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The .410 slug capable or comical?

What use is a .410 slug? Ohio, where I live, is one of those shotgun deer states where .410 slugs have been alternately illegal and (currently) legal for deer hunting. Both Marlin and U.S. Repeating Arms have brought lever-action .410 shotguns to the market, and all our major ammunition companies are loading the .410 slug, so somebody must be using them.

The late Frank Barnes in his book Cartridges of the World makes somewhat contradictory observations about the .410 slug. On page 386 (7th edition), is the statement, "The .410 slug is not good for anything but small game at short range. Yet on page 393, he makes the point that while inadequate for deer, the slugs are quite effective in such guns as the Savage Model 24 combination gun (fitted with rifle sights) and that it is possible to hit rabbit-size targets at 80 yards. He also claims clean kills on bobcats and coyotes at this range.

Accuracy Tests

The Ithaca company did the most extensive development of shotgun slug barrels a number of years ago, and concluded the best accuracy was obtained from cylinder-choked barrels with highly polished bores. Few .410s have true cylinder barrels. For this article I obtained a Winchester 9410 and an old Winchester Model 42 with a cylinder barrel. The 9410 came equipped with adjustable open sights and was set up for scope mounting. The 42 was equipped with a scope mount from Aimtech Mount Systems of Thomasville, Ga Please note this was a special request, and is not offered by Aimtech.

Both guns shared a Burns 4X Mini. In spite of Frank Barnes' optimistic predictions, it soon became evident that 50 yards was about the limit for both of these guns when it came to reasonably precise shot placement. As a "not recommended but legal" deer round, careful shot placement is the only means of taking a deer with a .410.

All three U.S. makes of slug loads were tested and the 2 3/4-inch RWS "Rottweil" Brenneke was fired in the Model 42. The 9410 is chambered for 2 1/2-inc shells only. See chart for the results. Of the American product, the Remington slugs were the best performers in both guns while Winchester was the worst with Federal in the middle.

Since the slugs were all of the Foster type, appearing much the same, the reason behind these considerable differences in group size was a mystery. The most obvious hint was that the dimpled nose appeared off center in many of the Federal and Winchester shells I examined, as though the slug was slightly tipped in the shell. The Remington's flat nose appeared properly centered.

Dissection of sample shells revealed internal differences and a major surprise -- the slugs are not the same diameter. The Remington measured .402 inch, while the Federal was .394 inch with the Winchester at .389 inch. The RWS measured .409-inch diameter.

Scott Grange, of U.S. Repeating arms later confirmed these findings. He pointed out that the Remington slugs are made for true cylinder barrels while the slightly smaller Federal and Winchesters are intended for modestly choked "improved cylinder" and "modified improved" barrels.

Grange mentioned that the accuracy results I obtained were average, though a few of the 9410 shotguns he had tested produced groups as small as 1.5 inch at 50 yards. For exceptional guns of this sort Barnes' 80-yard claims could represent reality.

Anyone planning to do any serious slug shooting in his .410 should have it equipped with sights and target all available makes of ammunition to determine which will work best in his gun.

An Old Debate

Do rifled slugs spin-stabilize in flight? This question has been answered emphatically "yes" and "no" through dozens of articles over the past 50-plus years. I have yet to see any conclusive evidence of the high-speed motion picture variety though. It would seem, however, that both sides hold a certain amount of truth.

The Foster slugs have very shallow rifling and since these slugs obturate in shotgun bores, most of these grooves are ironed out in the process. I questioned an engineer at Federal on this matter and he allowed as how they had done motion picture studies and their slugs did not rotate.

He further pointed out that slugs moving at supersonic speed (which .410s do--top velocity in my tests was 1,930 fps) would be pushing a shock wave, thus creating a vacuum along the sides and would have no air in that area to work on the grooves. He offered no opinions about sub-sonic slug behavior.

Slugs of the Brenneke type, however, have raised helical vanes which are not flattened out and theoretically should catch the moving air and cause the slug to rotate and spin stabilize at sub-sonic velocities. The best anecdotal evidence of this comes from Ray Boos, designer of the Vitt-Boos slug--a modified Brenneke with high, angled vanes.

Boos told of a customer who got a bad batch of slugs which had the attached wads screwed to the bases off center. Accuracy was terrible. The man tried removing the screw and loading the wads behind the slugs unattached. Accuracy was restored and the slugs hit the target front-end first indicating they were spin stabilized without the attached tail wad to act as a steering guide. I recall that there is (or was) at least one European company loading Brenneke slugs in this manner-- with no attached guide wad.

Interestingly enough, a couple of the .410 Brenneke slugs I fired hit the 50-yard target sideways indicating that neither the guide wad nor the helical vanes were having the proper effect at that range.

Up To The Job?

Penetration and expansion tests were made with the Winchester 42 into water-filled paper cartons at a range of 50 yards. The results showed a tremendous difference in performance between the Foster and Brenneke pattern slugs.

In terms of performance, there is really no comparison. The flat point and hollow point Foster slugs, with Winchester at 93 grains and Remington and Federal at 97 grains 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 a relatively shallow penetration.

After extensive testing, it's my opinion that the Brenneke is 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 long rifle cartridge and my local gun shop owner told me that one of his customers took one deer a year for eight years with .410 bore Foster slugs. This is hardly a recommendation. That person is no longer living, so no insights into his hunting technique are available.

Buckshot In The .410

Nobody makes a buck load for the .410 with the exception of a three-ball shell sold by American Derringer for its O/U pistols. Buckshot is therefore a handloading proposition. Fifteen years ago I became interested in the defense potential of this little cartridge and was amazed to find it to be rather impressive. Six No. 00 buck fit nicely in the 3-inch shell and weigh 3/4 ounce. The load I used was from the NRA Handloader's Guide, which recommended a charge of 16.0-grains of Hercules/Alliant 2400 behind a 3/4-ounce load of shot,

In those days I tested bullets on pine boards. The results were buckshot penetration from this load that was about 1/10-inch less than that fired from a 12-gauge riot load at the same 20-yards distance. To my amazement this .410 load (only 2/3 of the 12-gauge nine-pellet riot load) produced a report about on the level of a .38 pistol and very modest recoil compared to the boom and heavy kick of the 12 gauge.

At 20 yards, the cylinder barrel of the Model 42 Winchester would reliably put all six pellets into or very close to a 12-inch circle, while the 12 gauge spread to a yard or more. Buckshot is now made of harder alloys and is available from CCI/SPEER and Hornady in 2 or 3 pound boxes instead of the old 25-pound bags. This load is a defense load not recommended for deer hunting.

The .410 must ultimately be classed as an expert's gun and used much like a rifle--with careful use of the sights. If you have one it might be worth your while to explore its potential.

 Win. 42 3.2" to 4.0" 3.0" to 4.7" 6.6" 2.6" to 4.0"
Win. 9410 4.5" 2.6" to 4.7" 8.3" NA

50-yard, 5-shot groups from sandbag rest.


Winchester M9410 and vintage Model 42 were used for tests. Handloading experiments with buckshot rounds showed surprising performance. Contents of the Remington, Federal, Winchester and Brennake slugs. Note use of granulated fillers. Terminal performance tests on water-filled cartons gave high marks to the Brennake slug. Commercial slugs and handloading components tested.

With the Remington slugs it prefered the Model 42 performed surprisingly well

Springfield Armory's handy M6 Scout is another good slug shooter.
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Author:James, C. Rodney
Publication:Guns Magazine
Date:Jun 1, 2003
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