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calendar   Monday - July 27, 2009

Blurring The Lines

The “.410 Straight”



Is it a rifle, or a shotgun?


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So, you think you can tell a shotgun from a rifle? Think again.

Many years ago, shotgun hunters were given their own special deer hunting season in most states. Hunters were allowed to use either buckshot loads or slug loads.

A buckshot shotgun shell uses little lead pellets just like a regular shotgun shell, except the pellets are much larger and you get less of them. While birdshot pellets are quite small - Number 9 shot is only 0.080” in diameter - buckshot pellets are much larger, running up to .38” diameter for “0000 buck”, (usually called “four ought"). Fired from a smooth bore shotgun barrel, the big pellets spread out a bit, depending on the choke, but each one carries the power of a .38 pistol bullet. So a few of those will kill a deer at close range pretty quickly.

A shotgun slug is one fat chuck of lead. It is bore diameter, whether in 10, 12, 16, or 20 gauge. A 12 gauge slug usually weighs an ounce and a quarter, about 500 grains. That is one really big bullet. A smooth bore barrel doesn’t do anything to stabilize such a bullet, so slugs used to be made with the rifling on the slug itself. They had big spiral grooves on them, which caused the slug to spin when fired. They pack a whole lot of punch, but aren’t highly accurate past about 80 yards.

A couple decades ago shotguns started appearing on the market with rifled barrels. There were barrels specially designed to impart spin on smooth surfaced shotgun slugs. (A rifled slug will fire in a rifled barrel, but the rifling pitch on the slug will never line up with the rifling pitch of the barrel, and you get a mess. The barrel fouls almost instantly, the slug gets all torn up, and accuracy is just about zero.) So smooth slug shotgun ammo was soon for sale.

Taking a big tip from the black powder muzzle loading rifle shooters, another kind of firearm that was also going through radical development at the same time, the shotgun shell manufacturers started making sabot ammunition. A sabot, fwench for “shoe”, is a specially shaped wrapper for a bullet. It fits between the bullet and the barrel and lets you shoot smaller projectiles in a larger caliber weapon. I wrote “projectiles” when I wanted to write “bullets”, but these wrapped slugs come in an amazing number of odd shapes and sizes. Some look more like bowling pins than bullets. Some look like giant rivets.

The point is that these shotguns with rifled barrels were still considered to be shotguns, even though they had taken the conceptual leap to being rifles. Duh, because they were rifled!

Now, a shotgun can have any kind of action. It can be a break open design, with 1, 2, or even 3 barrels. It can be a pump action, a lever action, or a gas actuated semi-automatic. There have even been shotguns that are bolt action repeaters. So you can’t look at a firearm and say it’s a rifle or a shotgun based on the action. Or the stock design, or the barrel length, or the bore diameter either, although most modern shotguns come in only a few standard gauges.

So what makes a shotgun a shotgun? Well, generally, they operate at much lower working pressure than rifles. Mostly. The larger gauge shotguns operate at about the same pressure as a .38 Special pistol, which is not very much. Modern rifles operate at pressures 3 or 4 times higher. Well, why? Two reasons. Shotgun barrels are almost always much thinner than rifle barrels, to keep the gun’s weight reasonable. If you put a varmint rifle thickness barrel on a long barreled shotgun the thing would weigh 20 pounds. Too heavy by far! The other reason is that shotgun ammunition is made from plastic. It used to be made from paper! Plastic ammo just doesn’t have anywhere near the strength as brass ammo, so this means the operating pressure has to be much lower for safety.

But once upon a time shotgun shells were made out of brass. Granted it was fairly thin brass, and not very strong, but it was still metallic ammunition. And if you look hard enough, you can find that same brass cased shotgun ammo for sale today. So you can’t say that it’s the case material that differentiates a shotgun from a rifle. Brass is brass.

