When you are using a shotgun, always double check your ammunition and ensure you are using ammunition of the correct gauge. This is particularly true if you own shotguns in several gauges which increases the potential to mix shells. Although many ammunition companies use different colored shells for different gauges, this is not always the case. Several people have told me that they have found stray shells of different gauges in new factory ammunition boxes. Something that is clearly plausible/possible; however, I do not have any direct knowledge of this.
In a shotgun instructor class I completed, the instructor (Tom Givens of Range Master) mentioned the chance of mistakenly placing 20 gauge ammunition in a 12 gauge shotgun. The 20 gauge may slide down the barrel far enough so that the shooter can unwittingly load a 12 gauge shell in the chamber behind the 20 gauge shell and fire it with the obvious potential for catastrophic results.
A friend of mine and I were checking Federal FliteControl patterns in a variety of older shotguns. Remembering Tom’s comment, we decided to drop a 20 gauge shell down a 12 gauge barrel to see how far it would enter the barrel. We then placed a dummy round in the gun and closed the action; putting the gun in a firing condition. In the picture sequence below you can see how this can happen.
Ironically in the shotgun instructor course, one of the students in the class had a gun that suddenly would not chamber a round. Examination showed that the barrel was obstructed with another shotgun shell. Considerable pounding with a cleaning rod produced a 16 gauge shell that had entered and become stuck in the barrel. The student sheepishly admitted that he owned a 16 gauge shotgun. Both shells were the exact same red color and only a close examination would have identified the 16 gauge shell.
If you are setting up your shotgun for home defense, a couple of additional inspections are appropriate. Examine the primers, ensure that the shells are not damaged or corroded, properly crimped, and that the shell mouth has not expanded. Shotgun shells that have been in a tubular magazine for an extended length of time occasionally swell which may result in an inability to chamber the shell.
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