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History of Shotgun Ammunition
The story of the development of shotgun ammo is rich and varied, much like so many stories in firearms history. From the first time that black powder was ignited to propel a projectile out of a tube, ideas have evolved for improving the reliability and effectiveness of the process.
Shooters more than a hundred years ago discovered that shot pellets were most effective for hunting birds and small, fast moving game. Military shooters found applications for shot pellets as well. Shotguns did not change much from the beginning until there were some significant advancements in technology, powder and firearm design. The evolution of shotgun ammunition really took off with the arrival of breech loading shotguns.
Breech loading shotguns initially fired two types of shells: brass and paper. Brass shot shells first appeared sometime around or after 1865, and were either loaded by an ammo company or by the shooter. Brass shells quickly became popular since it was possible to reload the brass many times over. Shot shells with paper hulls also appeared in the mid to late 1860’s, and were produced in large volume by the Union Metallic Company which contributed to their notoriety.
Frank Chamberlin developed a machine that loaded shotgun shells soon after UMC started producing their shells, and by making a few improvements, his machine could produce between 1,200 and 1,500 shotshells per hour. Those numbers are impressive for the mid 1880's. Chamberlin, however, was now competing directly with the company that supplied his components, so they cut off his supply and forced him out of business. Remington bought his business in 1933.
Federal Ammunition began color coding their shotshells, a practice that became an industry standard in 1960. They did this in order to prevent loading the wrong shell in the firearm, specifically the loading of a 20 gauge shell into a shotgun chambered for 16 gauge.
Remington, a few years later in but still in the 1960's, introduced the next significant innovation in shotgun ammo, plastic shells. Plastic hulls were superior to paper hulls in that they resisted moisture better and they could be reloaded more times. Another innovation, the one piece wad was developed, a device that helped pellets develop more uniform patterns and reach to longer ranges by protecting the shot from being deformed as it passed through the barrel.
Shotgun shells themselves come in a many different varieties, and the different choices of shotgun ammo are what make it such a useful tool. Small game and birds can be hunted with the smaller shot sizes such as #7, 7 ½, 8 and 9, while deer sized game can be hunted with larger sized shot such as 00 buck through #4 buck. Slugs are solid projectiles designed to be fired from a shotgun, and they are useful for hunting larger sized game. Sometimes slugs have rifling cut into them, and sometimes they travel down the barrel in sabots that encase the slug. Both of these methods improve shotgun performance, and the right shotgun may have an effective range greater than 100 yards.
There is a large variety of materials used for shot, and a large variety of shot types available, each with their own claims and specific purposes. If you are a hunter, competitive shooter, citizen seeking a self defense application, a law enforcement officer or military member, there is probably a shotgun shell to meet your specific need.