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.410 shotguns

By Marshall Williams.

I use two basic loads in the .410.  In 2 ½ inch shells, I like 9s; in 3 inch shells I prefer either 8s or 8 ½s, but I use 7 ½s interchangeably.  When I load my own three inch shells, I use a ¾ ounce shot bar except in AAs which just don’t seem to have the room.

I prefer 9s in the short shell because the extra shot allow a denser pattern than anything larger, and within 25 or so yards, they kill fine.[1]  (There actually is a very scientifically derived formula for comparing the lethality of shot, but I won’t bore you with it.)  I have personally used this load only on doves, and when I use it, I try to keep my shots well under 30 yards.

I have loaded .410s with several powders: in the short AA shells, 296 (or H110) seems to be the only practical choice, there is not enough room for other powders.  In Remington or Federal empties, I prefer 2400, although it leaves unburned powder grains behind.

A couple of years ago, I did up a thousand Remingtons of each length using 4227.  The Remington case has extra space and the 4227 load takes it up.  I had not used 4227 in about 20 years, and I was not entirely happy with the results this time.  My shooting with these loads seemed below par.  I don’t know whether I have just gotten out of practice or whether the velocities did not get up to what is needed.  The 2 ½ inch Skeet load did OK, but only just OK.  My 3 inch load was not a published load and gave me far too many misses for my ego to accept all of them as the fault of my shooting (My ego has yet to consider whether it might be the fault of my reloading.)  I suspected the velocity was low.  The three inch Remington cases have ample room for ¾ ounces of shot.  I have not tried any Federals in years, but they also could be loaded with ¾ oz. using 2400.

I learned to shoot Skeet with a bolt-action Mossberg .410, but one of the other shooters took pity on me and loaned me a Trap Grade Model 42, 28 inch with Cutts and wood you would die for.  I could break as many Skeets with it as I could with a 12.  I appreciated the loan but could not buy the gun and bought a High Standard Flite King Skeet pump.  I shot it well, but only once.  It was defective, apparently assembled without the interupter, so I returned it to the gun store and traded for a Remington 11-48 with plain barrel and full choke.  A highly reliable gun which digested either 2 ½ or 3 inch shells with total indifference.  I think it was the most reliable .410 I ever had.  (And the others were pumps!)  I eventually obtained a ribbed Skeet barrel and it never bobbled a single load with either barrel.  I traded this one (and some money) for a Model 42, but later acquired a second 11-48 and had the same reliability.  The long recoil action was hard on the heads of paper cases, but usually the crimp wore out before the rims split.

I had two Model 42s which were quite different.  One was a 28 inch Skeet gun with steel Cutts Compensator mimicking the old Trap Grade, but with plain wood.  The other was a 26 inch straight gripped Skeet gun with Simmons rib, a real delight, even among 42s.  I could shoot the hell out of both of them.  I once killed a dove at 40 yards with the Cutts and spreader tube using a three inch shell loaded with ¾ oz. of 9s, and another at about the same distance or a yard or two more with a shell loaded with ¾ oz. of 8 ½s.  To put that in perspective, I doubt I have ever killed a dove farther away with any larger gauge;  I don’t shoot at them any farther away.  Using the trim little straight gripped gun, I once walked up and killed seven straight (wild) quail.

I also had 1100s in .410 and 28, not a “Matched Pair”as Remington marketed them, but bought separately.  However, I did not care for the 1100s. The .410 Skeet gun had only 2 ½ inch chamber, threw my empties way off, but the killer was the weight, about 7 ½ pounds, far too heavy for a .410, and no other qualities to endear it.

Since about 1979, when I sold off the last of my other .410s,  I have had just one, an 870 Skeet gun, bought in the 70s along with a 28 gauge companion.  These were not a “Matched Pair” either, but two guns bought individually from dealers in different States, as nobody had both in stock.  I chose the 870 in large part because it had a three inch chamber and was choked  “Skeet.” However, it patterns noticeably tighter than my 28 gauge 870 Skeet, and, like all the small bore Remingtons, it weighs four ounces more than the same model in 28 gauge.  The extra four ounces is all in the barrels.

