The .410 Is Back

Advances in shotshell technology have made the diminutive .410 a viable defensive option again.

The .410 Is Back

Just a few decades ago, most people considered the .410 shotshell a slowly dying round with diminishing selection and limited availability. There were a few pump- and single-action shotguns still in active production, plus some niche .410/.45 Colt chambered firearms like the Thompson/Center Contender and the Bond Arms Snake Slayer. Most considered .410 shotguns youth guns, and everything else a novelty gun. Interestingly both Thompson Center and Bond Arms reported the .410 compatible guns were their hottest selling models. The more significant issue most .410 shotgunners faced was the difficult task of finding a broad range of available shotshells beyond just No. 8 shot and, if they were lucky, a box of slugs.

Then something a bit weird happened — the insanely large Taurus Judge .45 Colt/.410 2.5-inch shotshell revolvers hit the market in 2006. They were so overwhelmingly popular that later, in 2011, Smith & Wesson introduced a similar lightweight scandium-framed Governor. The Governor was unique in that it also supported moon-clip-mounted .45 ACP rounds as well as .45 Colt and .410 shotshells. For the survivalist customer mindset, the Governor became a must-have firearm. With new customer demand from Judge and Governor sales, a surprising amount of R&D was suddenly dumped into optimizing .410 defensive rounds for short rifled barrels. New .410 shotshell options hit the market. Because these pistols also readily shot .45 Colt rounds, many new defensive options were introduced in that legacy caliber as well.

Suddenly we had some new .410 shotshell options to feed the handy and soft-recoiling .410 long guns, including improved buckshot and slug options. Also introduced were some unique hybrid multi-projectile rounds, including the Hornady Critical Defense with a 41-caliber FTX slug over two 35-caliber lead round balls and Winchester’s PDX rounds with 12 pellets of plated BB shot and three plated Defense Disc projectiles. Both rounds have shown to be proven defensive one-shot stoppers. Other new .410 defense rounds include the Sellier & Bellot 000 Buck and buckshot and BB combo rounds, Remington HD Ultimate Home Defense Buckshot, and updated slugs and buckshot from Winchester. A significant amount of credit goes to Taurus and S&W for producing these unique firearms.

Everyone with a survivalist or multi-tool mindset bought one of these unusual Judge or Governor pistols, and the status of the .410 round was again very much alive. Shells were more widely stocked on shelves. For those in snake country, the Judge and Governor pistols became hiking favorites. These heroically proportioned revolvers also reminded shooters of how impressive, capable and flexible the .410 shotshell really was, all with a mild report and recoil depending on the gun.

That broader demand for .410 ammo spilled back upstream to .410 shotguns, with both Remington and Mossberg seeing big sales jumps from their small-bore shotguns again. Sales surged, and many shooters started asking the question of whether they really needed the weight, power, recoil and report of a 12-gauge when the .410 seemed to be doing the job. Mossberg even offered a Shockwave .410 version in 2018 which is insanely light, short and handy for trail and ATV carry to address all manner of wiggly and legged critters. Mossberg reportedly grew models available in .410 spanning their 500 and 590 defense, youth, turkey and upland game break-open models in response to growing .410 shotgun sales. A few other companies, like Henry, jumped in with some unique and fun side-loading .410 lever-action shotguns and the short Henry Axe .410 Shockwave-style model. Sometimes it is interesting how a resurgence happens.

Decades ago, everyone stampeded to 12-gauge rounds as the shotgun solution for any task, and the smaller, lighter-recoiling, capable and more enjoyable-to-shoot shotguns like 16-gauge, 20-gauge and .410 bore sales slipped a lot. After owning a 16-gauge Browning A5 and successfully hunting all manner of upland game, geese, deer and varmints, I see no reason to get beat to death unless the range and power of maxed-out 12-gauge rounds is needed. Many customers realized the little .410 can do pretty much everything the 20-gauge can without the deafening report and heavy recoil of a larger gauge. Squirrels, rabbits, snakes, raccoons and coyotes all are taken as easily with a .410 (and the right ammo) as with a 12-gauge.

