Wolfe Publishing Group

    10-Gauge Black Powder Shotshell Reloading

    This Parker Brothers Quality 1 Top Action hammer, 10-gauge shotgun with laminated steel barrels was shipped to L.E. Matteson in Stockton, California, on November 27, 1888, at a cost of $70, plus shipping.
    This Parker Brothers Quality 1 Top Action hammer, 10-gauge shotgun with laminated steel barrels was shipped to L.E. Matteson in Stockton, California, on November 27, 1888, at a cost of $70, plus shipping.
    Being somewhat taken aback, I have had several readers of The Black Powder Cartridge News (BPCN) give me quite positive feedback on my recent “Letter to the Editor” concerning the carrying of a hammer shotgun cocked with the breech open. Additionally, the staff at BPCN asked me to write an article explaining my technique for loading brass shotgun shells for my old Parker gun.

    To get started, here is a little history of my loading black-powder shotgun shells. I began loading black-powder shotshell cartridges when I was 12. I had started shooting trap with my dad’s old Model 12 Winchester at the local trap range in Riverton, Wyoming. Dad quickly realized that at the rate I was shooting up boxes of shotgun shells, this sport was not going to be economical feasible for the family very far into the future. So, ever resourceful, he found a neighbor who had given up shooting shotguns and had a complete shotshell reloading outfit he would sell for $10 (circa 1962). This complete shotshell reloading outfit consisted of a 12-gauge Lee Loader, a mostly full 8-pound keg of Red Dot powder, a huge bag of Number 8 shot, a large bag of Alcan Wads, several hundred primers, another large bag of empty paper shotgun hulls. Most importantly, but not recognized at the time, was a can of Dupont 2Fg black powder. At any rate, Dad and I began a hobby that we enjoyed together for more than 50 years. Another benefit was that I was excused from going to church on Sunday mornings, as I was heavily involved in becoming an up-and-coming trap shooter.

    It was at this same time that my great-grandfather Thompson passed away. Great grandpa had purchased a “G-Grade” LeFever, side-by-side shotgun with Damascus barrels in 1903. Now, no one in the family paid any attention to the old shotgun except me. Grandpa Morris kept a bowl of shotgun shells on a table in the porch (right by the Kelvinator freezer) across from the closet where the guns were kept; except the Winchester .22 rifle that was stored on the floor of the 1950 Chevrolet pickup. Anyhow, I used to come home from school, grab the old LeFever, a handful of 12-gauge shotgun shells and head off hunting down in the canyon. When great grandpa Thompson passed, he specifically left his 12-gauge LeFever shotgun to me. One day, I was in the local gun shop and reported that I had a 12-gauge LeFever shotgun. The owner of the gun shop quickly told me to not to shoot that old shotgun with modern shells, as it would blow up and the only shells safe in the gun were black-powder loads. Having been raised to respect my elders, I didn’t mention that my favorite ammunition in the old LeFever were Winchester plastic-hulled rifled slugs!

    I reported the incident to Dad, and he said it was no problem as we would load the Lefever with black powder. So, we did. The next Sunday, Dad dropped me off to shoot trap, and I had my prized LeFever. Nobody paid much attention to the “kid” as I stepped to the 16-yard line, shouldered the old LeFever and called “pull.” There was a roar, a billow of white smoke, and the next thing I knew, the whole club was standing around me wondering what happened, was I okay, and what happened to the gun? When I confessed that I had shot the old LeFever with black powder, there was a general sigh of relief, and they told me never to bring that thing back to the trap range. I did notice that the shoot became a little more lighthearted concerning the kid bringing a black-powder shotgun to shoot trap. Later during the shoot, while I sat on the bench watching, one guy asked if I would like to shoot a round with his Winchester Model 12 Trap Grade shotgun, as all I had to shoot was my outlawed LeFever. Two important things happened that day: I shot my first handloaded black-powder cartridge and learned there are politics in competitive shooting!

    One thing that puzzled me for 55 years after the above mentioned event, was how Dad knew how to load a black powder shot shells? Several years ago, I got an idea to see how a black-powder loaded shotshell would perform on pass shooting ducks in a 10-gauge, 3½-inch Magnum loaded with No. 2 steel shot, buffered, with a plastic shot wad, all in a plastic shotshell hull. I bought a Lee 10-gauge 3½-inch loader on eBay, and right in the directions was the procedure for substituting black powder for smokeless powder. It was that simple!

