If you’re like me, you’ve pondered the suitability of .410 slugs for whitetail deer hunting. However, there’s little consensus about the subject; in fact, even ammunition companies’ stances are often at odds. For example, Brenneke USA promotes its 2½" and 3" for use on small game and, more specifically, coyotes, as well as for self-defense. Meanwhile Federal Cartridge Co. displays a deer emblem, thereby suggesting its effectiveness for the smaller, big-game species. Too, in searching the Internet forums, there are actually few reliable field reports, though those who have employed them on whitetail deer understood their range limitations and were pleased with their performance.
Further compounding the dilemma, in crunching the numbers, Federal’s Power-Shok 2½", 1/4-oz. (109.0-gr.) slug propelled to 1775 f.p.s. produces 765 ft.-lbs. of energy at the muzzle, which is more than even the field-proven Hornady 10 mm Auto 180-gr. XTP load—it produces 556 ft.-lbs. at the muzzle. Granted, the latter will, by virtue of its construction, penetrate deeper. As such, it makes sense that the .410 would “work” on deer-size game; however, I wanted empirical evidence rather than conjecture and unsubstantiated reports, so I worked with Federal Cartridge Co. to determine the .410’s terminal performance through animal hide into ordnance gelatin. The results: when fired from a Savage Arms Model 42 from 50 yds., the all-lead, .41-cal. slug (after obturation) penetrated to a depth of about 8½". The slug’s oversize expansion diameter, which measured 0.698", surely factored into the limited penetration. The recovered slug weighed 87.50 grs.
All things considered, for a youth or extremely recoil-timid adult hunter, if he or she is willing to “pick” shots and try to avoid the scapula, I see no reason why the aforementioned load wouldn’t bring a whitetail deer to bag. In this case, bigger is better but smaller is sufficient.