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.
Related: How To Make Gun Powder The Old Fashioned Way in Less Than 30 Minutes
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.
You may also like:
This Survival Shotgun Can Fire 8 Different Calibers and It Fits in Your B.O.B.
The Deadly Mistake This Prepper Made When He Buried A Shipping Container (Video)
10 Deadly Mistakes That New Gun Owners Make
Top 6 Popular Types of Guns Not Suitable for SHTF
Thank you for the information in this article. It’s something I have been thinking about for awhile now. Great onfo!
Is there a source for the all brass 12G casings shown in the article?
Search on line for 12 gauge brass shot shells and see what you get. Be advised that brass shells do not last forever. The hotter the load, the shorter the life.
One thing this article overlooked is if loading for a semiautomatic shotgun it is necessary to follow a strict load recipe. Semiautomatic weapons can only shoot a limited range of ammo. While some very recent shotguns seem to have overcome this problem most semiautomatic shotguns extant in owners’ hands need specific loads to function. Too hot and the shotgun will experience a short life and may not function due to the parts moving too fast to complete the cycle. Too mild and there isn’t enough oomph to cycle the action.
This dictum is true with regard to all semiautomatic firearms and is especially true for military semiautomatic firearms. Want to ruin your very expensive match grade M-1A? Try firing a match with hot loads. It will fail to feed and you will bend the operating rod. Because of its long operating rod the M-1 Garand is especially susceptible to damage from hot rounds. If you want to fire hot rounds, take out the gas cylinder plug and make it a bolt action,.
sportsmansguide.com see this product:25 rds. Magtech® Loadable Brass Shotshells, 12 Gauge
Item # WX2-105820
Mfg. Number: SBR12
two me less than a minute to find.
You can find them at
Or many other places and RCBS has a die so can decap and slightly roll the lip so you can cycle them them through an pump or auto. One thing to note is that the brass can only be loaded with bp. I have been loading for a year now. If you want to talk about 12ga reloading more you can pm on fb or email.
Can you only reload brass cased shotgun shells with black powder? I don’t reload shotgun so have never had to consider that factor.
While I have certainly never researched the topic, considering that for many years, field loads, buck shot and even rifled slugs were loaded in paper cases it makes me wonder that brass wouldn’t contain even a light skeet load.
I am old enough to remember when it was paper only and you had to be careful not to get them wet. I may still have some paper shot shells out in the garage. Doubt that they would fire. I would dump them and use the shot if I reloaded shot shells.
Yes as far as I know the only loads published by Balistic Products are BP loads I think that some people load them with smokeless but some people also eat tide pods. Kind of disappointing but that’s what they were designed for in the first place. They also take a large pistol primer and are 2 1/2 shells so they are the same length as fold crimped 2 3/4 shells. As for paper, federal still loads target hulls in paper and Cheddit make empty preprimed paper hulls. I have 200 federal once fired at my house and I can’t wait to load them.
I see that Ballistic Products shells are MagTech the same as Sportsman’s Guide. Hmm. Well, I learned something today. I suspect that the brass cases are for Cowboy Action shooters who really want to be authentic.
Or you want to use BP in your Remington model 11
If your already a reloader you will have old casings around. If not you can sometimes glean them from shooters who are using ammunition such as rim fires which is not reloadable.
those were 10 gauge hulls, the article ripped screenshot directly from a midwayUSA video without any source
When I recently ordered the lost ways part 2 I clicked on the 2 free electronic books. I received the hard cover book in the mail but the electronic book never arrived yet.
Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention.
I have sent you an email with all the information you need to access the digital books.
Before even considering making your own cases, perhaps the best idea is to go to a gun shop that sells once fired trap casings such as Winchester double A trap. They are made to be reloaded 5 to 10 times each. I used to buy them for 2 cents each. 200 would last at least 1000 rounds for 4 dollars. Also they used to make a very cheap and simple Lee hand loader.