Compared to the trim little Model 42s, the 870's stock is larger and more man-sized, but it weighs only 6 lbs. 4 oz.., the same as my 28 inch Model 42 Skeet gun with steel Cutts comp.  (The 28 gauge 870 Skeet weighs just 6 pounds even.) I think my little straight gripped model 42 weighed 5 lbs. 12 oz..  The 870 also is approximately the same weight as the .410 bore 11-48.  As noted, the 1100 .410 Skeet gun weighed about 7 ½ lbs., and the 28 was four ounces lighter.

I have not done much hunting with the 870, only a few doves and quail using three inch shells loaded with 8s or 8 1/2s.  I try to pick my shots and hold them under 30 yards, but it has more range than I think it does and seems to kill doves as far as a 20 loaded with 7/8 oz. of 8s.

I once had a friend who used his .410 bore 11-48 Skeet gun for his grouse hunting loaded a ¾ ounce of 8s.  This was a reload; in those days the factories did not offer 8s in .410.  One season, on consecutive weekends, while grouse hunting he scared up and killed big turkeys with this gun and load.  One bird weighed 10 lbs. and the other 14 lbs. And both were one shot kills.

I have never owned a good .410 double of any sort.  Recently I was tempted by a friend who has a Zoli-Rizzini OU made for Abercrombie and Fitch in the mid-60s.  It is a beautiful little gun with nicely engraved false side plates, but double triggers, extractors, 3 inch chambers, choked IC and Mod., and weighs a trifle over 5 pounds.  But for the bore and the false sideplates with rather too open engraving, it is an inexpensive Italian over and under as made by Zoli in the 60s, but a very neat gun. 

I started reloading .410s in 1965 with a Lee Loader, the little box of hand tools, and it was entirely satisfactory when paper shell were vogue.  Later, in about 1969, I bought a MEC 600 Jr. with dies for both 28 and .410 and used it until I wore it out.  Then I bought a used MEC 650 progressive which, as .410 loaders go, worked pretty well for a number of years.  However, recently I broke it, so I went looking for another loader. 

One of my friends had a Ponsness-Warren in 28 and been disappointed.  He returned it and got a Hornady Apex 3.1 which he loves.  He convinced me to get one in .410.  It was a bust.  I worked for about six evenings and got fewer than a box of shells loaded and I am unwilling to shoot any of them.  While it had adjustment problems for the primer seater, the real problem was the shot drop tube; it would not reliably drop shot, and I would have been satisfied if it had done so only 2/3 of the time.  Number 9 shot bridged in three different locations in the tube, at the bottom, at the funnel mouth on top, and somewhere in the middle.  I tried modifying it with a taper reamer and also got a new tube from Hornady, but nothing worked.  I sent it back and obtained a 12 gauge version in exchange which I sold to my friend who liked the 28.  I have since decided to send the two old MECs back to the factory for upgrade.  They are not back yet, so I do not know how that will work.  I accept that .410s are more of a nuisance to reload than larger gauges, but the Hornday Apex 3.1 was not up to the job.  I think the diameter of the shot drop tube is too small and nothing can be done about that.

I have just bought a Beretta 687EL Gold in .410 which has all the refinements but has been a bitter disappointment.  The catalog alleged that it would weigh 5.3 pounds; it weighs 6.3. However, it was a disappointment.  For one thing, the extra choke tube included in the case was for a 28, not a .410.  I also discovered mechanical problems.  The opening lever release detent would not release the opening lever when the gun was closed.  I could push it over with a little bump.  I sent it back to the Accokeek plant and they repaired it and returned it within about two weeks.  When I took it out and shot it, I noticed that the finger piece of the opening lever sat high enough that it was in the line of sight.  It made a blur about half as high as the bead when I look up the rib.  I took it back again.  I think it may have an opening lever off another size gun.  I also found the chambers to be unusually tight, it would not accept some relaods which had not been resized but that had worked OK in my 870 pump.  Even the new box of factory WW AAs I shot did not all drop in to rim depth.  At this point, I feel entirely Jonah-ed by this gun and probably will sell it when I am sure it is fixed.

The Beretta is a bit pricey, but there is little else available with both refinements and light weight.  For instance, the Browning Citoris are cheaper and have all the features, but seem to run at least seven pounds or more in any style, including the Super Light.  In my view, this is too heavy for a .410. 

