The History and Purpose of the 410 shotgun
The 410 shotgun is unique among shotgun cartridges in that it is measured by bore diameter as a caliber as opposed to the older style gauge method. Shotgun gauges are traditionally measured by the number of round lead balls that can be made from a pound of lead which will fit the width of the interior of the barrel. If measured in this fashion, a 410 shotgun could be considered a 67 or 68 Gauge.
The exact origins of the 410 shotgun are murky. American outdoor writer Jack O’Connor speculated that the cartridge was a direct descendant of the 44-40 or 44 WCF rifle and handgun round developed by Winchester in the 1870s. Early 410 shotgun rounds were loaded in 44-40 cases with a paper wad holding the shot and referred to as the 44XL. Eventually a straight wall brass case, two inches in length was used. This was followed by a 2-inch paper shotgun shell and by 1900 a 2 ½” paper shell. British Proof House documents date the 410 shotgun to the same period in side-by-side shotguns, but the actual inventor remains lost to history.
Initially, the 410 shotgun was designed for pest control and self-defense. British Gunmaker William Wellington Greener noted in his writing’s that a substantial number of 410 shotguns were shipped to South America for use by naturalists on collecting expeditions for museums as the light shot was perfect for taking small animals at close range without causing much damage to the specimen. Greener and numerous other gun writers such as Charles Askins, Elmer Keith and Jack O’Connor dismissed the 410 as a novelty for “walking stick guns” and not suitable for the taking of game, but over the years the 410 has become a favorite as an entry level shotgun for women and young hunters due to the nature of its low recoil.
Winchester Model 42 410 Shotgun
The 410 shotgun gained more respect in 1933 when Winchester engineers scaled down the company’s famous Model 12 pump action shotgun and dubbed it the Model 42. The Model 42 had been ready for release in 1932, but the company president asked for a delay until development of a 3” long shell for 410 was ready and in enough abundance to satisfy demand. The Model 42 dominated skeet shooting tournaments and was considered potent enough for upland small game such as pheasants, quail, chukar and rabbits.
Because of its light recoil, the 410 shotgun shell has been chambered in a number of handguns. These handguns are typically made for the 45 Colt round and both cartridges have a similar rim diameter. The concept is not new and at least one of Colt’s famous Single Action Army Revolvers was chambered in the older 44XL round at the turn of the 20th century, but the latter half of the 20th century saw a resurgence in revolvers and single shot handguns chambered in 410 shotgun.
The two reasons for chambering handguns in this caliber include sport shooting and hunting with single shot 410 handguns such as the Thompson Center Contender and as a close range self-defense arm in the Bond Arms Derringer, Taurus Judge and Smith & Wesson Governor. In order to comply with BATFE regulations against shotguns having a minimum barrel length of 18”, these handguns have rifled bores.
Although it was once maligned for being “ineffective beyond wounding game”, aficionados of the 410 shotgun are aware of its limitations and its range. Most notably it loses effectiveness beyond 50 yards, but it has been extremely effective in introducing legions of shooters to the world of shotgunning.