The little .410 shotgun is actually a bore, not a gauge. If you remember how a shotgun’s gauge is determine you will know that it is the number of lead balls of that specific diameter that equal one pound in weight. Thus a 12 gauge bore diameter is the diameter of one of the 12 balls that make up one pound, which is .729 inches. Not so the .410 though. If the .410 were to be designated in its associated gauge it would turn out to be the number of lead balls of .410 inches that make up a pound. This works out to be about 67 – 68 gauge.
The .410 is the smallest of the shotguns and in the hands of a good hunter or shooter who knows its limitations it is an effective little firearm, especially for upland game birds. In the hands of the inexperienced though it can be a frustrating gun.
The .410, as I said, can make an effective and fun little upland game gun, but because of the small shells and limited pellet count it should be limited to about 25 – 30 metres range. Any further and, even at full choke, the small pellet count leads to shot patterns that are simply too thin to be reliable or effective in taking birds humanely, if at all. Last season I took a shot at a ruffed grouse about 50 metres away. The bird hopped in the air about a foot, landed, shook itself and just stood there. All I had done was perturb it. I took a second shot and it flew away, seemingly without a scratch; I was just too far away for the little shotgun to perform well. With this little experience in mind, let’s look at the two most popular loads for the available shotshell lengths and pellet sizes for this gun and see if we can figure out what works best.
Another big advantage to the .410 is its minimal recoil. It is a great starter gun for beginners, but keep mind its limited range. Make them pattern it themselves and teach your student the effective range so they won’t be discouraged. If you don’t, you will find them failing to approach the bird close enough and missing or wounding birds. This teaching has the added advantage of giving you the opportunity to teach them how to sneak up on the birds as well and to listen for the rustle and the cheeping they make when skittish and spooked.
If you do consider a .410 for a beginner, especially a youth, be sure to check out the different actions it comes in. It is available in most actions. I prefer a pump so I chose the Mossberg Field 500. Remington offers an Express version in a pump action as well. It appears the most popular models are break actions, either single shot or over and under. If you are thinking of buying a break action singe shot, be sure to test the external hammer’s tension. The one I have is very stiff and although I have no problem cocking it, my wife struggles with it and for her it is dangerous because in her weaker hands the hammer can slip and fire the gun. Not good.
I have a hoot hunting and shooting with my .410s. They are easy to pack around, light in recoil and simply fun little guns. If you hunt upland birds, especially grouse, in close cover (which minimizes range) then consider it. If you do, remember to spend the time patterning it and learning what it can and cannot do. You’ll be far happier with it if you do.
By Bill Luscombe