Checking out the .410 Bore: We Test Seven Loads for Defense

We started off by showing how ineffective birdshot was for self defense, then moved on to the main event: in-close patterning and penetration for buckshot, BBs, defense discs, and slugs.


It is quite interesting that when we test ammunition, some participants, observers, and readers get bent out of shape. They have told us that, sure, the ballistic test shows one thing, but my friend has shot clean through a deer with . An anecdotal incident may in fact be true, and it may run counter to our results. But our basis for testing ammo has proven profitable in testing individual loadings and comparing one to the other, as well as comparing one caliber to the other. It is possible to compare loads and render recommendations based on their performance, and it is also possible to test a single load and determine if the penetration and expansion standards are adequate for the intended mission. We are not delicate flowers who get our knickers in a wad when a favorite caliber doesnt cut the mustard. There is something for everyone, and we simply tell it like it is. Our results are verifiable and repeatable. Variances in velocity and accuracy are par for the course, but any reader who runs his own tests should find the general results will be very close to our results. We point out that we do not have an adversarial relationship with the ammunition makers; rather, we are often in awe of the efficiency and consistency of the ammunition we test. But there has to be a best choice.

When it comes to the .410 bore shotgun shell, we found a range of opinions among our raters. The majority of the raters had little use for the .410, with one referring to it as useless. However, once we had gathered some facts, most of us came to a different opinion of the .410 by the time the test was over. With the one having no use for the .410, another of our raters was adamant concerning the role of .410 slugs, as an example, in killing fox, coyote, and other predators. In an accurate shotgun, the .410 slugs kills better than any .22 rifle, he mentioned, while offering greater safety. The slug breaks up and also has less range than the rimfire rifle he said. In this niche, there is nothing quite as capable as the .410, he asserted. Our experiments confirmed his assessment of the .410 slug.

Another interesting development is the introduction of the Taurus Judge in 45 Colt and .410 bore. This handgun has elicited different reactions from different folks. Many experienced shooters who favor the big bore .45 Colt or .44 Magnums took a look at the Judge and felt that it was ungainly and would never be useful. While this is a strongly held opinion by many professionals, sales of the Judge are very strong. One of our raters noted that practically everyone in his circle of shooting friends owns one Judge or the other version. Sadly, the Judge cannot be offered in smoothbore form because short-barrel shotguns are illegal, and a smoothbore pistol is a short-barrel shotgun, according to federal law. But those who own slug guns will tell you that shot being swirled around in rifling is seldom, if ever, capable of producing a good pattern.

With all of this background, we elected to test several .410 bore shotshells. All of our testing was done with a .410 shotgun, not a pistol. If the load doesnt perform well in the shotgun, it will be much less effective in the handgun. The projectile launcher was a standard Mossberg .410 pump with 24-inch barrel. Hardly a tactical model, this shotgun features a gold trigger, vent rib, and solid smooth action. Overall, everyone was suitably impressed with this light, fast-handling shotgun.

We began the test with birdshot, because many gun-owners believe birdshot is suitable for personal defense. However, police-shooting files include many stories of homeowners, bad guys, and other combatants using birdshot. In those files, the results with birdshot are unimpressive. There are three types of criminals – the ones who flee at the sight of a firearm; the ones who flee when shot; and the ones who have to be shot hard to stop their actions. The field results more than suggest that birdshot is not well suited to last chore, but we wanted to see for ourselves whether No. 6s would be something we would choose for self defense. We cannot argue that if birdshot is what you have, then it is much better than nothing. That choice was Estate Cartridges High Velocity Hunting Load .410 Bore HV4103 3-inch Max dr. eq., 11/16 oz. No. 6s. We bought it at for $11.94/25, or 48 cents apiece (CTD No. 6-0309459).

Next, we tested several buckshot loads, including those specifically designed for personal defense. They were patterned at 7 yards, and to check penetration, we shot them into water jugs placed 10 feet away. Those loads started with Federal Premium Personal Defense .410 Bore PD4122JGE-000 2.5-inch 000 Buckshot, $12.40/20. They cost 62 cents apiece (CTD No. 2-FEPD412JGE00). Another load of that length was Winchesters Super X .410 Bore B41000 2.5-inch #000 Buck, $4.88/5. They cost 98 cents apiece (CTD No. 2-WNXB41000). There were two magnum buckshot loads, the first being Golden Bear .410 Bore AG41B5 #4 Buck 3-Inch Magnum, $3.49/5. They ran 70 cents apiece (CTD No. AMM-876). Next was Winchester Super-X .410 Bore XB413 3-inch 000 Buck, $5.91/5, $1.18 per shot (CTD No. 2-WNXB413).

