Is the .410 Really Useless?

This post was first published on the American Survival Blog and I am republishing it here. In the short time since its original publication several new .410 self defense rounds have been made available that make the scrappy little caliber even more desirable in my eyes. The article was written for the survivalist community but I believe it makes some good points for hikers, woodsbums and all the other people who like to travel light on the paths seldom traveled.

I should start by saying I happen to be a fan of the .410 even though there are many limitations to its performance when compared to 12ga, 20ga or even the once again popular 16ga. But the scrappy little .410 bore is no more limited than the .22 long rifle  which has long been known as an everyday survival workhorse cartridge. The problem the .410 runs into is that most people compare the .410 to other shotguns only in terms of amount of lead thrown and “knockdown” power. While the .410 certainly cannot throw lead like a 12ga and should not be anyone’s first choice for a combat shotgun the erstwhile survivalist would do well to remember that guns are tools that will be used for more than killing hordes of looters/zombies/U.N. Blue helmets that populate the day dreams of too many survivalists.

I was reading a post on the excellent site The Survivalist Blog about bug out guns where the author made some really good points, and the comments were the usual mixed bag of commonsense, armchair gunfighting, and pure fantasy that serves only to confuse survival newcomers. The most commonsense advice I saw in those comments and anywhere else is this: carry what you are comfortable with that is suited to your circumstance. Vague to be sure, but it is a general guideline that you should keep in mind when purchasing any weapon. It was this principle that lead me buy a New England Firearms Survivor shotgun in .410/.45 nearly a decade ago. With Taurus’ Judge revolver creating a renewed interest in the .410 for self defense (which has led to the availability of .410 buckshot loads to the public) the .410 deserves some serious thought for a good survival arm or bug out gun.

My reasoning for not dismissing the .410 out of hand if you’re looking for a good survival arm has to do with the characteristics of the .410 itself, which is often where the main criticism of the round comes in. I am not claiming you should or shouldn’t make the .410 your main weapon in your survival battery, but it is a tool that has some benefits for realistic survival scenarios:

1) Size and weight. The .410 is often criticized for being too small, but the long skinny cartridges have an advantage over the 12ga and 20ga in load out. I have a little Swiss Army belt pouch for my phone which zips closed and has a front pocket. I think it’s got some funny name like The Barnacle. I can load the inside pouch with 15-20 rounds of 3 in .410 000 buckshot with another five rounds of 2 1/2 inch buck in the flap pocket and the whole package still weighs less than a fully loaded revolver. It also keeps the ammo dry and 0ut of the way. I can carry three to four times more ammunition than any other shotgun and most rifles for the same weight which, months or years into a TEOTWAWKI situation is going to be a boon if there is truly a total collapse of society.

I have scouted several areas in my vicinity where wild edibles grow, and because I live on the outskirts of a city that just turned from rural to suburb, there are lots of old plantings, game birds, and chances to bag some meat that are being left alone as natives flee the influx of “damn Yankees” who in the main aren’t familiar with the place.

Now we all know hunting is not a good survival strategy, but if a long term situation is making it hard to get food, a little hunting/gathering is a good way to stretch your larder and garden. When I say hunting, I of course mean setting some traps for animals that I can check after gathering up the kudzu or whatever I’m looking at gathering. In this situation, a gun is taken along for chance shots at small game and maybe self-defense if I screw up and end up in that situation. I also may need to use the gun to humanely kill animals that have not succumbed to the traps I set.  Many professional trappers will use .22s for this but in a TEOTWAWKI situation the .22 isn’t as versatile as a .410, where you can carry several specialized styles of ammo for almost any situation in a package seconded only to the .22 lr in weight.

The plans of some survivalists never fail to amuse me. Bug out bags stuffed with a few weeks of supplies paired with a tricked out assault rifle and a handgun, each of which comes along with several pounds worth of ammunition. These same people tell you they’ll also be wearing 20+ pounds of armor and their family members will be similarly kitted out. This is nonsense. In a vehicle you may carry a kit like this, but the average prepper is not going to be hoofing it while carrying that amount of weight. I have been a long distance hiker for many years, so many in fact that several years ago a doctor told me I basically have no cartridge left on the back of my left knee. I’m 38 now, and the time of hiking anywhere with 70-100 pounds of gear are over. I suspect most preppers are in the same boat. In the scenario I describe above (which I picked specifically to be mild and realistic) I would be packing snares and traps, digging and cutting implements and some containers of various kinds for the wild edibles. And of course a first aid kit just in case, a small amount of food and bait, water.  Add to that your tricked out 12 ga plus ammo and you’re looking at a day of discomfort and extra strain. All my gear is picked with weight in mind, because the heavier equipment that may pack more punch won’t do you any good if you need to put it down because it tires you out.

