Given my personal interest in the 410 and especially 410 slugs I have read quite a number of arguments on the internet for and against using the 410 slugs for deer hunting over the past few years. As an introduction to my two stories of deer hunting with the 410 slug I would like to give you my opinion of and reasons for deer hunting with the 410 slug. (You can skip all this rambling if you like. Links to the stories are at the bottom of this page.)
This subject is very controversial, so much so that in many states it is not even a legal option to hunt deer with. Before you seriously consider using a 410 slug gun to harvest a deer with make sure it is legal where you plan to hunt. It might be a mute point for you if it is illegal in your state. For those that live in areas were it is legal please read on.
There are many factors when selecting a deer gun in general and some of these factors become particularly important with a 410 slug gun. The following are the three major areas of consideration when considering a 410 slug gun for deer hunting; listed in no particular order: (1) Does the 410 slug have the terminal ballistics to ethically kill a deer? (2) Does the 410 slug have the effective range for the terrain and the discipline of the hunter? (3) Can the hunter and selected shotgun shoot the 410 slug accurately enough in real world hunting situations to successful harvest deer?
(1) Does the 410 slug have sufficient terminal ballistics to ethically kill a deer?
This is probably the most difficult question to answer since terminal ballistics are such a difficult and inexact science. There are a plethora of stories of huge deer dropping in their tracts from a well or luckily placed shot from a 22lr and then you also hear stories of relatively small deer hit with multiple rounds from very formidable and accepted deer guns and still running off to be found after a long blood trail or lost completely.
Where does the 410 rank in there? I would put the 410 slug near the bottom of the acceptable deer cartridges. I think this conclusion is fairly well support by the fact that it is such a controversial choice. If the 410 slug was well into either the acceptable or unacceptable group of cartridges the number of heated disagreements on the subject would not exist. After all my study and testing I believe the 410 slug is sufficient for deer assuming you also meet the two other area following this one.
But can we put some numbers to it, to the lethality of the 410 slug? If you read my sections on the 410 slug and testing 410 slugs you can see that most 410 slug have in excess of 700ft-lbs of kinetic energy at the muzzle. For comparison that is slightly more than most factory 357 Magnum cartridges fired from a handgun a little less than most factory 41 Remington Magnum cartridges fired from a handgun.
Although comparable in kinetic energy the 410 slug is a much different beast than either of these two well established hunting handgun calibers. The 410 slug although possessing a sizable amount of kinetic energy, it achieves this energy through the use of a light weight slug going relatively fast. A typical 357 Magnum hunting load is 158gr JHP and the 41 Remington Magnum are frequently loaded with 210 grain bullets. In comparison the 410 uses a relatively light slug ranging from about ~92gr to 114gr. So to achieve the energy it does so with a relative high velocity of 1750-1830fps, your 357mag and 41mag are both in the 1200-1300fps.
What does this mean to our terminal ballistics? It means that we have a fast light weight slug that dues to the hollow design of the drag stabilize foster slug is also a relatively fragile projectile. In my terminal ballistic testing into wet phone books the lighter Winchester and Remington slugs do fragment badly. And the one deer I have shot with Remington Sluggers the slugs was recover in relatively small pieces. This tendency to fragment means you may not get the penetration you want or need and it also mean that a hit on a large bone is very likely to greatly reduce further penetration of the lighter variety of 410 slugs. The heavier Federal and Brenneke slugs do hold up better with Brenneke slugs actually staying intact exceptionally well.
Now I have only shot a few unmodified Brenneke slugs since my primary 410 is only chamber for 2.5 inch shells and so I must modify the ammunition to make them work with my 9410 and thus they perform very differently than most 410 slugs. But even in the factory 3 inch form I would select Brenneke 410 slugs as the absolute best for muzzle energy, kinetic energy retain as they go down range, and terminal performance since they hold together much better than any other slug I have tested. I suspect this is due to their heavier weight and what I suspect is the use of a harder lead alloy than the other manufactures. That said I have to give Federal slugs a good recommendation too as they are nearly as heavy, expand very nicely but do not fragment easily and I think would leave a larger wound channel but I have no hunting evidence to support that speculation. The Brenneks on the other hand were used to take a fairly large buck and all three slugs passed clear through the deer.
But when it all comes down to it you the hunter needs to be comfortable that your chosen weapon and its ability to ethically kill your quarry. If the above has not convinced you the 410 slug is an acceptable deer cartridge than you can probably stop reading here as range and accuracy matter little if you are uncomfortable with the lethality of the 410 slug.
