Single-Shot .410 Shotguns — Perfect for Skeet Shooting

Shooting skeet with a single-shot .410 shotgun will make you a better shooter.

Single-Shot .410 Shotguns — Perfect for Skeet Shooting
While plenty of used .410 single-shot shotguns ride the racks in gunshops, available brand-new guns include the Stevens 301 (top) and the Rossi Tuffy (bottom). Both are offered in several interesting configurations.

My first dove gun was a Full choke .410. At age 11, I hated it, and my father, in his infinite mercy, got me a 20 gauge. Now, more than a half-century later, I still think that giving a youngster a .410 as his or her first shotgun borders on child abuse. Forget the so-called “light recoil” attributes of a .410. If you want your kids to have a fighting chance at smoking aerial targets, they’re far better off with a cut-down, junior-size 20 gauge. And if recoil’s an issue, preferably a gas-operated auto with an IC choke tube installed.

But this article isn’t about kids. It’s about me and why—in my dotage—I now love .410s. And I’m not talking highly collectible Winchester Model 42 pumps, Remington 1100 semiautos, or Browning Citori over-unders with .410 Briley tubes installed (although I’d love to have all three). I’m talking inexpensive, break-open, single shots sporting brand names like Stevens, Harrington and Richardson, Rossi, and Iver Johnson. Some current, some, like the one that haunted my childhood, out of production. Not exactly labels to drive serious shooters wild with desire—no Perazzis, Ithacas, Berettas, or the like.

Truth be told, many of those external-hammer, break-open rigs were, and still are, used for pest control, small game, and venomous snakes (anybody else remember the late, lamented Snake Charmer?). It’s tough to think of a more useful “garden gun” than a single-shot .410. But they work for busting clay targets as well—not to mention doves and quail. No, definitely not the optimal tool for the job but, to me, the most fun.

In fact, my current “Most Favored Skeet Gun” is a single-shot Stevens .410—a long-out-of-print Model 940D, to be precise. It has an external hammer; a side-mounted, break-open lever; and a curb weight of just under 5.5 pounds. The stock is battered, nondescript hardwood. Its sole bit of token embellishment is a rather minimalist etching of a bird dog on the receiver, a pointer by its stance, although the exact breed is a bit tough to ID. I’m talking no-frills here—if you were to look up “Utility Gun” in the dictionary, you’d probably see a picture of it.


Single-Shot-410-Shotguns

Value estimates I’ve encountered for similar 940s (but in arguably better cosmetic shape) have ranged from just around $120 to a cryptic “whatever you can get for it.” The lack of a serial number indicates a pre-1968 manufacture date, and the circled “48T” narrows things down to 1966. The choke? Fixed and Full—like most vintage .410s—at a measured 0.396 inch.


I’m not altogether sold on just how much of a handicap a Full-choked .410 is for skeet. The practical differences in choke constriction in .410s isn’t all that dramatic. Skeet yardages are usually 17 to 18 yards and max out at 21 yards.

Lots of experienced smallbore types prefer a Modified choke, claiming that with anything more open, you’re going to give up pattern density, which, I suppose, is a consideration when you’re dealing with a half-ounce of No. 8s from a 2.5-inch shotshell. And pattern density would really become an issue if you’re obsessively nutty enough to dabble in trap or sporting clays with a .410. For me, skeet represents more than enough challenge.

I’ve used different .410 choke tubes in a Browning BPS and have never been able to tell the difference between IC, M, and F, and to be honest, I like the old-timey “fixed F” on my Stevens and Iver Johnson guns. After all, it’s what I’d use on doves or rabbits. But if you don’t have a similarly Luddite proclivity for fixed chokes, current Stevens single-shot .410s are threaded for Win-Choke tubes.

One at a Time

So why a gun that looks like it was discovered in a Midwestern uncle’s tool shed? Well, it’s simple to operate, is very light and nimble, and brings a satisfying level of “reverse snobbery” to the table—no small thing when you’re putting in a decent round against guys shooting high-dollar over-unders. Then there’s the lack of recoil, plus the fact that you can dump an entire box of 2.5-inch .410 shotshells in a single pants pocket—just in case you’ve forgotten your Bob Allen shooting vest.


Single-Shot-410-Shotguns
Don’t let the utilitarian engraving fool you. Payton’s 1966-vintage Stevens 940D is one solid little .410, and that side-mounted break-open lever provides an ergonomic advantage for speedy reloads—provided you’re right-handed.

