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The Gun Crank

Loading Brass .410 Shells
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Old Solution to High Ammo Costs

Anybody who shoots a .410 shotgun but doesn't reload for one knows how painful it can be to shell out seven or eight dollars for a box of shotgun shells.The insulting part is that they use about half the shot and powder of the much cheaper 12 gauge shells. It is a crying shame that the .410 is so expensive. Many good shotguns are lying dusty in basements and corners because ammo is so expensive!
 
Such was the case with and old Wards Herculese .410. My parents kept it in their bedroom with a box of slugs close at hand for many years. It was their house gun. If an intruder had broken in I am sure the .410 would have performed fine. Anyways, it sat unused for the most part because I couldn't afford to shoot it.
 
Just recently I was perusing the latest Cabela's catalog. I noticed that the Magtec company was marketing brass shotgun shells for the Cowboy Action Shooting market. They were $11 per box, about what premium .410 ammo would cost me. I placed an order immediately.
 
Brass shotgun shells were once very common. Before about 1880 brass shells were used much more than paper shells. Brass was easy to reload at home with few tools, which was a major concern for the economy minded shooter of the past. Paper hulls must be crimped to hold the shot in. Brass hulls only require that a cardboard disk be glued in place over the shot. This system works well, but is not so easy to mass produce as a fold or roll crimped plastic or paper shell. In fact, if you want to experiment a little you can cut the crimp off a fired plastic shell and reload it like a brass shell. The results aren't always pretty but they work fine.
 
The basic unit of shotgun shell reloading is the dram. A dram equals roughly 27 grains. A standard .410 shotgul load is 1.5 drams of black powder. For a rough equivalent, I use 40 grains(volumetric) of black powder substitute.
 
Before cartridges were used the standard formula for shotguns was to use an equal volume of powder to shot. This holds true with a standard 1/2 ounce shot charge for the .410. A 40 grain black powder measure heaped with No 7.5 shot is close to 1/2 ounce of shot.
 
Wads are another issue with brass shells. Wads for brass shells are generally larger than for plastic shells. Brass shells are much thinner than plastic. For a 12 gauge it is recomended that you use 11 gauge wads. With black powder or substitutes it is also recomended that you not use plastic wads. These two facts lead up to two choices. You can buy the correct wads for reloading brass shells from Circle Fly Wads, or you can punch your own.
 
Many people use waxed produce boxes or milk cartons for wads for blackpowder loads. Harbor Freight Tool has a set of hollow punches for around $7 that can produce the wads needed for .410 reloading. American Pioneer powder recomends that you not use lubes with their product, and they don't lie. American Pioneer powder works fine with just a correctly sized wad punched from non-adhesive backed bulletin board cork. This saves the reloader the trouble of finding suitable felt or felt wads.
 
Originally only the magnum loads used cork wads, but now cork is easier to find than felt, so it makes sense for cheap reloads. Four square feet of cork goes for $5 in my local hardware store. For over shot cards stiff writing paper works fine. Too thick of an over shot wad and the pattern will be spoiled. In fact, what I like to do is take a sheet of heavy resume` paper and print off a sheet of "7&1/2" 's spaced about half an inch apart. This way I can see what size shot I used for my reloads. Then I center my punch over the 7&1/2 on the paper, and tap out a pretty professional looking wad.
 
It is handy to have some reloading equipment around for brass hulls. My Magtec brass hulls take a large pistol primer. I need to use a universal decap die and 45-70 shell holder to get the spent primers out. A 44 magnum shell holder might be a better fit. I also use a Lee Ram Prime to reprime my brass shells. Some Magtec shells in larger gauges use berdan primers, which I am not qualified to comment on.
 
It is also nice to have some kind of press or punch to help seat wads in brass shells. I simply chuck an appropriately sized drill bit upside down in my drill press. With the press not running I set the hull on the table and use the bit to press in wads.
 
My basic reloaidng proceedure is pretty straightforward. I deprime the hulls and wash them in a little soapy water to get the soot off of them. American Pioneer isn't as sooty as black, but it still produces a little fouling. This all washes out. Once the hulls have dried I reprime them all with large pistol primers. Some people report that large rifle primers work just as well. Magtec recomends pistol primers. Next I dip a level 40 grains of American Pioneer substitute and charge each case. Then, I take a cork wad and seat it in each case mouth with my thumb. Next I go to the drill press and press each wad down with the bit. It helps to have the bit marked so you can get the same compression in each charge. It also helps to have a 40 grain measure full of shot ready to see just exactly when there is enough room in the case for the shot. It is not adviseable to compress the powder and wad more than is necisairy to make room for the shot charge. After all of the wads are seated I place an overshot paper in each case mouth and secure it with a little bit of watered down white glue. In the old days a substance called water glass was used. This is still available in many drug stores, but white glue works fine too. Once the glue is dry the shell is ready to fire.
 
Brass shells may have to be single loaded in pump action shotguns. Black powder loads would probabyl be a very bad idea in a semiautomatic shotgun. Where brass loads shine is in break open action guns. To clean them you just take the barrel off and clean like a black powder barrel, with hot water. Then you can oil them once they are dry to keep rust from forming.
 
Black powder substitute reloads are in spirit about what the old semismokeless loads of a century ago were. They are both designed to replace black powder volume for volume. The nice thing about shotgunning with black powder substitutes is that you don't loose any performance over smokeless powder. If you push a shotgun pellet much faster than 1200 fps it slows right back down again. It doesn't have the mass to go subsonic for very long. So, except for needing to be cleaned more often a blackpowder loaded shotgun shoots and kills exactly like a smokeless loaded shotgun. Some folks even claim that black powder is more gentile on the pellets, it doesn't develop a pressure spike like smokeless, so it is not only safe for older shotguns but it can also produce slightly tighter patterns.

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