(2) Does the weapon have the effective range for the terrain and the discipline of the hunter?
The first part of this question is relatively easy. The 410 slug is a short range weapon, plain and simple. There is no doing anything to make it shoot further. Even if you can accurate shoot a little 410 slug out to 200 yards it has run out of enough kinetic energy for deer long before it gets that far. The light weight 410 slug has a very poor ballistic coefficient and thus has lost nearly half of there energy 50-60 yards down range. With the lightest Remington and Winchester 2.5 inch slugs I would not recommend going over 50 maybe 60yard and even then you need to have a good accurate hit. With the heavier Federal, 3inch Winchester or Brenneke slugs you might stretch it to 75 yards but no further. So if youíre going to hunt deer with the 410 slug you should be hunting for close range shots. If all your shots end up being longer range shots I would suggest picking another gun.
This short range restriction prompts the second half of this question, the hunterís discipline. Even in the heaviest cover with the most rolling and broken terrain you are going to have the occasion long shot. You might have been hunting that particular property for 20years and have never taken a shot further than 50yards. The first time you go out with your 410 slug gun your going to have a fluke line up of some recent storm damage that opens up a 120 yard lane in what was normal heavy cover and sure enough you will be standing at one end and the biggest most beautiful buck you have ever seen will be standing at the other end. Yes, you are going to have to have the discipline to pass on that shot. If you canít pass on the shot in a situation like that then donít limit yourself by using the 410 slug. If you can live with that possibility then read on.
(3) Can the hunter and shotgun shoot the 410 slug accurately enough in real world situations to successful harvest deer?
This is another two fold question. First, can the 410 shotgun your using shoot accurately enough. Hitting the proverbial pie plate at 50yard is not good enough in my opinion with a 410 slug. If youíre going to seriously consider using the 410 slug I would suggest that your 410 slug gun be capable of shooting a 3-shot 4 inch group at 50yards over the bench. Shot placement is critical with a 410 slug gun and so requiring greater accuracy from the gun and hunter is a must.
410 shotguns are in large majority choked pretty tight, this is to make the most of there meager shot charges with little or no consideration for slugs. Most of the 410 shotguns I have seen are choked full choke with modified chokes being the next most common.
Why is this important? Foster slugs like open choked barrels. In most cases a true cylinder bore is going to be your best choice for shooting foster style slugs. The reason is the hollow based foster slug has been expanded to bore diameter back in the forcing cone and when force through the choke the slug is compressed just as it is exiting the barrel. If the slug does not compress perfectly symmetrical then it will leave the barrel on a path not directly in line with the bore axis and since that asymmetry in compression is going to be mostly due to manufacturing defects in the slug not the barrel that path will change from slug to slugs. The cylinder bore provides a barrel that does not cause the slug to deform just as it leaves the barrel and this usually leads to better groups with foster slugs.
That said some shotguns shoot some brands of slugs very accurately through tighter chokes. It is perfectly safe to shooting foster slug through any choke up to full choke. The only way to be sure is to go out to the range and try. Buy as many different 410 slugs you can find and go to the range and test them in your gun.
The other thing to remember with accuracy is sights. Most shotguns in general and especially true with 410 shoguns only have a front bead sight. This work great for shot shells but is sort of lacking when it come to slugs. You do have options here though. Several companies make sights that clamp to the ventilated ribs and this would work very well on a 410 slug gun. There are also a quickly dwindling number of lever action 410 shotguns from both Marlin and Winchester that come with rifle sights already on them. And you can always have a gun smith add sights to many 410 shotguns if you willing to pay some money.
Finally the hunter needs to practice, a lot. The 410 slug is at the bottom end of the acceptable deer cartridges so the hunter has to make up for that difference by placing their shot very well. So it is critical to get a 410 shotgun that groups well and has good sights so that the hunter can put the shot were it needs to go. The hunter needs to be able to do this in real world hunting situation not just over the sand bags at the range. Practice, know your gun inside and out and practice more.
I have been hunting deer with my 410 shotgun since deer season 2003 and since early 2003 until the writing of this article I have over well over 400rds of various brands of slugs through my Winchester 9410 in a variety of situation from the bench at the range, ballistic testing session and informal plinking sessions and several hunts in the woods. I cannot emphasis the practice enough.
