November 07, 2008
Bourjaily: Bad Shells
By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily
My friend Dave recently became the range safety officer at my local wildlife area. Every Sunday evening, he stops by my house after work. I give him a beer, and he gives me a five gallon bucket filled with all the empty hulls he picks up at the range over the weekend. It is a sweet deal. I sort through the bucket, keep the reloadable hulls and toss the rest in the trash. In the last bucket he brought me, I found about 20 unfired buckshot loads. Every primer was dented, but not one had gone off. Out of curiosity, I tried them in my gun, to see if a weak hammer spring was to blame. They didn’t fire. Perhaps they had gotten very wet, or been stored improperly. Or, maybe they were just bad shells, loaded with a batch of dud primers. It happens.
Earlier this year I was surprised to hear a box of factory skeet loads rattling. Turns out the crimps in several of the shells had big enough gaps in the middle that the number 9 pellets could leak out. We all joke about shells without any shot in them when we miss, but a couple of these really didn’t have enough pellets left inside to break a target.
While patterning turkey loads this summer, I had a shell rupture, which was a first for me. The brass split, and enough burning powder escaped to melt part of the outside of the hull. I sent it in to the manufacturer, who told me that a cracked die in the assembly operation scratched the shell, weakening it enough to burn through.
Given the speed at which ammo makers load shells and the sheer volume they produce, it’s surprising that more shells aren’t bad. But 99.9% of factory shotshells work fine. Let’s hear about the .1%. Share your bad ammo stories, the duds, the squibs, the bloopers, and if anyone has a nomination for the worst shotshell ever made, I’d like to know about it.