The Shot Towers Of Africa

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Yesterday Steve wrote about the Shot Towers of the USA, Europe and Australia. Today I will tell you about how shotgun ammunition is made in African villages.

In most of Nigeria, we all come from one village or the other.. Of course, with schooling and work, we mostly live in the cities, BUT almost all have a village we belong to, and go visiting few times a year.

In my village, we have a lot of hunters, and what you could call “neighborhood watch guys, who protect the village from armed robbers, and occasional raids from OTHER villagers when there is inter-community strife (Which does happen at least once in 2 years in most cases.)

These hunters rely MOSTLY on locally fabricated guns, which they build out of plumbing pipes, doubled and “cured” in fire…(As barrels) and they carve out stocks from very strong, good wood we have here (Massonia wood, we call it.)

Massonia wood

Massonia wood

The firing pin mechanism and trigger are usually very basic systems: something like a “falling block” kind of design, and springs from beds are best used to create the tension.

These are one-shot guns in most cases, though local ingenuity comes into play sometimes, and I have personally seen a double-barrel design (Over and under to boot.)

They work! The hunters almost always come back with game for the cooking pot, and a lot to sell to supplement whatever money made from selling crops and other menial work.

The shells – they are always happy to get empties fired and “thrown away” by city “wastrels” such as myself… I drive home in my 2010 4 x 4 truck, I come with 20 shotshells, set up a target and “waste money” (According to them. Several went and reported this to my dad, who lives in the town right beside the village…”Your son came an was showing off, wasting ammunition…”)

Once they have empties, they make their own gunpowder: sulfur, ash, other components I really do not know… Ground together and mixed thoroughly..

They pour this (In most cases crude, instinctive measurement handed down from generation to generation.) into the shotshell.

Primers are (I was shocked to discover!) derived from refill caps from children’s cap guns. The pry out the used primers, and simply replace with caps.

Of course, when they fire, the caps are destroyed, but I hear they can get up to 5 firings from a shotshell before they become too unstable to use again. They simply pry off the fired cap, and insert a new one…

Cap Gun refill-1

Crimping is usually a crude form of star-crimp, using a hot piece of metal.

Payload: they melt lead from discarded battery cells, and drip from trees into buckets of water to get spherical balls of lead…

Wads are made out of discarded flip-flops. Cut into ‘disks’ and rammed down the shotshell to compact the powder down to get good burn and compression.

I hear that the kick, and impact of these shotshells can be double of factory shells.

You know the old saying: where there is a need, there must be a way…




Y Man

Y-man is a firearms newbie, and really interested in shotguns. Based in a firearms restricted environment, he makes the best of whatever he is able to lay his hands on. He also enjoys comments and feedback almost as much as a druggie loves their next fix…


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  • MIKE

    I LOVE YOUR ARTICLES!!

  • dan citizen

    Another great Y Man piece. I’d love to see pictures of these home made guns.

  • Giolli Joker

    Great informative article! Thanks!

  • floppyscience

    Awesome article, thanks :D I always learn something from you.

  • Nathaniel

    An excellent article. Very interesting.

  • wetcorps

    Awesome.

  • Blake

    Fun article :-)
    Would love to see a few pics of the weapons & shells.

    • M.M.D.C.

      Yes! If the owners of these guns would consent, this would be a very interesting post. The mother of invention at work!

  • VaMtns

    I look forward to your articles. I applaud your villager’s skill and resourcefulness. That is a really nice piece of wood in the picture. These guns have some high grade stocks on them from the look of it. Thanks again

  • allannon

    Heh…ingenious.

    I wonder what kind of press we’d get if we started a charity to supply hunting firearms and munitions to Africans. Probably bad, despite the probable safety advantages.

    Assuming some warlord or other wouldn’t raid the villages and steal them or something.

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Phil W “Senior Writer TFB”

      Y-man posted about that. We would get them arrested as gun runners and terrorist. Crazy but that’s why he didn’t want any of us sending gun related products to him.

