I love shotguns. I always have and I come from a family who used shotguns for hunting deer, shooting birds, and defending the homestead. In the Marines, I was one of the few Marines issued a Mossberg because I could not only use, but teach the shotgun.
To me, shotguns are constant experiments in ammunition, sighting systems, and usability. By the bedside sits a Mossberg 590 similar to my issued gun way back when I was cool. Mini shells have been something I’ve experimented with quite a bit, and I have lots of thoughts on them. I also wanted to show and compare a number of different loads that mini shells are available in.
What kinds of mini shells are out there?
Lots of different mini shells exist these days. The Aguila brand was the first to really pop off and gain popularity, especially after Mossberg brought the Shockwave to SHOT 2018 loaded with mini shells and the OPSol Mini-Clip. More on the OPSol later, though.
Mini shells come in two sizes. The most popular is the 1.75-inch shells. These are made by Aguila, Federal, and Challenger. Nobel Sport makes a 2.25-inch shotshell, and Kent makes a low recoil training round that’s 2.5 inches.
The 1.75-inch shells are vastly more popular, and it’s important to distinguish the two. The Kent is a training round for clays, and the Nobel Sport rounds are shorter than average, but hard to really classify as a mini shell.
In this article, I really want to talk more about the more popular 1.75-inch shells. The Nobel Sport are really a different animal. Let’s call them short shells rather than minis.
Most of my thoughts and opinions on mini shells don’t apply to the 2.25-inch short shells. The 2.25-inch shells don’t require an adapter to feed in Mossbergs and Remingtons in my experience. They’re basically a reduced recoil load that allows you to add roughly one extra shell in a shotgun magazine tube. The six-pellet buckshot round is an excellent load for sensitive recoil shooters. So from here on out, we’ll talk about the 1.75-inch mini shells.
Types of Mini Shells
I’ve gotten a good sample of mini shells from Federal, Aguila, and Challenger. I got a mix of buckshot, birdshot, and slugs from Federal and Aguila, but I couldn’t secure Challenger buckshot. It seems to have been discontinued at Brownells but they appear to have plenty of the other flavors in stock. Exotic Ammo also makes a few different loads, but I’m not paying two bucks a round for mini shells.
The Federal buckshot comes in Number 4 buck loaded with 15 pellets. The Aguila is an interesting load with seven pellets of number four buck and four pellets of number one buckshot. Both loads throw lead at 1,200 feet per second.
The birdshot loads are nothing particularly fancy. Aguila offers typical number 7.5, 8, and 9 loads. Federal gives us a #8 load, and Challenger has a #7.5 load. You aren’t going to be goose hunting with any of those.
The slugs are cool, and from Federal, we get a 1-ounce rifled slug at 1,200 feet per second. The Aguila slugs are 7/8 ounces with a 1,300 FPS rating. Finally, Challenger mini shells give us a 3/4 ounce slug at 1,200 feet per second. The Challenger is a little light compared to the other two, but also lower recoiling.
What’s the point?
The immediate advantages of these mini shells are a lot lower recoil and a much higher capacity. A Shockwave can typically hold five shells in the tube, but with the minis, you can squeeze in eight rounds. In my 590 with a 20-inch barrel and 8-round tube, I can pack in 12 cartridges.
The main issue we get to is cycling reliability. In short, these shells don’t cycle well. They tend to flip around, fall down and have serious issues with some guns. Apparently, they cycle in the KSG shotgun fine, and the same goes for Winchesters. In Mossberg’s and Remingtons, you may have issues. In Mossbergs, I used the OPSol Mini-Clip 2.0 to ensure proper feeding.
The OPSol Mini-Clip fits into the bottom of a Mossberg series shotgun and adds a buffer that prevents the shells from flopping around when cycling. This guarantees easy feeding of mini shells.
I’ve experienced 100% reliability when using the OPSol. Without it, the shells can run well, but you have to rack and load very decisively, and even then, you are looking at about an 80% success rate. The OPSol only works in Mossberg 500 series shotguns (including the Maverick 88 models).
There are two generic points I’d like to discuss before we break down each shell and their uses. First, these shells are a ton of fun in 12 gauge firearms like the Shockwave. They offer virtually no recoil, can be easily aimed, and can be safely fired by anyone who can hold a Shockwave. The second purpose is simply for training new or smaller shooters with a shotgun. If a .410 or 20 gauge shotgun isn’t available, a 12 gauge with mini shells is perfect.
Now to talk about how the point of these shells, we have to look at how each load performs and digest and dissect them from there.
Mini shell birdshot
The birdshot is just typical birdshot. I mean, it works and spreads quickly, and its very light recoiling, as you’d expect. All three brands are very similar and are fun and cheap to shoot. Guns like the Shockwave are built for fun, and these shells are perfect for blasting clays tossed on a berm.
