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The least of the penalties you will pay for exploring these exciting new levels of chamber presure will include enhanced recoil to: (A) loosen your dental tillings; and, (B) develop a life-long flinch.

Deformed pellets, perhaps 30% or 40% of the load, created by the "bottle neck" effect are cartwheeling off somewhere in space, as much of a threat to your dog, as to the departing target.

Repeated use of adult ammunition in adolescent chambers will permanently damage a gun without corresponding benefit to the shooter.

Murphy’s Law Repealed
Brownells, Inc. publishes a copyrighted guideline for gunsmiths entitled: MEASURING & RECHAMBERING SHOTGUN CHAMBERS that defines the problem. The following is quoted with permission:

Prior to around 1900, shotgun chamber lengths varied considerably from manufacturer to manufacturer, often resulting in odd fractions. After 1900, shotguns have been produced in the following common chamber lengths:

GaugeFrom 1900 to 1920From 1920 to Mid-1930’s
102-7/8", 3-1/2"3-1/2"
122", 2-1/2", 2-5/8", 2-3/4", 3"2-3/4", 3", 3-1/2"
162-9/16", 2-3/4"2-3/4"
202-1/2", 2-9/16", 2-3/4", 3"2-3/4", 3"
282-3/4", 2-7/8"2-3/4"
.4102", 2-1/2", 3"3"

The Shotgun Shell In Relation To Chamber Length
An unfired 20 gauge 3" shell measures 2.68" in length, which allows it to easily enter the 20 gauge 2-3/4" chamber (2.75").

However, when the 3" shell is fired the case unfolds to its full 3" length. The extra .25" of case body enters the forcing cone creating a `bottle neck’ effect through which the shot and wad must pass.

"’Bottle Neck’ effect is when the end of the fired shell enters the forcing cone, thus squeezing and deforming the shot (left) as opposed to a correct length chamber (right) in which the fired case does not enter the forcing cone. Dotted line is the beginning of the bore and the end of the forcing cone."

Checking and lengthening chamber lengths to 2-3/4" is usually an easy and inexpensive task for your gunsmith. This is a safety and common sense issue that does not have a downside, a classic "no-brainer."

Older guns usually have short, about 1/2" forcing cones (a kind of funnel that channels the shot column from the chamber mouth to the barrel proper). You can check this visually by looking in your barrels from the breech end. The ring you see just ahead of the chamber is the forcing cone. Practicing your depth perception here, you can make a guess on the length of the forcing cones. Longer forcing cones will improve patterns and reduce recoil, so lengthening forcing cones to about 3/4" or 1" is generally recommended. Competition shooters like even longer forcing cones (I have 5" forcing cones on one of mine) on target guns, but the practical limit here is what size reamer your gunsmith has.

A common misconception is that the "right" choke is what determines pattern, recoil and performance. Not so. It is the configuration of how all three elements, chamber length, forcing cone length and choke, work together to get the best results out of modern, star-crimped shotshells.

If you are fortunate enough to own and use a gun from the Golden Age of Shotguns, or are considering the purchase of one, here are a couple more suggestions for it’s care and feeding after you’ve had the chamber length and forcing cones checked and, if necessary, lengthened:
  • Use moderate loads: 1 oz. for 12 or 16, 7/8 oz. for 20 and 3/4 oz. for 28 gauge. Test different brands. I have half a case of English-loaded 16 gauge ammunition which has a thin rim, which sloshes back and forth in the chamber of a friend’s old Stevens pump. It will only fire when the gun is pointed straight up in the air with the shell resting on the bolt face! Try before you buy.
  • Buy and use the best high-antimony (hard) or nickel or copper plated shot you can afford for your serious shooting. Chilled (soft) shot, commonly used in cheap or "promotional" loads is okay for shooting some clay pigeons or for close-in straight-away shots, but this stuff will break your heart on those once- in-a-lifetime 40-yard passing shots.
  • Don’t even think about using steel shot. Substitute Bismuth or the new tungsten- matrix shotshells where lead shot is prohibited.
  • If your double has a splinter forend, buy and use a hand-guard and/or shooting glove. Most American shooters don’t realize that their left hand is supposed to be holding the barrels just ahead of the forend instead of the forend itself. Shooting a longer left arm not only involves your torso in the swing and follow-through (which is good); but it keeps your head down on the stock (which is better) -- which eliminates the second most common reason for missing birds (lifting your head).
  • If your thumb touches your nose when you shoulder the gun, the stock is too short. If you have a bloody nose, it’s ’waaay too short. You want to have about an inch between your nose and the second joint of your thumb, which can be handled by a good pad. Some of the older shotguns have so much drop at the heel that they look like hockey sticks. One can only speculate that these must have belonged to owners of very wide-ranging dogs.
  • After cleaning your gun, be certain you lubricate the hinge pin and locking lugs with a light coating of heavy-duty gun grease. This is the operating insurance you buy for the next 100 years of shooting pleasure this gun will provide.
  • Do not store your guns cocked. Old springs can take a "set." Although plastic snap caps are cheap and commonly available, plastic exudes gas, that can attract moisture. The last place you want to collect moisture is the chamber of a shotgun. Buy metal snap caps or use a couple of fired hulls and put both hammers down for storage after a good cleaning and wipe down.

    Treat your Golden Ager with the respect it deserves. Hey! One of these days when you’re that old -- you’ll wish you could function as well as that Golden Age shotgun does!

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