View Full Version : Opening a shell to examine its contents

Bob Lee Swagger
March 11, 2008, 05:49 PM
Is there a safe way to do this, and if so, how is it done? :confused:

The shell in question is "Federal 2 3/4 NCH Magnum 00 Buck"

March 11, 2008, 06:03 PM
I regularly open a shell to get shot or just to be nosey. I cut the plastic just in front of the brass. Cut through it in a ring all the way around the plastic and break it off when it is cut through. Then you can empty the powder and do a lengthwise cut to empty the shot. Then I put the brass head in a shotgun and go outside and pop it.

You just might be suprised to find all sizes of shot in some of the shells. A #8 might have 6s and 9s mixed in along with 7.5s and 8s.

March 11, 2008, 06:05 PM
Are you curious about what all is in there?

Never mind- it really isn't my business. But, reloading manuals can give you a great idea of what's in there. The shell disection... It wouldn't be much of a task to cut the crimped end about 1" from the end with a serrated knife. This will allow you to dump out the shot and be able to tug on the fingers of the wad to release the powder. But you're still going to have a live primer and powder laying around.

You do know this isn't the safest thing to do- right? Be for darn sure you pinch or bind the primer or do this around heat, sparks, cigarettes, etc. Would you be satisfied with lots of good pictures? There's really not much in there- just shot, wad, powder, primer, and a hull... maybe some buffer stuff.
Naw, seriously- you can google up some pretty good and descriptive pictures.

Does anyone else think this may not be such a great idea?

Bob Lee Swagger
March 11, 2008, 06:06 PM
There is no risk of it going off with this method? Does age of the shell come into play at all?

In any case I plan to do it on my back lawn before the forest to minimize risk to others. It's cold out too.

March 11, 2008, 06:16 PM
I do it on my kitchen table. Not much danger unless you strike the primer with a hammer. I do it when I buy new stock just to check for quality. It is informative just to be curious and check out the shot sizes and uniformity.

When you cut just ahead of the brass head, you are a long way from the primer. Use a box cutter and open her up. Be careful not to cut your fingers.

March 11, 2008, 06:18 PM
No, it won't go off unless you ping the primer or spark the powder. It's just that I suspect folks won't readily offer advice on such things due to the "something went wrong, I was trying to make somethning do something it wasn't designed to do, I let my 8 year old nephew watch and he did the same thing less safely and now he can only count to seven and a half... and I'm gonna sue you for everything you might ever hope to have" kind of thing.

Bob Lee Swagger
March 11, 2008, 06:21 PM
Okie dokie, i'll go test it now. I'll be sure to let you know if I blow my hand off ;).

March 11, 2008, 10:50 PM
Well, did you have to go the hospital or did your discovery process lead to a new understanding?

Inquiring minds want to know!

March 12, 2008, 07:52 AM
Since we have received no feedback, we must assume the worst. A moment of silence, flags half mast, and taps mournfully sounding from a distance.

March 12, 2008, 08:40 AM
Since we have received no feedback, we must assume the worst. A moment of silence, flags half mast, and taps mournfully sounding from a distance.

Damn lets hope not!

Are you there Swagger?


March 13, 2008, 09:18 AM
Anybody read the obituaries lately?

Swagger are you out there? Or up there? Down there, maybe?

March 13, 2008, 10:53 AM
Bob Lee Swagger: Last Activity: Yesterday 12:18 PM

ETA: Total Posts: 5 (1.58 posts per day)

March 13, 2008, 10:56 AM
You started a thread:
Opening a shell to examine it's contents

But you never reported your results!



March 13, 2008, 12:56 PM
I do it all the time to make 2 1/2" shells for my older guns. No biggie.

March 13, 2008, 01:28 PM
Oh poopy-doop I sure hope he was successful opening a shell and leaving himself "closed"...
I have "peeled" many shot shells with nary an ill affect... I do not suggest putting them high up in a tree at the intersection of a limb and trunk and shooting the primer with a BB gun... NOT WISE;)

March 13, 2008, 04:57 PM
I do not suggest putting them high up in a tree at the intersection of a limb and trunk and shooting the primer with a BB gun

When I was about 11 we had a slab of concrete under a water faucet in the back yard. It had a hole in it a live .22 LR would fit about halfway into. Yep, stuck one in there and shot it with a pellet rifle. The case made a nice dent in the wall of the house next to my head. Didn't try it anymore.:D

Bob Lee Swagger
March 14, 2008, 01:26 PM
Hello everyone,

I have limited access in my room for now, I will ask the staff when it's safe again.

