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The .410 FIST Test

Developed by B. Gil Horman       

If you’re in the market for a new handgun in a popular defensive caliber, like 9mm or .45 ACP, then there’s plenty of performance information to help you make your choice. Ballistics charts and accuracy tests abound. But what about  .410 handguns?

Although the popularity of .45 Colt/.410 handguns has grown over the last few years, no one has stepped forward with much useful information about how .410 shells perform in the shorter, rifled barrels of pistols. When I started conducting tests on my own, it became clear very quickly the traditional pistol tests that shooters, gun manufacturers, and ammunition companies rely on simply don't work with .410 shotshells.

The following is a high-level view of this new testing method.

Solution 1:

The FIST Test produces readable results.

Rather than firing multiple rounds into a single target, the FIST Test utilizes single shots fired into multiple targets. For birdshot, one shell is fired, the target is taken down and the number of pellet marks is counted and calculated to produce a percentage. The percentage of on-target pellet strikes can be used as part of an average, if testing just one shot size, or as a measure when comparing two or more shot sizes.

Buckshot is also tested by firing one shotshell into a single target, then taking the target down. The group produced by the buckshot pellets is measured in inches to produce a group size (3"). Group sizes can be averaged together, or used to compare different brands of ammunition.

Solution 2:

The FIST Test measures changes over distance.

Single shots fired into single targets can produce measurable percentages and group sizes. But how do we track the changes in the shot pattern over distance? FIST is an acronym for "Four-Interval Shotshell Target." Extensive testing has shown that you can learn most of what you need to know about .410 handgun shotshell patterns from single shots fired into targets placed at 6, 10, 15, and 20-foot intervals. The result is four targets that act as a series of snap shots to capture changes in the shot pattern.

Solution 3:

The FIST Test provides a measure for success.

Although traditional bull’s-eye accuracy is not possible with .410 shells, firing single shells into single targets provides feedback for adjusting the point of aim for the best shot placement.

Birdshot should cover the target evenly above and below the aiming point. Ignore the wad mark if one is present. If, for example, no pellet marks appear on the lower third of the target, the shots are too too high and the sight picture needs to be adjusted.

Buckshot pellet marks should group near the point of aim. By evaluating one target at a time it becomes possible to adjust the aim to move the groups accordingly.




Shotshell Targets’


Why Traditional Pistol Target Tests

Don't Work with .410 Shotshells:

Pistol target tests are designed for handguns that fire one projectile at a time. For example, one of the most common methods of testing handgun performance is firing five-shot groups into fixed targets, then measuring the size of the group of holes left in the paper. If a pistol shoots an average of 2.5-inch groups at 25 yards, you can say it's an accurate gun. But what happens when you load your handgun with .410 shotshells?

Problem 1:

How to read the groups?

Trying to fire 5-shot groups with .410 birdshot or buckshot from a short-barreled handgun at close range into a fixed paper target results in a spectacular but raggedly uninformative target. How do you measure shot groups when the patterns overlap, or when there is nothing left of the target to read?

Problem 2:

How to measure pattern changes over distance?

Another problem with traditional pistol target tests is that they are not designed to account for changes in shot pattern over distance. A pistol bullet will usually produce the same shape hole whether it hits a target at 7 yards or 50 yards. However, .410 shot pellets spread apart, and the patterns change drastically depending on the distance to the target.

Problem 3:

How to measure success?

A bullet hitting the bulls-eye marks a successful shot. But how do you determine if your shot was on target when three, four, or more than 200 shot pellets are striking the paper? And, if the targets are turned to confetti, how do you know which shot size or shell length is right for your needs?

How the .410 FIST Test solves the problem:

The ‘Four-Interval Shotshell Targets’ (FIST) Test is the result of extensive research and field tests with a variety of handguns, shotguns, and .410 shotshell ammunition. This test blends paper-target handgun accuracy testing with shotgun patterning techniques, along with modifications of both to meet the unique testing requirements of .410 birdshot and buckshot shells when fired in handguns.

