Facts, Tips and Tricks concerning Shotgun Ammunition

In this article, we’ll take a look at some curious and relatively less-known facts as well as some handy tips concerning the shotgun ammunition. There is no actual criteria as such. I just gathered some thoughts, random facts and other interesting information that I hope will be useful for you and let you learn something new. So let’s see what we have:

1) What does “Dram Equivalent” mean?

You’ve probably noticed on a shotshell box a marking saying “Dram” or “Dram Equivalent”. It is usually right between the hull length and shot weight markings.

It comes from the days when shotshells were loaded with black powder. So “dram” is a weight measuring unit, which was used to measure the black powder weight. Dram is equal to 1/16 of an ounce or about 27.3 grains. Obviously, shotgun shells loaded with black powder are virtually obsolete today. Modern smokeless powders are much powerful at a given weight. If you weigh as much smokeless powder as black powder and load it into the shell, you’ll end up blowing up your gun or severely damaging it. Let alone how dangerous it can be for the shooter.

So, why then they put that marking on the boxes? That’s where the word “Equivalent” comes in. The number of dram equivalent on modern shotshell boxes indicates the amount of power level that particular ammunition is loaded to compared to black powder weight. In other words, by printing the dram equivalent value on the ammo boxes, manufacturers try to say that the shotshell is loaded with smokeless powder, which will generate as much power/pressure as the printed amount of black powder would do.

It is somewhat weird, isn’t it? Why don’t they just put the type and weight of the smokeless powder that is loaded in any particular shell? It is hard to tell. This system was definitely useful when smokeless powder was newly introduced and not all shells were loaded with it. In that period of time, both smokeless and black powder loads were available. So it was useful to have some sort of a comparison reference to have an idea concerning what to expect from the ammunition loaded with the “new” smokeless of powder. Today it seems to be a rather non-practical tradition or maybe it is a requirement for some legislations or sporting federation rules.

Here is a video by Federal Premium Ammunition explaining the meaning of “dram”:


2) What gauge is .410 bore?

As you know the shotgun gauge number indicates the amount of equal diameter balls that can be cast from one pound of pure lead. However, in the case of .410 bore shell, the “.410” is the actual bore diameter. So it is more like caliber designation of rifled firearms. In order to calculate the gauge knowing the bore diameter and vice versa, there are a couple of formulas, which look like so:

In the above formulas, dn is the bore diameter and n is the gauge.

So from the second formula, placing .410 instead of dn we get 67.57. It means that if .410 bore had a gauge designation, it would be 67 or 68 gauge.

Now, this is just a curious fact and it has no use. If you don’t like this kind of stuff, then skip the next point – it is even more impractical, yet interesting.

3) What gauge is equal to caliber?

Let’s see what bore diameter matches the gauge number. In that case, n will be equal to dn . So using the same formulas we get the approximate number of 46.5. Which means that a .465 caliber (bore diameter) would be equal to 46.5 gauge!

4) How to memorize the diameter of birdshot pellets of any particular number?

Birdshot has number designations. If you are an experienced shooter you probably already have an idea of what size each birdshot number matches. But for many people, especially for new hunters and shooters, it is hard to remember what sizes have the numbers of birdshot. However, you don’t have to keep in mind that numbers. There is a simple trick to quickly calculate the shot diameter of each birdshot number. All you need is to subtract the birdshot number from “17” and you’ll get the diameter in hundredths of an inch. For example, to calculate the pellet diameter of say #9 birdshot, you need to subtract 9 from 17 (17-9=8) and the answer 8 will mean that #9 pellets have a diameter of .08 inches.

5) A couple of tips from Russian hunters

I learned a couple of DIY tricks while watching a Russian hunting YouTube channel, which host was telling about his grandfather’s experience. There were not too many advanced shotgun ammunition offerings in the Soviet Union. Things like special wads that decrease the spread patterns and buffering media were pretty much nonexistent. But the problems and need to solve them still existed, so people had to invent DIY solutions. I talked to a couple of long-time hunters (and researched other sources) and they pretty much confirmed the legitimacy of these tricks (with minor differences).

