lot of squirrels with one when I was a kid.  I never hit anything with it that wasn’t sitting still, though.”

“What kind of gun was it?” asked the Judge. “Something like your neat little 28 double?”

Cosmo smiled at the comparison.  “Nope.  Just your typical single-barrel, break-open gun like every kid and nearly every grown up had in my semi-depressed rural neighborhood.   Twenty-six inch barrel ‘choked down like a rifle’ as Tennessee Ernie said in the song.  Funny thing, though, those little .410s were nearly everybody’s favorite squirrel gun in those days.”

The answer brought a thoughtful look to the Judge’s face and he said, “Probably the same gun the experts used.  I’ll give you a box of shells and pay for your round of Skeet.  You shoot my little gun and I’ll shoot this old double I just got back from the gunsmith.”

Then as an afterthought, the Judge added, “By the way, that’s a field gun and it has an automatic safety.”

The Judge shot first, then Cosmo stepped onto the station and loaded two tiny shells into the gun, gently closed it and called for his target, “Hack.”  The target flew out, Cosmo pointed the little gun at it and jerked the trigger.  The gun did nothing, Cosmo wavered slightly, then stepped forward to keep from losing his balance, and profaned, “Damn it!”

The Judge said, “I told you it had an automatic safety.  Try it again.”

Cosmo took off the safety and tried it again.  This time there was a snappy little pop and the target disintegrated in a thoroughly satisfactory manner.  Again, though, Cosmo took a little step off the station.  Settling back, he called for his low house. Another pop, another satisfactory break.  Then Cosmo reloaded for his doubles.  At his call, both targets came out, he pointed the gun at the high house, jerked at the trigger and took a step forward. 

The Judge chuckled and said, “Cosmo, that gun still has an automatic safety.” 

Cosmo profaned again, “Damn it!” 

This litany was repeated throughout the round.  Each time Cosmo called for his first target, he tracked it, yanked the trigger, the gun remained silent, and he fell forward off the station.  Each time, the Judge reminded him of the safety and Cosmo muttered a profane little prayer under his breath.   He simply could not get the hang of the automatic safety, a feature he had removed from all of his guns. 

However, his shooting satisfied him; at the end of his maiden round with a .410, he had broken 21 targets.  That was near his average and included hits on stations three, four, and five.  Cosmo was favorably impressed and said, “You know, before I shot this little gun, I really did not expect to break anything except stations one and seven, I mean, how can you miss them. But this little gun actually breaks targets when you point it right.  I am surprised.” 

The Judge said, “Well, you benefitted from dry firing a couple at every station.  Looking at all the extra targets probably settled you down and smoothed out your swing.”

Now Cosmo could chuckle, “It probably didn’t hurt.  You know, I have been shooting 28s for years. Most everybody does well with 28s, but hardly anybody likes the .410.  I wonder why.”

This was an invitation to talk about one of his favorite subjects and Judge beamed.  “How many 28s do you own?”  The Judge made a mental inventory of those he had seen Cosmo shoot, “Let me see, there’s the little Parker Skeet gun, a Browning Skeet gun, a Ruger over/under, an SKB double, and a new Remington 1100 Sporting Clays model.  At least five.” 

Cosmo nodded and said, “I have a couple more.” 

The Judge said, “And how are they choked? The two Skeet guns are choked Skeet, the others have screw in choke tubes, and you keep either Skeet tubes or improved cylinder tubes in them.”

Cosmo replied, “Yes.  I don’t use the Modified and full tubes much.  The 28 is a short to medium range field gun.  When I need a long range gun, I use something bigger.”

“Bingo!” exclaimed the Judge. “You and everybody’s sister and second cousin.  Everybody who uses a 28 gauge gun has a good quality lightweight gun with open chokes.  A great combination that covers 90% of field shooting situations.  But the only .410 you ever shot was an ill-balanced little single barrel with a tight full choke.   How many 28 gauge guns have you seen that were cheap little full choked, break-open, single-barrel shotguns?”

Cosmo replied, “Well I once saw a Winchester Model 37 at a gun show, but there was nothing cheap about it.  It was priced really high.”

“Of course it was priced high, they are rare as hens’ teeth.”  The Judge fairly jumped on the point.  “All 28s are uncommon, but when you see one, it is nearly always either a good quality Skeet gun or bird gun.  In contrast, .410s probably outnumber 28s by a margin of 20 or 30 to one, but a good quality .410 double is rare.  The only .410 you and nearly everybody else ever shot was an old top-break, single-shot, squirrel gun choked down like a rifle.  It works great on squirrels because shooting squirrels is like rifle shooting, so is rabbit shooting, at least sometimes.  But it doesn’t work so great on quail or doves because it has poor balance and the pattern is too small for good close up shooting yet too thin and patchy to kill reliably at long ranges. 

“You did a pretty satisfactory job with my little .410 today.  It is well balanced and is choked cylinder and improved cylinder, in other words, it’s about the same as your nice little 28 gauge guns.  With open chokes, a well-balanced .410 makes a good 20 to 30 yard gun.  Even with the little half ounce load of 9s and a wide open choke, it broke all the Skeet targets you could hit with it.  If you put the three inch shells with 11/16 ounce of shot in a .410 with an improved cylinder choke or a loose modified, it probably will come within a yard of doing as well as your 28s.  My three inch reload has the same 3/4 ounces of shot as my 28 gauge reloads, and I don’t see much difference in them.  But no amount of choke can make it a 40 yard gun.”

Cosmo had to agree that he had shot well enough, but still he seemed troubled. “Everyone complains about the long skinny shot column in the long shell, ‘pencil thin’ is the way they put it.  The .410 has a lot more shot in contact with the barrel than a bigger bore. Doesn’t all that shot scrubbing against the barrel ruin your patterns.  I mean everybody says deformed pellets fly off and disappear from your pattern.”

“Oh, poppycock.” said the Judge.  “Deformed pellets may or may not fly as straight as round pellets, but they don’t disappear into the ether without a trace.  They mostly stay with the pattern, too.  In fact, I can demonstrate mathematically that a 12 gauge shotgun loaded with shot as large as 5s has more than half the shot in contact with the barrel.  Additional deformation occurs when you squeeze the shot through a tight choke.  If deformed shot disappeared from the patterns, it would be impossible to get a 12 gauge gun to pattern 50% with shot larger than 6s, but even in the old days, with paper wads and no shot protectors, the largest shot and tightest choke always gave the smallest patterns.  Same in the 28 or the .410.”

At that point, the conversation turned to other matters, and the Judge went to the cash box, paid for three rounds of Skeet and told Cosmo to ante up for two. 

Cosmo corrected the Judge, “I only owe for the first round, you old fart.  You said you would pay for the round I shot with the .410.” 

The Judge looked him square in the eye and replied. “I paid for the round you shot with the .410; you owe for the round you just looked at while you played with the safety on the .410.”


Reprinted curtesy of Shotgun Sports Magazine, P.O. Box 6810, Auburn, CA 95604.