The Versatile .410

By Brad Fitzpatrick

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Federal Premium HEAVYWEIGHT TSS .410 Bore box sitting on a tree stump with a dead turkey

My first shotgun was a single-shot New England Firearms .410, and I used that gun to hunt squirrels and rabbits and control starling populations around our farmhouse for several years. By the time I’d reached my teens, though, I wanted something more potent. Repeating shotguns caught my attention, and I believed I’d grown large enough to handle the recoil of a 12 or 20 gauge, both of which were better-suited for hunting the deer, turkeys and ducks I was pursuing at that time. Also, and perhaps most importantly to me at the time, the .410 seemed like a kid’s gun, and no teenager wants to be viewed as a child.

Eventually, I moved to a 20 gauge and then on to a 12, and I’ve owned many shotguns since that first .410 arrived on my eighth birthday. But now that I’ve reached middle age, I find myself carrying the old single-shot .410 more often, and my most recent shotgun purchase was a svelte .410 pump produced in the 1950s that remains in near-new condition. Is it nostalgia that draws me back to the .410? That’s certainly part of it, but advances in shotshell ammunition has made the .410 a more potent hunting weapon than ever before.

History Of The .410

The .410 became popular in the United States in the early 1900s, and they were originally designed as “garden guns.” Unlike modern shotguns that are primarily designed for wingshooting and clay target games, garden guns were developed for dispatching small pests around the home. The 9mm Flobert was one of the most popular garden guns, and with a 1 ¾-inch shell it could be used inside barns to kills rats and snakes without excessive damage to the building itself.

The .410 started life as a garden gun with 2-inch shells. This was considerably more power and payload than guns like the 9mm Flobert offered, and eventually in 2 ½-inch and, later, 3-inch versions the .410 shotshell was viewed as a crossover round capable of thwacking rats without destroying a corn crib as well as hunting rabbits and quail in upland fields.

Incidentally, the .410 is the only popular shotshell that uses bore diameter instead of gauge. Gauge is a measure of the number of lead balls the same diameter as the shotgun’s bore that are equivalent to one pound. The .410 would be a 67-gauge shotgun, meaning 67 lead balls .410-inch in diameter weigh one pound.

Changing Views

With 2 ½ and 3-inch shells, the .410 makes a fine sub-gauge shotgun for upland hunters who limit their shots to 25 yards or so. A ½-ounce 2 ½-inch .410 target shell is a mild-mannered round for shooting skeet, and with guns as light as 5 pounds, the .410 was easy to carry all day.

Over time the .410 also earned a reputation as a home-defense round, particularly after Taurus released the Judge double-action revolver in 2006. Capable of shooting 45 Colt and .410 shotshells, the Judge became a best-seller for Taurus and remains a popular choice for defense.

The growing popularity of Tungsten Super Shot (TSS) has made the .410 a much more versatile hunting round. TSS is non-toxic but has a density of 18.3 grams per cubic centimeter. That makes it much denser than lead (11.3 g/cc), and since kinetic energy is a product of velocity and mass, smaller TSS pellets carry the same energy as larger lead pellets. In addition, smaller TSS pellets like No. 7 and 9 also penetrate more deeply than larger lead pellets at the same velocity because they have less surface area.

Federal Premium HEAVYWEIGHT TSS .410 Bore box laying on a .410 bore shotshell next to a turkey beard

The .410 has long been considered underpowered for turkeys, but Federal offers a .410 TSS turkey load with 13/16 ounce of No. 9 TSS pellets driven at 1,100 feet per second. It has proven to be very effective at distances within 40 yards and has substantially expanded the .410’s potential as a gobbler gun. It’s an especially attractive option considering .410s weigh as much as 2 pounds less than most 12- or 20-gauge guns, making the .410 much easier to carry in the field.

“TSS pellets make hunting turkeys with a .410 a very viable option,” says Federal Shotshell Director Dan Compton. “These payloads provide the performance of conventional 12-gauge loads with a significant drop in recoil.”

More Uses

TSS .410 loads make a great choice for turkeys, but they also expand the .410’s capabilities for other game. I’ve witnessed first-hand that a .410 using TSS is highly effective for mallards out to 30 yards, and on a recent waterfowl hunt in northern Mississippi, fully half of the hunters in the blind were using .410 shotguns. In addition, a .410 with TSS makes an excellent early season teal and wood duck shotgun, especially for hunters on public land that hike to hidden ponds and don’t want to carry a lot of heavy gear. These same TSS loads work well for upland birds like chukars, Huns, ruffed grouse and even wild pheasants.

The .410 is a great gun that’s made much more versatile by the advent of TSS. Today it’s conceivable that a .410 might be your go-to shotgun for waterfowl, upland birds and turkeys, which was unheard of years ago. TSS certainly isn’t as cheap as lead shot, but the performance advantages arguably make the added cost worthwhile.

My old single-shot .410, which has been residing in the back of my gun safe for almost three decades, is back in action. With proper loads, I can carry that gun for almost everything I hunt, and it will be the shotgun my young son uses to bag his first game animals. Even though the .410 is great for shooters of any age, it’s no longer just a kid’s gun.