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June 24, 2008

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Bourjaily: Confesssions of a Hull Ho

A dozen years ago I shot on a private game farm belonging to a very wealthy man. Jim’s farm had uniformed gamekeepers, a pigeon ring, and a sporting clays course. Before we shot, he sent me to his clubhouse to pick one of the guest guns from the vault.  I settled on a 28 gauge Parker Reproduction and carried it back to his Suburban, the rear springs of which groaned under the weight of the ammunition in back. Jim looked at the gun and his eyes narrowed. “28 gauge, huh?” he said. He handed me two boxes of shells, then strapped a shell pouch around my waist. “You pick up those hulls. They’re expensive.”

I used to think this was an amusing story about the eccentricities of rich people. Then I started reloading. Now I think: you better believe those 28 gauge hulls are expensive.

Jim could afford to buy all the ammo he needed, but he’d been a reloader before becoming a rich guy, and once you’ve learned to see hulls on the ground as money you can’t change. It’s a sickness, and now I’ve got it, too. As my friend Gil Ash taunted last week when I dove into a trashbarrel after some once-fired Remington Gun Clubs: “Philly Bob (Gil is from Texas), you’re a hull whore!” 

Guilty as charged. At the next station, Ash threw some live shells downrange where I couldn’t safely run out to grab them and watched me squirm.

Earlier this year, I shot in a charity sporting clays tournament. As a “celebrity” (quotation marks mine) my entry fee was waived and my ammo was free. The new me was really, really excited about the chance to shoot 200 donated AAs and bring home the hulls. But, as I walked out of the cage at the first station, the trapper said “Excuse me, sir, we’re going to sell all the hulls to raise more money. Would you please empty your pouch?”

My squadmates told me I looked as if I wanted to strangle the kid. For a second, I considered it. Then I remembered we were shooting on behalf of a children’s hospital and dumped my empties onto the ground. Maybe there’s hope for me yet.



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I joined my first trap league this year. I began shooting sporting clays and skeet/trap last year. I don't reload, but I am thinking about it. I could purchase a case of AA 20ga. last year for under $50.00, this year it is close to $70.00. I see guys at the range all the time scarfing hulls. There are two gentlemen who bring their reloads to the field in elaborate and ornate carrying cases which when opened reveal separate hull compartments, felt lined?!, and varying gizmos that that look more like some mad scientist's Doc bag from the 18th century. These guys shoot well, and I notice a distinct difference in the report of their guns, and sometimes in the smell,....I don't need another vice, but I could use the extra pennies saved from reloading my own,...is it difficult to do?


Ever notice how easily red 28-ga hulls get lost in the grass?


I've seen lots of folks go hull crazy like Mr. Bourjaily. With ammo prices like they are, people are no longer just reloading AA and STS hulls. In fact, I'm now reloading the cheap Federals. My newest batch of Federal reloads has been shot five times, but I think there about done. The sides are starting to split, so I will probably go back to my AA hulls.

Has anyone else tried reloading 7/8oz. loads? I have a buddy that claims he gets 66 more shells per bag of shot with 7/8oz. as compared to 1 1/8oz. I figure if this is true, then I should get 33 more shells since my main reloads are 1 oz. I would probably still shoot 1 1/8oz. loads for registered shoots, but not for practice.


Phil, you have crossed the line between cheap and frugal. I sugest you buy your squadmates a round of drinks to save your reputation.

Daniel Roberts

Picking up brass and hulls is the only way I can afford to shoot. I pick up brass I don't even have a gun for, because some day I will.


OMG, I don't even reload, yet I am on my hands & knees, straining to reach the empty .45 casings at my range so I can sell them. 8 shots and then crawling, 8 shots & then crawling...I can't imagine what I would become if I reloaded...

Matt in MN

I agree the cheap Federals (and Estates) make great reloads. My local trap clubs sells them new so I have a never-ending supply of once fireds. I reload once and toss them and never had a problem.

I reload 1 ouncers, but a frind of mine loads 7/8 and we don't notice any differnece in performance.

Del in KS

AA's in 28 guage are up to 12 bucks a box at my local Wally world. Dang right I reload 'em I'm a hull whore too! Good thing I already have a big supply. But a guy never can have too many. Be forewarned Phil we will have to arm rassel for stray hulls if we ever shoot together. It's gettin' expensive to feed my little Barreta.

Del in KS

Ripper III,

Reloading is fun but get a good machine. For the money you can't beat the MEC 9000G. It will crank out a pile of ammo in short order. Stay away from pot metal and plastic reloaders. They suck.

Mike Reeder

I guess I'm a hull hustler, too. I always took note at the rifle range of the guys leaving factory brass around in my calibers, waited for them to move on and then pounced on them like a duck on a June bug. As for rich people being frugal (or cheap), I had a boss once who owned three banks, four radio stations and three TV stations who would drop in on our newsroom, dig through the garbage and launch a 10 minute harangue if he found a deposit bottle in the trash. The tag line was always, "This is taking money out of my pocket!" Pretty much the same thing he thought about paying our salaries...