Full story to come later.

March 14, 2008, 01:30 PM
Hello everyone,

I have limited access in my room for now, I will ask the staff when it's safe again.

Full story to come later.

Uh. Uhhhhhh. Uhhhhhhhhhhhhh. :confused:

Something going on in Oregon we should know about? :eek:

March 14, 2008, 02:00 PM
Hope it ain't related to a small explosion related to banging on shot :eek::eek::eek:shells...

March 15, 2008, 12:31 PM
here's an Aguila MiniShell slug i dissected:


it's no big deal

.45 COLT
March 15, 2008, 04:13 PM
I bet that 00 Buck isn't 00 Buck. I've opened Federal, Winchester and Remington shells, all of them have undersize 00 Buck. The Federals I've opened all run around .318" to .319". .33" 00 won't stack in 3s in a shotcup.


Ron T. B.
March 15, 2008, 09:08 PM
I opened some shotshells recentley by cutting with a sharp knife just behind the crimp. I wanted to blame my shells for some missed ducks. I found, to my surprise that the bargain basement Etate 3" steel 2's had very nice shiny uniform round shot. The Winchester Expert 2 and 3/4" steel 2's had dull mishapen shot of a variety of sizes. In fact the shot looked like it had been rolled out of clay by a 7 year old. I also opened a federal 2 and 3/4" steel six. The Federal, too, had nice uniform round shot. Unfortunately I missed the ducks with the Estate shells. I still have to place the blame for poor shooting where it really belongs, with me! However I will not buy anymore Winchester Expert Shells.

March 15, 2008, 09:30 PM
well, i was laughing at the thread openers last comment, but I doubt he/she blew their hand off, etc... If they did then darwin will take care of the rest and we can be free of their "wisdom" on the board.

As for hitting a primer while being a kid/ very stupid ideas, well by brother loaded up a shotgun shell with nothing but powder and decided to shoot it off at night to see what the blast would be.

the blast was nice, but nothing too crazy, but lots of unburned powder lay around. next day brother was out with some friends in the same area and one of the guys flicks his cigarette onto the ground. small flash fire later (must have landed in a clump of powder) and a few acres charred and my brother is getting a royal whooping from dad and no more guns for him for a long time.

That was years a ago (about 18) and my dad still won't let my brother on the farm with a gun.

come to remeber i got him a bb pistol way back then and I was the first thing he shot.

I gotta remember to never go out shooting with him when I get home. :eek:

anyway, looking forward to a report on whether you can count to 10 still or not.


March 15, 2008, 09:30 PM
Curiosity is a powerful thing,
We(most of us) have been stricken with it
TBS, I have disassembled ammunition boards for the youngsters to see, and feel all components of shot shell, rifle, and rimfire. This includes cutaways of live and spent primers. I am just trying to satisfy the natural curiosity of the human race.

A couple years ago I had a pinfire swiped from a board. One of the little monsters was just way to curious!
Then I put the brass head in a shotgun and go outside and pop it.
a 209 primer is equal to a handful of large rifle primers. we use the 209 to launch retriever dummy's, I don't know the exact figures but they pack a punch!

March 15, 2008, 10:30 PM
I have opened up at least one shell of every kind I have ever owned. Tungsten ones get expensive when you add them all up.

I really see no danger at all if you cut the plastic at the very tip of the shell, but your knife can ger dulled by the hard pellets if there's no plastic buffering. So use a knife you don't care about, just in case, like a box cutter. Dump out the pellets, use your pinkie finger to pull out the shotcup.

Different shells have diff components, so you may have to use diff tools to get down to the powder if there are other components b/t the powder and the shotcup. I like to slice the plastic all the way down as far as I can and then around. Use the sharp knifepoint or something similar to pull off the remaining barrier(s) to the powder.

Careful with static electricity; that has blown up fireworks factories. I like to dump the powder loose into a paper towel and keep it until the next time I light up the fireplace. Keep it in a safe place until then, or just flush it down the toilet if you are worried.

You will find all kinds of weird stuff in shotshells. I have found gold nuggets, emeralds, rubies, even diamonds on occassion. Manufacturers like to slip those in there from time to time to increase the kill ratio, as they are the hardest substances on earth...

Oh, wait, that was in my dreams, sorry. :D

You will, however, find that most regular lead are all uniform in size and roundness, but that tungsten and other non toxics are not. I have even found one winchester steel #2 that was hollow (had an opening on one end or I never would have known).