    The crew at Rocky Mountain Cartridge, left to right: Kody Outland, Cheri Outland and
    The crew at Rocky Mountain Cartridge, left to right: Kody Outland, Cheri Outland and
    When I decided to move forward with this project, I wanted some new 10-gauge, 3-inch brass cases. I went to Rocky Mountain Cartridge, LLC. (307-347-4547) in Worland, Wyoming, to see if they would make custom cases for my Parker 10-bore. Tom, Cheri and Kody Outland own Rocky Mountain Cartridge (RMC), are competitive shooters and host the BPCR Wyoming Mid-Range State Championship annual match at Worland. For this project, I wanted 3-inch cases to fit the chambers of my Parker 10-gauge laminated barrels, with standard 209 shotgun primer pockets. However, when I took my Parker 10-bore down to Rocky Mountain Cartridge, Tom Outland quickly measured my gun’s chambers and told me the correct length of case was 2.930. I asked if it would be a problem to make cases that length, and Tom and Kody both said, “Absolutely not, we do it all the time.” Kody explained that shotshell and rifle brass cases as a percentage of their business is equal at 50 percent each. They get many requests for Holland & Holland and Purdy specialty cartridges for ammunition that haven’t been produced for decades. He also stated that the .44-77 Sharps was the caliber with the widest chamber and bore dimensions! Rocky Mountain Cartridge uses a solid-base head on its brass shotshells, which is a traditional web for antique and modern paper, as well as plastic hulls. This allows the primer pocket to be completely surrounded by the brass web, rather than being extruded into the case as is done with drawn cases. While this may or may not have anything to do with hull strength, it is traditional, and allows the use of modern components, which the extruded case will not.

    Extruded cases are not available for the usual 209 series shotgun primers currently being produced and reseating standard rifle or pistol primers can be problematic for the reloader using basic tools to reload their brass shotgun shells. RMC manufactures 10-gauge hulls on a regular basis and I believe they are the only player in town producing brass 10-gauge cases. RMC cases are precisely uniform (they use CNC machinery) while other brands of drawn brass hulls require oversized wads to seal the powder gases in the case and bore. I understand that current production drawn cases are significantly too short for most chambers as well. The case should fit to the edge of the forcing cone to give quality patterns.

    While there, I purchased their “Shot Shell Loading Kit,” for 10-gauge. This kit includes a stud loading collar, brass depriming cup, steel priming base, depriming shaft, a case mandrel and instructions. The quality of this kit is fantastic, and the instructions are very easy to read and understand, with no foreign language accidentally left in the instructions to try and sort out!

    The instructions are for more historical brass shotshell loading procedures. I have loaded 10-gauge shotshells utilizing a 1-inch socket and a nail with the tip flattened to deprime, and flip the socket over for a flat base, then using a 5⁄8-inch hardwood dowel to reprime 10-gauge shot shells. Not for my new RMC turned brass cases! This kit currently retails for $98, and I highly recommend it for reloading all gauges of brass shotshells. Kody told me that the majority by far of all their brass shotshell clients order the Shot Shell Loading Kit. While in the shop, I also ordered a set of standard .45-90 cases, with large pistol primer pockets. Furthermore, I should mention that I am not new to the quality of Rocky Mountain Cartridge cases, as I shoot them in my Shiloh .45-70 Creedmoor Silhouette rifle. RMC takes a whole bunch of the work out of the initial prepping of truly quality match brass. In this day and age of no stock items, “out of stock, don’t backorder,” “we will call back after COVID-19 is contained,” it is nice to hear someone say “you bet, Lon, we’re a little backed-up, but will get your order out as soon as possible. Is there anything else we can do for you?” Maybe I’m spoiled, but it’s really nice to experience old-time Wyoming hospitality with a quality product at a fair price.