I agree with not making you own hulls, once fired are one of the best ways to go. I go to the local cub and they let me have them for free, the have at least 13 55gal drums full but sadly most are useles. Also a sad thing is that the AA’ s are now multi component hulls instead of the old unibody and are referred to as AA HS and most I know don’t load them. As for the Lee I think they stoped making those a long time ago but you still can find them on ebay. Lee sells the Lee loadall II and I have one, it’s a good entry loader but I feel it lacks in some areas but for $57 it’s great. I just upgraded to a MEC Sizemaster and I love it. Lee also sells slug moulds for $25 and i have had good groups with them and the loads I make cost about 23 cents per round with all new components (alot better than the close to $1 per round factory). If anyone wants to talk or has anymore questions we can do a chat or email just ask me.
It appears that Lee is also phasing out their Reloader Kit where all you need to start reloading besides the components is a hammer. I notice that Midway had a closeout on some less popular Reloader Kits. I looked on the Lee website and maybe I was using the wrong search terminology, but I couldn’t find the Reloader Kits listed on the Lee web site.
As far as I know Lee still sells those for various pistol and rifle calibers and ocasonaly does a custom run of oddball calibers. I want to pick one for 6.5×55 Swedish.
My reply may be delayed for a bit as the all-star game is on
I probably was asking for it by the wrong name. I suspected I was. Lee has been making them for a long time. I bought my first one for .38 special back in 1963 or 1964. Still have it, although I use a bench press now. Still single stage, however.
Left coast I have used the lee reloader you are talking about and was very disappointed. Used it about a week and haven’t used it since. Would not crimp Hull good enough and shot spilled out of top. It was cheap(60 bucks) and that was five years ago. Boxed up in my end of world stuff just Incase. It was a hot item for a while, but you are probably right Lee May very well be weeding it out of their sell items. MEC makes a very good quality reloading press but it is expensive and I just can’t justify buying one when shotgun shells are some of the cheapest ammo you can buy. Seven bucks for 25 shells is a darn good price. Just to buy the shot alone is enough to say nope, not for me. When you factor in a bag of 25pound shot which can vary in price depending on size and type, and powder, and primer, and wads, and casings, and equipment, seven bucks is much more attractive. Not to mention the hours of labor of trial and error to finally get a positive result. It’s just best to stick with primitive equipment such as a hammer, washer, and a block of wood and a thin metal rod to punch out old primer if using once fired shotgun hulls, and a wood dowel to help seat the new primer. Wads are cheap, primers are fairly cheap, and if you have old shotgun ammo not sure if you should fire, cut it open and get the shot out of it or just cast your own. Anyway, sorry so long, love talking about reloading.
It’s called the lee load all
I think we are talking about two different products. The Reloading Kit (and that name may be incorrect) that I am describing is for pistol and rifle brass and does a good job, although as walkman pointed out, it only neck resizes, so it is limited in its scope. It generally is not good for semiautomatic rifles. It worked nicely if you use it in only one bolt action rifle or else keep your brass separated. The brass you fire in your Winchester is only fired in your Winchester and not fired in your Remington.
I have never used the shotgun reloading kit that you describe in your post, so can’t comment on that at all.
I have loaded hundreds of .38 sp. .357 mag and .45 acp rounds with the Lee Reloader Kit that I am talking about. It isn’t high speed by any means, but for after the end of the world, it is compact and does everything you need to do to reload in a compact 4 x 6 x 1 1/2 inch box—except for the hammer.
