Brass Fetcher Ballistic Testing

The 410 shotgun is among the smallest commercially available shotgun shells. It serves various uses well: as a starter shotgun for recoil-sensitive shooters and occasionally as a sporting cartridge when one wants to minimize the damage done to an animal being harvested for food. In recent times, the cartridge has been adapted for use in large-frame revolvers for self-defense starting with Taurus and their introduction of The Judge revolver. 410 shotguns have the advantage of being small and reasonably-priced: brand-new Remington and Mossberg pump-action 410 shotguns often sell for $400 or less. The Taurus Judge and Smith and Wesson Governor can be found with 2.5” and 3.0” long chambers, respectively, which will determine the quantity of shot that can be propelled from these weapons.

While I am a big fan of firing multiple projectiles with each trigger pull, as in the case of the Project SALVO weapons and earlier 38 Special ’multi-ball’ and 45-70GOV ’garrison’ loads, we must keep our eye on the individual lethality of each sub-projectile. “Will it stop the attacker if I only hit with one projectile?” In the case of a small handgun, the answer is maybe. This is because of the inherently low kinetic energy developed and the limited length of conventional handgun cartridges for several stacked projectiles. Such handguns do address the issues of hit probability by putting a larger number of bullets in the air at the same instant.

This is important because hit probability for trained shooters in combat, with conventional rifles, is documented as being below 50% much past 50m distance. The hit percentage with conventional handguns is even lower ... with hits anywhere on the body typically in the 25-30% range at any distance.

Despite being slightly larger than I would want in a concealed carry handgun, the aforementioned firearms would fit nicely in a nightstand or glove box, if your preference leans in that direction. Ammunition choices available for these handguns include 000-buckshot, disc-shaped shot, slugs and different combinations of birdshot. WE DO NOT RECOMMEND BIRDSHOT OF ANY SIZE FOR SELF-DEFENSE. The pellets lack the mass to penetrate deeply enough to incapacitate, at any practical impact velocity. I recommend the shells containing only 000-buckshot or slugs if you would prefer a single projectile. Be careful with the velocity figures listed on the box .. typically, the 000-buckshot loads are listed in the 1200 ft/sec range. Testing with the 2.75” barrel length Governor has revealed that more than one brand of 2.5” shell is propelled at 800 ft/sec from such a short barrel length. Regardless, the 2.75” barrel length gives adequate penetration with these loads but leaves very little else in the bag.

The lethality from a single 000-buckshot pellet, when fired from a shotgun-length barrel, is roughly equivalent to a well-designed 380 ACP JHP. Your terminal effectiveness increases significantly when you move from the revolver and use a shotgun-length barrel due to the increased barrel length (driving up the muzzle velocity) and the longer chamber length which allows the use of 3” shells, with the accompanying larger shot pellet capacity. Another interesting choice for self-defense is the #4 buckshot load. Since this shell contains (9) pellets as compared to the (5) of the 000-buckshot, your hit probability goes up. This is done at the expense of the exposed surface area … the holes created by each of the pellets combined are smaller in size than that created by the larger, but fewer, 000-buckshot pellets.

Figure 1: Combined Surface Area

Birdshot can again be counted on to create a ghastly, shallow wound. What is unfortunate and what should preclude the use of birdshot shells for self-defense .. is the psychology of an attacker who is engaged in deadly force against you. Most interpretations of natural law allow for a person to use deadly force to counter deadly force or sexual assault trespassed against them by another person. This means that the psychology of your opponent(s) is such that they want to kill or rape you .. the very definitions of psychotic behavior. Psychopaths are different in a fight than ’normal’ people. ’Normal people’ have a mental barrier that keeps them from causing the maximum amount of harm that the situation would otherwise allow them to do. While it is true that most criminals are cowards, you must not assume that all criminals will stop once you challenge them with a gun. The most dangerous people in the world respond to fear with intensely violent activity.

A socially-palatable view of self-defense conveniently omits the fact that you may have to kill another person in order to stay alive. To do so, your ammunition must be capable of delivering sufficiently deep wounds that damage internal organs sufficiently to physically incapacitate your attacker. The situation is analogous to boxing—you have to be quick and accurate enough to hit the target squarely but there is an inverse relationship to the speed of successive blows and the strength of the punch that you are throwing. Shotguns firing buckshot are like an accurate, over-hand punch that hits the side of an opponents face. Even if they want to keep fighting, they are going to be physically hindered in this task.

Figure 2: External Dimensions

We touched on the fact that the 410 handguns are physically large to accommodate the large shotshell it fires. For reference, let’s take a look now at the external dimensions of a Taurus Public Defender Polymer with 2.5” chamber and compare them to a few full size semi-automatic handguns (see Figure 2).

The advantage in system lethality of semi-automatic handguns, especially those with double-column magazines, begins to become apparent here. This advantage could be said to be mitigated by the ability of the 410 handguns to propel many lethal fragments with each trigger pull—increasing hit probability.

After-action studies from the New York Police Department indicate an average hit probability amongst officers at 30% with a handgun. If we consider a 30% hit percentage as reasonable for a private citizen using a handgun to defend themselves from criminal attack, we see the hit probability with a 410 bore revolver firing (3) pellet shells of 000-buckshot as:

Where A, B and C are the independent hit probability of each projectile A, B and C. Assuming the user aims as well as the historical average reported by the NYPD (considering a target 6” in diameter), such a combination gives a 60% chance of striking the target with at least one projectile per trigger pull at the same engagement distances and in the same combat scenarios.

The number one concern is hitting the target and then hitting the target with a projectile that is properly configured to be capable of delivering a fatal wound to an attacker. As such, I highly suggest the reader take a look at the 410 bore handguns for self-defense, assuming that the (3) or (5) pellet 000-buckshot loads are used.

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