One might ask, “Why bother”. Obviously, you can buy shot loads in a number of different calibers. However, they are a little expensive. If you reload you can do it all.
Back in the late fifties I was stationed at Moody AFB in Valdosta, Georgia. The wife and I took an evening
drive to cool off on a hot summer evening and to quiet a colicky baby. I saw a car pulled part way off this country
road and a couple fussing at the front of the car. I pulled over and watched as this gentleman draped a dead Eastern
Diamondback Rattler over a stop sign. I am six foot three, or was then before I started shrinking. The sign was about
my height and roughly a foot or better of the snake was over the back of the sign and the tail, minus the rattles, nearly
touched the ground in front. In my book, this calls for big momma. The Eastern Diamondback is the deadliest snake
Big Momma? Any twelve-gauge load with the right sized shot to do the job. Maybe an ounce of #9 for snakes
or an ounce and a half of OO buck for varmints of the two-legged variety. Here we are talking vermin. Little things
you just do not want around.
A six-gun is considerably handier than a long gun. If you happen to live in an area where the discharge of
firearms is prohibited, then caution must prevail. Likewise one must exercise care in crowded neighborhoods. A
small shot load in a handgun might just be the ticket. A couple years ago the wife was gardening and came in with a
somewhat ashy look. “There’s a snake in the garden and I think it’s a Copperhead”. It certainly was. It had decided
to take an afternoon nap in a rotted out stump. Not having a good angle we got a stepladder from the garage and I
went up a couple steps and dispatched it with .22 LR shot loads. Actually, it went “lights out” with the first shot, but I
gave it all six just to be sure. Did I mention I do not like snakes? I am with Indy on that.
The information I have says there are, worldwide, about 290 known species of Pit Vipers. About forty make
their home in North America. There are also three varieties of Coral Snakes in the United States. I think Africa has
more than it’s fair share. Besides, with a fifteen foot King Cobra one wants big momma. To steal from Robert Ruark,
“use enough gun”.
While traveling through Texas one year for a spring vacation we stopped at a campground in Sweetwater. This
was one day before the world’s largest Rattlesnake Roundup. A few weeks later, on the way home, we stopped at the
same campground and I asked the lady how the roundup went. She thought for a minute then said, “I don’t know what
the total was, but on the first day they caught twenty two thousand pounds”. After that I was armed with snake loads
when I walked the dog. Obviously, snakes are high on my “unwanted” list, but mice, rats, and other vermin are there
as well. If you have pigeons in the barn, then a small load of number 12 shot can take them out without ventilating the
I’ve limited the discussion to only three cartridges. The .38’s, the .44’s, and the .45’s. For obvious reasons
only a straight walled case will work. Shot will crowd through a small degree of choke, but not through a bottleneck
While many will work, small charges of fast powders seemed to be right. I used shot capsules made by Speer and
tried other alternatives as well.
I used four sizes of shot. #9, #10, #11, and #12. While #9 shot is available almost everywhere, the smaller sizes are
not. For them you want to go to Ballistic Products, Inc. They are the only steady source I’ve found and nice folks to
deal with. They sell the small shot in five and twenty five pound lots. I bought five pounds of each and they will last
me for life even after giving away a couple pounds. If you have a pal, or are a member of a club, buy enough so
everyone can get one or two pounds. For most that may be a lifetime supply.
I did all my tests at a measured ten feet. That’s about as close as I want to get and about as far as one can
expect consistently good results. At that distance the pattern is roughly 24 inches and center coverage seems dense
enough to kill.
A word of caution regarding loads; nothing ricochets quite as well as a round ball. From the standpoint of
safety the shot capsule, or an all shot load, is best in crowded areas. Small shot has less momentum than larger shot.
After testing one day I noticed there were about a half dozen small shot on the bench. Obviously they bounced
straight back. Wear safety glasses when you test.
Here are some sample loads. The loads were safe in my guns. I used Ruger single actions for the .38 and .45
and a TC Contender for the .44. About the only way to tune these loads is with the powder charge. Play with them
and when you find a load that does not have too many gaps and passes the “can test (note 1)” use it!
|Cartridge||Powder||Weight||Shot Capsule Weight*||Case||Primer|
|.38 Special||Bullseye||3.0 grains||107 to 116 grains||Mixed||WSP|
|.44 Magnum||Unique||9.0 grains||145 to 157 grains||R-P||WLP|
|.45 Colt||W231||7.0 grains||170 to 180 grains||Starline||WLP|
Note 1: John and I discussed this and agreed that, if the majority of the shot passes through an aluminum soft drink
can, it probably has the energy necessary to do the job.
