DO .410 BORE GUNS GET MORE CRITICISM THAN THEY DESERVE? WE THINK SO.
Although once considered a little gun for little shooters, the .410 bore has recently experienced a major surge in popularity among shooters of every age and size.
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From fun backyard plinking to serious pursuit of legendary longbeards, let’s look at what continues to fuel the .410’s fame.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Unlike other scatterguns, which are named by their gauge, the .410 gets its label caliber-style by the diameter of its bore in inches. Pull out a trusty tape measure and your reading glasses, and you can see that its petite bore is a meager .41 inches across.
We classify most shotguns by gauge. Gauge is determined by the number of lead balls the same size as the inside diameter of the gun’s barrel, which added together weigh one pound.
If that seems confusing, look at it this way: The weight of a solid lead ball that fits snugly down the barrel of a 12-gauge shotgun is 1/12 of a pound. In other words, it would take 12 of those balls to make a full pound. Hence the name “12 Gauge.”
If the .410 bore had been named the same way, we’d be calling it the “67 Gauge.” While that doesn’t sound nearly as cool, it perfectly illustrates the huge gap in bore size between the .410 and the other shotgun gauges.
ISN’T THE .410 A YOUTH SHOTGUN?
It’s true that plenty of shooters were introduced to shotgunning in their youth when their dad handed them a .410.
The lightweight design and kitten-soft recoil of these slender boomsticks earned them a reputation as youth firearms. However, if you want to frustrate a kid, handing them a .410 loaded with lead shot is the fast track to meeting your goal.
The major drawback to .410 shotguns is their paltry pellet count. A 2 1/2-inch .410 shell holds four lonely pellets stacked in a single-file column. A 2 ¾-inch 12-gauge shell holds twice that number.
Low pellet count leads to thin shot patterns. To compound the problem, the narrow shot column associated with .410 loads is notorious (because of physics, forces of ignition, a rapid increase in velocity, and other science-y things I don’t fully understand) for deforming those round lead balls, which isn’t exactly conducive to straight flight paths.
Limited shot, sparse patterns, and wonky flight paths mean that the .410 is most effective at ranges inside of 25 yards.
If you’ve hunted with youngsters, you know they have a difficult time sitting still and being patient, which makes those close-range shots extra difficult to pull off.
However, the .410’s famous ultra-mild recoil is perfect for the smallest, most recoil-sensitive shooters. Unfortunately, youngsters will outgrow short-stock .410 shotguns faster than they outgrow their shoes.
WHAT’S UP WITH THE .410 FANATICS?
If .410s are so damned frustrating, why are they so freakin’ popular?
REASON #1: THE JUDGE
Youth and skeet shooting basically kept the .410 from going the way of the dinosaur for decades. But it was the 2006 release of the Taurus Judge that breathed new life into this fading cartridge.
The Judge is a massive five-shot revolver that eats both .45 Colt Long cartridges and .410 shotshells. The wheel gun was an immediate success, probably due to its novelty more than any actual utility.
REASON #2: TUNGSTEN SUPER SHOT
Tungsten Super Shot (TSS) is shot made from a tungsten alloy that is 56% denser than lead. Because TSS is so dense, it hits harder, penetrates deeper, and has a longer terminal velocity than shotgun loads with classic lead shot. TSS also isn’t as prone to deformation.
Although reloaders had been using TSS for years, the concept took off when Federal Premium introduced their Heavyweight TSS waterfowl and turkey loads in 2018.
TSS was an instant game-changer for .410 shooters. With denser, heavier pellets, shotgunners could drop several shot sizes without sacrificing terminal performance.
You can pack far more #9 pellets into a tiny .410 shotshell than you can #5s. Since TSS #9s hit like #5s, TSS singlehandedly solved the .410 bore’s low pellet count/sparse shot pattern/wonky flight path struggle.
Suddenly, the .410 became a viable turkey gun. Now, all the cool kids (most of them over 18) are carrying them into the woods each Spring.
BEST .410 BORE GUNS
They say variety is the spice of life. If that rings true, the world of .410 bores is pretty freakin’ zesty. These puppies come in pretty much every shape, size, and action your mind could possibly dream up.
Traditional pump shotguns, over/under, single shots, side-by-sides, and semi-auto scatterguns chambered in .410 are all over the place these days. You can also find .410 lever actions, rolling blocks, and revolvers.
If you’re thinking about hopping on the .410 bore bandwagon, here are our top picks.
Mossberg 500 .410 Turkey
No discussion of “best shotguns” would be complete without mentioning the Mossberg 500. This classic pump-action scattergun is one of the best-selling guns in the world, and lucky for .410 aficionados, it comes in several small-bore variations.
In addition to Mossberg’s youth-targeted models, you can get a .410 bore 500 souped-up for spring thunder chickens. Along with the 500’s world-famous, butter-smooth action and signature top tang safety, the Mossberg M500 Turkey features fiber optic sights, an extended extra-full choke, and Mossy Oak Bottomland camo.
