‘Cut’ Shells – Do NOT Try This at Home!

I cannot in good conscience recommend this kind of thing for reasons that I’ll enumerate after the embedded video. Fred at Guns and Coffee embedded the following video (H/T to Tam‘s Twitter feed)…

I’ve heard of this before. I heard someone refer to it as an “Alabama bear ball”. In my most humble of opinions, this is dangerous and completely inadvisable. Here is a snapshot of a 12-gauge shell and a 20-gauge shell sitting on the muzzles of a 12-gauge and 20-gauge shotgun, respectively.

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Without looking on the interwebtron for figures, and simply using my cheap, plastic dial calipers, I measure the bore size of the 20-gauge at .62-inch at the muzzle as compared to the diameter of the 20-gauge hull at .68-inch around the plastic. Similarly, the 12-gauge bore measures .73-inch and the hull diameter measures .79-inch. So, the plastic hull is .06-inch bigger than the bore on each bore gauge. When you cut the plastic so that it travels down the bore loaded with lead, it has to compress past the forcing cone between the chamber and bore. I know that six hundredths of an inch is not a large number, but it’s not exactly insignificant either. For the same reason that we don’t load and fire 3-inch shells in a 2.75-inch chambered gun, firing cut shells subjects the gun to far more pressure than it is designed to endure. It just isn’t safe.

The gentleman doing the shooting in the above video comments that this was fairly common practice during the depression. Fortunately we are not in a depression, and ammo of various types is still relatively easy to come by. When sumdood on the interwebtron posts a YouTube video showing how handy his modded ammo can be, ask yourself how much a box of slugs really costs. Weigh the price difference between birdshot and slugs against the price and sentimental value of a gun, and possibly your own health and well-being. I know that slugs are a bit more expensive than birdshot, but they are cheap as compared to the risk of a catastrophic failure due to misusing guns and ammunition. Granted, I think that this is a perfectly valid tidbit to keep in the back of your mind in case of a TEOTWAWKI scenario, but it is entirely too risky a practice in a world where good ammo is available for a variety of applications at reasonable prices. If you simply want the pellets to stay together and hit harder at short distances, look at Federal’s Flitecontrol offerings. Please do stay safe and have fun!

3 thoughts on “‘Cut’ Shells – Do NOT Try This at Home!

  1. Note that he’s using a heavy, break action double barrel…the action of which has many less moving parts and is much more robustly built than your average pump-action or semi-auto shotgun.

    I would imagine it would make a pretty significant (and, perhaps, disastrous) difference.

  2. I think caution is a good thing. But knowing the truth is even better.

    This is an opportunity for some research with one of those pressure sensor thingies on a shotgun, and getting some real data. Measuring various critical dimensions of the barrel before and after shooting a number of cut shells would also show if there was any damage to the gun. I bet you would get more change in dimensions from temperature change than from any stretching of the barrel steel.

    Hypothesis 1: there is a pressure spike when the front part of the cut shell hits the end of the chamber, and possibly another one when it hits the choke.

    Hypothesis 2: the pressure spike must be very mild, since the type and amount of powder used is not conducive to serious overpressure, and because we have evidence of successful employment of the cut shells (both video and anecdotal).

    Hypothesis 3: the only reason that break-action shotguns are preferred is ease of extraction. There is no significant difference in the strength of one type of shotgun action vs. another. Modern materials probably contribute more to toughness than action type.

    hypothesis 4: shooting a few cut shells (less than a box of 25) will not damage any modern shotgun in good condition.

    There is your test program – anybody have a gun and some measurement gear?

  3. Oh – by the way, we should shoot some normal un-cut shells so we have something to compare to. Maybe even alternate them so any temperature induced dimension changes will average out.

    I suppose we should also compare several different brands of shells, as well as different shot sizes, and some factory made slugs, too.

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