Today we have a large percentage of new shooters who want a lower-recoil shotgun option, or like the option a multi-caliber firearm — something like the Snake Slayer, Judge or Governor — delivers. Obviously, the flexibility of shotgun ammo allows everything from birdshot, buckshot, slug, defensive rounds, less-lethal and specialty rounds to be stacked into a magazine. The new defensive loads from Federal and Hornady are extremely impressive. Even the power of older options is impressive, with the 1,830 fps Super X Rifle slugs delivering over 650 ft./lbs. of energy, which is more than most 9mm, 40 S&W and .357 Magnum rounds. Federal’s Power-Shok slugs deliver up to 752 ft./lbs. of energy. All of the firearms noted here are heavier with increased mass to soak up recoil for the new shooter. Let’s take a look at a few great .410 firearms. During the course of writing this article, several dealers were visited, and all noted that .410 ammo sales specifically have surged due to the sales of Judge, Governor, Shockwave and new Henry firearms.



Thompson/Center Contender Pistol .45 Colt/.410 3 and 2 1/2-inch shells: Despite being a single-shot pistol with a rifled barrel, the T/C Contender works extremely well out to about 20 yards depending on the shotshell. The rifled 12- or 14-inch T/C barrels are unique in that a screw-in choke is used for shotshells, which helps reduce the effect of rifling and keeps groups surprisingly tight. With the choke removed, the T/C barrel can deliver excellent sub-1-inch 25-yard groups with good .45 Colt ammo. An hour of so working on shooting clays will net a surprising confidence level for shots on birds in flight or small game on the run. With just a barrel swap, a Contender can also shoot nearly any caliber, from rimfire up to and including 45-70.

Bond Arms Snake Slayer .45 Colt/.410 3 and 2 1/2-inch shells: The quality of Bond Arms firearms is unquestionably high, however, the historic design does require some training to reach proficiency. With that noted, the design prints shot well on snakes and other intended targets as a 7- to 10-yard gun. Beyond that distance, owners will want buckshot, slugs or specialty defensive rounds or opt for the compatible .45 Colt rounds for shots on torso-sized steel out to 50 yards. With more powerful 3-inch shells, it should be no surprise there is some recoil to be managed. Like the Thompson/Contender, the Bond Arms handguns can easily swap optional barrel lengths and calibers that range from .22LR to .45 Colt/.410.

S&W Governor .45 Colt/.45 ACP/.410 2 1/2-inch shells: Taurus may have led the way for a new type of revolver, but S&W offered a refined and flexible option built on the company’s lightweight scandium frame. Of all these listed options, the Governor is the only gun which can also shoot .45 ACP with two or six round moon clips and supports mixed-cylinder loading of combinations of .45ACP, .410 and .45 Colt rounds. With shotshells, the Governor is also a sub-10-yard gun, but buckshot, defensive rounds and slugs extend the range. Support for mixed-cylinder rounds makes the Governor just as handy and accurate as any revolver at longer ranges with slug and handgun rounds.

Henry .410 Side Loading Shotgun & Axe models, 2 1/2-inch shells: Henry’s .410 line has grown in a short time, with seven models, including single-shot, lever-action and Axe lever-action models. The lever-action line is five- or six-round .410 smoothbore with their new side-loading design, which can handle the breadth of 2 1/2-inch .410 shot, buckshot, rifled slugs or any of the new defensive rounds. Some models also feature Invector-style screw-in chokes for added flexibility. The design is reliable and fast and performs as well as any standard-length .410 shotgun would. With the screw-in full chokes, groups are very tight and usable out to 25 yards, even with the short Henry Axe model. Henry has done extremely well with these stunning-looking and -operating shotguns. The 7.5-pound weight (5.75 pounds for the Axe) means there is very little felt recoil, and the lever action delivers fast and reliable shooting, even for new shooters.

Mossberg Shockwave 590 .410 3- and 2 1/2-inch shells: At only 4.24 pounds, the .410 Shockwave is almost half the weight of a typical shotgun and only about twice the weight of the above-listed handguns. It’s likely the most versatile and easy-to-learn-and-shoot self-defense gun in this group. The operation is crayon-easy with bullet-proof reliability, the ability to shoot any .410 shell made up to 3 inches, and 5+1 capacity. This makes it a simple choice for home defense, farm and trail use. With a 14.75-inch barrel and cylinder-bore choke, it delivers impressively tight 15-yard patterns with defensive rounds and good dispersed patterns with shot at the same distance. For many, this gun is one of the best lightweight trail, snake and farm guns available, with impressive full-power 3-inch defensive and slug shells. As noted, Mossberg also offers the widest array of .410 shotgun models on the market, including even a Mossberg Gold Reserve over-and-under model.


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