A Perfect Use for the .410

For hunting, there’s nothing a .410 can do that the 28-gauge can’t do better. But for skeet shooting…

mossberg 500 and tristar viper .410 shotgun
Little guns, big fun—a Mossberg 500 and TriStar Viper .410 at Station One on the Skeet field.Phil Bourjaily

The .410 has a few things going for it. The guns are small and cute. They don’t kick. They are cheap to reload for. There’s a fun Americana song about them.*

That’s all on the plus side.

On the minus side, .410s don’t hold very much shot—1/2 to 11/16 of an ounce, less in steel—and what shot as they do hold, they deliver downrange poorly. The .410 should be called the “67 gauge,” which is what it is, to underscore the immense gap between the .410 and the other gauges.

Yet a lot of people love .410s. Every once in a while, when someone finds out what I do, they say: “You’re not one of those gun writers who says no one should ever hunt with a .410 are you?”

I mumble something non-committal, as I know what’s coming next, which is: “I’ve shot _____, ____ and _____ with .410s for years. It’s all I hunt with.”

There is the chance the person is a truly expert shot, with the discipline to take only birds at close range, and with good enough dogs to clean up their mistakes. There’s a much greater likelihood the person is a bird-crippling bozo, so I usually smile, nod, and change the subject.

For us regular wingshots, the .410 is best limited to woodcock, rails, decoying doves, and squirrels under ideal conditions all at ranges of about 25 yards. Even then, there’s nothing that can be done with a .410 that can’t be done lots better with a 28 gauge.

Except for skeet shooting. Having recently picked up a Mossberg 500 .410 on loan, I have fallen in with my club’s .410 shooters, and I already find myself thinking I need a .410 O/U and a reloader, which I never thought I would.

The difference between .410 skeet and skeet in all other gauges, including the 28, is that when you shoot any other gauge, you expect the targets to break and are disappointed when they don’t. The .410 is another story. As one of the .410 group explained to me when I first joined them: “The secret to shooting a .410 is not to care.” Shooting is always more enjoyable when you’re happy to hit a target, not upset that you missed it. Shooting the Mossberg low gun, my high scores so far have been a few 21x25s, but it’s highly satisfying to see targets shatter when I get lucky and center them in the fixed-full choke pattern. There are plenty of times everything looks perfect, I pull the trigger, and the target sails on its way, too. That’s where not caring helps.

In about 10 days, dove season opens, and I’ll put the little gun aside in favor of a 28 gauge—or maybe even a 12—but until then, I’ve found a perfect use for the .410.

  • ".410" by Rod Picott
Small-bore shotguns, like this Henry Single Shot .410, are surging in popularity.
Small-bore shotguns, like this Henry Single Shot .410, are surging in popularity.Henry Rifles

Now is the Time to Buy a New .410 Shotgun

The small-bore shotgun revolution has been televised—or at least videoed and blasted out over social media. A few years back, some Facebook showmen reaped turkeys with .410 pistols. It was little more than a stunt at the time, given the limited reach of standard .410 shotshells. But then early last year, Federal announced production runs of .410 shells loaded with Tungsten Super Shot—a modern alloy that’s denser than lead. Suddenly, all those old .410 single shots stuffed behind truck seats became 40-yard turkey guns.

Demand for the baby-bore load outstripped production last year, but now Apex, Browning, Federal, and Nitro all have well-stocked .410 TSS stores. Gun companies have taken notice, too. There’s a host of new .410 shotguns, plus several classics to consider. So, if like so many hunters these days, you’re itching to shoot a gobbler with a .410, there have never been more options. If not, don’t let emphasis on turkeys turn you away. These little guns are effective and tons of fun for squirrels and bunnies, on the skeet field, or for just plinking around.

The Henry Single Shot .410 patterns lead and TSS loads well.