So we’re left with pressure it seems. Enter the .410. The .410 “gauge” is a shotgun chambering that has been around almost forever, and it’s an odd duck. While the gauges of all the other shotguns are measured by an arcane standard - how many lead balls of a given diameter weigh a pound - the .410 earned it’s name because that is it’s actual caliber. In terms of gauge, it’s a 67, but nobody calls it that. Hey, there’s a 9mm shotgun out there too, a diminutive little gun the Germans use for shooting mice in their vegetable gardens. Go figure.

Ok ... back to pressure. The .410 shotgun operates at about twice the pressure of a larger gauge shotgun. The folks who set the standards, CIP in Europe, and SAAMI in America, limit the pressure of the larger shotguns to about 15,000psi, but the .410 is rated at 28,000psi. So the .410 operates at pressure only a bit less than the .357 Magnum pistol cartridge (35,000psi). This lets the little cartridge push a reasonable amount of shot at velocities a bit higher than the larger shotguns, but even so, the .410 is often considered either a kid’s gun or a shotgun for a serious expert shot. This is because the “reasonable amount” of shot is still a lot less than what a 12 gauge can shoot, and that means less pellets on target, which means less lethality. So you won’t see a .410 on a goose hunt, but they make dandy little squirrel guns when your quarry is only 40 feet away.




Now ... having written an entire essay’s worth of background information so that a normal reader who isn’t a gun nut like me can understand why I’m even making this post ... along comes a company called Hoenig Big Bore South, who put all the pieces of the puzzle together and invested time and money to do the obvious in a safe manner. They have created a high velocity .410 gauge slug cartridge that has the power to kill deer, hogs, and even bears out to about 200 yards. And their sister company makes a superbly accurate rifled barrel that fits the Encore/Contender platform of firearms. Awesome. [oh, and talking just a little bit more about blurring the lines, the Thompson Center Contender firearm is a real whatsit. You can put a pistol barrel on it. You can put a rifle barrel on it. You can put a shotgun barrel on it. It will take a handgrip or a full length rifle stock. Is it a pistol, a rifle, a shotgun? Who can say? They had to take the ATF to court once upon a time to stop being hassled for just this reason. Their Encore model is similar, but that one is a little less confusing. It’s either a rifle or a shotgun. Update: I’ve been told that it can also be a pistol, so it’s just as “gender” confused as the Contender.]

Who would want a .410 slug gun? After you see what can be done with an HBBS Rifled 410 Barrel and ammo, you probably will! Please take the time to look at the next few pages and see things you did not think possible out of a 410.

Hoening Big Bore Slug LLC and Hoening Big Bore South, L.L.C. sell custom made .410 bore rifled slug barrels and ammunition, also shotshell slug reloading components, and loading accessories for hand loaders.

“The .410 Slug, capable or comical?” This is a question that pops up often in shotgun slug shooting circles, no pun intended with the “pop”, but I’ll go with it because that is what many people have stuck in their head concerning the 410 bore and deer hunting, the idea that the 410 is just a pop gun and not capable of cleanly taking deer. That may have been the case in the past except for very close range or in the hands of the most able shooter. Today with the HBBS 410 Rifled slug barrels and adequate loads, 100 yard shots on target are easily achieved. Accuracy is not an issue with these barrels, so for those who need convincing in the power department, here are some ballistic tables to consider. These 410 loads utilize a 375 gr slug (nominal 370 gr slug for factory HBBS loads) that retain a lot of energy down range, unlike the typical fast but lightweight 1/4 or 1/5 ounce 410 slug load commonly available.



Hoening will sell you their slug ammo for $3 a shot. Their “hot” load pushes that big soft lead bullet to 1253 feet per second, generating 1290 ft/lb of muzzle energy. That’s on par with factory .45-70 rifle ammunition, which is more than powerful enough to hunt deer or elk at 150 yards or under. Pretty cool!