We next shot a load designed for personal defense, the Winchester Supreme Elite PDX1 .410 Bore 2.5-inch S410PDX1, $11.47/10. This combo load included both buckshot and discs and cost $1.15 apiece (CTD No. 8-WIN-S410PDX1). Then we rounded out the test with Winchester Super-X Slugs X413RS5 3-inch .25-oz. Rifled Slug, $5.02/5. They were $1 apiece (CTD No. 2-WNX413RS5).
Heres how the rounds performed in our tests:

Estate Cartridge High Velocity
Hunting Load .410 Bore HV4103 3-inch
Max dr. eq., 11/16 oz. No. 6s, $11.94/25

This was a 3-inch shell rated at 1135 fps loaded with number six shot. We found this load burned clean and offered a decent pattern for small-game hunting. Preliminary testing showed that at 10 feet, the swarm of birdshot penetrated only about 7 inches of water despite a measured velocity of some 1170 fps. The first group of pellets settled into the bottom of the first jug, and the ones that penetrated the second jug settled to the bottom just inside the jug. A half dozen or so may have made a dent in the back of the second jug. The only problem with any round tested came when firing the Estate cartridge. One had a bump in the mouth of the shell, evidently caused during the crimping process, that caused the shell to fail to chamber.

Our Team Said: Birdshot should not be your load choice for personal defense. We could have picked nearly any hunting load to illustrate how poorly birdshot penetrates, so dont take away that Estate is a bad shell. Its actually quite a good upland bird choice.

Federal Premium Personal Defense .410 Bore
PD4122JGE-000 2.5-inch 000 Buckshot, $12.40/20

Rated for 850 fps muzzle velocity out of a handgun, we tested the 2.5-inch Federal Personal Defense load in our reliable pump shotgun. With four 000-buck balls, this is a heavier load than some we have tested in the past. Recoil was light as expected, and powder burn was clean. This load gave an excellent pattern. The pattern measured 2.75 by 2.5 inches at 7 yards. The buckshot reached 35 inches in water with no deflection. This is more than enough for personal defense.

Our Team Said: Great performance for self defense, but we rated the Federal load a step behind the Winchester 3-inch buckshot choice. The Federal was slightly cheaper than the Winchester personal defense load, though pricing can vary.

Winchesters Super X .410 Bore B41000
2.5-inch #000 Buck, $4.88/5.

This is the unplated 000 buckshot in the 2.5-inch shell. There were three balls in this load. While faster than the 3-inch load, the payload is smaller. Recoil should be lighter, but that was difficult to discern. The pattern was very uniform for three balls in a 3- by 3-inch pattern.

Our Team Said: This Winchester 2.5-inch load was less powerful than its stablemate, so we think the 3-inch load is a better choice.

Golden Bear .410 Bore AG41B5 #4 Buck
3-Inch Magnum, $3.49/5

When rounding up loads for this test, we spotted the Golden Bear brand and picked these up as a lark. These shells contain five No. 4 balls. What looked like a brass case is brass-plated steel. We gave the Golden Bear a fair shake. The load is actually light, as No. 4s (20 grains each) are far lighter than 00-000 buck balls (about 70 grains each). Velocity was good at 1370 fps. The pattern was excellent at 3.5 inches high and 2 inches wide. There was no problem with feed reliability.

Our Team Said: It was easy to like the pattern, the lightest felt recoil of any load tested, and the inexpensive price. But the Golden Bear 2.5-inch load was noticeably less powerful than some of the others.

Winchester Super-X .410 Bore XB413
3-inch 000 Buck, $5.91/5

This load is slightly slower than the half-inch-shorter Winchester load, but it uses two more balls. The lighter load is 14 fps faster, insignificant in the scheme of things. This 3-inch 000 Buck load actually patterned tighter than the lighter load, with a pattern of good uniformity of 3 inches tall and 2 inches wide. This is a far better choice than the shorter loads, in our view.