This lightweight smallbore tips the scales at just 6 ½ pounds. It also has a 24-inch barrel and a price tag that won’t leave you with a bad case of sticker shock.
Remington 870 Wingmaster .410
Like the Mossberg 500, the Remington 870 is a legend. When it comes to best-selling shotguns, these two shotguns are nearly even in popularity.
As the name implies, the 870 Wingmaster is optimized for upland birds. With an ultra-classic, satin American walnut stock and a high-polish blue finish, this is one handsome shotgun. If you want an heirloom-quality smoothbore, this one definitely fits the bill.
If you’re looking for a serious challenge, try busting clays with this one. It comes with a fixed modified choke and twin beads, which work about as well on sporting clays as they do on flushed quail. Both can be humbling experiences with a .410 bore, but if you want to challenge your skills, doing it with a .410 Wingmaster is a pretty damn good test.
Henry Lever Action .410 Shotgun
Built on Henry’s .45/70 rifle frame, this lever-action .410 shotgun looks just like a classic cowboy rifle. These shotguns match the manual of arms of Henry’s centerfire rifles, so if you’re a fan of the classics, this scattergun should feel instantly familiar.
At nearly 7 ½ pounds, Henry’s .410 lever gun is a tad on the hefty side. However, the design is well-balanced, quick-shooting, and perfect for hunting “wascally wabbits.” It also makes a perfect plinking gun.
The tubular magazine holds five 2 1/2-inch .410 bore shotshells. It also features a high-visibility front brass bead.
Not only are these shotguns an absolute joy to shoot, but they are also strikingly handsome, featuring stunning straight-grained American walnut furniture.
The MSRP on the Henry Lever Action .410 bore is just over $1,000. These definitely aren’t “budget guns,” but the style and performance these cowboy guns deliver should probably cost far more than Henry is charging.
TriStar Viper G2 Bronze Turkey .410
Unfortunately, family-owned TriStar Arms sometimes gets a bad rap. We live in a culture that worships big brands, and shooters often scoff at any scattergun that isn’t a Benelli, Beretta, or Browning. However, the TriStar Viper G2 Bronze Turkey deserves more respect than it gets. It is built like a tank and priced to fit a working man’s budget.
Made for the turkey woods, this autoloader features fiberoptic sights, four screw-in chokes, and a Soft Touch rubberized pistol grip. It weighs six pounds and has a 14 ¼-inch LOP and a 24-inch barrel.
While it balances well, the Viper G2 isn’t one you want to try to swing on fast-moving ducks or doves. However, pop a red dot on this sucker, load it with Federal Premium Heavyweight TSS .410 bore, and you’ve got a natural gobbler stopper.
Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon I O/U .410
If you want a classic over/under wingshooter, it doesn’t get much more classic than the Beretta Silver Pigeon. Berettas are like the sexy, sleek sports cars of the scattergun world, and if a .410 bore was ever going to have sex appeal, it would have to be an O/U Beretta.
The .410 Silver Pigeon I is available with either a 26- or 28-inch barrel. Both versions have super-sweet balance, swing with almost zero effort, and with a not-quite-full comb, these guns are easy to mount consistently.
Also, weighing in at six pounds, the Silver Pigeon I has enough weight to feel stable but not so much that you’re dog-tired after a day flushing pheasants through unpicked corn.
We largely have the Taurus Judge to thank for the recent .410 shotshell revival.
This hand cannon gets mixed reviews as a self-defense weapon. It is massive, heavy, and notoriously difficult to control. While .410 has excellent manners when run through a long gun, the recoil is pretty vulgar in a handgun.
However, it’s hard to argue with the Judge’s serious intimidation factor. It would take a pretty ballsy criminal to stare down the barrel of one of these suckers keep coming.
But home defense isn’t always about two-legged intruders, and the Judge does make a handy snake gun.
It also does a number on milk jugs, beer bottles, old bowling pins, watermelons, or anything else you can perch on a back-forty fence post.
Sometimes we get so bogged down in discussions of firearm utility and practicality that we forget shooting is just plain fun. Honestly, it doesn’t get much more amusing than plinking random recyclables with a Taurus Judge.
The .410 can be a frustrating gun under certain circumstances, and ballistics-obsessed shooters will always criticize them. However, the .410 fan club isn’t going anywhere.
The .410 is easy to love, even if it is sometimes frustrating to shoot. For some of us, it’s nostalgia. There’s a good chance your Daddy handed you a .410 when you were a wee sprout.
For others, it’s the challenge of shooting the .410 bore that draws us in. If you can bust clays and pop pigeons with a small bore, you’ll be absolutely invincible with a 12- or 20-gauge.
But mostly, these petite guns are easy to love because they are so fun to shoot. Now, thanks to modern high-density shot, the .410 bore is far more fitting for everything from skeet shooting to turkey hunting.
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