Gun Digest

Rethinking the Power of the .410

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.410 ammo
A variety of ammunition is making the .410 more versatile than ever.


For those who think of the .410 as a weak sister to heavier gauges, this is not the case.


Penetration tests in plywood sheets and water cartons yielded travel equal to buckshot from a 20-inch 12-gauge riot gun barrel at the same distance. The main difference between the 00 Buckshot and No. 4 is that the 00 penetrates more deeply.

Wound ballistician Dr. Martin Fackler ran close-range (10-foot) tests into gelatin with both 00 and No. 4, with the result that the 00 penetrated about two inches deeper and was effective for self-defense use.

The No. 4 may be suitable for some pest shooting, but penetration is lacking for self-defense purposes.


The test guns were a Winchester 9410 and a vintage Model 42 with a Cylinder barrel.

What practical use is a .410 slug? In Ohio, where I live, .410 slugs have been alternately illegal and (currently) legal for deer hunting. Since our major ammunition companies produce them, somebody must be buying them.

The late Frank Barnes, in his Cartridges of the World, made contradictory observations about .410 slugs. On page 386 of the 7th Edition is the statement, “The .410 slug is not good for anything but small game at short range.”

On page 393, however, he states that, while inadequate for deer, the slugs are quite effective in guns such as the Savage M-24 combination gun (with rifle sights) and that it is possible to hit rabbit-size targets at 80 yards and claim clean kills on bobcats and coyotes at this range.

Slug Lethality

The best method of bullet testing for effect on living bodies is ballistic gelatin. A reliable and cheap substitute for this medium is water-filled, halfgallon, coated-paper juice or milk cartons placed standing in a row and touching one another. Penetration in water-filled cartons divided by 1.5 yields a penetration roughly approximate to that in ballistic gelatin.

For police combat use, the FBI recommends 12 inches of gelatin penetration. Assuming that an adult male person and a deer are of about the same weight class, this fi ure seems a valid

Penetration tests were made with the Winchester 42 into water-filled cartons at a range of 50 yards. The Barnaul, Remington, Federal, and Winchester slugs all penetrated 11¼ inches.

Divided by 1.5, that converts to 7½ inches of penetration through gelatin. The RWS was the only one that stood out, penetrating the cartons to 26 inches, which equates to 17.33 inches of gelatin penetration.

In terms of performance, there is really no comparison. The flat-point and hollowpoint Foster slugs, with Winchester at 93 grains and Remington, Federal, and Barnaul at 97, are completely outclassed by the 114-grain Brenneke. The Fosters tended to shatter into flat slivers, while the Brenneke maintained its integrity, expanding to .455-inch. The Brenneke’s performance is roughly comparable to a hot, light-bullet load in a .40 S&W pistol.

The performance of the Foster slugs is somewhere around the .32 S&W Long to .32 H&R Magnum level. The greatest fault with the Foster design is that the slugs come apart after relatively short penetration.

The Brenneke could be considered an adequate deer load at close range. The Fosters are strictly for small game. Having said this, it must be admitted that a lot of deer have been taken with the .22 LR cartridge, and my local gun shop owner told me of one of his customers who claimed a deer a year for eight years with Foster .410s. Unfortunately, that customer is no longer living, so no insights are available.

The .410 must ultimately be classed as an expert’s gun for hunting and used much like a rifle—sights are mandatory and careful aim must be taken. If you have one, it might be worth your while to explore its potential.

For the security minded, the Mossberg M-500 .410 pump with its 18½-inch barrel offers harder hits than a handgun, a better grip with less muzzle blast (about like a .38 handgun), and more manageable recoil. The three-inch loads will fit few revolvers and, while the kick is noticeable in a long gun, in a handgun recoil it runs towards the .357/.44 Magnum class.

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