Defensive Shotguns: The Tiny 410?

A lot of people mock the .410 for defense, but those people have never looked at the numbers. A .410 throws lead at very similar velocities as a 12ga, but with half the payload (3-4 pellets of 000 buckshot). 2 rounds of .410 is roughly equal to 1 round of 12ga. It’s still more lead and more power than a .357 magnum. That’s really not so bad, especially for someone who absolutely cannot handle a 12ga (like my wife).

410 vs 12ga muzzle energy (roughly half due to half as many pellets)

410 vs 12ga muzzle energy (roughly half due to half as many pellets)
Source: Federal 2010 interactive catalog program

410 vs 12ga muzzle velocity (roughly the same)

410 vs 12ga muzzle velocity (roughly the same)
Source: Federal 2010 interactive catalog program

Of course, there are practical issues to using 410 defensively. Simply put, there are few defensive 410 designs. Mossberg makes sporting guns that can be cut down as well as a defense model (#50359 & 50455). Unfortunately, these only hold 5+1 shots, the equivalent of just 3 rounds of 12ga. They’re also just as slow to operate as a pump-action 12ga. Neither of these things is acceptable if we intend to use more shots to compensate for less power.

Sadly, the Mossberg 50455 comes with just a pistol-grip, which are notoriously difficult to aim.

The Mossberg 50359 “Home Defense” model has a ‘spreader choke’ for some unknown reason.

Semi-automatic shotguns increase the rate of fire and removable box magazines increase capacity to compensate for the small bore size. However, there’s a problem. Most repeating shotguns in history are fed from a tubular magazine under the barrel that stacks the ammunition end-to-end. Shotshells are designed to withstand this pressure. Removable box magazines stack ammunition side-by-side. Soft plastic shotshells will eventually deform when left loaded in a removable box magazine, and a deformed shell will not feed & fire in the gun when it is needed. Hence, shotguns with box magazines are unsuitable for long term loaded storage, such as sitting in the closet in case something goes ‘bump’ in the night. To the best of my knowledge, the Saiga series is the only semi-auto 410 shotgun on the market.

Saiga rifles & shotguns are manufactured at Izmash in Russia and are based on the famously durable & reliable Kalashnikov system.

This version of the Saiga is modified to look more like a classic Kalashnikov. It’s available in the US from Arsenal Inc.

I have yet to find a good 410 solution, but the Rossi Circuit Court Judge (based on the Taurus Judge) is one possible option. It still has the low 5-round capacity but it is a double-action revolver, which should be simpler & faster that a pump-action. It should also be capable of shooting just as fast as a semi-auto if the shooter has very, very strong fingers.

The Taurus/Rossi Circuit Judge is available in several versions with. They are available with wood or black polymer stocks, and chambered in 22LR/22WMR, 410/45Colt (rifled bore), and 410 only (smooth bore).


This is not to say, however, that I approve of such weapons as the Taurus Judge. The short barrel significantly reduces velocity compared to a standard shotgun. The judge also has a rifled barrel, which spins the shot load. As a result, the pellets spread out much too quickly. “But shot spread is the reason shotguns are awesome!” “You don’t even need to aim, just point it in the right direction.”

No, shotguns work well because they throw a lot of lead. Each shotgun and each cartridge is different, but as a general rule, a typical 12ga buckshot load spreads approximately 1 inch per yard (3 feet) between the shooter and the target. Hence, the pellet pattern will spread to 18 inches at about 18 yards (54′). I mention that because the average person’s chest is about 18 inches wide. Beyond 18 yards, the pellets start to spread out so much that some of them are likely to completely MISS the target. Hopefully I don’t need to explain why missing is bad. It decreases stopping power and poses a threat to anything behind the target. A shotgun becomes less useful as range increases, and 18 yards isn’t very far. A handgun can reach out to 25 yards without much difficulty, and a typical defensive carbine can strike at 300 yards in the right hands.

Now imagine how quickly the Judge loses effectiveness. The Judge spreads its pellets so quickly that they become useless beyond just a few feet. Assuming the Judge provides enough velocity, it still has too little range. It’s strictly a point-blank weapon. It does have uses, though. It could be useful for shooting small creatures at short range. In that sense, it has value as a trail/woodland gun. I am a bit interested in the S&W Governor. It holds 6 rounds over the Judge’s 5, and shoots 45ACP, 45Colt, & 410 shot. I have no use for a Governor, but the versatility is appealing.

Wait, shouldn’t this article have a conclusion? Nah, just rambling thoughts.


About jurmond

'Jurmond' was the name of my first character in a homebrew D&D campaign. He was a gunslinger and tinker, creating and carrying strange weapons that belched fire and smoke. That was well over a decade ago but I still think of him whenever fiction and firearms collide, so it seems the perfect pen name for this project.
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