We are about to hit another ammo shortage. This time, instead of the shortage being caused by domestic demand, it could be due to a lot of ammunition being needed elsewhere.
First, there is demand coming out of the Ukraine caused by the last eighteen-plus months of fighting there. Then you have the much more recent events in Israel – as of this writing, US ground forces are deploying to the region but not (yet?) engaged in offensive operations.
The defensive and duty loads I shot for this article – (L to R) Billings low base, Billings High Base, Billings Choke pump gun version, and Hornady VersaTite. All are 00Buck and were fired from that Beretta A300 Ultima Patrol.
Not long after the terrorist attacks in Israel, the Lake City ammunition plant announced they were ceasing commercial sales. Lake City is currently run by the Olin Corporation, more commonly known as Winchester Ammunition. They are three years into a seven-year contract for managing the plant.
Then, tragically, Hornady’s primer facility had a fatal fire. It occurred recently enough that I have not seen any indication of the long-term impacts on manufacturing.
This should be familiar to Flite Control and VersaTite shooters. It is the Billings’ shot cup.
Additionally, Vista Outdoors recently sold its sporting products group containing several ammunition companies to a Czech business entity.
Is there a performance difference between ammunition brands? Can ammunition be a good choice for training but not recommended for defensive or duty use? There sure can be.
I grabbed some double-aught buck from three manufacturers and two shotguns to demonstrate and compare the differences. The defensive and duty ammunition I grabbed was Hornady’s Critical Defense eight pellet load in their Versa Tite shot cup and three different offerings from the Billings’ Choke load that was loaded and sold in the ’00s. Why Billings? Their shot cup became the foundation for Hornady’s VersaTite and Federal’s Flite Control offerings.
The European 00Buck load compared to the low base duty shell.
I fired most of the shots in this article with an A300 Ultima Patrol from Beretta USA. Beretta’s website states the barrel’s screw-in choke is a Modified Cylinder version.
At a recent training event, I purchased a decent amount of slugs and double-aught buckshot from a European ammunition manufacturer. I used that ammunition for all of my demonstrations. Multiple students at the event experienced cycling and function issues that could be attributed to ammunition issues; I witnessed some of them. However, I did not experience those issues in either of the shotguns I used during the event.
Billings’ Choke high base load on the bottom versus the training load’s pattern.
Going to the range, I set up blank paper targets and returned to the 15-yard line. Once there, I fired shots, hoping to document three issues.
First, I fired four separate shots using the European 00Buck load. Each shot generally stayed in the upper half of the paper target. However, the plastic wad was a wild card and, as is the norm, did not follow the shot’s path.
This Billings’ Choke shell has a capped shot cup inside. Here’s it and the European load’s pattern.
Second, I fired a single round of defensive or duty ammunition on each of the previously shot targets.
Finally, I fired two of the European shotshells, one from a Mossberg with a Vang Comp barrel and the other out of a Beretta barrel with a screw-in modified choke tube.
Defensive and Duty Shells
Three of the defensive loads came from Billings Tactical and their “Choke law enforcement ammunition” line that was made back in the ’00s. I used a low base shell, a high base shell, and their “pump gun” load. There are a couple of unique things about these loads. And, no, they are not boutique loads:
- The shot cup in these is the original form of what became the Flite Control and VersaTite loads.
- The “pump gun” version has a cardboard cap on the shot cup. The cap has the cup and its contents (eight 00B pellets) traveling as a single projectile until it hits its target. Then, the pellets exit the cup and act as a traditional shot load.
Quite the difference between these two patterns. – Hornady TAP VersaTite and training ammunition.
The final load was a currently manufactured Hornady TAP VersaTite 00Buck shell.
The high base (blue) shell functioned like a traditional 00Buck shotshell. It even delivered a tighter pattern than the VersaTite shell did.
A closer look at the capped shot cup and an unfired shell.
The Billings’ Choke loads were a very interesting, but not well known, step on the path to our current best-performing loads. Fellow Gunsite instructor Randy Watt – also a retired police chief and 19th Special Forces Group commander – wrote an in-depth article on the product published in the Spring 2000 issue of the National Tactical Officers Association magazine.
Finally, can you get better performance with barrel modifications? There was a visible difference in the patterns when shooting the training ammunition through a Vang Comp modified Mossberg barrel and an un-modified but choked Beretta barrel.
Barrel differences can and will impact projectile performance. The same load out of two different barrels.
So, what can you do? When possible, acquire and maintain sufficient defensive and duty ammunition stocks for the firearms you carry. Additionally, buy ammunition you can train with when it is available. That may not be easy to do soon.
Even when you can get your ammunition supplies to a level that is both sufficient and sustainable, continue to dry practice. Regular, focused dry practice can positively impact your skills by minimizing your loss of proficiency.
Hornady TAP shotshells