Seriously, though, using the Stevens 940D has made me a better shot on clay birds. I love skeet and try to shoot a round or two weekly, but I don’t have a religious intensity about it. As long as I’m just north of the “high teens” score-wise, I’m happy. I’ve yet to shoot a perfect round with the 940D, but I’ve come up only a bird or two short. And I don’t miss the doubles all that much. In fact, I tend to concentrate more on that one shot I’m going to get without the inevitable “report double” looming in back of my mind. Besides, I grew up hunting doves and quail in scrubby, high desert chapparal without benefit of retrieving dogs, a situation requiring a certain amount of fire discipline: “Shoot one bird, stop everything, and find it first. Get greedy, shoot two, lose ’em both.”

I’ve had some seriously good shotgunners give me advice over the years, but regardless of gauge, or whether I’m using a Mossberg pump, a Benelli semiauto, a Stevens single shot, or a Beretta DT-11, I try to keep my mind on a “Holy Trinity” of actions. (1) Concentrate on the bird. Simply put, I try to spend almost as much time tracking the bird as figuring out when and where to shoot it, but I try to compress things and shoot quickly. If I focus on the bird, my swing will (I hope) automatically assume the right speed. (2) I fight like hell to keep my head down. Raise your head; shoot over the bird. (3) I force myself to keep the gun moving by repeating the “follow-through” mantra to myself while simultaneously trying to use my conscious mental computer as little as possible.

With any shotgun, regardless of bore size, I’ve found that once I start thinking simply in terms of how many feet to lead the bird, I’ve already missed. If your brain says “three feet,” there’s a tendency to stop the gun and slap the trigger once you’ve dragged the gun to where you think is “far enough” ahead.


I generally shoot from a low-gun position, which forces me to watch the bird for a bit longer. As well, mounting the gun is all part of the “keep the gun moving” process. I try to keep my stance relaxed and balanced in comparison to some of the stylized, almost contorted stances I’ve seen. Although many shooters a lot better than me prefer a heavier gun, for the way I shoot, my feathery little Stevens 940D single shot is fine. Point fast, swing fast, shoot fast. And don’t overthink things. I just have to remember to hold it tight all the way through the shot.

What’s more important is that it fits me. Of course, fit is important for any gun, but the reduced margin for error with a .410—it seems to me—makes a good fit loom a bit larger. If you’re going the peewee single-shot route, you’re going to need all the help you can get.

To be honest, as nontraditional as that little side lever seems on the Stevens 940D, it made perfect sense to me after my first round of skeet. Depress it with your right thumb and the action pops open just enough so you can cheat the ejector and catch the empty with your left hand. Beats scrambling around and straining your elderly back muscles to pick up those pricey hulls (everything about .410 ammo is small except the price tag). Speedy reloads are out of the question, unless you’re three-armed. Thankfully, that lever lives on—although reconfigured—in Stevens’s current 301 line.

I was having so much fun with the Stevens 940D, when the chance came to pick up an old Iver Johnson Champion for next to nothing, I jumped at it. This one—although made earlier (late 1940s)—is a significant cosmetic upgrade over my swingin’ ’60s Stevens, featuring an honest-to-God black walnut stock and a casehardened receiver and a more conventional top-lever break. It, too, is choked Full, but considerably more so than the 940D at a tight 0.375 inch.

Single-Shot-410-Shotguns
Compared to the 12-gauge Winchester AA target load with 11/8 ounces of No. 8 shot (left), the .410 AA has 1/2 ounce of No. 8 shot. The 12-gauge load has 461 pellets, whereas the .410 load has 205.

Today’s .410 Single-Shot Scene

The Stevens 940 series was discontinued in 1970, but Stevens currently offers the very reasonably priced Chinese-made 301 line of shotguns that even includes a dedicated .410 turkey model—which definitely pushes the single-shot template out of the utility category, thanks to a synthetic Mossy Oak Bottomlands camo stock, optics rail, and extended “Extra Full” choke tube.

Iver Johnson ceased operation in 1993, but the name lives on as an importer with a line of imported Turkish-made single shots, including a couple of intriguing folding .410 models. And there are far worse “backpacking” options than a .410. I like .22 pistols as much as the next guy, but for potting small game, well….

Rossi USA’s .410 Tuffy line offers several synthetic-stocked Brazilian-made single shots. Although Harrington and Richardson went out of business a couple years ago, its .410s of the old Topper and Handi-Gun lines are excellent and can still be found in used racks. Then there’s what to me is the Holy Grail of discontinued .410 single shots: Winchester’s Model 37 “Steelbilt” (R.I.P 1963). If I ever see one that’s priced right, I’ll grab it.

After all, if you have a .410 fetish, why not push it?

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