Henry Single Shot .410

The Henry Single Shot .410 patterns lead and TSS loads well.Henry Rifles

Henry introduced their Single Shot .410 in 2017—one in matte-black steel, another in polished brass reminiscent of the classic Golden Boy. The steel model has a heavy-duty pistol grip, while the brass has a slender English-style stock. I’ve been shooting the steel version for the better part of a year, and it’s quickly become one of my favorites. There is no manual safety, but the hammer is blocked from contact with the firing pin unless the trigger is pulled. The action won’t open or close when the hammer is cocked. This all makes it quick and easy to operate safely in the field. The 26-inch barrel points well. The gun is not especially light, which to my mind improves the handling. Mine weighs exactly 7 pounds with an added sling. Buttstock to bore, the quality is excellent for the price.

The Single Shot comes with a Full-choke tube and Browning Invector threads. I handloaded TSS No. 7-1/2s for turkeys this year, and no gun patterned it better. If fact, this gun consistently patterns better than any .410 I've shot. Whether it's fed No. 4s and 6s from Winchester, Federal TSS No. 9s, my 7-1/2 turkey handloads, or No. 9 lead handloads for skeet—it seems to shoot everything well. Including the gobbler I took with my 7-1/2s this spring. The gun is a joy to carry, shoot, and hunt with. $448 to $576; henryusa.com

The Steven's 301 .410 is an affordable, dedicated turkey gun.

Stevens 301 Turkey

The Steven's 301 .410 is an affordable, dedicated turkey gun.Stevens

If you love the idea of the single-shot Henry for gobblers but aren't keen on the $500 price tag, this is the .410 for you. Stevens went all in on the .410 turkey-gun idea, and I've yet to meet a hunter who's used it this spring who doesn't love it. It's very similar to the Henry, but with a few tuned-up turkey features. The stock is plastic and available in Bottomlands or Obsession. The matte-black receiver has a manual safety and comes with a pic rail for an optic. The front bead is a TruGlo Hi-Viz. It has a 26-inch barrel, which Savage says is designed to optimize the velocity of .410 TSS shells. It comes with one extended Extra-Full Win choke. The 301 weighs a field-friendly 5 pounds, and the real-world price is under $150. If you want a dedicated .410 for turkeys, there's really no reason to not buy this gun. $199; savagearms.com

Mossberg 500 Turkey

Mossberg 500 Turkey

The popular Mossberg 500 now comes in .410.Mossberg

The Mossberg 500, which has long been available in dedicated turkey versions, has taken as many longbeards as just about any shotgun out there—and it now comes in .410. This small-bore has a 26-inch barrel, weighs 6.5 pounds, and is available in Bottomland. While the gun is tuned for turkeys, it'll make a reliable bunny buster, squirrel popper, or dog-training tool on planted upland birds, too. The only real downside: no removable chokes, so you're more or less stuck with the TSS pattern you get from the factory Full tube—unless of course you want to mess around with TSS handloads. That said, TSS tends to pattern well from a standard Full-choke tubes. With a real-world price around $350, the 500 Turkey is a solid option if you want a quick second or third shot. $500; mossberg.com

Tristar Viper G2 Bronze .410

Tristar Viper G2 Bronze .410

The Tristar Viper is a good-looking and versatile .410 autoloader at a nice price.Tristar

This new .410 autoloader from Tristar was not designed for kids. With a 14.75-inch length-of-pull and a fit-and-finish aimed at a more discerning eye, it’s a full-blown big-boy small-bore. At 5.8 pounds with a 28-inch barrel, it swings fast, and has become one of my favorite skeet guns. It comes with three Beretta/Benelli Mobil chokes. All of them shoot .410 lead loads very well with a clean 50/50 pattern. It cycled my dad’s light ½-ounce reloads without a hiccup after a break-in period and some Super Lube along the bolt rails. Tristar recommends shooting 20 magnum loads through this gas gun before expecting perfection. It didn’t like our handloads so much right out of the gate, but after two boxes of factory stuff, it cycled them perfectly.

