Ammunition > Shotgun

Hornady's Critical Defense Triple Threat .410 Shotshell

With the popularity of .45 Colt/.410 handguns, ammunition companies were bound to introduce specialized loads. But do loads like Hornady’s Triple Threat perform as advertised?

There hasn't been much talk recently about new .45 Colt/.410 handguns arriving on the market. However, the popularity of guns like the Taurus Judge, Smith & Wesson Governor and the Bond Arms Snake Slayer have inspired ammunition companies to provide customers with shotshells specially designed to perform in the short, rifled barrels of handguns. Federal, Remington and Winchester all have fingers in this particular .410 pie, and so Hornady has stepped up to the plate with a new .410 handgun shotshell unlike anything else currently available.

The Hornady Critical Defense 2 ½-inch .410 Triple Threat shotshell contains a mixed payload, unlike the buckshot loads that are loaded with three, four or five lead balls of the same diameter. The first projectile in the Hornady shell is a .41-caliber 115-grain FTX lead slug. The un-jacketed slug's hollow-point nose is filled with a red polymer plug, just like the copper jacketed FTX bullets used in the standard pistol-caliber cartridges of the Critical Defense line. The slug is followed by two .35-caliber lead balls weighing in at 65 grains each, which means they are slightly smaller and lighter than 000 buckshot pellets. This makes for a total of 245-grains of lead to throw downrange, which is about 15-grains more than a standard .45 ACP FMJ bullet at a published velocity of 750 feet-per-second (fps).

But here is an important question: Why does Hornady, or any company for that matter, need to design .410 shells specifically for handguns? Wouldn’t any .410 shell of correct length for the chamber do the trick? This need for handgun-specific shotshells is actually driven by a bit of government policy.

The most efficient handgun for shooting .410 shells would have a smooth-bore barrel sized to fit that shell only. However, sawed-off shotguns and smooth-bore pistols have been restricted in this country for some time due to NFA regulations established in 1934. In order for a handgun to qualify for over-the-counter sale without additional Federal tax stamps and paperwork, it must have a rifled barrel and be chambered for a center-fire cartridge intended for handguns or rifles.

Therefore, the reason .45 Colt/.410 handguns are legal to buy over-the-counter (in most States) is because they are designed as .45 Colt pistols first, and as .410s second. In other words, the barrels are bored and rifled to fire the .452 to .454 caliber bullets of .45 Colt cartridges in order to meet NFA requirements, but the chambers are lengthened to accept shotshells. Meeting these legal requirements creates a functional gap between the two calibers. Sending .410-caliber projectiles from a shotshell down a .45-bore revolver barrel leaves a meaningful amount of airspace around the projectiles which in turn affects long-range accuracy. What may seem like absent minded gun design is actually a concession to Federal law.

Various ammunition companies strive to bridge the .45 Colt barrel/.41-caliber projectile gap in different ways. Hornady tackled the problem with the Triple Threat .410 shell. Along with having a hollow point, the relatively long and heavy (compared to buck shot) FTX slug has a hollow base. As the shell is fired, the two lead balls press into this hollow to cause the base of the slug to flair out and contact the rifling of the barrel. The goal is to have the slug produce the point-of-aim accuracy and expansion of a hollow-point bullet, with the lead balls spreading apart to create the pattern of a buckshot load. So how well does it work?

The Hornady Triple Defense shot shell was test fired through a set of six .45 Colt/.410 handguns and one .410 bore shotgun for pattern, penetration and performance testing. Just in case you're wondering, the answer is yes the Triple Defense shell can be safely fired in most .410 shotguns, including those with full chokes. Because this round is advertised as a self-defense shotshell, all of the test guns used were designed for personal protection or concealed carry.

