Where Are All the Specialty Shells?

RST shotshells
Photo by Ralph Stuart

Finding short-chambered, low-recoil and low-pressure shotshells has been practically impossible lately, but the market should be improving as you read this. That’s what I heard when I spoke to several ammo makers at the end of 2022.

Buying specialty ammo used to be part of the fun of owning an older shotgun. Boutique makers offered shells that were gentle on aged shotguns, easy on their owners’ shoulders and deadly in pattern performance. Then came the covid pandemic, supply-chain interruptions and a gun-and-ammo-buying frenzy. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine cut off supplies of steel that was used in heads and primers. Global disruption affected even the tiny market for low-pressure, low-recoil, short cartridges.

Specialty-ammo loaders stand at the end of the line for components behind the big ammo makers. “We only represent about five percent of the market,” said Morris Baker, whose RST loads long have been favorites among vintage-gun shooters. “It’s a small niche and not worth the big makers’ time to load these shells.”

At the same time Baker and others say interest in vintage guns and ammo remains strong. When I spoke with him in December, Doug Kuykendall of Gamebore US said, “I must have had 100 calls in the last two months from upland hunters looking for 2½" 12-gauge.” Currently Gamebore US imports 2¾" target loads only, although Kuykendall says he and his partner will start importing Gamebore’s 2½" 12-gauge hunting loads late this spring or early summer.

Shenk Shotshells was only two weeks old when I called Jake Shenk in December. A spinoff of Shenk’s metallic-cartridge business, the new company will offer 2½", 1-ounce, 12-gauge loads at around 1,135 fps and 7,350 psi, making them gentle enough for most older guns. Shenk, himself a fan of vintage guns, was taking pre-orders and hopes to add other gauges.

Shenk, RST and Gamebore offer true, low-pressure shells, and I’ll remind you that low recoil does not mean low pressure or vice versa. Aguila’s 1¾", 5⁄8-ounce 12-gauge Minishells are fun to shoot and nearly recoilless, yet they are loaded to 10,000 psi like any target load. That’s also true of Federal’s delightful 2", 15⁄16-ounce Shorties. Both of these loads may be back on shelves this year.

Morris Baker says finding powders has been difficult, but he has been able to buy some and hopes to increase RST’s output in 2023. He sources many of his components from Ballistic Products, Inc., and BPI’s Grant Fackler says he has a steadily improving source of reloading supplies. Fackler himself had struggled to find components for his own 24-gauge Darne, but he had located some when we spoke. “If we have learned nothing else from these past few years,” he said, “it’s that you should buy [ammo or components] when the sun shines. We’re seeing just how fragile supply chains can be.”

From what I’ve heard, the sun may be peeking out from behind the clouds this year. Buy while you can, and buy more than you think you need; because you don’t know when those clouds might roll in again.


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3 Comments

  1. says: James Ransom

    I had two reloading machines 3 years ago, and made 2 3/4 in 12 ga shells with 7/8 oz of #8 shot. I used these for trap shooting; they patterned well and my scores went up. My main impetus for this was that I had just passed 80 yrs old, and my poor old R shoulder was beginning to cause problems. When shooting driven birds in Scotland over the past 21 years, I used a beautiful old Henry Atkin 12 ga with 2 1/2 in. chambers. The estates where I shot provided the shells, with fiber wads (much kinder to the various drive sites) and they had an ounce of shot. Deadly on pheasants and partridges, even high birds. I’m keeping my Atkin gun and its beautiful original oak and leather case with my loader guy in Scotland (hate the rigamarole at London when bringing a gun with me. I can still remember the days when I could put my gun in the overhead bin). Tell me where I can get a 12 ga load with 7/8 oz of shot, I’ve quit reloading and am running out of my supply of reloads?

  2. says: Rachel

    Salt Creek Custom Ammunition has started making low pressure rounds. They have a 12 gauge and 10 gauge so far. Shipping next day and super great customer service. Saltcreekammo.com

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