    I freely admit that I have a soft spot and a genuine weakness for shotguns, especially side-by-side doubles. I have loaded countless trap loads, including specialty loads with smokeless powder, and over the years, some novelty loads with black powder. When I started this project, I decided to validate my thoughts and conclusions as to black-powder charges through various sources that would be deemed credible. My first source was the two-volume set of extreme quality books, The Parker Story by Gunther, Mullins, Parker, Price and Cote. It is easy to get lost in these books, because of the historical documentation, especially on grades and gauges of the Parker gun. However, I could not find any loading information for black-powder cartridges. Next, I looked to Cartridges of the World by Barnes, but again, no specific load data for black-powder shotgun shells. However, I did find a definition for “dram equivalent,” and this is important information for anyone loading black-powder shotgun shells. “A Dram is a unit of measure. There are 16 drams (av.) in one ounce, or 256 drams in a pound. This equates to approximately 27 grains per dram. In the early days of black powder shot shells, the powder charge was measured in drams. Dram for today’s smokeless powder is more powerful. When loading a shell with smokeless powder a smaller weight of powder is necessary to give same muzzle velocity as would be obtained from black powder.”

    Reloading tools and supplies for loading the 10-gauge brass shotshells.
    Reloading tools and supplies for loading the 10-gauge brass shotshells.
    I still did not have specific load data, but had information to convert drams to grains. Next, I looked to Elmer Keith’s book, SHOTGUNS by Keith. While a fantastic read, with lots of information, I did find that 1¼-ounce of shot was the standard payload for the 10-gauge shotgun in the early days, but still no specific black-powder load data. I then turned to Major Askins book, The American Shotgun. Finally, load data in a table that shows for 10-gauge shotgun 3-5 drams of black powder, and a corresponding chart that shows 1-1½ ounces of shot. Furthermore, I found this quote that answered a lot of questions. “Ten bores were restricted by rule to an ounce and a quarter of shot in pigeon shooting days, this by way of equalizing the ten and twelve; subsequently the ten was barred entirely from trap work, but the manufacturers got into a rut and stayed there so far as charges for the big gun were concerned.” Did I mention politics? I also consulted R.H. VanDenburg, Jr.’s book, Reloading Brass Shotshells that is available through Ballistic Products, Inc. (753-494-9237) and as a note, I use Ballistic Products, Inc.’s components for all of my shotshell loading. I decided that 1¼ ounces of Remington No. 5 shot, and 3½ drams of Schuetzen 2Fg black powder would be the load utilizing these new RMC cases and I used high-quality, modern internal components.

    Now, I suspect this is the point in the article where some of the readership will start “screaming like a gut-shot panther!” Their outrage will be that this is not a traditional loading technique. They are absolutely correct and here is why. I am the owner (caretaker) of a quality 10-gauge Parker hammer gun built in 1888. It has flawless barrels and I demand the upmost protection for those barrels. Furthermore, my hunting partner, Turbo (my three-year-old lab) demands perfection, as he is usually 30 yards directly in front of the old Parker, and bears the brunt in his ultra-sensitive nose of 3½ drams of 2Fg black powder pushing a shot payload in excess of 700 grains without ear protection. He gets rather surly when he endures the above torture and there is nothing to retrieve! This is where the “pattern board of perfection” comes into play and the pattern board does not lie.

    We might as well get the perceived “negative” out of the way; that being melted plastic in the bore of the gun. I have been loading self-cut mylar wads over black powder since 1990, in my BPCR rifles and continue this practice to this day. They are popular enough that today they are available through commercial production. All one has to do is to walk out in front of the shooting line at any major BPCR match, and you will see many plastic wads that you could pick up and shoot again, showing no distortion or melted edges. I have loaded and shot black powder with plastic wads and other components in several 10-gauge 3½-inch Magnum shotguns, using maximum steel and heavy lead shot, at velocities that would give Elmer Keith pause. Going a step further, I pick up and saved the shot cups that have been used on the patterning board. Again, no melted edges; however, they are radically deformed (just as they are designed) to allow the best possible shot string, and consequently outstanding patterns. There is no residual plastic fouling in the barrel.

    Now, that being said, I did buy a Remington 870 TC Trap Grade shotgun that had outstanding wood. Trap guns are like .22s, in that usually they don’t get cleaned. This gun had to have shot several thousand rounds without being cleaned. It probably quit shooting decent patterns and down the road she went. It had bad plastic fouling in the forcing cone area of the barrel. I clean all of my guns with Hoppe’s No. 7 powder solvent and commit the ultimate “horror of horrors” by using Sweets 7.62 to clean during the break-in process of the barrels on all my rifles, and during general maintenance. The trick is that I use MEK (methyl ethyl ketone) to clean between powder solvent iterations and also to clean all traces of solvent out of the barrel before I run a patch of G-96 down the barrel for storage preservation. The label on the MEK can reads, and I quote, “Powerful Thinning and Cleanup Solvent, Use with Rosins, Epoxies, Adhesives, Fiberglass, and Lacquers. Fast Drying no Residual.” Be careful not to get MEK on the finish of your stock! Anyhow, MEK cleaned up the 870 shotgun, pronto, and I have used it since 1990, when I started shooting mylar wads as part of my cleaning regime. So, if you are concerned about plastic fouling, just run a patch of MEK down the barrel.