Slug and ball patterns for each firearm were captured using two Birchwood Casey Shoot-N-C 12x18-inch silhouette targets, one up close, with one further out, to obtain the spread of the projectiles over distance. It should be noted here that .410-capable handguns cause the patterns of birdshot, buckshot and mixed payload .410 shells to open up very quickly compared to .410 long guns. While an 18.5-inch barrel combat shotgun in 12 gauge, 20 gauge or .410 bore can produce something like a 7-inch shot pattern at 21 feet (7 yards), some .410 handgun and ammunition combinations can produce 7-inch patterns in as little as 6 feet. The patterns produced with the Triple Threat were tight enough to provide representative test targets out to 10 feet and 15 feet for handguns, and 15 to 20 feet for the shotgun.

To check for projectile penetration and performance, single rounds were fired into bare Clear Ballistics FBI-sized synthetic gel blocks from a distance of 10 feet. Projectile expansion was checked using Sinclair digital calipers, and weight retention was verified with a Hornady GS-1500 electronic scale, both from Brownells.

So once the smoke cleared, how did Hornady's new Critical Defense 410 Triple Defense shotshell measure up? It demonstrated positive qualities in several areas, but mixed results in others. The shell proved to be reliable. It successfully fed, fired and ejected from a wide variety of guns with no malfunctions or failures. Function testing included several gun models that were not listed as part of this test.

The mixed-payload pattern testing has to be judged within the context of the firearms used. The .45 Colt/.410 handgun platforms are short-range personal-protection options. This means defensive .410 shotshells usually provide their best performance at around 7 yards or less. Much beyond 7 yards (depending on the load fired), the shot pattern becomes too large or the projectiles lose too much energy to be effective. This is the major trade-off of choosing this particular type of two-caliber handgun. It can launch multiple projectiles with one pull of the trigger, but at the cost of long-range accuracy and energy.

To even the playing field between the very shortest barrels (2-inches or less), the standard 3-inch barrels and the 18.5-inch shotgun, each gun had one of the two targets set at 5 yards to create a baseline. At this distance, patterns ranged from 1.25 to 3.5 inches in size, with the tightest single group of 1.25 inches produced by the standard-size Taurus Judge with a 2½-inch chamber and 3-inch barrel. Informal testing out to 7 yards demonstrated that every gun model tested could keep all three projectiles center-of-mass.

The Clear Ballistics gel testing demonstrated that relatively small changes in handgun barrel length may significantly alter the Triple Threat's slug and ball penetration levels. The most shallow three-projectile penetration distances (8.85, 7.75 and 7.25 inches) were produced by the 2-inch barrel of the Polymer Public Defender version of the Taurus Judge. However, the best handgun penetration (15, 12.25 and 10.25 inches) came from the 3-inch barrel of a standard sized Judge. To meet FBI standards, a projectile needs to produce a minimum of 12 inches of penetration in ballistic gel. Of the seven guns used in this limited gel test (one shot per block per gun), two had no projectiles reach 12 inches, five had one slug or ball hit or pass the 12-inch mark, three guns had two projectiles make the grade, but only one gun, the shotgun, pushed all three projectiles past 12 inches.

Those slugs or balls that satisfied the FBI’s 12-inch minimum distance requirements created what could be considered primary wound channels. The secondary wound channels caused by the other projectiles showed penetration distances ranging from 6 to 11.5 inches in depth. Although these secondary wound tracks don't meet the FBI grade, having two perforations at these depths added to the primary impact is nothing to laugh at.

Lastly we have the slug and ball performance results. The recovered pellets all held together nicely in gel, with the recovered projectiles retaining between 98 to 100 percent of their unfired weight. The lead balls showed some flattening, but not much. The most dramatic FTX slug expansions were produced by the Mossberg shotgun and, once again, the standard-sized Taurus Judge. In the shotgun, it looks like one ball and the slug slammed into each other causing both to be deformed. Unfortunately, the overall performance of the FTX slugs was disappointing. Take a look at this photo of the recovered slugs:

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6 Responses to Hornady's Critical Defense Triple Threat .410 Shotshell

Ken wrote:
July 14, 2014

Hey Diesel, you have pointed out the exact reason why every self defense load has to be thoroughly tested in a carry gun before using it. Subtle differences in each gun's dimensions can cause problems. A round that works just fine in one gun may malfunction in another. Never assume that because a buddy or a gun reviewer had no problems with a round in their gun that it will work in yours. Always test it in the gun its actually going to be carried in to make sure its reliable.