Our Team Said: In a contest between the Winchester 3-inch load and the 2.5-inch Federal Handgun Load, we noted that the Winchester load has the greater payload and energy, although its velocity is lower. Next you have to compare the Winchester buckshot load to the Winchester PDX. This is more difficult. The 000 buckshot load has virtually the same penetration as a 12-gauge load, but with a much lighter payload. This means shot placement is vital, and that means a tight pattern at close range and adequate penetration. All the buckshot balls did not penetrate 36 inches, but one or two did. The PDX load has a respectable mixed payload. The PDXs BB shots demonstrated adequate penetration, while the slugs demonstrated consistently good penetration. The flat disk would disrupt or excise tissue more cleanly than a round ball. We were by no means unanimous on this decision, but the weighted vote gave the PDX the nod.

Winchester Supreme Elite PDX1 .410 Bore
2.5-inch S410PDX1, $11.47/10.

This is a load we tested with great expectation. More expensive and with greater T&E in each shell, the PDX contains an interesting payload. However, it is only slightly more expensive in the total picture. The PDX is worthwhile if there is an advantage. There are 12 plated BBs and three cylinder-bore projectiles. The payload is over 300 grains. The PDX is intended to give a swarm of pellets at close range while offering a solid projectile for use at longer range. The result is the largest pattern at 7 yards, 7 by 3 inches with the flat disks grouping into about 3 inches and the rest taken up with the 12 BB shots.

Our Team Said: With this load we feel we have penetration in the ideal range for personal defense without risking overpenetration. The greatest distance traveled by a single BB pellet was 24 inches. The slugs went 18 inches. This good performance, with a good payload and pattern. This is a true personal defense load rather than a hunting or pest control load. In the days of the Old West, there was a legendary shotgun load that was comprised of a roll of dimes. It was claimed this load was extremely deadly. This would have been an expensive proposition, and while there may be truth to the legend, we have no idea. The Winchester disk may be the modern equivalent.

Winchester Super-X Slugs X413RS5
3-inch .25-oz. Rifled Slug, $5.02/5

This is the quarter-ounce 3-inch slug load. This is a traditional .410 slug that has proven suitably accurate in quite a few shotguns. Recoil was light, and accuracy was much better than we expected. The quarter-ounce slug (about 109 grains, ~.392 caliber) went into the same hole at 15 yards for three rounds. Even firing off hand and using a bead front sight, seldom did we fire more than a 1-inch three-shot group at 15 yards. We were impressed. Ballistic media testing was equally impressive. The slug penetrated 12 inches in water, making a dent in the outer cover of the second water jug. The slug upset well and retained 103 grains when weighed. We have to agree with one of the raters opinions. He is a farmer and recognizes that the .410 is light and handy, and a .410 doesnt take up much space. It is a killer on feral dogs and fox, doesnt carry as far as a rifle, and offers surprising accuracy. Sure, the slugs are much more expensive than a .22, but he only shoots when he has to. The slug is definitely an option in the .410. At 1955 fps, the Winchester slugs are over 150 fps faster than Winchester claims.

Our Team Said: The slug certainly has its merits as a home-defense round. Velocity and energy are excellent, more than we would have guessed before beginning the test program. The slug is the least likely of the loads tested to overpenetrate, aside from the birdshot. Still, a shotgun is a shotgun, and it uses shot. The slug performs well and shoots to the point of aim with excellent accuracy. It is an option that cannot be discounted. In the end the .410 shotgun seems very useful for personal defense. The raters agree that a slightly built person or youth would be well served with the .410 shotgun if they simply cannot handle the 12 gauge. As for the rest of us, we enjoyed shooting the .410, and we think it would not be out of place as an all-round pest popper and personal-defense shotgun.




  1. I have a Taurus 413 3″ camber, 3″ barrel and agree the defense load of choice is the 3″ long 000 5 ball. John Wick fires hundreds of accurate rounds over thirty minutes for great entertainment. Tombstone was nine guys firing 30 rounds in 30 seconds at 2 to 5 yards killing 3 and wounding 3. I believe the FBI says personal defense is 5 to 7 yards and about 10 seconds long. Scared and worried about my family this pistol will do what I need it to do with a draw-point-fire-fire-fire-fire-fire are we ok mindset! That is what I practice. Also 000 is easy and economical to reload.

  2. With the 3″ 410 #4, what would the sheetrock wall penetration be? I don’t want to endanger other people in an adjoining room. Will the 3″ 410 “000” keep going past the intended target?


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