* This was the weight of the capsule filled with shot. Small shot packed denser and therefore weighed more.
The loading process is straightforward. With shot capsules simply put enough shot into the capsule so it’s full,
but allows the cap to click into place. Size, expand, and prime the case as you would for any cast bullet load, charge
with powder and seat the capsule with the cap down. With a shot capsule a taper crimp works best. Trust me on this, a
roll crimp will work, but adjustment of the crimp die is critical. Otherwise that “cracking” sound you hear is the
capsule fracturing where the case is crimped. It does not take much to screw this up. If you are going to do a lot of
these buy a taper crimp die.
I am not sure why this idea popped into my head, but I thought, “What the hell, try it”. Instead of using a
cardboard top wad as is traditional, I used a properly sized round ball. That is:
For .38’s use a .360” RB
For .44’s use a .433” RB
For 45’s, use a .454” RB
If you are using the round ball load then you want a roll crimp. Use enough crimp to insure that the ball stays
in place. As to how much shot you put in the case, it’s just enough to allow the center of the round ball to set just
below the lip of the case. These are for the wide-open spaces. I coated the round balls with liquid Alox. This load
may be the one that holds up best. That is, the least likely to fall apart over time.
Dick Lee makes a set of powder dippers that are handy for many other tasks and measuring shot is one of these.
Lastly, you can fill the case just shy of the edge and use a cardboard top wad. Give the case a roll crimp over
the wad. Use primer sealant, varnish, or finger nail polish to help hold it in place. I used fly head cement, as it was
handy. If you use finger nail polish you could color code as to what size shot each contains. A little melted wax
dripped on to the shot before you put the top wad on helps hold everything together, but I suspect that a few drops of
liquid Alox would work a little better. I did not try it. All in all, this may be the best all around alternative. On a .38
Special it takes about 92/93 grains to fill the case with enough room to seat the wad. A 1.0cc dipper was about right.
Leave about 1/8” from the top of the shot to the mouth of the case. I had a tendency to overfill it. From the bottom of
the case the order of things is: powder, wad, shot, wad, and sealer.
RCBS makes a set of dies that allow you to make a shot load from .308 Winchester cases that work in a .45
ACP. I’ve never used them, but am told that you must use a .308 case. A 30-06 case will not work, as the extractor
groove on the 30-06 is not wide enough for the extractor on the .45 ACP. It has a form/trim die that creates a step in
the case and allows you to hacksaw and file off the excess. You then use a .410 gauge shot cup and use one of the
techniques described above for holding it all together. That is, top wads and so on.
For some reason, and I am not sure why, #11 shot patterns were generally the best in my tests in all three
cartridges. See the picture. Rifling will spin the shot column and that may be the reason. Whatever the cause, it was a
good pattern and would kill most vermin. The round ball consistently hit a couple inches down from the aim point.
There was no noticeable advantage to the longer barrel of the contender. If I had to choose one size it would be #11.
John had dies for punching wads and he sent me a bunch of them. John also devised a tool out of an empty
case. Drill out the flash hole and put in a 1/8” screw with a nut. Drill a hole in the side of the case about ½” from the
mouth so you can push out the wads after they are cut. I used a drill press, but a hand drill will work too. Something
with a curve works best as a tool for ejecting the cut wads. I sharpened the mouth of the case while it was spinning in
the drill press and it made the job easy.
You must have a wad over the powder that forms a seal. I tried using a tuft of Dacron, but the shot did not
have the energy to penetrate the can. I used both cork and heavy cardboard and both worked well. I searched in vain
for felt wads of the right size. I wish they still made them. I think 1/8” felt would act as a good gas seal and also be
easier to seat than cardboard or cork. The best tool for seating the wad is a piece of dowel just big enough to fit into
the case. As a top wad a plastic milk carton worked well.
Some of the components used in building the shot loads
Above. In the front, the tools made by John for cutting wads. Use them in a drill press (preferred) or a hand drill.
Next row back are some shot loads. On the left are commercial loads by CCI and Winchester. On the right, some
samples from my tests. Next are cans that passed the test. On the left a can shot at ten feet with a .38 Special load
with #11 shot with a top wad. On the right a can shot with a round ball load. Note the hole on the bottom left.
Finally, two seven inch plates. Both were shot with a round ball load the one on the left with #11 shot and on the right
#12 shot. I should note that I had to highlight the holes in order to get them to show on the photo. Shot that size make
a small hole. The number twelve is about the size of a pinprick.
There is nothing difficult about this process. However, it’s a little fussy to do. Hopefully, one does not have to
do it often.
Bob Lasar (aka shooter223)