No Ammo, No Primers, No Problem! – Part 5, by M.B.

(Continued from Part 4. This concludes the article.)


How Much Powder and Shot?sh

Short Lane, the makers of black powder adapters for shotguns, recommend the following amounts. I have followed their recommendations in my 20 gauge single shot.

209 Adapter in .410 Pistol/Derringer
25-35 grains black powder or black powder substitute
40 grains lead shot

209 Adapter in .410 Shotgun
50-60 grains black powder or black powder substitute
50 grains lead shot

209 Adapter in 12 Ga., 16 Ga., & 20 Ga. Shotguns
75-85 grains black powder or black powder substitute
80 grains lead shot

This sounds like a good starting point. Bear in mind that your best patterns may be with a lighter load of powder. In general, more powder and/or less shot will widen the pattern, while less powder and/or more shot should give a tighter pattern. Different waddings may also make a significant difference in developing a load that will pattern well enough for bird hunting.

“Building” Your Load Within the Shotgun

A typical load for a muzzleloading shotgun involves pouring in the powder from a measure. Never load directly from a flask or powder horn, as a latent spark could set off all your powder in an explosion. The powder is followed by an overpowder wad and the wad is used to compress the powder. Then a cushion wad might be added, and the measured shot is poured down the barrel. Finally, an overpowder wad keeps the shot from falling out.

Wads can be almost anything, from newspaper, coffee filters, or even moss, to carefully cut cardboard, cork, card stock, or even modern plastic shotgun wads. Research and experimentation will help you to find a load that works for you. It’s beyond the scope of this article to cover such a complex topic, though the tools and components needed can be found inexpensively.

Finally, a shotgun with a cylinder bore (no choke) barrel can be loaded like a muzzleloading rifle, with a patched round ball over loose powder. If you pre-cut the patches and lube them with Gatofeo Lube #1 (check the .45 Colt Testing section, above), your bore will stay cleaner, and more shots will be possible before you’re forced to clean out fouling. This may well be the most accurate way to fire a single projectile from your smoothbore.

Modern Shotgun Shells and Black Powder

Safety Note:
When loading black powder shotgun shells, there must be no empty space inside the shell, and the powder should be compressed slightly (about 1/16 inches, or about 2mm). You may need to use a wadding or other “filler” inside the shell, so that there’s no empty space below the crimp.

Shotshell reloading can also be complex, though some shooters reload shells with very few tools. Loading a shell with black powder usually consists of measuring in powder, adding an overpowder wad, and compressing the charge slightly. More wadding may be added, then the shot. An overshot wad may be added, depending on the load and the crimp used. The powder, shot, and wads must fill the shell up to the crimp, with no air gaps within the shell, and the powder should be compressed slightly after adding the overpowder wad or card.

Research and testing will be necessary if you wish to find a load that works for your purposes. A quick online search for “black powder shotshell” will start you down the rabbit hole.

Paper Cartridges

Paper cartridges predated modern shotgun shells, but they still have merit in times of shortages and supply chain interruptions. Paper, string, black powder (or a black powder substitute) and shot or a projectile is about all that’s needed. You can use colored paper to allow quick identification of ammunition types, and detailed information can be written on the paper itself, allowing you to carry a wide variety of shot sizes, powder charges, etc. Your imagination is the only limitation. With a little work, you may find that paper cartridges work better than you expected.

One fun advantage of paper cartridges is that they don’t have to fill out a shotgun shell, so you can make up very light loads. These are ideal for introducing a youngster to muzzleloading shotguns. The cartridge requires less dexterity to load, it allows you to control exactly how much powder and shot are loaded, and your custom, light loads will have less recoil for young, smaller-statured shooters.

I was especially interested in round ball loads. A 20 gauge is about .61 caliber, so I tried a .570 round ball and found it a good fit in my paper cartridges. It was small enough to load in a fouled bore, and it gave decent accuracy with modest recoil, yet a .570 round ball powered by 75 grains of black powder is a serious load. For fun, I also tried a .570 round ball with three 00 buckshot pellets—the famous “buck and ball” load—with good hits out to 25 yards. If I was ever forced to use a muzzleloading shotgun for defense, I would want a double-barreled 12- or 20 ga., loaded with buck and ball.

