Many Questions, Many Answers

Many Questions, Many Answers
Shooters using older 12-gauge English or American guns should be cautious about using very low-pressure loads in cold weather.
By Tom Roster
Photograph by Dale Spartas

I receive a healthy amount of correspondence. Annually, I select several letters to share that contain the shotgunning questions asked most frequently. Perhaps you have been wondering about similar things.

I’m considering lengthening the chambers on my A.H. Fox 12-gauge A Grade from 29⁄16" to 2¾". The reason is so that I can take advantage of 2¾" shells as opposed to 2½" shells. Also, I would like to shoot Kent Bismuth, so that I can use the Fox on public land in Washington that requires nontoxic shot.

I’m sure lots of guys have done this, but I wanted your opinion on lengthening the chambers. Also, if Briley is not the best option, who do you recommend?

There’s no problem with your idea provided you keep your 2¾" ١٢-gauge load choice close in charge weight and velocity to those of your 2½" shells. Be advised that many of Kent’s loads—lead, steel and bismuth—had increased velocities in 2019. (Check them out at So compare the 2019-’20 Kent charge-weight and velocity offerings carefully to those of your 2½" loads. If Kent doesn’t have what you need, check out RST (, which may list milder loads.

Chamber lengthening is simple, provided one uses the right reamers. So most ’smiths can competently handle it.

I just finished your May/June 2019 column (“Lingering Misunderstandings”). Good stuff. In your opinion who is still making top-shelf 1-oz loads? (For my old double.)

If you’re talking lead, from my testing only the premium target loads from Remington, Winchester and Federal and RST’s Pigeon and Rio’s Helice loads still contain high-antimony lead shot of 5- to 6-percent antimony. Due to fierce competition, lead hunting load 1-ouncers are now dubious for shot quality across the spectrum of manufacturers—domestic and foreign—because most have elected to reduce antimony costs to retain a semblance of profitability. The best bet now for hunting is to shoot the high-end lead loads listed above in the shot-charge weights and shot sizes of interest, if No. 7½s or smaller will suffice. But for No. 6s and larger, who knows? The goal posts keep getting moved mainly downward, so far as lead-shot quality is concerned. You can conquer this by handloading and by adopting the testing regimen for lead or bismuth shot detailed in my November/December 2010 column (“Testing Today’s Lead Shot—Part 2”).

What is the meaning of “dram equivalent” listed on shotshell boxes, and why does it vary from 3¼ to 2¾ for 1 oz of lead shot?

It’s just the ages-old, out-of-date way that velocity was expressed when blackpowder cartridges were common. You have to have a table of loads and their dram-equivalent values to translate velocity into feet per second. This can still be found in some shotshell reloading manuals, like Chapter 12 of Lyman’s 5th Edition Shotshell Reloading Handbook.

Black powder was loaded by dram-measure scoops rather than grain weight. When smokeless-powder loads came to be, someone decided to indicate smokeless velocities in feet per second and by how many dram-measure equivalents of black powder it would take for that load to equal the feet-per-second velocity listed. This was OK when the transition was occurring from black to smokeless, but it is quite useless today.

My question concerns experiencing misfires in cold weather. I shoot older 12-gauge side-by-side English and American shotguns. My favorite loads are ¾-oz loads with pressures in the low-6,000-psi range. When researching these loads several years ago, I remember reading that there could be problems shooting them in colder temperatures, but until this season I had not experienced any misfires. Is the problem the type of powder I am using, or is it because I use a light load in a 12-gauge?

The very low pressure level you have selected for the very light ¾-oz 12-gauge lead loads you have elected to shoot in your 6½-pound side-by-side was done with a view to keeping the recoil comfortable and at the same time protecting the gun from what you consider the ballistic phenomenon most responsible for harming it: pressure. Actually recoil not pressure is the problem (see my Jan/Feb column: “Pressure vs. Recoil”). Your decision to shoot a very light load is wise from a recoil standpoint. But a low 6,000-psi pressure level in a 12-gauge load does nothing for recoil and puts it at the bottom of the envelope for reliable combustion in 12 gauge regardless of the propellant used. This also makes the load vulnerable to wide shot-to-shot velocity variations and bloopers during cold weather.

To correct this, you should switch to a factory load or reloading recipe with a pressure level closer to 8,000 psi. If you insist on wanting to shoot ¾-oz loads with pressures at or below 6,500 psi, while they will be fine for most purposes, you should abandon them altogether for cold weather (<38°F).

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