Sorry to anyone I may have misled with my post! Guess I’ve been out of the game for a while. We bought our Lee hand loader maybe 40 years ago. Yes the years slip away! It was cheap and worked but it didn’t resize the brass. OK if you shot a breach loader. I’m also unaware of the change in AA casings. I still have 2 or 3 hundred of the old ones. They will last my life time. Once again I am sorry if I have misled anyone! walkman
I have been reloading for years and have often made my own buck and slugs. Have not tried bird shot as the consistency was not very good the first time I did. I like paper hulls but they are harder to find than plastic. I don’t do brass due to the expense. If one choses to make their own you can glean the rifle range for ‘rim fire’ which are not reloadable for brass. I have enough plastic so no need for the extra work. If loading one needs to understand that casing internal capacity differs with each shot shell manufacturer. Wads are specific to the loads for each shell as are primers at times. If ‘winging’ it, not recommended, but if SHTF you will need t adjust your wad thickness to ensure proper crimping of the round. Careful to not overcharge or you will need a new shotgun.
I would to get more info
The problem here is the brass shells, most people don’t have them and will not go to the added expense to buy them when anyone can scavenge all plastic shells, Lee sells an inexpensive shotgun shell loader called the Lee Load-All that works great and is easy to use, I’ve had both the 12 gauge and 20 gauge models for many years and have reloaded thousands of shells, it all depends on how much you reload when it comes to choice of equipment, of course you couldn’t back pack a complete loader you would need a hand loader but even longer than 40 years ago Lee made the Load-All when I bought mine they cost $25 each today I believe they are in the $75 to $100 range.
Jerry, have you ever had problems with loader not crimping the hull tight enough? This is why I don’t use mine, it never gave a tight enough crimp. I was really excited at first but quickly got discouraged. Maybe a mostly plastic shotgun loader is not the way to go. Any suggestions would help
“Related: The Lost Art of Cut Shells”
I absolutely hate that the site is recommending ANYTHING to do with cut shells – not doing the readers any favors by introducing such a dangerous & stupid hazard ….
Folks used to do all sorts of things years ago that are considered too dangerous today. Playground equipment that for years kids played on with the occasional broken arm or collar bone accepted as one of the hazards of children growing up. That playground equipment is now gone in the face of lawsuits and the absolute horror of our children having the least little thing happen to them.
On NHK news they showed news film of a new “fireworks” display done with drones. It was impressive and beautiful but not fireworks. I suspect it will soon displace the old traditional real fireworks.
On the other hand people used to let their kids ride in the car standing up in the front seat and depended upon putting their hand on the kid of they had to stop quickly. Car seats and seat belts are certainly a better way for all of us.
So there is good and bad. The emphasis of this site is old fashioned ideas that worked. There will be good and bad. I believe that our forefathers had more common sense than we possess today because they didn’t have all the devices that we have and had to make do more times. They certainly didn’t have all the shotgun loads available that we have today from light skeet loads to 3 1/2 inch boomers for the masochists among us.
I think it is sufficient to be sure to emphasize that there may be unanticipated results from shotgun shell cutting, It was a practice from almost as soon as shotgun cartridges were introduced until sometime in the 1950s and by really old-timers who lived through the hard times even longer.
It’s not something I would do except in desperate times. We all hope that those desperate times don’t appear. Having certain knowledge is advantageous. Having the knowledge doesn’t mean one has to put it into practice and one may hope it never becomes necessary. I know how to kill people quickly and efficiently by a number of methods. Having that knowledge doesn’t mean I must put it into practice and I sincerely hope I never have to.
give me break – you don’t know shit about the subject – stop the praddling ….
Well, if you are so well informed, perhaps you could enlighten the rest of the readers about the inherent dangers in cutting shot shells and what to avoid if one is determined to pursue that practice. That would be considerably more helpful that just saying it is dangerous, don’t do it or you don’t know what you are talking about. That may well be, but elucidating the uninformed is far more helpful than just deriding their lack of your vast wisdom.
Claude thankyou for including this article. Always good to put reloading knowledge out ther. Keep up the good work. The only casting on shot shell I do is OOBuck. If you can find bags of shot shell at garage sales or estate sales and they are a good price then get them because the shot can be very expensive. Old shotgun shells you are afraid to shoot can be cut open to retrieve the shot. There are videos on YouTube to watch on reloading shells with just a hammer, washer, block of wood and metal punch. Very interesting to watch.
