best handgun for hiking in predator country

Useful Tools: Handguns That Shoot Shotgun Shells

Shotguns have long been the common man’s problem solvers when dealing with varmints or predators. Powerful and versatile, a shotgun fills the needs of most individuals for most gun-related tasks. However, they tend to be long, heavy, and are inconvenient to carry around for activities like mushroom hunting or while gardening where snakes or other pests may need dispatching. What would be ideal for the previous scenarios would be a handgun that shoots shotgun shells.

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Handguns that shoot shotgun shells are not a new concept. The Marbles Gamegetter was a short combination gun featuring a .22 Long Rifle barrel over a smoothbore .44 caliber barrel firing a proprietary shotshell (later changed to use .410) that debuted in 1908. In 1921 Harrington & Richardson (H&R) brought out what they called the Handi Gun, a single shot shotgun pistol in .410 or 28-gauge. The Handi Gun was very handy as a tool for surprise pests and, with a 12-inch barrel, was more convenient to carry than a full-sized shotgun. Not to be left out, in 1922 Ithaca marketed the Auto & Burglar, a side-by-side pistol chambered primarily in 20 gauge. Production of these convenient weapons was discontinued in 1934 after the National Firearms Act (NFA) was signed into law. The NFA required the registration and taxation of pistol-shotguns as either a short-barreled shotgun or AOW (any other weapon), depending on the make and model. And after this, no one tried putting a shotgun shell into a handgun until the late 1960s with the introduction of the Thompson/Center Contender.

Forgotten Weapons expounds on the Ithaca Auto & Burglar.

The Contender

Introduced in 1967, the Thompson/Center (T/C) Contender is a single-shot pistol capable of firing many different cartridges by simply changing the barrel. Somewhere along the way, someone had the idea to ream a .45 Long Colt chamber deep enough to accept a .410 shotshell. Since this was a rifled barrel that a .410 shell just happened to fit into, the weapon did not run afoul of the NFA (but is illegal in California unless registered as a Short-Barreled Shotgun). The .45/.410 Contender barrels were fitted with a special choke that featured straight rifling to stop the spin of the shot column before it exited the barrel to improve the pattern. This choke is designed to be removed prior to firing a .45 Colt cartridge in the gun.

The Contender in .410/.45 Colt is an excellent weapon for pests and for a challenging rabbit hunt. I had a friend in college whose dad even pheasant hunted with one. A shoulder injury made carrying a 12 gauge all day difficult, but switching to the Contender partway through the day allowed him to keep hunting.

Thompson/Center also manufactures a version of this barrel chambered in .44 Magnum for customers in California. CCI produces a .44 shotshell for use in this weapon.

Rexio Super Comanche

Known as the poor man’s Contender and sporting a $245 MSRP, the Rexio Super Comanche puts a .45/.410 pistol within reach of anyone, regardless of their budget. The grip and hammer are reminiscent of a Colt Peacemaker and felt comfortable in my hand. Like the Contender, the Comanche features a removable choke with straight rifling. The Super Commanche is available in six- and ten-inch barrel lengths.

I was acquainted with two individuals who owned Super Comanche pistols. They used them for hunting rabbits with some degree of success. One of them carried it as his mowing gun and used it to dust gophers and other creatures tearing up his yard that would flee from his tractor. Both gentlemen reported getting the best accuracy with .410 slugs. I was able to fire one of the pistols with .45 Colt cowboy loads once. I do not remember the group size but I remember the big pistol being extremely pleasant to shoot. 

Taurus Judge

The prom king of this article, the Taurus Judge would probably be voted the most popular pistol on this list. It has been the top-selling firearm for Taurus since its introduction in 2006 and is named the Judge in honor of the Miami, Florida judges who purchased the weapon for self-defense. The five-shot revolver Is available with 2.5-inch, 3-inch, and 6.5-inch barrels in both standard and magnum configurations. A number of ammunition manufacturers have developed rounds specifically for the Judge with an emphasis on loads in .410 shotshell.

The Judge does not have a choke to stop the rotation of the shot column. To address this the engineers at Taurus developed a shallower, rounded rifling profile that struck a compromise between the needs of the .45 Colt cartridge and the .410 shotshell. As with all of the .45/.410 combination firearms, the main complaint against the Judge is a lack of accuracy with .45 Colt ammunition, and open shot patterns on the .410. However, the groups listed in the tests I have found online show that the revolver is at least minute-of-man at 25 yards. Many people have a hard time hitting a target at 25 yards in general, so for use at typical self-defense distances (7 yards or less), this is adequate. One reviewer got huffy about patterning the .410 at 18 feet rather than the standard 30 yards for a shotgun, but I cannot recall the last time I needed to kill a snake at 30 yards. For a reptile problem up-close I want a more open pattern to make sure I hit the stupid thing!

Other Types

There are many more .45/410 handguns. Derringers like the very popular and well-made Bond Arms handguns and the inexpensive models made by Cobray are a gun shop staple in this chambering.  Pedersoli has the beautiful and expensive Howdah, a modern take on the old Auto & Burglar mentioned previously. Not to be left out, Magnum Research even makes a variant of the massive BFR revolver in .45/410.

A road less traveled in the category of a handgun that shoots shotgun shells is the legal conversion (registration) of a steel-framed flare gun to a destructive device. For whatever reason, a flare gun is legally benign but put something other than a flare into it, and it becomes an NFA weapon. If you want to go through the trouble of registering a flare gun with the Feds to try this, then you can have a true pistol shotgun, depending on the strength of the weapon’s frame and locking mechanism.

Lastly, there is the Diablo by American Gun Craft. While it is not technically a handgun that shoots shotgun shells, it is a handgun that is a 12-gauge shotgun. As a muzzleloader, the Diablo and its big-brother, the Desperado, are not subject to the NFA and can be shipped right to your door in most states.

Final Thoughts

A handgun that shoots shotgun shells has long been the Holy Grail of those who need the payload of a shotgun without the bulk of a long gun. While I wish that we could still get the shotgun shell firing pistols of yesteryear built new today, the current offerings available will cover many of the scenarios that those weapons were designed to address. I know that I want one now.

 Until next time.

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