Dirty Light Loads


I really enjoy reading your articles and learn a lot from them. My problem is excessive powder residue in my reloads. In my quest for less recoil (I have arthritis), I am shooting lighter and lighter reloads (7/8 and 3/4 oz 12 ga loads) using Clays. The recoil is pretty much gone but my barrels (and the breech face) look like the inside of a coal mine after only 50 to 100 shots.

I have switched to Federal 209A primers to try to get more complete ignition but not much improvement over Win 209’s. I am also only using my hulls once or twice to get the best crimps possible. I assume my problem is inadequate confining pressure to achieve complete combustion and I’m wondering if you have a suggestion to reduce the amount of powder residue these light loads are producing.

Thanks for any help. Your web site is one of my favorites.


Dear Mike,

If your load velocity is consistent, don’t worry about the residue. Unless you are shooting a gas gun, powder residue really shouldn’t matter other than in a purely cosmetic sense. The second shot really sort of cleans out any residue left by the first. I am going to make the guess that you are shooting a fixed breech gun since most of the gas guns I have tried won’t run a 3/4 oz 12 gauge load.

Clays is a fast single base powder and is among the cleanest burning around. If Clays is leaving residue, then it isn’t ash, but unburned powder. Unburned powder would be an indication that you have gone too light. You really don’t want that. It sounds as though you might be attempting to lower recoil by lowering velocity to the point that you aren’t getting a good pressure build up. Shotshells need a certain amount of pressure (and thus powder) to ignite properly. If they don’t have it, they burn dirty, slow and erratic. Naturally, you ARE sticking to published loads, aren’t you?

An abnormally dirty standing breech is a pretty sure sign that there isn’t enough gas pressure to seal the plastic hull against the walls of the chamber. You might find that things burn cleaner if you increase the pressure. You will have to accept more velocity and thus more recoil.

I am not sure about the benefits of going to a “hotter” primer like the Federal. Often a hotter primer will push the ejecta forward slightly, increasing the “chamber” area and actually decreasing pressure. Primer performance is really tricky stuff and it is hard to generalize.

I’ve burned plenty of dirty powder in my guns over the years, but have never had any problem with too much build up causing mechanical problems unless I failed to clean them carefully after every shooting session. Ultra light loads require the fastest burning powder available to get enough pressure to function correctly. Clays is a good choice in balancing speed and cleanliness.

Fresh hulls probably don’t have much to do with it, though I commend your rationale. It’s really the wad that does the sealing. Studies have shown that a good quality hull can withstand 25 reloadings without ballistic degradation.

While it isn’t too hard to get a consistent 7/8 oz 12 gauge load at 1200 fps, 3/4 oz may well be below the threshold of good ignition unless all conditions are perfect.

I have always found that the best way to reduce recoil was to use a gas gun. If you shoot a mounted fixed breech gun, you might look into the Soft Touch, G Square and similar hydraulic stocks. They do a great job for trap shooters. Other than that, learn to live with a dirty barrel.

Bottom line: if you are getting the performance you want and the dirt isn’t actually jamming the gun, learn to live with it. Ain’t nuthin free and a dirty bore is a small price to pay for comfort.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
Shotgun Report’s Technoid
(Often in error, never in doubt.)

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1 Response to Dirty Light Loads

  1. stanley says:

    In order to get the 3/4 oz. load to perform, you need to have the velocity about 1300fps. I’ve loaded many of these and out to 40 yds. they will do the job and recoil is not really a factor in an OU with that load. Another option would be going to an auto and shoot 7/8 oz. loads @ 1250fps. which would give you good performance also. Either way, the performance will be there and the recoil minimal.


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