I agree, Wannabe. Old shot never dies. It may be covered with lead oxide but it will still shoot if retrieved from an old shell. I might not take it to the state skeet regional championships, but for general purpose hunting or just shooting for fun, old shot works perfectly well.
I sprinkle the old powder on the yard. I make sure I sprinkle it some place where some wool brain won’t toss a cigarette. It has nitrogen and some sources claim it acts as a fertilizer. You do have to be careful with it though because it can ignite. The gun industry is very careful to describe smokeless powder as an accelerant, not an explosive. Sometimes it is hard for us non-chemists to detect the fine distinction.
The one item you need to be extra careful with in disposing of it is the primer. Even though the primer may be a dud in your shotgun and only give a dull pop when the hammer falls, it can still be quite nasty if set off in a shell that has been but back to release the shot column.
You can put them in your shotgun and set them off the next time you go to the range. I put a couple of drops of oil in the primer and let it sit on my workbench for a couple of weeks before I send it off to the landfill. That would probably get me in trouble with some governmental body if they knew I was doing that but usually when I am disposing of shot shells that are exhibiting signs having expired, it has always been a partial box. I don’t know what I would do if I were disposing of hundreds of shells. I’ll worry about that when the occasion arises.
If somebody has a better suggestion for disposal of old shotgun shells with a live primer, I would like to know it. If those old paper shells that I am sure are out in the garage, they are more than 60 years old and I may have a disposal problem.
Whenever I break down shotgun shells, or pull bullets from pistol/rifle ammo I pet the powder in an old gunpowder container and mark it for fun. Have accumulated over eight pounds of powder and will experiment putting some with tannerite to see if it gives a louder boom. I will do it in small portions at first of course and keep safety first and work up from there. Will never use this powder in bullets again of course. Will have to research this to cover all the safety factors but I think it might work pretty good. Will have to check with laws also to make sure I’m not making what ATFE would consider an illegal explosive. The live primers can be fun to dispose of also.
LCC Regarding primer disposal. It’s been 40 yrs since I did any shotshell reloading but I remember that primers had a laquer seal over the flash hole. Back then all base wads were paper. I’d suggest cutting the hull down to the brass & soaking in alcohol.
We also found that the high brass shells fired in my side by side wouldn’t easily fit in my father in law’s Winchester pump. Back then we solved the problem by keeping the hulls separated.
Also, something I found out the hard way, and unfortunately some videos do not mention. The brass collar on a shotgun shell that has already been fired expands and must be resized. I got some rounds stuck in shotgun due to this and in my ignorance was not sure why. Because I did not resize them. Very important step.
One consideration for those prepers in snake country. Adding a two shot derringer that will handle a 410 ga shot shell or a conventional round will be an asset. It could save a life.
Well, the derringer may handle the .410 shot shell, the real question is: Can I handle the derringer with a .410 shot shell in it?
I have always wondered how many shots some of the derringers that handle large size rounds actually have fired through them in their lifetimes. When the Dirty Harry movie came out the Model 29 S&W became the hottest seller in the gun shops’ inventory. Many of them were resold at a significant loss a short time later with only a couple of shots fired through them, especially the 4 inch models.
At a shooting fair that takes place once a year where manufacturers have their latest and hopefully hottest products to test out for a small fee, my brother shot six rounds of .357 magnum through the S&W scandium 2 1/2 inch barrel revolver. The S&W guy in the booth said, “Congratulations. You are the first today to fire a whole cylinder full from that gun.”
My brother told me his hand hurt like heck the rest of the day and he was sorry that he had done that. It may also be why he can’t fire full house loads from most handguns today.
Is there a kit, i can buy online that would be able to allow me to make my own ammunition from home and what will I need from it? I am very novice but willing to learn and currently own a 308 riffle, 10 gauge and 12 gauge. Would like to know what I could do at home, to be more self sustainable, do to restrictions and limits in my area.