Tools & Materials Needed

Hardwood dowel – 8 to 12 inches in length, as a former for paper cartridges. It needs to be rounded on one end and of a diameter that allows it to “rattle” slightly when inserted in the muzzle of the firearm.
Short dowel, stick or other object – The handle for “choking” cartridges (before tying one end closed).
Strong, thin cord, 3 to 4 feet in length – For choking the end of the cartridge for tying. One end of the cord is a loop, the other is tied to the small dowel, as a handle for pulling a loop of string around the cartridge end. I use 80-pound braided fishing line.
Powder measure – If you are making “square” shotgun loads, the same measure can be used for both powder and shot.
Funnel – For pouring shot and powder into the cartridges.
Cotton string – For tying one end of the cartridges closed.
White glue – Not essential, but I put one drop on the knot when tying a cartridge.
Paper – Many types of paper will work. I use regular copier or printer paper. You may want to use multiple colors to “color code” your cartridge types.
Black powder or black powder substitute
Shot or roundballs

You will also need a good, well-lighted workspace, with a good place to attach one end of your cartridge choking cord. I use a small, homemade workbench and loop the cord around one of the legs.

Cutting Cartridge Papers

Paper cartridges are made from four-sided pieces of paper. The width of the base determines the length of the cartridge. The two sides of the shape are at right angles to the base of the shape. The height of the taller side is equal to two times around the wooden former. The shorter is about one-and-a-half times around the former. The fourth side—the “top” of the shape—connects the highest points of the two sides.

For my 20 gauge “inline muzzleloader,” I use a cartridge paper with a base that is 5-3/8 inches wide. The tall side is 3-3/4 inches high, and the shorter side is 2-7/8 inches high.

You may need to experiment a bit to determine the best cartridge paper size for your firearm. Once you have a size that works for you, make a template from wood, metal, card stock, or some other material.

Making an Internal Divider for Paper Cartridges

In addition to the cartridge paper, for each cartridge you will need a divider. I use a piece of paper about 1.5 inches by about 3 inches in size. I fold mine in half to form a rough square. I lay the folded divider on a flat surface and center the flat end of the cartridge former in its middle. I then lift the four corners and press them against the sides of the cartridge former. I press the rest of the paper against the sides of the former pressing them sideways, then remove the former.

The finished divider looks like a flat-bottomed cup with pleated sides. It will be used between the ball or shot and the powder. Each musket or shotgun cartridge needs one divider.
Assembling Paper Cartridges

Lay a cartridge paper out on a flat, well-lit surface. The base of the paper should be closest to you, and the angled “top” should be furthest from you.

To roll the cartridge, place the former across the base of the paper, with the rounded end about 3/4 inch away from the taller of the two sides. This side will be the tied end of the cartridge, where the bullet or shot will be. Roll the cartridge tightly.
I pinch and gently twist the paper over the rounded end of the former in preparation for “choking” and tying.
To choke the tube, pass the choking cord once around the twisted paper at the rounded end. One end the cord is anchored, so you can hold the cartridge (with the former still inside) in one hand, and the choking cord handle in the other.
Pull firmly on the handle to compress the twisted paper.

Leaving the former in the cartridge, tie a short piece of string (I use cotton) around the choked paper. I use a double overhand knot, which stays tied better than a plain overhand knot. You can add a single drop of white glue to the knot, if desired.
Use scissors to trim excess string and to trim the paper at the tied end, if needed.
Grasp the cartridge and former and gently press the rounded end against the work surface to flatten the knot and paper at the closed end of the cartridge.
Remove the former from the cartridge.
Holding the cartridge tied-end-down, insert the shot or projectile. A funnel will be helpful with small shot.
Insert a paper divider, open end first. Use the flat end of the dowel to press it firmly against the shot or ball. This will prevent “mingling” of shot or powder.
Pour in the measured black powder or black powder substitute.
Fold the tail of the cartridge (four steps):
Hold the cartridge open-end-up. Flatten the tube above the powder, making sure there is no powder in the flattened section.
Place your thumb against the flat part of the tube, just above the powder. Press to fold the flat part at a 90 degree angle from the rest of the cartridge. Mash down a bit, to form a saddle where the flat part rests on top of the powder. The flat part of the tube should now have a curve to it, like a trowel blade. Be sure there’s no powder in the two high points of the saddle.
Look at the “trowel blade” that is now at 90 degrees to the rest of the cartridge. Picture a line in the center of the trough. Now fold the sides in to meet each other, where that line would be. The tail is now much narrower.
Hold the cartridge and look down at it from the tail end. Where the tail clears the side of the cartridge, fold it back on itself, so the tail crosses back over the rear of the cartridge. Fold it again, so the tail extends up the side of the cartridge.