Jim in Mo.

Phil B.
I've always had the best results loading Win. hulls but, my experience is different with AA and AA plus. The AA always got more reloads than the AA plus. The 'plus' crimp split 2-3 loads sooner. Any experience?


Save your cheap hulls for making Christmas tree lights. What you do is crimp an empty hull and press it on to a string of mini-lights. Mix up red and green hulls for that Holiday spirit. Makes a good gift for the hunters in the family. Empty hulls make an awesome noise maker to tie on the back of the bride and grooms car at a wedding. Pop out the primer and run a good string or wire though the hull just like stringing popcorn and tie it to the bumper or trailer hitch. You can shock the unwitting guests who ask "Are those real?" Of course they are!


It's true, the 7/8 loads are real killers and you do get two more boxes per bag so load up. I've always loaded one once loads and either load will smash a clay even at 50 yards. My only advice is to load them in premium hulls so forget about loading Gun Clubs, etc.

Thos. B. Fowler

Dear Dave,

A Hull Whore sells hulls to the highest bidder; a 'green' sportsman recycles.

Of course, those of us who were raised in farm country, loading our own shells, one at a time, love picking up arrowheads or shotgun hulls, with about the same enthusiasm.

The way things are going, it looks like only the frugal shooter or the wealthy man will be able to continue shooting shotgun.

I must confess to having ancient shotgun shells in my basement. However, being a modern fellow, I no longer have many paper hulls left intact. Darn.

Tom Fowler


Hull-squashing is an old skeet shooter's trick to break the concentration of other shooters.
I knew an old shooter who used to kick any hulls off the station before he called for the bird. before the round was over, he would angrily stomp flat some once-fired AA's much to the consternation of the other shooters in the squad. He told me it would more times than not, cause a hull ho to miss a bird or two.

SD Bob

A week or so ago I took my Bushmaster out for the first time for a prairie dog shoot. It was a small town so the grass I was lying in though sparse was about knee high. I spent more time looking for spent rounds than I did looking for dogs all the while murmuring to myself that next time I'll just shoot my bolt guns. A shotshell press is next on my list of stuff I have to have and I may just up and die when I see spent hulls floating in a lake after shooting a duck.

I do have a question: It seems everyone always talks about AA's or Remington gun club loads as reloadable, what about Winchester Expert Steel or Kent Fasteel? Has anyone reloaded these?


reloading is a great past time and very prudent nowadays but i had a friend who did this from his garage until one night he and his family were out and his house caught on fire. the fire department said he was screwed. they couldn't get anywhere near it. i reload from my shop a good ways from my house. with the price of ammo, how can we not reload? just do it safely.

Phil Bourjaily

To Del In KS: If we ever shoot together, it's on.

To Buckstopper: I've seen the Christmas lights, but the wedding noisemaker is a new one to me. Great idea.

To Jim in MO.: If by AA plus you mean the new hulls, I can't tell you, because I never reloaded the old ones. I saved them for years, foolishly got rid of a few thousand, then started reloading shortly thereafter.

To all: I've been reloading 7/8 ounce loads and a few 3/4 ounce loads for my 12s lately. The 3/4s are cheap to load and almost recoilless. They don't have many pellets in the outer fringe of the pattern though, so you had better center whatever you're shootin at.

Jim in Mo.

Phil B.,
Thanks for response but no I'm actually talking 1980's hulls. Some Win. trap loads were marked AA and then we had AA with PLUS printed directly below.
Out of my Rem. 1100, 20ga. the PUS would get about 5-6 reloads, the straight AA about 7-8 sometimes 9. I thought maybe Win. made a hotter load for the 'plus' causing the splits.


Stupider yet is a GREEN hull, why the idea to make a shotgun shell green ever crossed some fools mind I don't know. Try to find Green Hulls in the grass......

I want to see fluorescent orange 12ga hulls made, Would even be worth a little more to buy just for the savings of not losing them.

And I also clean up at the local ranges and even while out hunting, my idea of a good day is changed over the years, now if I find a few dozen usable empties I'm happy! I also collect brass for calibers I don't have a gun for. Collect a few hundred of one caliber and auction it on Ebay, someone will buy it! I even buy some myself there, got about 500 rds of .380 ACP brass a few years ago for 20 bucks. Good deal!

Sharp-Shooter PA

I'm elated to read that I am not the only poor befuddled sole that races for pieces of brass that don't even correspond to any guns that I own! I have a 9mm, and roughly 2000 pieces of 9mm brass. I don't even reload 9mm.....yet.
I have started to reload for my .308, and I get all huffle-puff every time I come across a piece of boxer primed brass in the midts of otherwise useful berdan primed brass. My discontent is magnified when I think that I have struck gold at the range, and by gold I mean a pile of seemingly useful brass only to later discover that every piece possesses those two tiny, menacing, evil, little holes.
Many thanks for erasing my thoughts of being a very strange, and pitifully thrifty example of a teenaged shooter!

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