Compressing the Test:

A comprehensive FIST test of a shell and gun combination calls for shooting at least one test target at each of the four distance intervals. However, as the barrel length and the type of ammunition change, so does the usefulness of the each of the target distances. Short barrels produce clear patterns at close range, but the shot spreads too much to be readable at longer distances. Longer barrels provide useful patterns at greater distances, but unreadable ragged holes up close. For the purposes of brevity, the FIST test tables display the two best target distances for each barrel length and ammunition type represented.

How to Read .410 FIST Test Performance Tables:

Variations in shot size and shell purpose require the use of different

methods of recording test results:  

.45 Colt/.410 Handgun Birdshot Tables :

Results Displayed as Percentages

Birdshot results are shown as percentages (89%). This type of shot spreads very rapidly when fired from the short, rifled barrels of .45 Colt/.410 handguns. This makes it ideal for dispatching snakes and vermin at close range.

To simulate pest control situations, 8" Birchwood Casey Shoot-N-C Targets, attached to 8 ½" x 11" sheets of paper, are set at 6-foot and 10-foot intervals. The percentage of pellet strikes is based on a pellet count of the entire sheet of paper, not just the bulls-eye. Click on the target distances in the tables (6 feet, 10 feet) to see photos of test targets.

The one exception to this rule is Federal's .410 Handgun #4 Birdshot load.  Since this round is marketed for self defense, it was tested using the larger silhouette targets. Click on the target distances in the table (6 feet, 10 feet) to see photos of test targets.

.45 Colt/.410 Handgun Buckshot Tables :

Results Displayed by Group Size

Buckshot results are shown as group sizes measured in inches. In essence, each target reads like a pistol caliber 5-shot group test. The pattern is measured from the outer edges of the two pellet marks the farthest apart on the target.  In keeping with this ammunition’s defensive role, Birchwood Casey 12” x 18” Silhouette Targets were used for these tests in place of the smaller birdshot targets.

.410 Shotgun Buckshot Tables:

Results Displayed by Group Size

Long-gun buckshot results are shown as group sizes, measured in inches. The pattern is measured from the outer edges of the two pellet holes that are the farthest apart, just like the handgun tests. These rounds were also fired into Birchwood Casey 12” x 18” Silhouette Targets, but at longer distances than the handguns, since the shotguns produce tighter groups.

Recording the Results:

The tables provided on this site are based on FIST test results. Each table entry is intended to provide the basic information needed to identify each round tested, and, to compare the results of different rounds. Target distances have been adjusted (increased or decreased) to show the most meaningful results for the specified gun and ammunition combinations. You will occasionally see table entries with target distances that don’t match the entries around it. In these cases, the targets had to be moved out because that particular round produced a ragged hole at shorter distances.

Fired Under 6 feet:


Test Target

6 feet: 80 of 90

Pellets = 88% Strike

Target 1

10 feet: 65 of 90

Pellets = 72% Strike

Target 2

15 feet: 49 of 90

Pellets = 54% Strike

Target 3

20 feet: 38 of 90

Pellets = 42% Strike

Target 4

Uneven Pattern:

Change Point of Aim

Test Target

Ammunition Brand


Shot Size

Shot Weight

Pellet Count





Winchester Super X

HS Game Loads


#7 ½

½ oz.


97% (164)

6 ft

47% (80)

10 ft

Federal Premium .410 Handgun


000 Buckshot

1/6 oz. per pellet


¾" Group

6 ft

1 1/4"

10 ft

Example Table:

Click the links to display test targets and examine the patterns.  

Target Links

Individual shell pellet groups are measured like 5-shot pistol groups. Results shown in inches.

Buckshot = Group Size

Percentage of pellet strikes compared to estimated number of unfired pellets.

Birdshot = Percentage

Example of a

Multi-Shot Target