Paper cartridges offer great potential for exploration, especially with small diameter shot, for hunting. You could try adding different materials as wads to improve your patterns. You could even try a modern, plastic wad inside the cartridge. Different cartridge papers may also make a difference in patterns. For many of us, exploring the options is a lot of fun!

Carry your cartridges in a belt or shoulder pouch. To tell them apart easily, write the load—such as: “60gr 3/4oz #8 birdshot”—on the side of the cartridge or on the tail. Color-coding the cartridge paper also helps in selecting the right cartridge in a hurry. You’ll find that making a paper cartridge becomes fast and easy after you’ve made a few.


“Find yourself a musket.”
– Uncas, Last of the Mohicans (1992 film)

Loading and shooting paper cartridges in a modern shotgun with an adapter is quite easy. The paper cartridges make follow-up shots possible, as speed comes with practice.

Safety note:
Never lean over the muzzle of a muzzleloader during loading. Make sure that capping—or inserting the primer—is the last step before firing.

Make sure there is not a “live” (unfired) primer in the breech of the gun, and that an adapter is in place. Open the gun far enough to see the rear of the adapter, to ensure an unfired primer is not in place.
Note: If using a homemade adapter, be careful not to open the gun far enough to eject or extract the adapter. Homemade adapters need to have a fired (“dead”) primer in place at the start of loading, to keep powder from falling through the adapter, into the action.
Rest the butt of the shotgun on the ground, so the gun is muzzle-up.
Tear off the tail of a cartridge and carefully pour the powder down the barrel. You should finish with the open end of the cartridge in the barrel.
Continue sliding the rest of cartridge into the muzzle, until the entire cartridge is in the barrel. The ball or shot will still be inside the closed end of the cartridge.
Use your ramrod to firmly seat the cartridge against the powder. The empty part of the cartridge tube will act as a wadding, and the closed end will keep the shot or ball from falling out.
Carefully open the breech far enough to remove the dead primer with a fingernail (homemade adapter only).
Hint: Tipping the shotgun to the side—keeping the gun pointed downrange—will help the dead primer fall free, rather than into the action.
Insert a new primer.
Close the breech. The shotgun is ready to fire.


Cleaning black powder guns is not especially difficult. Moreover, the equipment needed is nothing more than 100% cotton patches and a brass or steel cleaning rod with brushes and a tip for patches.

One of the best cleaning solutions is a regular spray bottle of Windex glass cleaner WITHOUT AMMONIA, poured into a gallon jug, followed by enough water to fill the jug. Cheap and effective.

A rust-preventing oil is needed after the gun is clean and dry. I use Ballistol, but there are many good choices available.

With a break-open shotgun, I like to remove the forearm and separate the barrel and action for easy cleaning. I clean from the breech and start by pushing out almost the fouling with a tight patch on the end of my ramrod. If it will be a while before I reach home, I try to get most of the fouling out and give the barrel, bore, and action a wipe-down Ballistol, followed by a real cleaning at home.

Brass and primers must also be cared for, as the chemicals from the caps and the black powder can attack the brass and other metals. I drop them in a 16-ounce or 20-ounce plastic bottle—with the Windex/water mix, or just plain water—at the range.

At home, I de-prime all brass and hulls. Shotgun primers are taken apart, and the parts spread out on a paper towel to dry. This is because shotgun primers tend to hold water inside, and the flat, steel anvils within the primers are prone to rust. These last steps are unnecessary if you are not recharging primers.


If nothing else, I hope this article drives home the absolute importance of primers in the production of high-quality handloads. I further hope that those reading this will stock up on primers and smokeless powder if they can.

If the Socialist cabal hangs onto power in your area, you may face worsening ammo shortages and even ammo bans and bans on reloading. If so, recharged primers and black powder give you an option that can stretch your carefully hoarded supply of ammo in dark times.


#11 Percussion Cap Maker

Big Lube® Bullets

Gatofeo Lube #1 (A new name for a traditional formula for easy-to-make black powder bullet/patch lube.)

NOE Bullet Moulds

Dixie Gun Works

Short Lane

Venturino, Mike. Shooting Sixguns of the Old West. Prescott, Arizona: Wolfe Publishing Co., 2012. – Mike Venturino speaks from authority and vast experience. He reviews the various Old West cartridge revolvers. The black powder reloading section is very useful. This book is hard to find, but you can track down a copy with some Internet searching, or you could ask your local librarian how to borrow it via interlibrary loan.

Black Powder for Self-Reliance (in four parts, posted in 2019) – SurvivalBlog: