The first time I shot one, it literally knocked me onto my butt. The august event was preserved for posterity via the miracle of silent Super 8 film. The gun in question belonged to my dad when he was a kid. It was a basic no-frills single-barrel .410 shotgun with an exposed hammer. It broke down into three pieces for cleaning and in its prime, the ejector would kick an empty shell out with such vigor it might land in the next state.
There’s no telling how many poisonous snakes, rabbits, and game birds fell to that old shotgun. My dad, a manly man as ever there was, frequently carried the old .410 on hunting trips for doves and rabbits in lieu of his well-worn Belgium-made Browning Auto 5 12-bore. The small caliber and single-shot action enforced ammunition discipline and precision.
Now in the Information Age, we are awash in firearms purporting to be the optimized tools for survival, personal defense, and self-sufficiency. Black rifles can carry 100 rounds onboard, shotguns can feed from tubes or drums that carry a dozen shells or more, and plastic handguns sport tritium sights, high-capacity magazines, and ambidextrous everything.
But despite all this newfangled hype, might an argument be made that the humble .410 still has something to offer that these other fancy modern shooters do not?
There are lots of ways to touch off .410 shotgun shells these days. The Taurus Judge and its imitators can be formidable pieces of iron. But other options still bring some unique capabilities to the table.
Century International Arms imports a Chinesemade side-by-side .410 that is just cute as a button and inexpensive to boot. The gun is substantial enough to mitigate any recoil and comes equipped with a nice pair of sling swivels.
The shotgun sports twin triggers and exposed rebounding hammers, which are blocked from contacting the firing pins unless the appropriate trigger is pulled. As a result, the gun will not go off accidentally if dropped or struck on the hammers themselves.
The action breaks open via the expected pivoting lever, and the gun comes equipped with extractors rather than ejectors. This means empty shells are lifted far enough to pluck out with your fingers, but are not kicked clear of the action automatically. The steel is beautifully blued and the wood is an aesthetically pleasing Chinese hardwood of some flavor.
I know what you’re thinking. Compared to an AR-15 or a Glock, a sideby- side shotgun is hopelessly obsolete. In reality, the side-by-side shotgun remains utterly lethal yet doesn’t frighten the natives quite as much as the aforementioned black tactical iron.
No less a firearms luminary than Vice President Joe Biden has recommended just such a firearm for home defense. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Google “Joe Biden selfdefense gun recommendation”—and get ready for a chuckle.
The odd reality is that Uncle Joe, in his own sad, weird way, has a point. Americans these days are not as durable as previous generations were, and a side-by-side double doesn’t scream sinister in the eyes of the uninitiated as might something sporting a highcapacity magazine and a Holosight.
Additionally, Doc Holliday successfully employed a side-by-side (although it was a 10 gauge) during the running gunfight at the OK Corral, and he fared just fine, thank you very much.
BOND ARMS DEFENDER
For more portable applications, the Bond Arms Defender sports impeccable quality and more options than Liberace’s wardrobe. The Bond Arms gun is a modern rendition of the classic twoshot over-and-under Derringer. It sports 25 different caliber combinations, ranging from .22 Winchester Magnum all the way up to .410. Swapping between barrels requires an Allen wrench and 30 seconds. Carry options include a cool leather cross-draw rig that keeps the gun comfortable for long drives.
After sitting on an uncomfortable handgun for the past three decades, the Bond Arms Defender now insulates me from the world’s pervasive human malevolence when I have to spend serious time behind the wheel.
The Bond Arms Defender also features a rebounding hammer for safety combined with a cam system that indexes from one barrel to the other each time the manual hammer is cocked. The single-action trigger is crisp and positive, and the sights are comprised of a fixed blade combined with a corresponding sighting groove.
To load or unload the gun, depress a spring-loaded lever and the barrels flip up and over. A manual extractor pushes spent rounds out far enough to remove them. Finishes include classic satin stainless and black crinkle coat, and the buyer has several grip options to choose from.
WHAT DO THEY EAT?
Here is where the classic .410 shotgun really earns its keep. Loadings for the .410 span the spectrum from pure sport to unadulterated defense, with a fair amount of overlap in between. Shotshells come in 2.5- and 3-inch lengths, with corresponding levels of authority downrange. Birdshot when launched through either will instantly send an inquisitive water moccasin to that Great Swamp in the Sky with comparable aplomb. Buckshot packs an impressive wallop at reasonable ranges, and .410 slugs carry muzzle energy that is comparable to many magnum centerfire loadings. When wielded by neophyte hunters of both genders, these shells annually account for an impressive number of Whitetails down here in the Deep South.
Winchester PDX1 Defender rounds are darkly fascinating. In .410, they are unique both in Winchester’s venerable lineup as well as the marketplace in general. These close-range optimized self-defense loads push what the company calls Defense Disks along with a cloud of copper-plated BB shot.
These Defense Disks are designed to fly flat side forward and are intuitively hideous downrange. When launched against fluid-filled targets, the results are destructive. At across-the-room ranges, these variegated projectiles remain tight enough to be devastating even out of the stubby Bond Arms tubes.
PURE SHOOTING COMFORT
Anything launched through the Century side-by-side is simply a treat. Recoil is almost hypothetical. One of my favorite pastimes is to throw empty hulls into the air and obliterate them before they hit the ground with subsequent shots. The gun patterns beautifully, and its lightweight, fast-handling characteristics lend the gun to varied applications both indoors and out.
When stoked with birdshot, the Century double barrel will fill your cooking pot or cleanse your favorite fishing hole of venomous serpents. Number 4 shot will take turkeys if you are skilled enough to get that old tom in close. Back in the Dark Ages, my first gobbler fell to just such a combination. Drop in a brace of slugs or buckshot and, if you can narrow the range, that Whitetail buck is on your wall.
Winchester PDX1 loads put the salient benefits of a grenade launcher into your hands without unduly upsetting the neighbors.
The Bond Arms Defender is actually surprisingly comfortable on the range. Recoil forces are a function of the kinetic energy produced by a given load balanced against the surface area of the weapon interfacing with your anatomy. The Bond Arms gun has a nice fat grip that distributes recoil forces splendidly. You even retain the option of dropping a pair of .45 LC rounds into the pistol. Winchester makes some PDX1 defensive loads in this chambering as well.
My personal collection of scary weapons is awash in 12-gauge shotguns. Most anything that can be done to the 12 bore has been done, and more than a few times I picked something up just because it looked so darn cool.
However, the dark side is that even the best-designed guns still recoil a lot, and a decent supply of 12-gauge ammunition is heavy no matter how you slice it. By contrast, the .410 is absolutely dreamy from the shoulder and not altogether unpleasant in the Bond Arms pocket pistol. Yes, a transferable full-auto M4 or tricked-out 1911 with rail-mounted tactical light and sound suppressor are more efficient self-defense weapons. But good luck bagging a rabbit on the run with that .45 pistol.
Also, how do you think a grand jury full of soccer moms will react when an anti-gun prosecutor holds up the “high-capacity assault rifle” you used to repeatedly ventilate the well-intentioned ex-con who was just climbing through a broken window to ask directions to the local Save the Whales charity fundraiser?
The .410 is not the be-all, end-all solution to your firearms needs. To be fair, neither is your tricked-out Tavor or SCAR. But in the right place and in the right hands, a relatively inoffensive .410 shotgun might be the best tool for certain applications, even if you do keep one of those high-tech heaters handy as well.
These two guns are as reliable as a pair of vice grip pliers and versatile to boot. Plus you can get into a pedestrian .410 setup for a fraction of the cost of most other high-end tactical iron.