It's a heck of small-game getter, too. My buddy and custom call maker Rick Reynolds, who uses the gun when chasing rabbits behind beagles through much of the winter, first introduced me to the Viper on a February bunny hunt. It's his go-to turkey gun now, too. With its bronzed Cerakote receiver and high-grade, high-polish Turkish walnut stock, the Viper isn't out of place at a high-dollar gun club. But with a real-world price under $600, maybe don't tell any snobs what you paid for it. $825; tristararms.com

Remington 870 Wingmaster .410

Remington 870 Wingmaster .410

Shown in 12-gauge above, the classis 870 Wingmaster comes in .410 too.Remington

Not new but definitely worth mentioning is this classic from Big Green. The Wingmaster .410, as the name implies, is geared for upland with a fixed Modified choke. If knocking down birds with your 20 or 28 has become just too easy, this is a classy and classic option; it's also a fun choice for rabbits, squirrels, and clays. But if you're new .410 has to do double duty in the turkey woods, look at the 870 Express and the autoloading Model 1100. The Express .410 has a fixed Full choke and patterns very well with lead and TSS. The Model 1100, until recently the only autoloading .410 on the market, provides more versatility with Rem Chokes. Like the Wingmaster, the 1100 is a beauty—one you'll want to pass down to the kids or grandkids one day. $847; remington.com

Pointer Phenoma .410

Pointer Phenoma .410

The Pointer Phenoma .410 is fast-handling and fun to shoot.Legacy Sports International

Like the Tristar, this Turkish import is new for 2019 and making positive early impressions. At 6.1-pounds in synthetic and 5.9 pounds in walnut, with a 28-inch barrel, it's a lively, fast-swinging shooter—very fun to shoot, according to friends who have tried it and fallen in love. It differs from the Tristar with less blingy wood and more angular lines to the stock, the fore-end, and the styling of the 5mm raised vent rib. It comes with five Beretta/Benelli Mobil chokes and in a wide variety of color and camo options, including bronze or silver Cerakote on walnut, flat black, Bottomlands, Max5, two flavors of Obsession, and more. Some configurations are online for under $500. That's a lot of quality-gas-gun fun for the money. $529 to $799; legacysports.com

H&R Survivor .410/.45 Colt

H&R Survivor .410/.45 Colt

The discontinued H&R Survivor can be had used for around $150.H&R

My first .410 isn't exactly a shooter, but it's still an easy gun to like. The H&R Survivor, also sold as the New England Firearms Survivor, was discontinued in 2015. I got mine used for $125, and with a little work, you can find them online for not much more than that. The barrel is rifled for .45 Colt, with a screw-in choke for shooting .410s. At 40 yards, you can't call what it produces a pattern, and I'm not sure I'd shoot at a turkey at even 20 yards with it. But that's okay; this gun isn't really a hunter. At 36-inches overall, with a 22-inch barrel and a hollow butt stock for all your survival doo-dads, it's a 14-year-old's idea of a survival gun—an amped-up Rambo knife—that's really all about fun in the backyard or on the range. That said, the world could use a real-deal gobbler gun that's 36 inches long, with a 22-inch straight-bore barrel, a good choke system, onboard storage, and a sling. Paired with TSS, that might be my very last turkey gun. $325; hr1871.com

Smith & Wesson Governor

Smith & Wesson Governor

The S&W Governor shoots .410, .45 ACP, and .45 Colt loads.Smith & Wesson

Matte black and badass-looking, this is the pistol to make you a famous turkey hunter for a few seconds on Facebook. Seriously, I don’t recommend or plan on reaping turkeys with a .410 pistol. But if I were forced into it, this is the gun I’d use. The Governor holds six shells, can shoot .45 ACP with the included moon clips, and comes with Tritium Night Sights. What’s cool is that with the 3-shot moon clips, you can stagger the cylinder with .410, .45 ACP, and .45 Colt to lay down the progressively harsher law in a home- or self-defense situation. It’s also just a super-fun plinker. $869; smith-wesson.com