What these shells are also great for is small game hunting. Rarely does a squirrel really need a full blast of 12 gauge birdshot to take it down. A mini shell full of birdshot is a lower recoiling, more comfortable option for shooting small game and getting rid of pests.
From a prepper’s perspective, the birdshot mini shell is an excellent option for small game. It’s much smaller and lighter than standard birdshot and can accomplish most birdshot tasks. Again it won’t kill larger birds or birds flying at much of a distance, but squirrels are easy fodder for these things.
Mini shell buckshot
One thing I noticed about these buckshot mini shell loads is how wide they tend to spread at distances of only ten yards. The Aguila and Federal both spread wide enough to cover the chest of a man-sized target.
Shotguns are made for closer ranges, but I guess I’m spoiled by FliteControl. The Federal seems to be a little more consistent in its patterning. The Aguila seems to pattern in various ways. It can string vertically, form a circle, and you can expect some flyers. At 15 yards, both shells were tapped out and all over the place.
I think the Aguila minishell’s problem is the different shot sizes may be causing some friction. The Federal’s use of nothing but #4 buckshot makes it more consistent. The Aguila packs more mass with the bigger #1 pellets, and if I absolutely had to choose one of these for defensive use, I would lean toward the Aguila. #1 shot is the smallest shot capable of providing significant penetration to a human target. #4 lacks the necessary penetrative ability.
That all being said, I wouldn’t use these shells for home defense. I believe the true purpose of a shotgun is be as devastating as possible with each pull of the trigger. Sure, we have to strike a balance between recoil and power, but I’d much rather use eight pellets of double aught versus these mini shells. If I needed capacity and lower recoil, a rifle would be my choice.
In my opinion, these loads would best be contained to shooting larger pests at closer ranges. They’d likely make short work of coyotes and wild dogs. For hunting animals like deer, I’d be wary of their spread at only 10 yards.
Mini shell slugs
The slug loads are actually the most appealing rounds to me. The Federal minis launch a 1-ounce slug at 1,200 feet per second. One ounce equals over 400 grains. A .44 Magnum hot handgun load is a 240 grain projectile at about 1,200 feet per second. These are hefty little slugs that have some serious oomph to them. Even the 3/4 ounce Challenger slug at 1,200 FPS packs quite a wallop.
I tested these slugs at 25 yards with my 590 with ghost ring sights. Twenty-five yards is short for slug work, but these are short little fellas. The Aguila slugs were all over the place. My group, if you want to call it, was strung out horizontally.
The Federal Slugs were much more accurate, and I produced this little group.
The Challenger slugs were also more accurate than the Aguila at 25 yards, but not as accurate as the Federal loads.
Recoil was a little stiffer, of course, but still less than a standard 20 gauge load. The slugs are the most useful mini shell rounds. They are powerful, relatively low recoiling, offer the mini’s high capacity, and the Federal and Challenger loads are plenty accurate enough for hunting and defensive use.
If I had to choose one type of mini shell for defensive use, it would be the Federal slugs. They’re the heaviest and the most accurate. Still, I wouldn’t choose them over my FliteControl buckshot loads for home defense. They could definitely be used for home defense with a braced Shockwave for a small, but powerful load. Not my first choice, but it would work.
These slugs could also be handy for hunting medium game like deer, as well as killing coyotes, hogs, and other dangerous predators.
Thoughts on the OPSol Mini-Clip
I owned the original OPSol Mini Clip, and never experienced an issue. I ran it exclusively in my Shockwave and always had a ton of fun.
Eventually, the OPSol 2.0 was released to accommodate a wider variety of shorter shells. This Flex model was apparently designed to accommodate different-sized mini shells should someone else ever make them. Either way, installation is easy, as is removal. It’s cheap, reliable, and seemingly very durable.
Mini shells in single and double barrels
As you’d imagine, mini shotgun shells work perfectly well in single-shot and double barrel shotguns. There are no feeding or ejection issues. In a super-light single barrel gun, these shells can be invaluable for hunting with slugs and birdshot, especially from a survival standpoint.
Mini shells and you
Mini Shells are a ton of fun and I’m glad Federal has gotten into the game. I’d like to see how far this trend can go. I’d also like to see more 2.25 and 2.5-inch shells as well. It could open up a new market for shooters.
In terms of shotgun compatibility, I’m familiar with one gun made specifically for these loads and that’s the SRM1228 from SRM Arms. It’s a semi-automatic designed specifically for mini shells. If the use of mini shells gains in popularity, maybe we’ll see more of these designs, or even something along the lines of the Techno Arms Mag-7. Or maybe they’ll eventually fade into obscurity. Who knows?