Steel, Old Guns And Mucho Squeeze


I was reading an article in my DU magazine about new non-toxic shot. There was a table listing safe shot for pre-steel-shot shotguns, and those for more modern barrels. It didn’t mention anything about the choke. I was under the impression that you couldn’t shoot steel-shot through Full Choke barrels (i.e. older barrels with fixed full chokes) because of bulging. Is it the choke or the barrel material? If I have my old Model 12 3″ Heavy Duck Gun fitted with Briley chokes (most likely have to be the thin wall) is it OK to shoot steel? Does the fact that the barrels are heavier to take the 3″ load (one of the first guns made for 3″) make a difference?

I’d like to screw choke it anyway so it can be used for Turkeys or other stuff where I don’t have to carry it very far. It’s a great, indestructable, gun that I’d hate to lose (I suppose the bismuth shells would be cheaper than a new gun). No rush on the answer, I’m using my 686 for ducks/geese this year.



Dear Matt,

Questions about what is safe for steel have been asked for so long that I don’t think that I can add much to it. Steel makes up 95% of the non-toxic shell market because it is cheaper than the more modern “lead like” non-toxics (bismuth, tungsten-polymer, tungsten-matrix) and hunters want to save money even if it is at the expense of ballistic performance. Some of the new modern non-toxics are even harder than steel because they use tungsten (tungsten-iron, Hevi-shot), so just paying $2.00 a shell doesn’t guarantee that you can shoot it out of an old gun.

I don’t think that anyone would recommend that you shoot steel through a tightly choked Model 12. It’s both the barrel steel and the choke that are the weak spots. Yes, the 3″ M12 has thicker steel and would be less likely to be damaged, but why take the chance? I sure wouldn’t.

A Merkel 147EL SxS that I reviewed for “Clay Pigeon” magazine stipulated that steel was OK because of it’s extra hard steel used in the fixed choke barrels. It also had only SK and IC chokes, so there wasn’t much squeeze to put pressure on the barrel metal. I’ve had representatives of Spanish gun companies tell me that steel is OK in their fixed choke guns up to Modified constriction, but not tighter than that.

As to Briley chokes being steel compatible, that’s the kind of question you ask them before you send the gun. I don’t believe that they claim their “Thinwalls” to be steel proof, but I do remember seeing other Briley choke installations that were. Ask them. Don’t ask me. They know what they are talking about. I’m just flailing about as usual. I seem to remember the Briley steel-proof chokes having a very long threaded section. I’m not talking about Briley replacement chokes here. I’m referring to their retrochoking of solid choke guns.

Winchester wasn’t kidding when they named that 3″ Model 12 a HEAVY duck gun, were they. A local shop has one for sale. I’d buy it if I could lift it.

I don’t want to go into my usual tirade against steel here, but considering the current limits on ducks I don’t see much reason to use steel when you could use Federal’s most excellent Tungsten-Polymer shells. I’ve used their 1-1/4 oz #4s on SoDak wild pheasant (a much harder kill than any duck) and was really pleased at how well the shells worked. The Tungsten-Polymer is EXACTLY the weight, size and density and good old lead. I killed a whole bunch of ducks in Argentina using 7/8 oz of lead #5s from a 20 gauge. There is just plain nothing like lead or a good copy thereof. Besides, $1.50 to $2.00 a shell will deter skybusting. See, how I always look for the bright side of things. After paying $2.00 a shell you are going to have to shoot well. You are going to have to eat that duck because you won’t be able to afford eating out!

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

This entry was posted in Shotgun related. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.