This article was gladly contributed by author Andrew Garfield from The Shooters Optics.
The smoothbore shotguns or scattergun were among the earliest firearms that man adapted for practical use. Designed in the early 17th century, the “fowling pieces,” as these shoulder weapons were initially called, were intended for firing a lead shot at short ranges.
The modern shotgun is a typical example of a smoothbore weapon but there are also shotguns equipped with rifled barrels designed to fire sabot slugs which paired with optics can reach out and touch deer out to 130 yards or so.
While the shotguns are predominately a short range weapon, using a high tech slug construction and wad systems they will provide you consistent performance on varmints especially if shotguns are mounted with dedicated varmint hunting scopes.
Since then handloading or alternately known as homeloading, has been part of shotgun shooting because the only way a sportsman could guarantee a supply of ammo was to manufacture the cartridges himself.
Nowadays we have an unimaginable choice of commercial shotgun ammunition on the market, but still, you will have a hard time to find the factory loads for unusual bore sizes and chamber lengths. There we mean at older, oddball gauges such as 2 7/8″ 10, 14, 32`s and some of the more exotic numbers.
Other reasons of ammo homeloading are enormous fun to produce your own cartridges that can exceed the quality of factory and an obvious way to save your hard-earned money.
Besides those aspects of the sport where the satisfaction and savings can be gained in manufacturing one’s own cartridges, there is one thing especially preppers and survivalists are all too aware of: it is ammunition shortages. But we will back on that premise later.
However, no matter what motivation makes you get in ammo handloading world, shotshell reloading is elementary work, compared to the crafting small caliber ammo.
A shotgunner wishing to start homeloading might need plenty of background research and some simple hand tools such as a de-and re-capper which removes the old primer and inserts a new one and shotshell powder and shot measure reloading hand scoop as well as the turnover tool is required to seal the end of the loaded hull.
Besides this basic equipment, enthusiastic shooters eager to turn out small batches of shotshells probably will purchase reloading press or even a progressive machine that accomplishes reloading steps on several shells at once.
Much like reloading centerfire rifle ammo, shotgun reloading supplies are simply a hull (the proper term for the plastic part of a shotgun shell), the powder, the primer, the wad, and the shot. At its simplest, the whole reloading process just boils down on seven steps and can be applied to all gauges in different proportions.
- Step: De-prime the empty hull
- Step: Re-prime your cartridge with a new primer
- Step: Drop a powder charge
- Step: Seat a wad
- Step: Drop the shot
- Step: Start the new crimp
- Step: Complete the crimp
After those seven steps are completed, you should always perform a visual inspection to verify no defects. In an ordinary situation, this will represent the end of the process, and a fired shotgun shell is now complete and ready to fire. But in any cataclysmic or post world war scenario supplies of food, water or energy would be critical, and ammunition will be no exception.
So along with other survival necessities, you should provide decent quantities of reloading supplies for ammo that will keep you shooting long after the retailers go dark.
However, for the long-term SHTF scenario, your ammo supply of lead, shells, primers and powder wouldn’t last forever.
In that context, the following chapter is another answer to the question “How to Make Shotgun Shells at Home”? In order to make your own fully functional shotgun shells from scratch, the next overview will bring a general picture of how it can be done.
There are four main components you have to provide to make shotgun ammunition and these are: shells, powder, primers and shot.
Modern shotgun shells are made of plastic, but before plastic, there was paper and brass. Papershells was considerably cheaper and easier to produce than the other alternative available at the time, the all brass case.
Paper shotgun shell had been manufactured for almost a hundred years but had been suppressed over time by the plastic, and today they are made only in smaller quantities by few manufacturers. The only problem and greatest drawback of paper hulls is their tendency to absorb moisture and swell when they get wet to the point where the rounds will no longer chamber in a shotgun. Seen by many as a quaint curiosity of a bygone era, but from the preppers, perspective crafting paper shells are the easiest way to make a usable and deadly cartridge.
Basically, the homemade paper hulls are formed by wrapping layers of paper, glue and wax around sizing dowel. After you made stiff paper cylinders, another step is more problematic, and it concerns making of hull base. It should be strong enough to withstand pressure from the rapid burning of the gunpowder and having the rim strong enough for the paper hull to be extracted. Depending on your creativity you could just use for old paper base shell rims then fastened them to the new paper hulls or make the cartridge head from layers of cardboard bolstered with washer or circlips and punched hole for the primer to sit in.
However, this paper-card construction might not be rigid enough causing the paper base may over-pressure the chamber and became dangerous. Perhaps the better solution is to recycle the brass case head of shotgun shells and bond them to a sturdy paper tube with some seriously strong glue. In addition, you should make a suitable card “base wad” and the overpowder and overshot wads. When the shell is assembled, you need to put an over shot card and using the appropriate tool to crease the ends of the paper tube to seal the shell.
A small tip, instead of using cardboard disc on top of the lead shots you may apply the hot glue or wax that will fill the end on the shell mouth and seal it up.
Casting your own shot pellets is pretty easy to do, mainly if you have a buckshot mold and a decent supply of lead. On the other hand, it’s been over 200 years since it has been established that in zero gravity, surface tension pulls any liquid into a sphere shape, and molten lead was falling out the “shot tower” and dropped into water to form pretty perfect spheres. You can recreate similar process with the help of kitchen sieve, inverted oil can, and using a vibrating motor that shakes the stream of molten lead and passes them through a vibrating nozzle causes a stream of lead to break into uniform drops. If you have mastered this skill, you will be able to make any shot size and variation and now you can charge the shell with your lead shot.
While smokeless powder ranks high on the evolution scale of a number of propellants used in firearms, we are going to get a primitive version known as black powder. Gunpowder, also known as black powder is much easier to homemade since its formula consists of a mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate (saltpetre). Its simplest recipes use only two ingredients: 20% of charcoal and 80% potassium nitrate that you can make yourself or purchase perfectly legally.
The DIY impact-sensitive primers are more problematic to make and possibly the single most dangerous operation in providing reloading supplies. For this project, you will need more than basic ammunition and chemistry knowledge (games don’t count). As other reloading parts, primers come in various grades, from mild to hot, so they should be appropriate for the particular load and weapon type.
Although it is feasible to create primers on your own, to make your own primers are going to be hard work. Some experienced reloaders would advise using paper snap caps for a toy gun, as they can work pretty well as shotgun primers.
Related: The Lost Art of Cut Shells
As always, when we discuss DIY projects about firearms, we have to warn you that some of the methods mentioned in this overview could lead to injuries or even death, so you attempt them at your own risk.
If you decide to venture into the vast and fascinating world of handloading shotgun shells, with mastering the art of reloading ammo you will also acquire a great learning experience in self-reliance.
On the other hand, if you decide to make your own shells by casting your own shot, or roll your own paper hulls, or making batches of homemade black powder as a final stage in ammunition self-sufficiency, you will face almost zero information on this online or some videos of dubious value.
At a discussion of these topics, we can often hear a question like why you would make homemade shells when you can get a box of 25 shotgun shells of birdshot for around 7 dollars. Mastering of reloading ammunition is a fantastic skill, and as a proof of concept it is indeed an exciting undertaking, and in the end, handloading is about more than economy.
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