Shooting the Black Powder Shotgun
Published: 09.13. 2008
Edited: Saturday 13 september. 2008, at 14:17 (GMT +1)
Smoothbore muskets such as this .75 calibre Brown Bess musket works fine as shotguns.
Loading muzzleloaders and breech-loading shotguns with black powder and shot is not difficult. A prerequisite is that you use lead or bismuth shot, if you don't have a modern replica that is approved for the use of steel shot. Older weapons cannot stand the pressure accumulated by the black powder loads, and it may result in a burst barrel and an injured shooter. Some countries, including Norway, have prohibited lead shot, but lead shot can be replaced with bismuth shot. Norway banned lead shot in 2005.
Find out more!
You can read more about the development of shotguns, as well as loading black powder shotshells and muzzle-loading shotguns in the brand new book From Musket to Metallic Cartridge: A Practical History of Black Powder Firearms.
Most hunters have good and valid arguments against these lead shot bans. Personally I used lead shot in all of my shotguns until 2005, but now i have continued to use bismuth which is still legal. Some rather unfortunate experiences with ricocheting steel shot while hunting mink along the coast has scared me from ever using steel shot while hunting. Bismuth shot works ok, but the drawback of lead substitutes such as bismuth is the availability and price. Lead substitutes will probably never be as economical to use as lead or steel.
There are muzzleloading shotguns available, but you can just as well use a regular smoothbore musket as a shotgun. All muskets are cylinder bored, which is historically correct. The shotgun choke was not invented until after the breech-loading shotguns had been around for a while. Some of today's replica muzzleloading shotguns have chokes, and these can be a bit hard to load compared to cylinder bored shotguns because of the tight muzzle. I have used my .75 calibre Brown Bess musket for hunting with fine results. The .75 calibre barrel is about 11 gauge. The cylinder boring means that you have to be a bit closer to the game than you normally are, but that's part of the fun.
Loading a muzzleloader with black powder and shot
Black powder, wads and shot inside a muzzleloading barrel.
I usually load Fg or FFg powder in my muzzle loading shotguns, and between 80 and 100 grains work well in a .75 calibre musket. Some years ago I also used an original .62 calibre smoothbore percussion gun, but this particular gun is retired now. When antique guns don't feel safe I don't use them.
You can use the modern plastic wads you find in smokeless shotgun ammunition. 12 gauge wads fits a .75 calibre musket barrel. However, a disadvantage is that you may get plastic fouling in the barrel, but this is not a problem if you load the wad inside a paper cartridge which is dipped in molten black powder lube.
Loading a shotgun shell with black powder
Cut-away view of a shotgun shell.
Paper and plastic shells can be efficiently sealed with a roll crimp. You can buy simple roll crimp tools that you can mount in a hand drill. Brass shells are a bit harder to seal. An old method is to bend the mouth of the case a bit inwards and seal the edges with molten candle wax. A better method is to use water glass or sodium silicate to seal the edges of the over-shot card.
Components you need to load a shotgun shell.
How much shot should you use? A rule of thumb is to use the powder measure you used when measuring the black powder load. This works ok with Fg powder, and at least it is a start. As with all other black powder loads you have to experiment to find out what works best in your shotgun. It is important to test the shotgun on paper before you hunt with it. The reason for misses, or worse, wounding of animals, is often holes in the shot pattern. Take a large paper plate (at least 1 x 1 metre) and test shoot it at 35 metres. By interpreting the plate after the shot you can find out two things: The percentage of hits and how the shot pattern looks like. The latter tells you something about the dispersion of the shot in the pattern. A good pattern has shot that is evenly dispersed. Further, the pattern must so tight that the animal is hit by at least 3-5 shot regardless of where they are placed in the pattern. You can use the results to calculate the choke of your shotgun:
- Full choke: 70-75 % hits inside the circle.
- 3/4 choke: 65 % hits inside the circle.
- 1/2 choke: 60 % hits inside the circle.
- 1/4 choke: 55 % hits inside the circle.
- Cylinder bore: 40 % hits inside the circle.
The hit percentage for cylinder bore shotguns shows you why we have to get closer to the game when hunting with muzzleloaders. In my opinion 25 metres is the maximum distance when hunting with cylinder bore shotguns and black powder.
A packet of Game Bore black powder shotgun shells.
The picture series shows you how to load a shotgun with underlever mechanism.
Loading a Husqvarna underlever shotgun.