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November 07, 2008

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Bourjaily: Bad Shells

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.


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My own reloads have been my biggest source of misfires, mostly with CCI primers in Smith&Wesson revolvers with PPC action jobs--NOT defense guns until the springs were replaced. Light primer strikes were to blame. Never a problem with Federal primers I picked up by the thousands at Gil Hebard Guns in Knoxville, IL (he's still keeping on!) Had a misfire with Winchester White box 9mm 115 gr. round in stock Smith M&P last year; tried it a second time with same results. Contacted them; they said they wished I hadn't tried the second strike, as their analysis process for such failures didn't provide for this. They did sen me a coupon for a free bos, though. Shotshells: never any problem with factory U.S. loads. I can't tell you how many problems I've had with .22's of all brands and price points I've tried. Sometimes stuff happens.


I've got to start proofreading!


I've had problems with Xpert.22 shells. Had a dud that got stuck in the barrel of my S&W model 1. I knocked it out with cleaning rod. Good thing it was the last shot in the magazine. Out of the same box had a case head separate and blew up the bolt of the pistol. Good thing nobody was standing next to me. Took photos of bad hull and busted bolt and called Winchester. They asked me to send remaining box of shells and bolt to them. They came back with a letter saying IT WASN"T OUR FAULT but they did replace the bolt and gave factory rebate certificate for ammo. Latter found out there was a recall of ammo.

New Age Bubba

Jim in MO: Thanks for the feedback. One of the two brands that I used was Federal. In asking around at the shooting range, one theory is that my 10% reduced powder loads are preferred by the barrel in question, and another "benchrest sage" asked how much I paid for the Speer bullets. When I replied about $1 a round, he says "case closed". Obviously price is no object here, with the reloading kit cost factored in and 20 rounds produced, the cost per round is approaching the cost per pound of venison (including gasoline and my SUV loan payments)!

Still don't know what to think, will continue to adjust powder loads after the season and maybe try other bullets just to keep the benchrest gang quiet.



New Age Bubba? I get it LMAO! My story is not about bad shells but bad choices. I have a very old Sprinfield 12 guage call it a "door gun". Well had a beaver chewin on a large cottonwood in my yard. caught him at it one evening, grabbed the gun and a shell, BOOM!! now the barrel is much shorter. Lesson is "DO NOT SHOOT HIGH POWERED STEEL LOADS IN AN OLD WEAPON!!!" I now keep all shells very carefully separated. Lucky I wasnt injured or worse. Oh and my shoulder is healing nicely and is approxamately in the spot its supposed to be!LOL

Paul K.

I am 56, when I was in my 20's, my buddu and I would blow off a brick each of any .22's we could purchase at the lowest price.Never had any misfires or duds.
in the last 10 or 15 years, I have had a fair amount of duds, misfires and even split heads. Recently a friend bought a new .22 and some .22 Thunderbolts for plinking. We had noticed different sounding shots. and several duds. When using a chronograph, over a bos of shells. The ones that sounded weak, did indeed have lower velocity, sometimes as much as 200 fps. I know mfrs amke over 7 billion .22 a year, probably more. And I wonder if it is just statistics, poor quality control or a change in components affecting stability or shelf life.
Are they making ammo to "expire" with time. I know, just because I may be paranoid, doesn't mean they are still not out to get me.


Haven't had a true failure with a shotshell yet, but several boxes of Remington Hevi-shot turkey loads bought last season all leaked buffer from poorly sealed crimps. The stuff went everywhere and took time to clean out from the trigger assembly. A strategically placed drop of white glue at the point of leakage seemed to solve the problem. No misfires.


My nominee for worst shells ever:

John Daly

I once bought a case of 16 ga. John Daly shells because 16's were sort of hard to find at the time. They were manufactured in Yugoslavia. The boxes all proclaimed they were of "uncommon quality." I had shells that had lost their shot, shells that wouldn't fire, shells that made funny "poof" sounds when they fired, and more than once watched the wads float gently out the end of my barrel and land 10 or 15 feet from me. Other people in the dove field all agreed that there was truth in advertising and that the quality certainly was "uncommon." For years after the shells were gone I was still known as the guy who used Yugoslavian shells, but I always had a ready excuse for missing after that.


Last year, I loaded a 2 3/4" 12ga shell into my shotgun, pulled the trigger, and hear the firing pin release and string the shell, saw a puff of smoke come out the end of the barrel, then all the shot rolled out and dropped on the ground. I couldn't stop laughing for an hour.

Tom T.

Haven't had theis problem, to date. Now, it will probably happen the next time I go shooting. By the way, tell Dave that I'll up the ante with two beers for the bucket of shells.

wendell nickerson

During my academy(Sheriff's academy Missouri) qualificatons I had three primers dent requiring tap and rack clearance with white box Winchester ammo. I was able to pick them up and use on the last round . This time they went off. I still qualified, but fell out of first place because of them. It really reinforced the need to practice failure drills because ti can happen with any ammo any time.