I also found a picture of a Beretta SO series .410 in about EEELLL grade.  It was so beautiful that I boutght it then and there.  The picture, not the gun which would cost more than my house.  Maybe some of the Wall Street bankers who can afford to shoot quail in SC will buy it.

In the mid-60s, I got to play with a genuine Winchester Model 21 in .410.  At the time, the owner told me there were only 13 in the world.  He promised to let me shoot it, but through oversight he failed to bring it out to the Skeet range the next day.  Instead, I got to try a high grade 12 gauge Parker with a set of Purbaugh .410 tubes, the first full length Skeet tubes I ever saw.  It made a lasting and indelible impression; I don’t like heavy .410s. 

A couple of years later, I missed an opportunity to buy a Winchester Model 21 in .410.  The owner of the one I had seen in Corpus Christi had told me they were discontinued.  Based on that statement, I never asked the factory rep about a smaller bore when I had an opportunity. 

Well, maybe if I get to heaven....

Most commentators criticize the .410's long, skinny shot column.  This seems entirely appropriate; the shot column is long and skinny.  Logically, (and mathematically) much more of the shot charge can rub against the barrel and deform than in a larger gauge.  In addition, due to the higher pressures generated in the .410 under that long shot column, much more is deformed by pressure.  All of that is true, but the criticism which invariably follows the observation is that such deformed shot does not fly straight and is lost from the pattern.  This criticism may appear logical, but it is not supported by pattern evidence and can easily be demonstrated to be false. 

Just because shot is deformed, whether by rubbing against the barrel or by high chamber pressure, does not mean that it flies off and disappears from the pattern.  If it did so, it would be impossible to get even a 50% pattern with shot larger than #11s!  In fact, it is entirely possible to get tight full choke patterns with a .410 using #4s, the largest size available.

The fact is that so much shot is deformed in any shot charge that if it all flew off and disappeared from the pattern, it would be impossible to get a 50% pattern in a 12 gauge using shot larger than #6s.  Yet experience indicates that the larger shot we use, the easier it is to get tight patterns.  (If I had ever taken a physics course, I probably would say something like, “Larger shot has more inertia and therefore is less likely to deviate from its established trajectory.”)  Deformed shot may not fly as straight as perfectly round shot, but it does fly in the direction it is aimed.

The half ounce shot charge in the .410 is a very close range proposition, yet it probably is better than many shooters would realize.  For guns of equal choke, the effective range at which one can take game or break targets can be determined by a simple geometric relationship.  If all other things are equal, range is in proportion to the square root of the weight of the shot charge.  I use the example of an ounce of shot, a common shot charge in several gauges.  If we assume that an ounce of shot has a maximum effective range on doves of 40 yards, then a 3/4 ounce shot charge will have the same coverage at about 35 yards, the 11/16 ounce shot charge would have an effective range of 33 yards, the 5/8 oz would do it at 32 yards, and the half ounce load would give the same coverage at 28 yards. 

However, things are not equal at all ranges.  At the shorter ranges, smaller shot has considerably more energy and lethal effect than larger shot has at longer ranges.  So much so that at 28 yards, one can come down a shot size and still be equally effective.  But if we come down a shot size, then we increase the number of pellets.  If we increase the number of pellets, then we can increase our spread by using a more open choke.  My belief is that if you consider an ounce of 7 ½ s to be effective from a full choke at 40 yards, a half ounce of 9s will be equally effective at 30 yards from an improved cylinder choke.

[1] I always preferred 9s for crows in 12 gauge guns.  Even at long range, they seemed to have better knockdown effect.  Larger shot did more damage, but I have actually seen body fluids squirt out the top of a crow hit with 6s yet it flew on as if unhurt.  In contrast, I knocked down crows at long range using 9s, had them plummet like a rock, yet could not tell that any shot had actually penetrated their skins.  There was no blood, only little grey spots where the shot had hit and apparently fallen away.  I do not pluck nor skin crows (I also avoid eating crow when I can), so I do not have any good idea of how much damage the 9s did.  On the other hand, I have littered the ground with dead ones killed at unlikely long ranges.