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The .410 bore is perhaps the most enigmatic of all the shotgun gauges. But to be precise, the .410 is not a gauge of shotgun. It is a shotgun and it does shoot shotshells, but its bore size is determined like that of a rifle. Gauge itself is determined by the amount of lead balls equaling the diameter of the bore that in turn equals 1 pound. So, for instance, the 12 gauge can fit 12 lead balls in the barrel that, combined together, equal a pound in weight.

The .410 is not like this. .410 inches is the nominal bore diameter, a caliber, if you will. However, since it is a shotgun, many people refer to it as a gauge. It is better to call it a bore, since that is more accurate. But even calling it a bore confuses matters, as our dear English brethren refer to all gauges as bores (so, the 12 gauge becomes the 12 bore and so on). In the course of this writing, we will refer to it as the .410 bore or simply the .410.

The Facts:

  • Along with the 28 gauge, .410 bore shells are the most expensive to purchase and the cheapest to reload. This is due to the small amount of lead shot used, which is the most expensive component.
  • With a nominal bore diameter of .410 inches, this is the smallest commercially available shotgun produced today. Were it to be called a gauge and measured in that way, it would be known as the 68 gauge.
  • The .410 has been called a woman and child's gun. While it is diminutive in size and recoil, the .410 is actually a expert's bore. With such a small shot charge and its requisite ballistic inefficiency, it takes a master to shoot the .410 well.
  • The .410 3 inch shell is loaded with 11/16 oz. of lead shot. The 2 1/2 inch shell has a payload of just 1/2 oz. of shot. Currently, there are no non-toxic shotshells available for this gauge.
  • The popularity of this gauge was determined on the recreational skeet field in the 1920's. Otherwise, this gauge may not be with us today.

Background

The genesis of the .410 does not coincide with the heyday of shotgun design, which occurred from circa 1850 to 1870. It wasn't until about 1900 that the cartridge was making its appearance in catalogs and the proof houses of England. No one today knows who invented it. There is a good amount of speculation that the .410 was originally a rifle caliber, the .444 Marlin. There is other, more conclusive data, that suggests the .410 came from the Continent as a result of diminutive rifles that were modified into shotguns. This conclusion is drawn from the fact of the rather recent discovery of older "rook rifles" that were originally rifles that were converted to shotgun use. Still, there is a great deal of speculation over who did what, when. We may never know.

With such a small shot charge, the .410 was originally intended to be a taxidermist's gun and "pot shooter". A pot shooter was a gun used to gather meat for the family pot. Again, since the shot charge was so small, there were less pellets that would damage the meat or specimen. This in turn means that it took an expert to use it effectively, as there is very little margin for error. What changed all of this was the recreational activity of skeet shooting.

Skeet shooting is a clay target game shot with shotguns. As the game became more and more popular, the .410's success was assured. Registered competition (versus informal competition) is shot with 4 guns- the 12, 20, 28 and .410. The .410 being the most difficult of them all. Averages for the 12 and 20 gauge are close to being the same. In comparing the .410 with the 12 gauge, one finds that 12 gauge averages are quite noticeably higher. This is not because the targets are shot in a different order or process, it is simply because one has no room for error. The .410 is most unforgiving.

Ammunition

The .410 shotshells originally came as a 2 inch cartridge. As time went on, the shell was expanded to 2 1/2 inches and a 3 inch cartridge, which was a move to accommodate more shot. As was mentioned above, the 2 1/2 and 3 inch shells are still with us today, with the 2 1/2 inch shell loaded with 1/2 oz of shot (approximately 175 pellets of 7 1/2 size lead shot) and the 3 inch shell loaded with 11/16 oz of shot (approximately 250 pellets of 7 1/2 size lead shot). The big three- Federal, Remington and Winchester all produce loads for the .410 in both sizes of shell.

.410 Shotguns

The first .410 bore shotguns were break action single shot and break action double barrels. The first Winchester produced .410 was the Model 20, which was a break action, single shot .410 shotgun. Eventually, the Winchester Model 42, which was a scaled down version of the Model 12 was made in a pump action. Eventually, Marlin chambered the .410 in a lever action shotgun. Remington eventually came along and chambered the .410 in their famous line of autoloaders, the Model 1100. The .410 has been made by famous British gun makers, such as Purdey and Holland and Holland. It has also been made by American companies such as Ithaca and Browning.

.410 Bore Usage

Primarily used for skeet shooting, the .410 still finds its way into the hands of hunters. Squirrel and quail are both the primary game of this bore. The .410 is also used in pest control around houses and barns for rats, blackbirds and pigeons.

While certainly an expert's shotgun, the .410 is not recommended for beginning shooters to learn the art and sport of shotgunning. However, it is used in this sense, and in some instances, may be an excellent tool for learning how to shoot. The student learns to be precise in their shooting and about the conservation of ammunition, simply because the shells cost $2-3 more a box than the more conventional 12 and 20 gauge. The recoil, being so minimal, can help accustom a shooter to the sound and movement the gun makes in the hands and on the shoulder. Even so, it would be better to start a new shooter off with the 28 gauge, if only because they will hit more targets which is in part due to the amount of lead in the cartridge itself.

Such a diminutive mouse can roar, if only softly.

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