Still with me? What would I recommend for a 410 slug gun setup?
My first choice, since itís the one I hunt with, is a Winchester 9410 Traditional. The orginal 9410 came with a fixed cylinder bore and this is a great choice. Some of the new version come with choke tubes and Iím sure a little testing would point to a choke tube that would produce the best groups. Firing my modified Brenneke 410 slugs, at 1065ft-lbs of kinetic energy at the muzzle and being the heaviest and hardest 410 slug available it is a very formidable setup. The 24 inch barrel on the 9410 Traditional gives me good velocity a good sight radius while still being very handy is heavy cover. The lever action is a great manual repeating action for hunting and I like the expose hammer for safety.
I think just as good setup could be done with any of the 410 lever actions out there. Although I suspect there will be some velocity lost going down to the 20inch barrel version compared to the 24 inch version of the Traditional 9410. That said the 20 inch gun would be that much more maneuverable in real heavy cover.
I think another good and relatively inexpensive setup could be starting with a nice 410 pump gun (semi auto if you got the money) with a long barrel. Have a gunsmith cut enough off the barrel to remove the choke and give you a true cylinder bore. Certainly I would not cut a barrel with choke tubes as a good open choke tube would work just fine but I do think a fixed cylinder bore has the potential to be even more accurate than a gun with screw in choke tubes. I would then get a set of William sights that clamp to the ventilated rib for a very nice set of rifle sights.
The advantage here is most modern 410 pump guns have 3inch chambers. Winchester, Brenneke and several of the Russian ammunition manufacture make 3 inch 410 slugs. The 3 inch chambered 410 shotgun is rate for higher pressure than the 2.5 inch guns. SAAMI specifies 13,500psi for 3 inch guns with only 12,500psi for the 2.5 inch guns. This gives a 3 inch gun the potential for almost 16% more muzzle energy.
Finally a setup I think might be really neat would be to get one of the Saiga 410 semi-auto shotguns and make a slug gun out of it. The choke system uses choke tubes that screwed on the outside of the barrel and so you can remove the choke completely replacing it with a thread protector so getting a cylinder bore is very easy. They come with simple rifle sights and I have seen several conversion of the Saiga that better quality rifle sights or mounts for optics. They are also chambered for 3 inch shells so you also have that advantage also. My only concern with using the Saiga would be getting two round magazines. In several states that require shotgun slug hunting also require the gun be limited to 3rds capacity so there would be some question on the availability of magazines correctly limited to only two rounds.
What about letting a kid hunt deer with a 410 slug gun?
Well a 410 is a great gun for kid because it does not kick much. They can learn many of the fundamentals without get kicked around and becoming gun shy. Than again beyond the very basics the 410 is not an easy gun to shoot and hunt with in general because of its very short range.
My brother is fond of telling me, when I get bragging about my 410 too much, that the 410 was invented so that your kid could accidentally shoot you with it (I am assuming shot shell because the slugs are not pretty) and you will survive. God forbid anyone gets shot hunting let alone a child shooting a parent but it does make a point. The 410 especial with shot shells is not a powerful gun and must be used with care, so I would only recommend using a 410 slug gun for a kid that was very recoil sensitive and would be hunting from a stand or blind (for stability at the shot) with a parent directly overseeing them to ensure only close range shots are taken and then only if the kid was a very accomplished shot with the weapon in question. As they get older I have no doubt most kids will want to move up to ďbiggerĒ guns and I would encourage that. One day they may return to the 410 slug for the challenge but it really is not a great kidís or beginnerís choice. Young and new hunters need all the advantage they can get and the 410s only advantage is very light recoil so it should only be used in situations where recoil is going to create more problems than the limited range and kinetic energy of the 410.
So why do I hunt with the 410 slug?
Cause itís a challenge. To have the luck, skill and determination to get within range of a whitetail deer and successful harvest it with a 410 slug gun is very satisfying. Hopefully the following two narratives of my successful hunts will let you see why I have chosen to hunt deer with my Winchester 9410 410 slug gun.
The story of my first deer killed with my Wichester 9410 and 410 slugs
The deer was a moderate size 8pt buck, shot during the afternoon of opening day during modern gun season here in Ohio 2003.
The story of my second deer killed with my Wichester 9410 and 410 slugs
The deer was a nice size 10pt buck, shot the morning of opening day during mondern gun season here in Ohio 2007.
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