Diesel wrote:
April 26, 2014

So I have the S&W .45/.410 and I love it for both carry and home defense because of its versatility. However I am a big guy who doesn't mind a heavy gun. I like to try out different types of ammo. When I tried out Hornady Triple Defense .410 I liked the pattern however I had a serious problem with unloading the spent cartridge. I needed pliers to remove 2 of the 6 shells. I have never had this problem with any other .410 round and noticed in the article that it performed without problem for you. Did I get a bad box or has any one else experienced this? As of right now I would never trust this round for use if it takes 2 or 3 minutes to unload it.

H Stan Boring PHC USN Ret wrote:
November 06, 2013

One version of the old Minie ball had a wood sabot in the rear cavity, to expand the base into the rifling. Perhaps this or a softer lead/tin mix would accomplish the desired purpose of expanding the slug. Has anyone eperimented with this? Otherwise the comments regarding the inefficiency of the load tested seem on target. Chief Boring

BigFoot wrote:
October 25, 2013

Excellent post, NRV. The idea that someone would go to all the trouble of hauling one of these things around just to shoot .45 Colts makes absolutely no sense; their primary function is to shoot shot shells, and only at very close range before velocity is lost and their patterns open up to the point of being worthless. From these tests and others available on the Internet, the myth of having 'shotgun power' available in a handgun is destroyed. At the short ranges these revolvers are used, there is an absence of overwhelming stopping power, deep penetration, and large holes, the three requirements of a great self-defense weapon. If forced to use one, I would load up with #6 shot and aim for the face. But don't forget that the patterns are tight at close range so you still have to be capable of hitting your target as if you were firing a single projectile. And if we are that good of a shot, we could just bring a .22 and make head shots. I know two men who have bought one of these revolvers for their wife to carry in her purse or tummy pack, the idea being that she would simply let loose a cloud of shot in the general direction of the bad guy and he would immediately expire, as if ripped apart by a blast from a 12-gauge shotgun. Nobody seemed to mind that probably 90[%] of the shot would miss the target and continue downrange. It must be that some folks have so many guns at home they are desperately looking for a new one, something different, to add to their collection. Why else would an otherly-rational person buy one?

NRVOUTDOORSMAN wrote:
October 24, 2013

The whole idea of a .410/.45 Colt pistol is ridiculous on its face. At 21 feet or less (the standard for 'legitimate' use of deadly force) the .45 Colt is a FAR better option tna any .410 as a defensive load; and the lighter projectiles thrown by the shotshell (regardless of make or type) are always going to have less penetration than the 250-grain bullet of the .45 Colt. These guns, all of them, are pretty much gimmicks: given the weight and size of even a polymer-framed .410/.45, someone would be far better served carrying a titanium-framed Taurus revolver in .45 Colt, or a Charter Bulldog in .44 Special. If you can't hit a man 7 yards away with a single projectile, spewing a few small ones from a 'shotgun' isn't likely to solve your problems. The only 'practical' use for a pistol/shotgun hybrid is as a defense against snakes. Here, a .38 or .45 loaded with shotshells is as good or better; but I have one of those single-shot 'Leinad'' derringers in .410/.45 in my tackle box for this purpose. By the way, with the .45 Colt its recoil is so great as to make me almost drop it. With the .410 and #7-1/2 or #9 it will do a snake. But a human? No way would I choose one of these guns--any of these guns--for a defensive piece.

B P wrote:
October 19, 2013

OK... So, since I'm not interested in Rifled Pistol Performance... am I imagining things, or would this be a right dandy Deer Load (where legal/required) for my .410 Levergun? Sure looks like it... at least @ 20 feet. I wonder how it would perform @ 35-50 yds?...