Red Blade

My Pen-is is raw, my Body is hot, and my message is honest ! http://nimbusters.org/forum/forum.php?board=8

Edward J. Palumbo

I've been a reloader for just over 40 years, and started with a Lee Loader and a box of .357 Mag brass. I quickly decided that the mechanical leverage of a press was a step in the right direction.
I've had only a few disappointments with my own revolver reloads, with the reminder that any peculiar sound or reduced recoil level needs to be checked before firing the next round. In other words, be careful during rapid fire or double-action double-taps. You don't want to send another bullet down the tube if a previous bullet, propelled only by a primer, has lodged in the barrel. With a cast or swaged bullet, which was my my error, it's a simple matter of pushing it out with a cleaning rod. I'd guess a jacketed bullet would be more complicated.
My lasting lesson: Don't continue reloading when I'm too tired to be attentive to detail. I did not charge a primed .38 Special case, and missed it when I seated a 148 gr. BB wadcutter bullet. I had at least two opportunities for "quality assurance" and overlooked them because I was going through the routine motions in the wee hours of the morning.
With the understanding that factory ammo has its occasional flaws, I'd extend that caution to factory ammo as well. These flaws are uncommon, a fraction of a percent but, if you cycle through enough ammunition, you'll eventually encounter a dud. Simply be aware of the possibility.


When I was about 7, my buddy and I found a bucket of 12 gauge shells in an old shed on a farm, they were covered with about tw inches of muddy water, but the paper was still fairly soild, but we could ny see the brand. We agued for a little bit on what to do with our found treasure, and the brain trust decision was to shove them in an old iron pipe, cover the end with the shell in it with heavy rocks, then shoot at the primer with our red Rider's "until some thing happened" from behind our "1/4" plywood shield" about 20 feet away, everyone of those shells went off!By the time we were done the iron pipe was about a foot shorter and a little hot to handle. we never told anyone about it, and the following year "I was determined old enough' to go out and "learn how to shoot" with the bigger kids, I wish I could remember who made those shells!


Glad to hear that Dave finally got a real job.

Red Blade

The Austrian state broadcaster is refusing to sack its top US political commentator despite him claiming blacks were 'not civilised' enough to rule.
Klaus Emmerich, who until he retired was editor in chief of the Austrian broadcaster ORF's news and current affairs service, is a specialist in American politics and is still the station's top political commentator for US affairs.

But in coverage of the election in which Barack Obama was elected president he said: "I do not want the western world being directed by a black man. And if you say this is a racist remark, I say you are damn right it is."

Emmerich also said Obama's election was "a highly disturbing development" because "blacks are not as far advanced in the civilization process nor in their political progress."

Emmerich, 80, has worked as a reporter for 61 years and also said Obama is a "talented man, but a branded man" referring to his skin colour.

ORF bosses disassociated themselves from Emmerich's remarks but have refused to ban him from future work. They have merely said they are still reviewing the situation.

Austria recently came under the fire when two far right parties got 29 per cent of the vote in recent elections and now the latest remarks have caused fresh controversy.

Dr. Ralph

Redblade you into nimbusters too? I should have known...

Punch my name to see how Obama really feels about guns. It's his voting record and this is a great site to look up anything on any politico.


Years back (Like maybe 25 years) there was an all plastic cased shotgun shell called ECLIPSE. Talk about misfires? Anyone remember them?

Jim in Mo

Red Blade,
Mr. Emmerich like Mr. Cooper opened their mouth and inserted foot. Both should have heeded the words of Don Corleone "Never let anyone know what your thinking".


A few years ago got a buncha bad "greenbox" 20 ga. shells from xmart. When i was a kid inna 50's I had so many duds from rem .22's that i wouldn't buy anything after a while but super-x..

Jim in Mo

Wendell Nicherson,
Which academy, What county?

Jim in Mo

You never mentioned what powder your using. I don't think I've had experience as you on handloading since I've only loaded two powders in my two 06's (IMR 4064,4350) and 35 Rem. ( IMR 3031&Reloader 7). For me the IMR is the most accurate for both. But both of mine are old and the .260 is relatively new.


Hey Ray
You talking about getting a lot of duds with Remington .22s. Would you be referring to the old Remington Rockets sold in the flat packs? I had the same problem with them in the 60's.

Ralph the Rifleman

I had a few misfires in some cowboy loads for my .45/70 a few years back and after notifying the company(sending back the rounds with the lot number) I was sent a new box FREE OF CHARGE! Now that is GREAT customer service!
ps-So far, that is the only time I have had a factory round misfire*


Been reloading shot shells for 20+ years now and never had a misfire
Also I have AA and STS hulls that have been reloaded 10 or more times. Some at 1575 fps.
What great quality hulls.
Now if the price of shot would come down, that would be great.
$45.00 to $62.00 a bag down here in Fla. Sure glad I stocked up when it was $11.00.

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