Steel and Older Barrels


July 8, 2013, 05:50 PM
I always hear that older guns don't have barrels that are designed for use with steel shot. What i don't hear is any explanation as to why other than that they didn't make steel shot back then.

So the question is: is it really unsafe to shoot steel shot in a shotgun made in say the 1960s or 1970s and do different chokes make a difference?

I can't imagine that a modified choke would be tight enough to constrict a load of #4 steel when duck hunting.

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July 9, 2013, 12:24 PM
I have not seen a definitive answer, one way or the other, and you may not get an answer from a person / company in print, that could expose them to future liability.

From a practicality stand point consider this, at least regarding Ithaca 37 shotguns. Barrels made before serial nbr 855,000 are specifically fitted to the receiver they belong to and barrels for the old style are no longer made.

To buy a new/old barrel (if you can find one) typically costs 175 to 250 dollars and then most gunsmiths charge a minimum of 75 dollars to fit them. Take in account shipping and other charges,

it is just as cheap to go buy a Remington 870 for 300 ish that you know is rated for steel and has the option of screw in choke tubes and save the old one for lead only usage.

However, the usage of non-steel, but equally non-toxic rated shot may invalidate my position.

For me, it isn't worth the risk to ruin an old gun, but when you read the responses to this question (it actually gets asked a lot on this and other forums) there are lots of folks who have no issues at all.

But on the other hand there are instances where folks reported that they have ruined a barrel.

My suggestion would be to use Google and think up as many search phrases to use, do some reading and get an idea what other folks with your brand and era of shotgun are experiencing.

July 9, 2013, 01:30 PM
In the older barrels the choke diameter is smaller. When shooting lead shot through the barrel the some of the lead shot will swage down going through the smaller choke.

With steel shot, the shot being steel, the shot charge acts like a solid mass in a tighter choked barrel. Steel is different in more modern day guns.

I also won't take the risk of destroying a good barrel by shooting steel through it. If you need steel shot for hunting then get a barrel or gun that's designed for it.

July 9, 2013, 01:52 PM
In older barrels, the bore size is also smaller. Many guns today are "overbored" meaning their bore size is larger than the norm of .729". Older barrels, especially on better built guns were built thin as possible to make them better balanced, lighter overall, with great handling. These typically also had tighter fixed chokes which would result in a bulged, if not burst barrel if steel was used - that was not a nice position to be in.

When lead goes through a constriction it is able to squeeze down because it is softer than the barrel steel, but steel shot is as hard as the barrel

July 9, 2013, 01:55 PM
When lead goes through a constriction it is able to squeeze down because it is softer than the barrel steel, but steel shot is as hard as the barrel

And on some older shotguns the shot may well be harder than the barrel. Metallurgy has made more advances than we'd think over the year. I'm not sure about guns from the 60s/70s but my Winchester 1897 definitely only gets a diet of lead shot.

July 9, 2013, 01:55 PM
Class action lawsuit Remington shotgun barrels

July 9, 2013, 01:58 PM
Many of the older shotguns also had thinner, lighter, more sleek barrels then todays steel rated water pipes.

Look at an old Browning A5 or Winchester Model 12 muzzle compared to a modern gun and it is apparent.


July 15, 2013, 02:07 PM
Thanks for the answers guys. I asked because I've been using an older single shot ithica 20ga with full choke for duck hunting. I'm not sure of the age but i know it was given to my dad for duck hunting in 1971. I haven't had any problems and really like it for the type of hunting we do.
I just got a savage 16ga auto in trade from my dad and was considering using it this year, but I think I'll give it a bit more research and thought. The older guns just handle better especially in my kayak.

July 15, 2013, 06:49 PM
I would be especially wary of shooting steel shot through a full choke tube/barrel that is rated for lead, modern or otherwrise. As one person above stated, the lead swages upon traveling through the barrel, and the steel shot does not. This is why many modern choke tubes are marked along the lines of Mod. - LEAD; Full - STEEL. Many duck hunters I have encountered are unaware of this distinction. I think this is due to a failure to read manuals and/or take heed of information on the tubes themselves.

Be careful!


July 15, 2013, 07:28 PM
Back when steel shot started coming into production, I recall a bunch of talk to not use it in older SG's not intended for steel, which was kind of vague at best. And definitely not to be used in a damacus barrel. So I figured my 1970 something 870 at the time was probably capable of handling it, wrong. I damaged the barrel with steel within just a few water foul outings. It left light, yet very visible stripes, or rather grooves down toward the muzzle end on a mod choke barrel. Glad I didn't use a full choke. That barrel never patterned worth a darn after that episode.


July 18, 2013, 09:10 AM
The worse thing that can happen when you shoot steel shot out of an old shotgun is that the gun is choked too tightly and the end of the barrel splits or bursts. This is a very rare occurrence, but it can happen and it can ruin someone's day.

What is more likely is the barrels will start to deform and ripple or bulge. This is especially bad for double barrel guns because it can weaken and separate the solder holding the ribs between the barrels.

Either way, I wouldn't do it. Pay the extra money and use one of the other non-toxic loads.

July 18, 2013, 10:35 AM
Steel has come a long way in the last 30+ years. Especially the shotcups! Scuff throughs are rare these days in quality ammo, when 30 years ago a used shotcup looked like a callander! The shot compresses into the thicker, tougher shot cup, and the cup protects the barrel.

As to shooting it through a full choke. There is no hard line in the sand there either! Some shoot steel really well. ( usually in the smaller shot sizes such as #4 or less) Others blow the pattern and pattern poorly. Barrel thickness is the main concern when mixing steel and tight chokes!

I shoot steel through my Mod. choked Ithaca 37 made in 1957 with no ill effects detected whatsoever! And have with a Winchester Model 12 and Remington Model 31 also choked Mod. with no damage determineable. For what its worth Ive been waterfowling since the age of ten (47 seasons) These opinions are simply mine based on what Ive personally experienced. Your milage may vary!

If it's been working for you keep using it!

July 18, 2013, 01:26 PM
The class action lawsuit has zero to do with steel shot. Just lawyers figuring out how to get money is all. Speaking from experience I can tell you that sometimes it is cheaper to settle, even if you are totally faultless.
Remington used to say any barrel since 1950 with Modified or less choke for steel was okay. I haven't checked lately. The steel shot WADS today are worlds better than they were in the early days of steel. I saw quite a few guns with a slight bulge in the choke area.

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