Photos by Michael Anschuetz
As a retiree, I occasionally enjoy visiting the old office and sympathizing with those poor souls still required to work all day. The younger guys are prone to take these opportunities to pepper an old geezer with questions. Like the other day, “Should I get a .410 as my second shotgun?”
“More like your fifth shotgun,” was my reply.
That might have been a slight exaggeration, but the .410 should be the cherry on top of your shotgunning milkshake. I admit, they’re harder to shoot effectively than the larger bores, and they deliver a whole lot less shot to the target. But they’re a pleasure to carry, a box of shells will fit in your pocket, and if you handload, a bag of shot will last all season.
I love shooting .410s and am happy to do it at any opportunity. However, the shooter branching out from good old 12-gauges needs to consider several factors, most notably ammunition availability and cost.
Now, in the past, you might wonder if your local gun store (or Walmart) would carry .410 ammo, and in what quantity. Online shopping has solved that problem for most of us. For instance, Brownells’ website offers 52 different .410 loads. That sounds pretty good until you consider you can choose among 527 12-gauge loads.
Now, I would guess more .410 shotshells are fired on the skeet field than anywhere else. Another quick check at brownells.com showed a box of Winchester AA 12-gauge shells for $8, while .410s were $12 (and out of stock, to boot).
What about hunting ammo? Federal Speed-Shok, 3-inch, .410 (also out of stock) was $17 a box, while the Speed-Shok, 3-inch, 12-gauge offering was $10, and in stock. So, there is a very considerable price premium for shooting the .410, one that will probably mean more to the shooter buying that second shotgun than the fifth.
The impetus for his inquiry came from today’s subject: the TriStar Viper G2 Bronze. Like so many moderately priced shotguns these days, it’s manufactured in Turkey by Armsan. The Viper may be from overseas, but it’s right on the U.S. fashion trend. Its aluminum receiver even wears the bronze Cerakote surface treatment that has become so popular in the last few years.
As the name implies, Cerakote incorporates ceramic dust in a polymer binder that provides a very durable, rust- and abrasion-resistant finish. For best results, it must be applied with precise timing and under carefully controlled temperatures, so it is more of a manufacturing process than a do-it-yourself product.
The bronze finish of the receiver coordinated perfectly with the Viper’s well-figured, medium-brown walnut of the stock and forend, which were finished in a shiny Weatherby-style polyurethane.
Checkering is 16 lines per inch, which is a functional measure for both hunting and target shooting. A thin rubber recoil pad has a hard insert at the top to prevent snagging on the gun mount.
The Viper G2 is gas-operated, with a typical Italian-style operating system with a large spool-shaped piston pushing against a two-armed slide. The bolt is attached to that part by the operating handle. When the assembly moves forward, the locking block is elevated into engagement with a cut in the barrel extension.
When the Viper is fired, gas exiting the barrel through two ports forces the piston, slide and bolt assembly rearward, lowering the locking block. This lets the assembly recoil, ejecting the empty on the reverse stroke and picking up a fresh shell on the return.
Semiautomatic shotguns sold in several European countries are required to have a magazine cutoff system that allows hunters to cross fences safely. The Viper’s is one of the more unobtrusive ones on the market.
To unload a chambered shell while retaining shells in the magazine, press upward on the lifter while retracting the operating handle. The bolt will travel far enough to eject the loaded shell but will not lock back. To allow the gun to lock back, press the small plunger at the front of the triggerguard, which will let the lifter return to its lowest position.
Note, if you load a single shell through the ejection port, the bolt will not lock back unless you press the lifter plunger before firing. Unless you choose to shoot trap with a .410, it’s hard to imagine this being a problem.
The chrome-lined barrel is topped by a 5mm straight-sided rib with a red fiber-optic front sight. The shotgun is supplied with an Improved Cylinder, Modified and Full choke tubes in the Beretta MobilChoke style. These are 1.58 inches long and are threaded at the muzzle end. A flare in the barrel from .56- to .63-inch is required to accommodate the tube. It’s easy to see at the front end of the rib, but is not obtrusive.
The five-round magazine offers an easily installed plug to reduce capacity to three. The plug can be easily removed by pointing the receiver assembly toward the ground or by depressing and releasing the spring cap, which will pop the plug out of its hole, letting you catch it.
The Viper is, like many autoloaders these days, supplied with a shim kit that allows you to regulate drop and cast. Three shims provide drop of 2 inches (50mm), 2.165 inches (55mm) or 2.362 inches (60mm).
The remaining shim lets you specify a quarter-inch of cast-off for right-handed shooters or cast-on for lefties. Place the thicker side of the shim on the side from which you will be shooting.
I pattern-tested the Viper and used 2¾-inch ammo for shooting American skeet. There were no failures of any kind.
Ranging the .410
My range assistant for this shotgun was David Faubion, editor of Guns & Ammo’s special interest publications. He could scarcely miss with the Viper. I was a bit less successful showing a tendency to shoot over the top with it, the result of sloppy gun handling. Ejection was very vigorous with 3-inch ammo; empties were tossed more than 20 feet.
Sub-gauge guns like the .28 and .410 require strict observance of the fundamentals. In fact, there’s no margin of error as you have with shooting a 12 gauge.
The only nagging problem with the Viper G2 was with the magazine tube cap; it tended to loosen during firing and had to be retightened regularly. I also noticed the shotgun’s barrel becomes very hot — quickly. Its surface area is much less than larger bores so it stays hot, too.
TriStar’s Viper G2 is a different species of shotgun. Once a shooter becomes familiar with its nuances, however, it proves very capable. Plus, it is so fun to shoot, whether it’s your second shotgun, your fifth, or your 15th.
TriStar Viper G2 Bronze
Type: Gas-piston operated, semiautomatic
Caliber/Gauge: .410 (tested), 12, 20, 28
Weight: 5 lbs., 10.2 oz.
Overall Length: 48.5 inches
Barrel Length: 28 in.
Length of Pull: 14.75 in.
Drop at Heel: 2.13 in.
Drop at Comb: 1.75 in.
Trigger: 6 lbs., 12 oz.
Accessories: Improved Cylinder, Modified and Full choke tubes, choke tube tool, shim kit
Manufacturer: Armsan Silah Sanayi Ve Ticaret A.S.,
Importer: TriStar Arms, Inc.