March 30, 2020
By Robert W. Hunnicutt
There is no law that says shotshells have to be 2¾ -, 3- or 3½-inches long. And Federal reminds us of that fact with its new Shorty 12-gauge shells that increase magazine capacity, decrease recoil and make for a great time on the range.
If, as I do, you live in a rural area with lots of personal shooting ranges, you will have noticed that people seem mainly to shoot one way these days — as fast as they can for as long as they can. Tactical rifles and increased-capacity pistols have facilitated this trend, but shotgunners have largely been left out. Unless you’re willing to buy a shotgun with a box or multi-tube magazine, you’re pretty much limited to the five rounds a tubular magazine can hold. Magazine extensions will add a couple rounds to that total, but even seven rounds seem uninspiring when the guy next to you is triggering off 30 from his AR-15.
If you can’t make the magazine longer, make the ammo shorter. Mexican-manufacturer Aguila and Canada’s Challenger have been offering 1¾ 3-inch shells for some time, and now Federal has joined this North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) club with its new line of Shorty 12-gauge ammo.
The vast majority of shotshells expended in the world are 2¾ -inches long, but there’s no magic in that number. We all know about 3-inch and 3½-inch magnums, and if you shoot skeet, you’re familiar with 2½-inch .410s.
In the great days of British shooting, many swore by 2-inch shells. Centurion Ammo sold a 2-inch Mini-Buck shell with 6 pellets of 00 Buck, though it seems to have been discontinued. The standard 16-gauge shell was formerly 2 9⁄16 inches, while the standard 10-gauge was 2⅝ inches back in the day. When the dollar became abnormally strong during the Reagan Administration, European ammo manufacturers dumped lots of 65mm ammo on the U.S. market. (The standard 2¾-inch shell is 70mm, the 3-inch, 76mm.)
So, lengths other than 2¾ inches have been around for years, and the 2¾-inch length dates back to black powder days, when a bulky charge of black powder was topped by a column of card and fiber wads. With modern smokeless powder, there’s really no great need for all that volume, which you know if you’ve ever examined a spent wad.
Keep in mind that the shell-length measurement reflects the fired length, or the length before loading, if you prefer. So, a loaded 2¾ -inch shell is more like 2¼ inches long. Similarly, the Federal Shorty 1¾-inch load is 1½ inches long before firing.
Federal plans to offer three Shorty loads: A 1-ounce rifled slug at 1,200 feet per second (fps), a buckshot load with 15 pellets of No. 4 Buck driven at the same velocity, and a target load with 15⁄16 ounce of No. 8 shot at 1,145 fps. The target load wasn’t ready when we tried Shorty ammo, so Guns & Ammo’s evaluation was limited to the slug and buckshot loads.
Both slug and buck loads are roll crimped. The slug has a plastic ball in its hollow base, while the buckshot load is nestled in plastic buffering to help keep patterns together. The first question on most anyone’s mind will be, How much extra capacity do I get? I grabbed a Remington Model 1100 and found that with the magazine plug in, it will hold four Shorty shells, while removing the plug upped capacity to seven.
Next, I turned to a new Mossberg 590A1 Retrograde, which has both an extended magazine and a vintage-style ventilated handguard and bayonet lug. This would swallow a full dozen Shorties, which constitutes some real magazine capacity. But how, reliable are they? There is obviously no problem in any sort of break-open shotguns, and I suspect no one is worrying too much about whether they’ll go through a lever- or bolt-action shotgun.
I didn’t expect they’d feed through an autoloader, but in the name of science, I tried them in the Remington 1100. I got the first round to feed from the magazine to the chamber, but the next round spun inside the receiver, hanging things up. I loaded some in a Benelli Super Black Eagle III and results were even more disappointing. Two Shorties were loaded onto the Benelli’s lifter. The verdict? Shooting them in an autoloader is likely a single-load proposition.
Next, I tried them in a Remington Model 870 slug gun. When operated smoothly, the 870 would feed the Shorty ammo with little complaint. If you tried to pump fast and furious, a jam was the usual result.
Next up was the Mossberg 590 Shockwave, and results were about the same there. Pump it moderately and Shorty ammo would feed. Get carried away and you can practice clearing jams.
That’s all OK, but is there a way to get something like normal reliability? That’s where OPSol (opsolmini-clip.com, $17) comes in. Its Mini-Clip 2.0 Flex lets you adapt your Mossberg pump gun for reliable shooting of Federal Shorty or other 1¾-inch ammo with no permanent modifications required.
The Mini-Clip is a rubber plug of remarkably complicated shape that you simply cram into the rear of the shotgun’s loading port. It’s soft enough for you to squeeze it enough to go in, then it expands to grip the inside of the receiver. Its angled forward edge performs two functions: It prevents shells coming from the magazine tube from moving all the way to the back of the lifter, and it makes loading much easier by serving as a ramp that directs the Shorties toward the magazine tube.
The Mossberg lifter design allows this to work because it is open in the middle, letting it pass on either side of the Mini-Clip. Translation: It won’t work with the 870 or other shotguns with a solid lifter. The unit pops right out to return the shotgun to conventional ammo use. I suppose it might wear out over time, but if it does, it’s affordable.
Installing the Mini-Clip removes all concern about how hard or fast to pump. I could not induce a failure to feed with it. The only stoppages came because the Shorty shells don’t produce enough recoil to release the bolt unless you take a firm grip of the forend.
So, what are Shorty shells good for? There’s a lot of tiptoeing around the topic of defensive uses. Federal, for example, says they are for target shooting. OPSol’s website, on the other hand, touts “Home Defense for the Whole Family in 3 easy steps: 1. Mossberg Shockwave, 2. OPSol Mini-Clip 2.0 Flex, 3. Buckshot MiniShells.”
We dug some slugs out of the backstop, and I for one, would not want to be hit by one at close range. I patterned the buckshot loads from the modified choke of a Remington 1100 at 15 yards, and they tended to land in a 6- to 8-inch circle, which would transfer a lot of energy to its target.
I would need to see a lot more testing of the OPSol/Mossberg combo to recommend it for home defense, but it certainly makes the Shockwave, if that’s your choice of burglar gun, much more docile.
Where I can unequivocally recommend Shorty Shells is for fun at the range. Put up some steel targets, back off a safe distance, and you’re ready for hours of shooting fun. Federal’s website lists the retail prices at $9 for 10 shells of the buckshot and slug loads, and $7 for the No. 8 shot cartridges.
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