Using A .410 Shotgun for Home Defense

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Is there any reason to use a .410 shotgun for home defense? Or does this caliber lack any martial merit?

A popular load for hunting turkeys and training young ones, .410 bore’s usefulness beyond those tasks is frequently questioned. They may be fun to shoot, but is there any merit to using a .410 shotgun for home defense? Or do all the advantages it can provide get outpaced by its drawbacks? Let’s look at the data and see just how capable these little shells truly are.

Hornady Critical Defense 410 Triple Defense
Hornady Critical Defense 410 Triple Defense.

Potential Advantages

We should start by establishing why anyone would want to use a .410 shotgun for home defense in the first place, as there is some logic behind it. The only true advantage of .410 in a defensive application is its lack of recoil, which lends itself to faster follow-up shots. Shotguns chambered in .410 also can generally be made lighter and handier than larger gauge guns, and in magazine-fed designs, they can also have higher capacities. Finally, especially considering that most defensive shotgun encounters occur indoors and likely in the dark, .410 shells produce less flash and report, at least when fired from traditional-length barrels.

That leads us to another potential advantage of .410 bore, or at least a perceived advantage. Revolvers like the Taurus Judge and S&W Governor have grown to be decently popular choices since they first hit the market, but why is that? Revolvers like these can chamber both .410 bore shotshells as well as .45 Long Colt cartridges, giving them a greater diversity of ammunition than most other handguns.

The Taurus Judge, a handgun capable of firing both .45 Colt ammo and .410-bore shotshells, has gained a huge following.
The Taurus Judge, a handgun capable of firing both .45 Colt ammo and .410-bore shotshells.

Unfortunately, however, this has led to the rise of some new iconic “Fudd lore”, such as the concept of loading progressively lethal ammo types into their cylinder. Starting with something like .410 birdshot, then buckshot before finally working up to .45 LC. This is terrible advice because regardless of what kind of ammunition you have loaded, a court will view you firing a gun at someone as an attempt to take their life. If you have chosen to pull the trigger, you better be fully committed to the idea of using lethal force, and in that case, you want to fire the most effective projectile possible. Permanently disfiguring a mugger’s face with birdshot may not be viewed as humanely as you imagined by a jury, even if you did spare the individual’s life. Following this line of thinking, it stands to reason that a firearm carried defensively should also be as effective as possible. When it comes to pistols like the Taurus Judge, they may have their uses on the farm for pest control or as toys, but for defensive use, there are both better handguns and .410 shotguns out there.

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410 Saiga
A .410 bore Saiga AK shotgun, one of the more “tactical” .410 options available. Photo: Rock Island Auction Company.

.410 For Defense

When it comes to using .410 defensively, birdshot can go right out the door. It simply lacks the penetrative power to be worth considering. .410 slugs also have little defensive practicality. They certainly are capable of penetrating deep enough to stop a man, as plenty of people have used them to drop deer, but at the end of the day, .410 slugs offer no distinct advantages either. As far as firing single projectiles with low recoil goes, the same thing can be achieved with a more effective weapon like a Pistol Caliber Carbine. This means that the only defensive .410 loads worth looking at fall under the umbrella of buckshot.

There have been some big advancements made when it comes to defensive .410 loads, and while some are adequate, they still fall short when compared to other calibers or gauges. Winchester PDX1 Defender is generally considered to be one of the best defensive .410 loads out there, and it delivers three “defense disc” projectiles and twelve BBs at an advertised velocity of 750 FPS. Compared to an average example of 12-gauge 000 buckshot with an advertised velocity of 1,325 FPS, the difference in power becomes quite apparent. While .410 loads like the Winchester PDX1 absolutely penetrate deeply enough in gel tests to be lethal, keep in mind that they still only have about half the mass and velocity of 12-gauge 000 buck.

Winchester PDX1 410 Defender.

In short, yes there are decently effective .410 defense loads out there, but they never really get better than just “decent.”

.410’s Disadvantages

The most obvious shortcoming of .410 is its power. Assuming that much of the appeal of using a .410 shotgun for home defense is their low recoil in a two-handed firearm, a PCC can accomplish much of the same with a much higher magazine capacity to boot. At close range, .410 may have the potential to create more devastating wounds than most pistol calibers can, but modern hollow points are known to have very consistent expansion and remain effective for much farther than .410.

Since this discussion pertains to defending the home, however, range is not nearly as important of a factor as spread. Unfortunately for .410, this is another area where it lags behind. The very narrow bore of .410 shotguns results in them having a very tight pattern at home defense distances, meaning that even when firing buckshot, you might as well be aiming a single projectile. Without the advantage of increased hit probability, that’s just one more reason why .410 is not ideal for defense.

Why Not To Use A .410 Shotgun For Home Defense

Ultimately, if it’s truly all you have access to, using a .410 shotgun for home defense can get the job done just fine with the right ammo, but the same could be said about .22 LR as well. Guns chambered in .22 can have higher capacities and lower recoil too, but very few people would recommend them for defensive work. In the end, besides in possibly a few niche scenarios, there is no good reason to handicap oneself by choosing a .410 shotgun. While shotgun pistols like the Taurus Judge offer good flexibility with the ammunition they can fire, when it comes to defense against humans a .45 LC cartridge will almost always prove more effective than a .410 shell. Also despite being smaller, .410 doesn’t even offer a price advantage over its more abundant bigger brothers.

It seems to me that unless you are dead set on using a shotgun for home defense and also lack the physical abilities to handle at least a 20-gauge, there is no good reason to handicap yourself by using a .410 shotgun for home defense. It’s true that .410s can be lighter and handier, have less felt-recoil and faster potential follow-up shots than bigger shotguns can, but few things hit with 12-gauge need a second shot anyway.

410 shotgun for home defense
From left to right: .45 ACP, .410, 20-gauge, 12-gauge. Photo: Wikipedia.

.410 bore is not without its uses, and like virtually every firearm cartridge in existence, a well-placed shot of it will stop the largest of men, but unless you are a very small, weak or arthritic person, you’ll almost certainly be better off with a 20 or 12-gauge. Even if you are lacking in physicality, these days an AR-15 or PCC will likely suit your defensive needs better than a .410. New 12-gauge offerings like the Mossberg 590S can reliably feed mini shells too, offering many of the same potential advantages of .410 but with greater versatility of ammo selection. So, when it comes to home defense, it’s probably best to save .410 for the turkeys.


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