2) Versatility. The introduction of .410/.45 revolvers has created an incentive for ammunition makers to start taking the .410 seriously again. For many years people wanting to press a .410 into self defense service would be forced to use slugs, which while basically .45 caliber were so light that they didn’t achieve the kind of terminal performance of .45 handgun rounds like the ACP or the venerable Long Colt. The average slug weighs in at somewhere between 80 and 100 grains and though many are effective they are less than half the weight of today’s average cowboy action load which is why shotguns like the NEF Survivor made the trade off in accuracy using shot by rifling the barrel that was also chambered for .45 colt and supplying the gun with a specialty choke to tame the pattern opening spin the rifling imparts on shot. For an inexpensive woodsrunning/survival arm the trade off is more than worth it. The first .45 Colt rounds I ever purchased were Federal 225 grain semi-wadcutter hollow points which gives me plenty of confidence coming out of a 20 inch barrel. But new ammunition choices have made the the .410 a fearsome self defense caliber in it’s own right.

Winchester’s 3 inch 000 buckshot round throws five .36 caliber round balls at an advertised 1100 feet per second. While I don’t chronograph rounds at the range myself, I have seen some people publish numbers close to advertised. Wild Bill Hickok was known to have killed a few people with just one .36 galena pill traveling half that speed, so just keep that in mind when some armchair gunfighter tells you .410 buck will bounce off the ribs of assailants like so much lead confetti. Their 2 1/2 inch throws three 000 buck and almost every major company is making some version of that round, often for prices that would surprise those who shop for .410. I just saw a 25 rd box of Centurion 2 1/2 ooo buck for less than $20 in a catalog. Winchester announced an interesting round designed for handguns which has three ooo sized discs packed in front of a load of 12 bbs which I can’t wait to run through my Survivor. Of course there is plenty of birdshot out there too.

The .410 ammo boom means you need not look for a .410 that handles .45 anymore, adding to the versatility. Rossi’s new youth shotgun called the Tuffy would be an easy to pack survival tool made all the more effective with many of these new powerful rounds. Of course, the Taurus Judge revolvers come in a variety of configurations including Tracker models ideal for foraging if you know where to hold your point of aim. Single and double barrel .410s can be had for anywhere from $100 to $300 and there are several semi-auto guns like the Saiga that can be had for very reasonable prices (although magazines remain expensive) including .410 uppers for AR platforms.

3) Recoil. Everyone is a manly man at the range, but remember, in a true TEOTWAWKI situation you’ll be using your gun in either worst case scenarios or for making meat. You won’t have the luxury of only shooting when you feel well, are uninjured, and wearing a vest with a thick recoil pad in place. I can fire my Survivor one handed if I need to and I can fire it all day without getting beat up. You may take a few shots at squirrels on Tuesday, have to put down a feral dog on Wednesday and then have to kill the raccoon that’s taken up residence near your tomato plants Wednesday evening. That’s a lot of shooting and I’m not including the zombies/”golden horde”/looters that most survivalists think will be taking up their days.

You tell me you’re at the range every day shooting your Remington 870 and that .454 and can handle the recoil long term. Fine, you’re tougher than me. But you’re getting older, tough guy. Punishing your shoulders to harvest small game isn’t a smart survival strategy, and as you get older the effects of all those 3 1/2 inch  slugs and 45/70 rounds are going to show.

I visit many survival forums and am often astounded to see how many people with various ailments that effect their strength and mobility seem to think they’re going to snatch up an RPD and squeeze off a few hundred rounds at “the bad guys” with a wooden buttstock pressed into a bruised shoulder and their bursitis flaring up. Not nay saying you, but let’s be realistic.

After TEOTWAWKI, Icy Hot and ibuprofen are going to be commodities too precious for you to use up avoiding the realities of age. You may not have access to sports doctors to help heal your blown out shoulder, so before you discount low recoil “mouse guns” you should figure out if you’re still a young buck, and will you be one indefinitely?

4) Security and logistics. Unless we have to flee, the big guns in this household are here to defend the house and everyone in it, not for banging around some half-built office park picking strawberries on my way to check a snare I set up to catch what may be a rabbit. I’m not saying my .410 is disposable, but it is purposefully my bang around gun because of its simplicity, ruggedness, and because its loss won’t hamper my ability to keep the base camp secure. My other guns are for my wife to be able to ensure I have a house to come back to if I’m out picking dandelion leaves. She needs more power and capacity than me because I would be on the move if anything went down. Frankly out in the field if my .410 and a revolver won’t get me out of a scrape then I doubt by Mossberg will either, but in static home defense the factors that make a good foraging or survival tool are not what we’re looking for in a firearm. You need the right tool for the right job and the .410 is a great foraging/garden gun which makes it an excellent survival gun.

So while I know I won’t start a trend (and I don’t want to), if your SHTF plan involves staying mobile and traveling light or you’re just looking for a light shotgun for a little woodsrunning in areas where there aren’t many big predators, you may want to give the .410 a second look. With the new personal defense ammo out there, one of the main shortcomings of the round has pretty much been eliminated.

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