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History of Shotgun Ammunition
By Sam Jacobs

The story behind shotgun ammunition is as rich and varied as any topic in the realm of firearms history. Ever since black powder was used to launch projectiles down a tube, the idea of a reliable and effective method to launch more projectiles, in a better way, has continually evolved.

Hundreds of years ago, it was found that the use of shot was effective in bird and small, fast moving game hunting as well as for military applications. Due to limitations in technology, powder and firearm design, shotguns were relatively unchanged in their ammunition technology until breech loading shotguns arrived, then the evolution of shotgun ammunition began.

Breech loading shotguns had two types of shells they used initially, brass and paper shot shells. Brass shot shells were first seen in the mid to late 1860’s and were hand loaded by the ammunition company or the shooter themselves. They became popular quickly as the idea was that the brass could be reloaded many times over. Paper hulled shot shells made their appearance in the 1860’s as well and gained notoriety through Union Metallic Company which was the first company to manufacture them in quantity.

Soon after UMC began production, Frank Chamberlin developed a machine to load shotgun shells and with a few improvements, he had a machine that would produce 1200 to 1500 shotshells an hour. Those are some pretty impressive numbers for the mid 1880’s. Unfortunately, Chamberlin was now in direct competition with his component suppliers who promptly cut off his supply and forced him out of business. Eventually his business was bought by Remington in 1933.

Federal Ammunition began what became an industry standard in 1960 with the color coding of its shotshells. This was done in order to avoid loading the incorrect ammunition in the firearm. Particularly, loading 20 gauge shells into shotguns chambered for the 16 gauge.

Later in the same decade, Remington introduced the next major innovation in shotgun ammunition, plastic hulls. The plastic shells were more resistant to moisture and could be reloaded more times than paper hulls. In addition to the plastic hull, the one piece wad came on the scene, this innovation allowed for more uniform patterns and longer range because the shot was not as deformed as it passed through the barrel.

The shotgun shell itself comes in a variety of offerings and the different types of ammunition are what make the shotgun such a useful tool. Smaller shot sizes, such as #7, 7 ½, 8 and 9 are used for hunting small game and birds, while larger sized shot such as 00 buck through 4 buck can be used for deer sized game. Solid projectiles designed to be used in shotgun barrels are called slugs. Slugs can be used for hunting larger sized game and are found with rifling cut into the slug itself, or sabots that encase the slug, both of these help improve performance and with the right firearm make the shotguns’ effective range in excess of 100 yards.

There is a huge variety of shot materials and types that can be found, each with their own claims and specific purposes. Whether you are a hunter, competitor, armed citizen, law enforcement or military user, there is most likely a shotgun shell to meet your specific need.