But their web pages show that much warmer ammunition can be made. They show the ballistics for loads that push the same bullet up to 1500 feet per second. That extra 250fps ups the power factor or the effective range by a good amount. Call it a 200 yard deer cartridge. From a shotgun, one historically known to be limited to and effective range of less than 50 yards.

But hey, let’s blur the lines past the point of severe myopia. Hoening also sells brass cartridge cases. Brass .410 shotgun cases. These are extremely heavy duty thick affairs, and when chambered in Hoening’s own custom made heavy duty barrels, can be loaded to push that same 375 grain bullet to 2000 feet per second. That is true high power folks. That’s up in the 3300 ft/lb range; power sufficient to cleanly dispatch the largest bears, moose, and buffalo. It’s getting into the power range where I play with my hotrod “.45-70+”, which can manage either a 350 grain bullet at 2350fps or a 400 grain bullet at 2200fps. Start thinking more in terms of artillery; the thing is a little cannon. This is stupendous.

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Once upon a time, when American presidents were awesome and cool, Teddy Roosevelt had a Winchester model 1895 rifle chambered in .405 Winchester.
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The 1895 Winchester is a very pretty lever action repeater, but it has about the worst ergonomics since the British Empire’s old .577-450 Martini Henry. It kicks like an angry mule on steroids, because the .405 Winchester shoots a 300 grain bullet of almost the same caliber at 2200 feet per second. And Teddy used his to hunt lions with!

This new shotgun slug round is pretty damned amazing if you ask me. Impressive as all get out. And for you rifle enthusiasts: a .410 diameter bullet of 375 grains has a sectional density of .319. Horry Clap! That means you could just about shoot right through the tree the bear is hiding behind and still get him. Any bullet with an SD over .3 is going to penetrate like mad.

But why stop there? Let’s blur the lines so much you can’t even find them any more. It turns out that the .410 shotgun shell has head dimensions almost exactly the same as the .303 British cartridge. And the overall length of this new slug ammo is just about 3”. Which means that converting a good old Lee Enfield “smelly” to this round should not be a problem at all. And the SMLE is much, much stronger than any shotgun ever made. Plus it was designed to feed big rimmed cartridges. It’s a perfect project. To quote Mike Bellm, the gunsmith who brought this odd duck to my attention,

SMLE’s have been converted to .410 shotgun, and .444 Marlin is quite doable on one. The limiting factor for the .410 shotgun-rifle is the brass case head, and of course the strength of the action.
The No. 4 SMLE’s will handle .308 Win. level pressures, while the earlier vintages won’t without stretching and losing headspace pretty quickly.

Compare the potential of the .410 rifle with the nearly identical .405 Winchester and .444 Marlin..... the latter of which is distinguished more by the sectional density of the bullets normally used.

With the high sectional density of the .410 375 gr. bullets, it can exceed the .444 Marlin.

Hoening says that their brass case rounds should only be loaded “hot” in one of their custom barrels. But those custom barrels fit on the Contender frame, and that frame is limited to cartridges loaded to around .30-30 pressure, which is 43,000psi. [the Encore is stronger and can handle “normal” and “magnum” pressure cartridges] But at that pressure level they were able to push the same bullet to 2000fps. Assuming their brass cases are built with modern rifle cartridge heads, and it’s almost guaranteed that they are, then this cartridge could be run in the 50-53,000psi range on a customized SMLE. Which implies, that with the proper powders and barrel length, you could safely push that massive bullet to 2200-2300 feet per second. Which gives you nearly the power of an elephant gun; the .458 Winchester Magnum, which is a genuine elephant gun, can push a 400 grain bullet to 2400fps. So in the proper rifle, the hot loaded “.410 Straight” will clonk the biggest bear that ever walked out to 250 yards, and do it with authority. Damn.



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Seriously, Officer Game Warden, this really is a shotgun!



See More Below The Fold

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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 07/27/2009 at 04:34 PM   
Filed Under: • Guns and Gun Control •  
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