So, instead of the birdshot buffer (to decrease the pellet deformation), they used potato starch. Sounds interesting, isn’t it? What they did is poured potato starch into the shell right on top of a couple of rows of birdshot. Then they shook the shell to allow the starch to find its way into the column and fill the voids between pellets. Then added a couple of more rows of birdshot and repeated the process until the necessary amount of birdshot was loaded and the starch had no more place to go in. For some unknown reason, they used only starch and nothing else with similar density (no salt, no flour, nothing else).

Next trick helped to decrease the spread pattern of the buckshot load. So what they did is poured melted candle wax into the hull, which filled the voids between the buckshot pellets. You may think that it would form a wax slug, which is exactly what I thought first. However, it turns out that because buckshot pellets are much larger and have greater individual mass, they separate from each other unlike the birdshot, which forms a wax slug. However, they separate with a delay of a fraction of a second which makes the buckshot patterns tighter in normal shotgun hunting distances.

TAOFLEDERMAUS YouTube channel earlier tried to make a wax slug made of buckshot and it worked for him as a slug. So I guess it is all about what type of wax to use or maybe the technique of applying candle wax to make the buckshot pellets separate with a delay.

I have to say that I haven’t tested these methods and I DON’T RECOMMEND you to try them. I am just sharing with our readers the interesting information that I came across. Now I warned you … if you try them and blow your gun, don’t blame me 🙂

If you are an avid hunter then you were probably aware of most of the subjects discussed in the article. Moreover, you may know about more interesting things which could be a good addition to this article. So, if you do know something like that, please share it with us in the comments section.

Hrachya H

Being a lifelong firearms enthusiast, Hrachya always enjoys studying design, technology and history of guns and ammunition. His knowledge of Russian allows him to translate and make Russian/Soviet/Combloc small arms related information available for the English speaking audience.
Should you need to contact him, feel free to shoot him a message at Hrachya@staff.thefirearmblog.com


  • Awww, you left out cut-shell slugs, where the hull of a birdshot shell is cut almost all the way through just above the base of the wad so that it separates and flies out along with the shot, keeping it together so it hits like a fragmenting slug.

    It’s… not for autoloaders, though.

    • Arie Heath

      Works great for the single shots though.

    • Tassiebush

      I’ve played with them and don’t mind them. I’d use them at the sort of range I’d use a slug in a smoothbore with no sights (probably 40m) because I don’t really notice a difference in accuracy shooting them offhand. My only reservation is that I have noticed penetration isn’t really as good as a slug (they make big shallow marks on trees). I think it’d still knock medium game down fine but I wouldn’t for example economize on ammo using cutshells as a substitute unless I had no choice. For the subsistence hunter who just needs to bag dinner and doesn’t have time, convenience or cash to obtain slugs it’d be good enough and the same would go for a person set up birds who discovers something destructive like pigs, feral dogs etc. For a guy/girl deciding to venture after something that can gore or maul him/her it’d be worth the extra money and inconvenience to get slugs beforehand.

      • iksnilol

        If something can gore me, I’m getting the Hexolitt32, sure, I can only afford like 10 rounds at a time but it’s worth it.

        • Tassiebush

          I think they might suffer from the same issue. Probably better off with a more conventional one like a Brenneke that will hold together and get to where it’s needed.

          • iksnilol

            They hold together remarkably well, it is essentially a hollow point steel slug.

          • valorius

            Brenneke SF max barrier penetration slugs are sauteed in win.

          • Tassiebush

            Sorry I’m not understanding?

        • The biggest drawback to the shmancy exotic rounds is that you can already get bog-standard Foster slugs for a buck apiece (or less on sale) from any place that sells ammunition, and there ain’t a lot of critters can keep standin’ (on two legs or four) after a brief conversation with an ounce of lead movin’ well over 800mph. Even a 20ga slug will punch a pool cue sized hole all the way through the spine and both shoulder blades of a big whitetail buck out past 50yds.