    The reloaded shotshell.
    The reloaded shotshell.
    Now, let’s get back to loading performance black-powder shotshells for antique shotguns. By performance, I do not mean velocity, but patterns. Note: Just as rifles and shotguns suffer from shot string wind drift, only worse, and something to think about as far as velocity is concerned.

    Supplies include the following for this project, and I am not sure if some of these items are currently available, but similar items can be substituted:

    • Rocky Mountain Cartridge, LLC brass shotshell cases

    • Remington STS-209 Primers

    • Remington No. 5 shot

    • Ballistic Products Inc. 10-X Gas Seal wad

    • Ballistic Products Inc. 10-gauge Deci-Max shot wad

    • Mica Wad Lubricant

    • Precision shot buffering

    • Ballistic Products Inc. 10-gauge overshot wad

    • Tube of Duco cement

    This is the process paraphrased:

    Deprime the case by placing the case on the depriming cup. Insert the depriming shaft into the case and use a hard rubber or leather mallet to deprime the case.

    Reprime the case by setting a 209 primer on the smooth steel base, place the shaft into the case with the depriming stud removed. Then, gently tap the case onto the primer until it is flush.

    Place 20 or so plastic gas seal wads and an additional 20 plastic shot wads into a large plastic bag and pour a small amount of wad lube into the bag, seal the bag, and thoroughly shake the wads and lube. The wads are now lubed and store the wads in the bag.

    Place the loading collar onto the case mouth and pour the powder into the case. Place the lubricated gas seal wad into the collar and seat the wad on the powder with shaft. Place the lubricated shot wad into the collar and press the shot wad home again with the depriming shaft. Make sure you unscrew the decapping pin from the shaft!

    Pour the shot through the collar into the shot wad.

    Measure 20 grains of shot buffering and slowly pour the buffering onto the shot, while gently tapping the entire case on the steel plate. This will settle the shot into the shot wad and the buffering into the shot. Continue tapping until the shot buffering is mixed with the shot.

    If your powder charge, wad column, and shot charge are in the correct proportions for the case, you should have a slight space where the case extends above the shot column. Take a 10-gauge over-shot card wad, place it on the shot column, and use the shaft to gently press the card wad down on the shot, with no airspace.

    Take the tube of Duco glue and run a small bead of glue around the inside of the case on the overshot wad. Don’t get carried away you don’t need much. If you have too much case showing above the overshot wad, you can melt SPG and use an eyedropper to fill this void. Amazingly, SPG Lube does keep the powder fouling soft in the barrels, just the way it was intended when using black-powder cartridge rifles!

    Also, do not add various wads over the top of the shot charge, as these wads will negatively impact the pattern. Elmer Keith believed one of the best improvements to shotshells was getting rid of the overshot wad and replacing it with the folded crimp. Lastly, take a ¾-inch label dot, mark your size shot on the label, and place the label on the solidified SPG. This will be a nice finishing touch to your shotshell.

    Speaking of the way it shoots, here are the results for my 1888 Parker 10-bore.

    I set up the pattern target at 40 yards. I placed an 8-inch Birchwood Casey target onto a 35-inch square piece of paper. I drew a 30-inch circle around the center of the 8-inch target. The stick target served as an aiming point in the center of the 30-inch ring. Now this is significant, as some shooters move the 30-inch ring to give the best percentage of shot into the 30-inch circle. By count, the 1888 Parker 10-Bore shot this load into a 62 percent pattern. I was especially pleased with the even shot pattern, and at 40 yards this would be a lethal pattern, especially for rising upland game birds.

     If this article has encouraged you to grab that old Damascus double gun out of the back of the closet and shoot it with brass cartridge cases, I hope you do!

    Wolfe Publishing Group