Reloading the .410

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 "B" cards.

     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 4227.

     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 patterns.

     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:


Shell Primer Wad Grains/Powder Pressure
Federal Fed 209 F 410SC 13.5 gr 2400 11,900 psi 
WWAA type Win 209 WWAA41 14 WW 296  9,800 LUP
Rem-Peters Fed 209 Prec #4 17.5 4227 11,000 LUP

     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:


Shell Primer Wad Grains/Powder Pressure
Rem SP REM 97* RP SP410 14.5 2400 13,000 psi

     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 that matter.

     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 a box.


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