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Of Dragon's Breath and hammer-shells: from bizarre to basic, these shotshells can 'lighten-up' your life!

What's intriguing about the shotgun shell is its size and tree complexity. First, the shell is large and cylindrical. You can pack a lot of interesting loads down that tube. But secondly, the shotshell is more complex than, let's say, a round of .30-'06. It's a system made up of a series of subsystems than have to work in concert to deliver the charge within the strict pressure criteria required by relatively weakly breeched shotguns.

There are high-based cases and low-base cases. Cylindrical cases and tapered cases. Compression-formed cases and multi-part cases, one piece plastic hulls, solid brass cases, and paper cases. 3 1/2-inch, 3-inch, 2 3/4-inch, 2 1/2-inch, and 2-inch cases. Low base wads and high base wads that can be separate paper or plastic units, or formed as part of the hull itself. Plastic one-piece wads or multi-part wads, fiber wads, and cardboard wads. Six-point and eight-point crimps and rolled crimps.

Even shotgun shell primers are unique. Their priming mixture, primer cup and anvil are encased in a battery cup that forms its own self supported metallic pocket when inserted into the shell's primer pocket.

In short, shotgun shells vary as much as any type of ammunition! Some of their forms are bizarre, but they are designed to fulfill a specific purpose. Here are a few of the most interesting examples of what we might term "special purpose" shotshells.

Possibly the most intriguing, entertaining and outrageous 12-gauge loads available are the creative brain children of the All Purpose Amino Co.

How about its Dragon's Breath shell, loaded with exothermic metals that sends a giant flamethrower-size trace out to 300 feet. Or a Bolo shell that consists of two slugs molded onto a 5-inch piece of steel wire. Or maybe the Pit Bull shell that carries a 1.3-ounce slug over six OO-Buck.

Something less lethal?

Well, there's the Hammer shell loaded with a miniature, ballistic nylon bag filled with tiny lead shot. Or the Bouncer load that contains two solid, bore-size, Zytel plastic balls. And, of course, the Stinger shell with 16 Zytel OO-Buck. Finally, in this time of armed conflict, there's the B-2 Bomber shell sending forth a payload that whistles loudly and then detonates with a resounding boom about 50 yards out.

If it can be loaded in a 12-gauge shell, All Purpose Amino has done it. There are tack shells, flechette rounds, chain shells, door busters and comet tracers. The All Purpose Amino catalog and Website are a scream.

With the integration of women and smaller-stature officers into the nation's police forces, the law-enforcement community found it had a problem when training officers with the 12-gauge riot gun. Standard buck and slug loads were knocking the new recruits around a bit, and range practice was generating numerous cases of severe flinching. The range officers turned to the major ammunition manufacturers to devise a solution. Their answer: the low-recoil practice load.

Winchester's Ranger law-enforcement ammunition is typical of the new 12-gauge 2 3/4-inch low-recoil loads. And it also builds rookie confidence while maintaining pattern quality. The velocity of the standard 1-ounce rifled slug was dropped from 1,600 fps to 1,200 fps, while the velocities of standard 9 pellet OO-Buck and the 27 pellet 4-Buck loads were reduced from 1,325 fps to 1,145 fps and 1,125 fps, respectfully. You won't find these specialty loads on the shelves of your typical gun shop, but if you need them, they can be ordered through normal distribution channels. Winchester didn't stop there.

When addressing women and younger shooters who are just getting into the shotgun sports, Winchester carried over the concept of the low-recoil load into the civilian target-shooting market. The result was its 12-gauge Low Recoil/Low Noise load that propels 26 grams of #8s at only 980 fps, while using a powder that minimizes muzzle flash and blast. If you're breaking in a new shooter, this load is a fine place to start.

Straddling both the law-enforcement and civilian markets for low-recoil shells is the unique offering from the Mexican manufacturer, Aguila. It's the 1 3/4-inch, 12-gauge Minishell. This cute little number was designed originally for the law-enforcement and military market. Given its compact size, officers can carry a lot of them, and 12 to 14 Minishells can easily fit into the tube of a 20-inch riot gun. Only the Winchester 1300 pump will cycle them without a hitch, but they are just perfect for single- and double-barrel guns. The Minishell comes in three combinations. There's a 5/8-ounce load of 7 1/2s a 7/8-ounce slug load, and a duplex buckshot load consisting of seven 4-Buck plus four l-Buck. Minishells are beginning to appear in local retail stores where their low recoil and recreational qualities haven't gone unnoticed by the shooting public. They're fun to shoot and a great conversation piece at the range.