Stick the empty shell in your shotgun and just pop it (the next time you are someplace safe). I've seen the primers pop with hardly the sound of a tiny fart, all the way up to the sound of a .22, so hearing protection is not a bad idea.

Good luck, let us know what you find...

chris in va
March 16, 2008, 12:24 AM
Hey, those Aguila's are pretty cool. Might be good for HD purposes.

March 16, 2008, 11:49 AM
Hey, those Aguila's are pretty cool. Might be good for HD purposes
385 grains @ 1250 fps with a big flat meplate and dead-soft lead... It's what i keep loaded in my side by side coach gun

March 16, 2008, 05:44 PM
Lets all think of what a knife blade is made of. hmmmm, I think ferous metal. and ferous metal will pass static electricity. HMMMMM, static electricity, gun powder, BOOM!!!!! Have you ever seen what an M-80 does to a hand ? none the less one with birdshot all around it. :barf:

March 16, 2008, 05:52 PM
Those mini shells are great and I may have a use for them. Can you send info to me on them. P/N or where to order from would be great. I have never seen them before and was wondering how loud and what kind of ft. lb. energy they have.

Bill DeShivs
March 16, 2008, 06:48 PM
It's ferrous. Most shotgun shell bases are brass-plated steel, anyway.
An uncontained shotgun shell is not particularly explosive.

March 16, 2008, 09:58 PM
when i was 10 i disassembled a shotgun shell through out the powder got a hammer and nail Put on sunglasses(i was dumb but not that dumb) And pounded the nail through the primer:eek::eek::eek:.Powwwwww It was louder than a ordinary shogun needless to say my ears rang for a couple days.

March 19, 2008, 08:33 PM
Ferrous, Sorry. typo. I was refering to the knifes blade thats ferrous not the shell base. My knowledge is that a knife will pass static electricity and my thought was that if you inserted a knife blade into the hull of a shell and static electricity passed thru it to the powder that it would explode. The gunpowder is in an enclosed hull sealed at both ends and that it would create enough pressure buildup to explode like an M-80. I know a person that this has happened to and he is still around luckily. It doesnt seem logical to me either but thats what he said happened to his hand. He said he was cutting into a shell and it blew up. I thought he was bullcrapping me till he showed me his hand. Im guilty also of cutting a few open to see whats inside and now I wouldnt even think about it. Im sure his was a freak accident but it did happen so he says.

March 19, 2008, 09:14 PM
just dont do it while smoking a cigarrette like my idiotic late uncle did.
....no that didnt kill him, cancer did, but he didnt have eyelashes for a while afterwards.
This is why you dont screw with guns, or their ammo for that matter, while youre drinking.

March 19, 2008, 09:24 PM
If you cut it right below the crimp you're nowhere near the powder charge. I've cut hundreds of them.

March 19, 2008, 09:33 PM
Trap and Skeet hand loaders have been dissasembling shells for years. They even make tools to do it. I, personally have taken apart more than I can remember to salvage the shot, powder and wads. I think I have done this for maybe 20 years now or so, and never a single boom.
The reality of it actually is, that a shell outside of a gun has very little power and the chances of you ever being hurt is quickly approaching 100% non existant. Under the worst of circumstances, you might get a flash burn I guess, but then, you really would have to somehow set off the primer, somehow, like doing something really stupid with a hammer and nail.
It is great to be safe, it is another thing to warn and scare people about something that probably would never happen in 5 lifetimes even being somewhat careless. It is information from people that really have no experience and really don't know the facts and just like to sound off.

Bob Lee Swagger
June 15, 2008, 02:10 PM
Hello everyone! For those interested in my well being, I am fully capable again.

June 15, 2008, 03:12 PM
When I've opened up shells, (usually to reclaim the components on shells I screwed up on), I like to use one of those PVC pipe cutters where you clamp and go around the shell - it makes a nice even, clean cut all the way around and I am able to salvage all the components except the hull

June 16, 2008, 03:42 PM
I've opened a few shells - mostly out of curiosity - to see whats in some of the cheaper shells like Gun Club, Rio's, Estates etc - and like oneounce told you a pipe cutter works real well - nice and clean / but a good sharp knife, a razor blade, an exacto knife or a box cutter works just fine too.

If you use common sense, cutting open a shotshell isn't a big deal as long as you don't strike the primer / the biggest danger is cutting yourself ( the hulls are tough ..).