          • iksnilol

            Yeah, but I still like my “schmancy exotic rounds”. I don’t use shotguns often if at all, so I’d like to make it worthwhile.

            If I wanted something primitive like a standard Foster slug I’d get a black powder percussion gun,

          • Well, at least you could keep carrying that after the FBI finds out what’s in your crawlspace, since ATF doesn’t consider it a firearm.

          • iksnilol

            What are you implying? :O

    • AlDeLarge

      When I tried cut shells (long ago) they worked fine in my 12 gauge pump and my friend’s 20 gauge pump. I had used a razor to carefully make three cuts, leaving three small uncut spots equally spaced around the shell. They were stable, unlike the two overlapping gashes I’ve seen made in the YouTube videos.

      • Interesting! I still wouldn’t trust it for an autoloader’s more vigorous lifting and chambering, but that does sound like it could be reliable in most pumps, and definitely a lot more than the barely-held-together chop jobs you usually see.

  • Giolli Joker

    “For some unknown reason, they used only starch and nothing else with similar density (no salt, no flour, nothing else).”
    Cheapest option?

    • Alan

      “In Soviet Russia, shotgun shoots starch.”

    • Hem90

      There’s got to be a connection to vodka somehow

    • Hrachya H

      Possibly …not sure though.

  • John Stepp

    No salt because that would be corrosive, and I seem to remember trying out flour in a shot shell once; a fireball, a very big fireball.

    • phuzz

      Yep, fine powders of carbohydrates like flour, milk powder, sugar etc act similarly to fuel vapours when ignited. Great fun as a kid 🙂

    • ORCON

      As a teen I made some amazing pyrotechnics using smokeless and black powder and powdered coffee creamer.

    • Mix some powdered aluminum in there and you’ve basically got a multi-round flamethrower.

  • Some Rabbit

    Bee’s wax is much softer than paraffin. most likely what those Rooskies were using. Corn starch is less likely to degrade due to humidity, unlike salt or wheat flour. Even so, you’d think sawdust would make a better buffer.

  • El Dude

    Both salt and flour were much more valuable in post-WWII Soviet Union than potato starch and would have been commodities to trade. Flour and consequently bread, were always in short supply due to the inability of the Soviets to feed themselves despite massive amounts of land viable for agriculture.

  • AlDeLarge

    They weren’t mixing it with water.

  • Travis Cook

    Back when I only owned a single shot gun with a milled full choke that couldn’t handle normal steel shot, I would experiment with certain rounds by pouring out the shot and/or mixing new things in the shells whenever people gave me boxes of steel shells. Here’s a few that turned out interesting:

    Half the load of shot+half of a crayon melted into the wad: makes a pretty effective slug, similar to melting the wax around the buckshot. I would usually pour out all the shot, then melt the crayon until the wad cup was 3/4 full, then pour shot back in and it would harden into a sweet slug. crayons work really well for holding the shot together and the color makes a nice splat on the target. Only having half the shot prevented my full choke from exploding but it would still stick together as a solid slug. It’s also possible to make a wax slug without any shot at all, but it loses velocity fast because of the light weight.

    Remove shot, replace with flour, baking soda, corn starch, etc: creates one heck of a wicked fireball at the end of the barrel. Sometimes I’d leave a bit of shot or put something else interesting in the shell with the powder, but it always resulted in a sweet fireball.

    Caution tape packed in tight. Made some sweet confetti. Sometimes I’d tie a long string of tape to a washer and it would make a cool streamer that you could watch flying through the air. It only worked with reduced powder loads though cuz otherwise the washer would rip off the tape.

    Chopped up toothpicks: pretty simple, but always fun to shoot at a big piece of cardboard to see the splintery damage. Similar with airsoft BBs but they tend to spread out like crazy and curve all over the place because of how light they are.

    These are just a few of the interesting things you can shoot out of a scattergun. Plenty of other stories and youtube videos full of more fun ideas out there.