While shotgun shell velocities may have been reduced in the law-enforcement market, the opposite is occurring in the hunting market. Velocities have been going up consistently with every passing year in both lead and nontoxic offerings. For example, both Win chester and Federal offer 2 3/4-inch, 12-gauge slug loads moving out at 1,900 fps. Steel and Tungsten-iron waterfowl loads are now clocking 1,500 fps, while lead turkey loads and premium upland loads are pushing 1,400 fps. It's wise to pick through the catalogs of Winchester, Federal, Remington, Fiocchi and others to identify high-speed specialty loads that may give you that important edge next time afield.

If you're a dyed-in-the-wool environ mentalist, here's a load for you--Bismuth's ECO Amino. Designed to be totally nontoxic and fully biodegradable, the ECO shell features a classic paper hull; a thin, fiber, over-powder wad; a thick fiber filler wad; and, of course, a dose of Bismuth shot. This is a serious shell, and on many European shooting grounds, biodegradable ammunition is required.

While Bismuth was once the only alternative nontoxic steel shot, today's specialty waterfowling loads now carry Federal's Tungsten-Iron and Tungsten-Polymer shot, Kent's Tungsten Matrix shot, and--just announced by Remington--a load featuring Hevishot, which is a tungsten, nickel, and iron alloy. Where the nontoxic shot story will end is anyone's guess, but it's getting pretty pricey out there, and cheap steel still works.

What about Granddad's nice old Damascus barreled double that has been collecting dust all these years? No problem. Traditional black powder shells are still loaded in England by GameBore and are imported into the United States and marketed by the Old Western Scrounger. Current offerings include:

10 ga./2 7/8" with 1 1/2 oz. #4 12 ga./2 1/2 with 1 1/8 oz. #7 16 ga./2 1/2" with 1 oz. # 7 1/2 20 ga./2 1/2" with 7/8 oz. # 7 1/2

Black powder loads can also be a great gag load if they're slipped into a round of nighttime skeet or trap. The flash, the smoke, and the smell will long be remembered.

Before leaving the GameBore Cartridge Company (notice how the Brits call them "cartridges" and we call them "shells"), GameBore is also the world's leading source of 2-inch and 2 1/2-inch "cartridges" for those svelte British 12 bores that weigh a mere 5 to 6 pounds.

And speaking of odd-size shells, there are still enough examples of Continental 24and 32-gauge scatterguns in use that Fiocchi continues to offer #5, #6 and #8 shot loads for these little tubes. The loads look pretty good, too.

The 2 1/2-inch. 24 gauge loading consists of 11/16 ounce of shot at 1,280 fps, while the 32 gauge load pushes 1/2 ounce at 1,260 fps. And for those European "garden and collecting" guns that fire the 9mm Flobert rimfire shot cartridge, Fiocchi offers 1/4 ounces of numbers 6, 7 1/2, 8 and 9 at 600 fps.

In fact, when it comes to special-purpose sporting and target shotshells. Fiocchi is a sterling stand out. In 12-gauge, the company currently offers low-recoil trap loads (1 1/8 ounce at 1,140 fps); ultra low recoil training loads (7/8 ounce at 1,200 fps); high-speed "crusher" loads (1 ounce at 1,300 fps); live pigeon loads (11/4 ounce at 1,225 fps); and an assortment of three spreader loads for field or sporting clays use.

Of course, the classic American spreader load is Polywad's Spred-R. This unique load can change a full choke into a modified or a modified into a cylinder, and it features a special toad-stool looking, rolled-crimp closure wad that projects down into the center of the shot column. It works, and the resulting patterns are very uniform.

Moving in the opposite direction is Muninord of Italy's long-range Double Impact 12-gauge, 2 1/4,-inch loading that's designed to throw two controlled patterns from the same shell--one pattern develops at 20 to 80 meters and the other blossoms from 80 meters onward. It's magic.

Special purpose shotshells like these make shotgunning a versatile and interesting sport. There's a shell for every purpose, and fortunately the selection has never been better.
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Author:Bodinson, Holt
Publication:Guns Magazine
Date:Sep 1, 2004
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