If you think of a .410 shotgun as just a tool for teaching youngsters to shoot, I’ve got news for you. Some of the coolest firearms available these days are chambered in .410. Even us old gun guys get excited about some of today’s .410 offerings. One of those is Henry’s Side Gate Lever-Action .410 Shotgun. This shotgun is almost an exact copy of Henry’s .45-70 clone of Marlin’s popular 1895 rifle.
The .410 Shotgun
I had a .410 shotgun as a kid. By the time I was a teen, I had “graduated” to a 12-gauge for hunting. I’ve owned large-bore shotguns in pump, double-barrel, over/under, and semi-automatic models. I never had any real interest in a .410 until two things entered my life — grandkids and arthritis. Some of you are nodding your heads with understanding.
It’s much easier to teach a grandkid to shoot skeet or hunt rabbits, squirrels, quail, or dove with a .410 Bore, and it’s certainly easier to shoot those yourself if shouldering a 12-gauge or even a 20-gauge is painful for you. In recent years, I’ve fired both an over/under .410 and an AR platform .410 with a smile on my face.
So, when I saw Henry had followed up on its side-gate lever-action rifle with a side-gate lever-action .410 shotgun, I was interested. I became even more interested when I saw it with a brass action. It was a bit of a stretch for me to get one. However, when I did, my first thought was, “This gun is too pretty to shoot.” So, I hung it on the wall.
Time passed, and the itch to shoot the brass beauty won out. I began thinking of how the gun could be useful when introducing some of my grandkids to the fun of skeet shooting. I also thought of how the .410 could serve as a defensive firearm in the part of the house where I spend most of my time. We already have a .410/.45 Colt Circuit Judge near the kitchen door, so another .410 loaded with a mixture of Winchester PDX Defender rounds and slugs made sense.
Henry .410 Lever-Action
The first thing I notice when hefting the Henry .410 lever-action was how nimble it was. Even with a stock of American Walnut, it weighed only 7 pounds. Shouldering it felt just right. The length of pull was 13.5 inches.
Although sights play a minimalist role in many shotgun activities, the sights on this shotgun were something to behold. The rear sight was a fully adjustable semi-buckhorn with a small white diamond at the base of the notch. The front sight was ramped with a small ivory bead.
The barrel was deeply blued. The action was shiny brass. A brass band at the front of the forearm had a sling attachment point, and there was another attachment point for the sling at the bottom of the stock.
There are two methods of loading the tubular magazine. One is by loading it the same way you load a tube-fed .22 rifle. You twist the tube insert to unlock it and pull it out to uncover the reloading port in the tube. Drop your shells in the hole, then reinsert the tube insert. The second method is to push the shells in through the loading gate on the side of the action. I used both methods and did not really have a preference.
The lever, bolt, and hammer were black which made for an attractive color combination. After convincing myself that shooting the gun wouldn’t detract from its beauty, I rounded up a son and a grandson to accompany me on a .410 shooting extravaganza. Well, I did kind of make a big deal of it, so I thought of it as an extravaganza.
At the Range
We are fortunate to have a private range for our shooting activities. I bought a box of bright orange clay pigeons, a handheld thrower, and some Winchester AA #8 shot. The Winchester ammunition was specifically designed and built to bring down clay pigeons. Shortly after arriving at the range, we proceeded to poke holes in the sky.
Occasionally, the arc of the clay pigeon and the flight path of our #8 shot converged and the pigeon’s flight was terminated. Admittedly, we missed a whole lot more than we hit. I’m a NRA Shotgun instructor and long-time bird hunter. I know the principles involved in skeet shooting.
My transition to shooting from the left shoulder, while seated in a wheelchair, did not offer the results I was expecting. I was not able to provide proper instruction to my other shooters by way of example. We were all convinced it wasn’t the gun, and we’re going to do a lot more practicing until we get it right.
Meanwhile, I wanted to test the shotgun for its other role — personal and home defense. I set up some splatter targets and fired one shell at each target. First was a slug which resulted in one big hole in the center of the bullseye. Next was double-ought buckshot. Theoretically, there should have been a close grouping consisting of nine shots with holes about the size of a 9mm, and that was the result.
Next fired was a Winchester PDX Defender round. This round has three plated discs and nine plated BBs in it. Based on the way it tore up the paper target, you wouldn’t want that pointed at your chest or belly when the trigger is pulled. No, sir.
As a close-range defense round, that one looks pretty effective. I liked it so much, we keep the Circuit Judge (my wife keeps it by the back door) loaded with three PDX Defender rounds and two .45 Colt rounds.
The last shell I shot for my defensive testing was #4 shot, which is a common load used for turkey and geese — at least in my part of the world. The shot was well-distributed across the target making it a very effective man stopper in my book. So, if you’re thinking of using a .410 as a home defensive firearm, there are some interesting choices for loading it — all of which should do the trick.
Now that I know shooting it isn’t going to destroy the beauty of the brass that adorns the Henry .410 side gate shotgun, I’ll be enjoying it from time to time, especially as I figure out how to bust clays (with more success). There are some interesting varieties to this gun I might also consider. They come with a standard blued action, and there is also the Axe model which is one of those shotguns with the stock cut off like a pistol handle and a 15.14-inch barrel.
I would think handling a .410 in that cutoff model would be much easier than handling a 12-gauge cutoff. Maybe you’d like to give it a try, or maybe you already have and can give us some feedback on using a .410 for personal defense, kid training, or just plain fun.