      • allannon

        Sorry, I didn’t mean “we the readers of TFB”, but more an official organization with (at least theoretical) Nigerian government cooperation. :)

        It was basically wishful thinking that we could get at least basic hunting supplies to them. I can’t help but think that H&R Lil’ Pardner shotguns and reloading supplies would probably be a significant safety improvement over the improvised guns and material they use now.

        • Allah Snackbar

          Heh. Imagine if some part of the shipment went “missing” and landed in Nigeria instead of Syria. Probably no one else would notice.

          • mikewest007

            My guess? Boko Haram would, they would swoop on the poor peasants and beat those supplies out of them, and the US would, again, catch a lot of shit for “arming terrorists”.

          • Y-man

            You have it right Mike! That is if the shipment would not “disappear” at the ports! Ten years from now, we will be wondering where the “Customs Officer-turned-politician” got his wealth from to aspire to be a Governor in elections!

          • mikewest007

            Well, I considered that one and assumed that someone would make $ure the customs officers looked the other way and let it pass through. Corruption works the same in all messed-up countries, be it Africa, Middle East, Middle-Eastern Europe or Southeast Asia.

        • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Phil W “Senior Writer TFB”

          Um man I don’t know he was very adamant about anything remotely gun coming into the country.
          The government would probably take the stuff anyway.

    • Steve (TFB Editor)

      A lot of people in the world would benefit from access to purchase basic shooting, self defense and hunting supplies. Clearly no organizations are (publicly) doing this. The problem is that so many laws and international treaties are stacked up against anyone who tried.

      • allannon

        Unfortunately true. :(

    • Chase Buchanan

      I wonder if we might do even better by supplying them with superior tools with which to continue making their own.

      I also wonder what they’d say to such an offer if they were asked. The way Y-man tells it, the villagers near him do just fine with their shotguns. Perhaps they would benefit from outside aid in the form of factory-made weapons. Or perhaps they are satisfied with their own guns, and would greatly prefer to receive something else instead if given the choice.

  • Ash

    Y Man you da man

  • Simon

    Love these posts by Y-man, keep it coming !

  • Nicks87

    Very interesting article, Y-man. Thank you again for posting this informative article. Keep up the good fight.

  • DiverEngrSL17K

    Y-Man, my hat’s off to you once more for a tremendously informative and intriguing article. It is obvious that you have put a lot of time and effort into writing and presenting it. Thanks once again!

    BTW, I believe Massonia wood may be similar to the Merbau hardwood of Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, most of South-East Asia in general and the Western Indo-Pacific Region. It is an outstanding, termite-resistant, impermeable hard wood of great durability and excellent dimensional stability, but which requires carbide tools if you intend to work with it on a consistent long-term basis. Regular tool-steel will work with Merbau, but will require frequent cleaning and re-honing.

    The ingenuity, innovation and success exhibited by the village hunters in firearms / ammunition fabrication is to be respected and admired. You are right — necessity being the mother of invention, one has to make do with what is available.

  • Cornelius Carroll

    Fascinating read! Thanks Y Man.

  • Y-man

    Many thanks for the kind words, and for enjoying the post(s).
    I will work on exactly what you guys have mentioned here: a full article with pictures and video on “The Village Guns in Nigeria” (Good title, you think?) and make sure to share soon…
    Thanks all, for giving me another safe, but very exciting project to work on next!

  • Mike G

    Would it be possible to get some pictures?

  • Anonymous

    Hello Y-man!

    Just out of curiosity, would it be legal for you to own an air rifle?

    I know that power would be an issue, but it could serve as a sort of aiming practice that doesn’t spend valuable gunpowder and cases, and the bullets could be re-used if found.

    If you managed to get your hands on a powerful air rifle like the Girandoni, you could even hunt animals with it, and you could always have very cheap ammo.