What happens when you get handed 2 boxes of really rough looking shotgun shells?
Well if it’s me a full test for science is now in order.
Let’s see if these old nasty shotgun shells actually go bang.
I must admit before getting into this test that I do collect vintage cardboard shotshells in good shape. They are collector’s items and just look quite awesome on the office shelf. They also are a throwback to another time. What if I was given old shells in bad shape? Well, now we have our test subjects.
A gun range buddy of mine said he had two boxes of old mixed shotgun shells I could have if I wanted them. Instantly the idea of a full test and examination of some questionable old shotshells would be a great article to share. I have had at many times questions asked by my readers about just how old ammo will still work. When I opened the boxes what I found made me take a step back. Would these really old and abused shotshells actually fire? Better yet will they even fit in a shotgun’s chamber?
The first box we will examine contains a mix of 12 gauge shotshells of old paper composition and original first generation plastic hulls. The second box are 20 gauge plastic shotshells in the 3″ magnum length. Let’s examine the 12 gauge shells first.
I chose for the 12 gauge shotshell test a previously reviewed Black Aces Tactical Side By Side Double Barreled Shotgun. I picked the most nasty shotshells and placed both in chambers and tried to close the action. Well, it would not close no matter what I tried. Then I had two shotshells stuck in the chambers. Luckily for me my shooting bag contains an Atsko, Inc. Rapid-Rod Collapsible Cleaning Rod. With the two trouble makers removed, I proceeded to the next roughest shell selection. CLICK, CLICK! Oh the suspense of counting to 60 while holding a coachgun with two dud shotshells can be a bit unnerving. This happened on all thirteen of the cardboard shotshells except for three of them. Out of that three that went off, I had one that was a delayed fire and all of them were quite smoky.
The old plastic Remington Express Power Piston #6 still worked well though of those seven shells many had split brass from the rust damage. The single red plastic S&W #6 shotshell also fired with good game getting power. They might not be pretty but they all went off and performed well despite whatever abuse they received throughout the years.
So what happened to the dud shotshells from this test? Well I took them apart of course. Inside I found oxidized lead shot and various types of unclumped powders. The smell of the powder was as normal as could be expected due to it’s age. I did not do a burn test though and that old powder became garden fertilizer. The thought I have from the internal examination is that the primers were the major contributors to the dud status on all of them. With proper functioning primers, they all probably would have gone off with some power present.
The shot in the left jar is from a modern shell for comparison. In the left approximately BB size lead shot is shown with oxidation present. Note the felt and cardboard wads that were used many moons ago in cardboard shotshell manufacturing. Times sure have changed.
For the 20 gauge test I chose an older 3″ magnum chambered Rossi single shot shotgun. Looking at the shells you can note that there are serious rust problems on these early generation plastic loads. The Remington Express Power Piston 3″ Magnum #4 shot shells were loaded from the worst to the better. Well, right off the starting line three of the most rusted shell would not even try to chamber. Those were now out of the test.
The rust made the overall width too wide to function.
After those initial no-go shells all fourteen remaining shells fired with good power and of course recoil from that little youth model sized shotgun. None automatically extracted on their own but the six below popped out enough to be pulled out by hand.
The eight others had to be knocked free using my collapsible cleaning rod. Would they have harvested a squirrel or other critter? Yes indeed but the reload would be quite slow…
Notice once again that the rusted heads are weakened enough to split on many occasions. While not necessarily a dire situation it can and will cause failure to extract the fired casings.
In full summary of the testing I can surmise that the statement about faulty primers I previously mentioned is probably the best explanation of the cardboard shell duds. All of the plastic hulled shotshells I tried that fit in the shotgun’s chambers all went off. Corrosion and rust made extraction a pain at times but, yes they still fired.
The old paper hulled shotshells are best off to be displayed and not counted on to actually work. Rough looking plastic hulled shotshells may still work but really should be passed over for more dependable loads. You just have no control over how the shells were stored in the past. They may have been in high heat areas or in damp or flooded basements. Keep your ammo cool and dry and you will never have the surprise of shotshells that look like the above.
Do you like articles about the outdoors? You can follow him @ericthewoodsman on Twitter, The Classic Woodsman on Facebook, and @theclassicwoodsman on Instagram, The Classic Survivalist, and The Classic Woodsman YouTube Channel.