My first game animal—a fox squirrel—came as in 1972 when I was eight years old. The firearm: a hand-me-down Harrington & Richardson .410 shotgun, a single-shot model. During the 40 years between then and now, I’ve always had a .410 shotgun or two. In all that time, however, I never considered the .410 a candidate for that all-important spot in the corner within arm’s reach of the bed.
However, many ammunition manufacturers have come out with shotgun loads specially formulated for home defense—including those in .410. So, as much sentimental value as I and many other shooters put on .410 shotguns—who, like me, used one to take their first game—is a .410 a home-defense shotgun? Are we willing to stake our lives on what many refer to as “that little pop-gun”?
The Shotgun Alternative
At close ranges such as those encountered in a home, a shotgun, even a small-bore shotgun like the .410, is an undeniably destructive weapon. Shoot a cantaloupe at 15 feet, and you’ll understand instantly. A shotgun puts multiple pellets downrange with each trigger pull versus, obviously, one bullet per trigger pull of a handgun or long rifle. This means there exists a margin for error inherent in a shotgun that’s not there in a single-projectile weapon. Consider the actual and psychological elements of a home invasion for the average citizen—low light, adrenaline, fear, unsteadiness, mind racing, heart pounding—and this margin of error becomes a major player in the outcome of the situation. With its multiple pellets, the shotgun has the potential to place multiple hits on-target; better to hit the bad guy with, say, three out of nine pellets simultaneously than miss with one.
So why a .410 instead of a larger gauge? They’re lightweight and short–my Mossberg Model 500 HS410 weighs about 5 ½ pounds and measures 37 inches—meaning they’re maneuverable in the often-tight home environment. By virtue of the fact it’s a .410, recoil is very manageable for the recoil-conscious or those slight of frame. Low recoil also allows for a fast, accurate, well-placed follow-up shot if necessary. Today, a variety of .410 ammunition is available, including specifically designed home/personal defense shotshells.
In recent years, ammunition manufacturers have jumped on the .410 home defense bandwagon. Hornady has their .410 Critical Defense round, consisting of a .41 caliber FTX (FlexTip) slug over a pair of .35 caliber round lead pellets. Remington features their four-pellet load of 000 Buck in a 2-1/2-inch .410 format called Ultimate Defense. Federal makes a 3-inch hull containing nine No. 4 buck pellets in their Premium Personal Defense load, in addition to 2-1/2- and other 3-inch platforms holding larger 000 Buck. All offer either a 2-1/2- or 3-inch rifled slug, or both, in the .410.
Any shotgun can be called a home defense weapon; whether or not the piece is justifiably worthy of wearing that title is another matter. But there are specifically designed tactical and/or home defense shotguns chambered for the .410:
• Mossberg’s Model 500 HS410 Home Security has an 18-1/2-inch barrel featuring a unique vertical forearm/slide arm, full-length stock, and close-quarters spreader (cylinder bore) choke.
• Saiga (Izhmash) has a semi-automatic AK-47-style weapon chambered in both .410 and 12-gauge.
• A sure winner for the most aesthetically pleasing .410 home defense gun, the Stoeger Coach Gun is a classic side-by-side sporting 20-inch fixed full-and-full barrels, double triggers, and a gorgeous walnut stock.
• Remington offers both a Model 870 Wingmaster pump-action as well as a gas-operated Model 1100 Sporting Series in .410 bore.
• Several manufacturers – Rossi, Harrington/Richardson, Baikal—offer break-action .410 single shots, with Baikal putting their name on a utilitarian side-by-side. (However, the terms “single shot” and “home defense” are seldom used together these days.
Gun options aren’t limited to long guns, either. The Taurus Judge and Raging Judge revolvers are capable of handling 2-1/2 and 3-inch .410 shotshells as well as their originally intended .45 Long Colt ammunition. Smith and Wesson makes the six-shot Governor, chambered in.410/.45 ACP(with moon clips)/.45 Long Colt.
Results on the range proved quite interesting. I used the following ammunition from Federal Premium, all Personal Defense loads:
Load 1: Format: 2-1/2" - Shot size: No. 4 - Velocity: 950 fps - Pellet count: 60 (approx)
Load 2: Format: 3" - Shot size: No. 4 Buck/.24 in. - Velocity: 950 fps - Pellet count: 9
Load 3: Format: 3" - Shot Size 000 Buck/.36 - Velocity 775 fps - Pellet count: 5
Distances, to replicate what might be expected in a home-defense situation, were 10, 15, and 20 feet.
For testing purposes, I used the Mossberg Model 500 HS410 mentioned above. My bad guys? A partial sheet of 1/2-inch OSB (oriented strand board) and a dry fir 1-1/2 by 4. If a projectile can pass through that, it’s going to have a substantial effect on a bad guy wearing only a Death Metal T-shirt and jeans.
My results told me that I’d could fill the M500 with 3-inch 000 Buck, put it in the corner next to my pillow, and be surrounded by a warm and fuzzy feeling. All five 000 pellets consistently fell in a 5-inch circle from 10 to 20 feet; some patterns vertical, some horizontal. Still, all were within 5 inches, providing a good margin for aiming error, yet not so wide to allow holes in the pattern through which a Bad Guy might slip through. The 000 load fully penetrated both the ½-inch OSB and the 1-1/2-inch fir board, with what I would consider exceptional deformation in the recovered copper-plated pellets. Deformation in lead pellets means expansion, and expansion translates into increased shock in the form of transferred kinetic energy, as well as upgraded on-target trauma. The copper plating provides a hardness factor, without nullifying the capability of the pellets to deform. A “controlled expansion,” as the bullet guys say.
Patterns with the No. 4 shot ranged from 4 inches at 10 feet to 5-1/2 inches at 20 feet—acceptable, and not too different from the 000 Buck. There was full penetration of the ½-inch OSB at both 10 and 20 feet, but only partial penetration of the 1-1/2-inch fir board at 20 feet.
Patterns with the No. 4 Buck (9 pellets) were inconsistent, with clusters ranging from 1-1/2 inches by 3-1/2 (10 feet) to 5-1/2 inches by 10-1/2 inches at 20 feet.
I like the thought of five substantial projectiles headed downrange simultaneously, each possessing almost 100 foot/pounds of energy, or almost 500 foot/pounds total should all five pellets strike home. A 9mm with quality ammunition can hit that 500 foot-pound mark; but my wife or my sons or I need to put that one projectile on-target in the dark, while nervous and afraid.
Another consideration is firearm management. My wife is 5 feet 2 inches tall, 120 pounds, and intimidated by semi-automatic and big bore handguns. Shotguns come easier to her, but the recoil and the weight of a 12-gauge home defense piece—Remington’s VersaMax Tactical semi-auto tips the scales at 7.5 pounds, two pounds heavier than the Mossberg HS410—is a concern.
And that’s the takeaway. Home defense is about preparation and confidence. You prepare with Gun X, and that preparation instills the confidence needed should it become necessary to employ Gun X in a defensive situation. Every situation is different, and every home is different. Am I confident that in my current home I could protect my wife and myself with this particular .410 loaded with 5 pellets of 000 Buckshot, and that she could protect herself with it? Yes, I am.