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Old Gun & New Shell

Advice for the Shooter

It is not uncommon to have an inquiry about shooting a new or modern shotshell in an older shotgun. The inquiry will normally begin something like this. “I have a Hillside Model 69 shotgun that belonged to my great uncle and when he died, Aunt Harriet gave it to me. I've been reading about those new fantastic hyper-speed steel goose loads that everyone is using and would like to know if they'll be okay to use in that gun. By the way, it has a fixed full choke.”

The question makes a lot of sense. Many of us have older shotguns that belonged to some relative. We may have hunted with it as a kid, or we may have accompanied Uncle Ted on some hunts where he used it. It has sentimental value to us and we'd like to take it to the field again, if for no other reason, just to bring back old memories.

I'm right there with you on that. I own guns that once belonged to one of my brothers and every time I handle them, they bring back memories of him. I still have my first .22 rifle that my oldest brother gave me for Christmas, the year I turned 12. I can't pick it up without remembering how I felt with that first gun that was really mine. I have an old side by side that belonged to my stepfather and maybe to his father. It was a wall-hanger by the time it was given to me but I still treasure it.

So, to the question, “Is it okay to shoot those new loads in my old gun? “

Sometimes, the answer is very easy. Let's take the question posed about the “Hillside Model 69” and hyper-speed steel goose loads. No! It's not safe or wise to do that. The old gun had barrels that were made of mild steel and with that full choke it could easily cause damage to the gun and possibly to the shooter or a bystander.

Sometimes, it's a little more complex and you really need to look carefully at the gun and the shell that is being considered. I had one such inquiry just recently.

This reader had a fine older shotgun that had belonged to his grandfather. For many of the reasons discussed earlier, he wanted to take it back to the field but wanted to know if a particular shotshell would be okay to use in it. I know a good bit about the particular gun he wanted to use and in its day, it was an excellent shotgun. It was however not designed for the high velocity and high pressure loads that we use today. It also had a fixed full choke and a barrel that was made from pretty mild steel.

My primary concern was however the damage to the furniture of the gun. Many older guns have been over-oiled over the years and most have been stored butt down in a gun cabinet or behind a door. Over time, that oil finds its way to the wrist section of the stock. If it's bad enough you can see the discoloration in that area. That oil softens the wood over time and shooting just a few high power loads can cause damage. This particular shotgun, a recoil operated self-loader, was prone to that kind of damage even with the lower payload shells of its day.

While the lead shot in the loads that he was considering might not have caused any damage to the barrel, that gun was just not designed for the pressure and attendant recoil of that modern shotshell.

Here are some words I live by. A qualified gunsmith can be your best friend. Don't ever be hesitant to ask about a particular gun or shell combination. If in doubt, don't. Some guns should not be taken to the field, they have too many memories stored in them to risk damaging them.

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