Blown Barrel

Dear Technoid,

At the onset of this year’s waterfowl season I saw some new Winchester Expert steel shot ammunition on sale at Wal-Mart. I picked up a few boxes ($6.77 per box) and thought I’d give ’em a try. I bought 1 1/8 oz. 2 3/4″ 12 ga. #2s rated at 1300fps.

The first time I shot them, I was surprised at what a mess they made. All kinds of crap flew out my barrel and into the action of my Remington 11-87. Oh well, I’d shoot the rest of these up and never try to cut corners with cheap ammo again.

However, two days ago I headed out into the marsh with temperatures lingering in the low 20s to shoot some ducks. I shot a few ducks with another brand of ammo and had one last Expert load floating around in my pocket from a trip 10 days prior. Unbeknownst to me at the time I had that one Expert load in my chamber as some low flying honkers came overhead. I pulled up and shot. Powder flew out the action. The shell did not eject. The shot was muffled and no bird fell.

I carefully examined the action and the exterior of the gun and despite an abundance of powder in the action, things seemed in order. Well, as you can probably guess by now, things weren’t in order. The next shot caused my barrel to splay into 4 narrow strips just in front of the forearm and a large bulge in the barrel.

The Expert load had been exposed to low levels of moisture on the trip prior, nothing in excess of anything else I’ve ever exposed other loads to. What’s going on? Cheap load? Powder? Primer? Rust? Help figure out what went wrong so I can avoid it in the future. Saving $20 on shells hardly covers that $200 barrel.


Dear Tony,

Two Hundred Dollar Lesson Number One: If a shell doesn’t sound “right”, immediately check the barrel for obstructions. It’s a shame that your barrel was ruined, but you were actually a bit lucky. It could have been worse.

In the past, I have used Winchester Xpert lead shells in autos and have never had any trouble. Obviously, the steel loads use a different powder and wad, so you can’t really compare them to lead. I’ve never tried their steel loads, but I would doubt that Winchester would put anything on the market that was total garbage. They do try to save some money when they make the shell, so that they can sell it at a lower price. They have to cut back on something in the manufacturing process.

My uneducated guess is that these inexpensive shells had less waterproofing than premium shells. Premium non-toxic loads intended for waterfowling generally have ample amounts of a clear waterproofing sealant applied around the primer and crimp to keep moisture out. Perhaps the powder inside your shell got wet on your last trip. This would account for the faulty ignition and the ejecta that didn’t get ejected. It also could have just been a bad shell. That sometimes happens, but if moisture was involved it was most likely that.

One of the disadvantages of “magazine” guns (semi-autos and pumps) is that it is slightly less convenient to check their barrels for obstructions than it is with break-open guns. Still, when something doesn’t sound right, you MUST check to make sure everything is clear. I shoot an entire ton of shells through gas guns every year. Every now and then something doesn’t sound right. Bad shells are just an occasional fact of life and you have to be on the lookout for them. I always make it a habit to check the barrel before loading the next shell.

I’m glad that you are OK and that there was no injury. That’s the important thing.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC

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4 Responses to Blown Barrel

  1. Tim says:

    Same thing happened to me 870 rem #8 shot blew my barrel up 3 inches from the pump.


  2. waterfowlkiller says:

    I was just reading this and I had the exact same thing happen, I’m a college kid so of course I bought the cheap shells at walmart to save a few bucks, and I bought like 5 boxes and they were sitting in my shell bag for 2 weeks and I had my benelli nova barrel blow up right past the pump last Friday with the same Winchester shells but bb shot instead and I have no idea how it happened i cleaned it before I headed out and I shot 15 of those shells through it then just one time I pulled the trigger and the barrell just gave out but I’m glad I’m not the only one this happened to thanks


    • John Fooks says:

      For what it’s worth. in New Zealand we have to use steel shot over water, and right from the start were told not to use anything tighter than half choke, [ modified in the states? ] steel shot having less ‘ give ‘ than lead could cause presure spike when trying to go through tight chokes


      • I think the issue that causes the problem of blown barrels is an obstruction. Bulging of barrels is not very common with modern barrels regardless of choke, but it is wise to always follow manufacturers recommendations. There has been speculation that if moisture gets into steel shells, they can cause rust formation on the pellets and bridging between the pellets that can result in potentially non deforming mass of pellets as they travel through a constriction (choke) that might cause barrel bulging or a choke to blow out. But this based more on hearsay than empirical evidence.


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