Who says great things can’t come in small packages?

I’ve been itching to try the newly-reintroduced Aguila Minishells for quite some time, so after getting the lowdown on them at the 2015 National Association of Sporting Goods Wholesalers convention, I arranged for a trial of two different Minishell loads: slugs and buckshot.

The “mini” part of Minishell is the key here. These shotshells are just 1-3/4 inches tall. That’s a full inch shorter than a standard 12-gauge shotshell. Why make a tiny shotshell? There are two primary reasons.

First, I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly enjoy shooting lots of 12-gauge slug and buckshot loads. They pack a wallop when it comes to recoil, noticeably more than most birdshot or clay target loads. As recoil is in direct relationship to the weight of whatever projectile(s) are expelled out the muzzle, a smaller and lighter load will inflict a lot less pain on the shooter’s shoulder.

How about shotgun slugs that aren't painful to shoot?
How about shotgun slugs that aren’t painful to shoot?

Second, the small size allows you to pack more in your gun and carry more in reserve.

The Aguila Minishells are a full inch shorter than standard 2 3/4-inch 12-gauge shells.
The Aguila Minishells are a full inch shorter than standard 2-3/4-inch 12-gauge shells.

Those are two pretty good reasons, provided these shells perform well enough to do the job. So what is the job? To evaluate that question, let’s take a look at the ballistics of the two loads.

The Minishell slug load packs a 7/8-ounce lead projectile. That translates to about 383 grains, more than three times the weight of a standard 9x19mm bullet. The Minishell launches its 383-grain lead slug at 1,250 feet per second, generating 1,328 foot-pounds of kinetic energy. That’s more energy than a standard 55-grain 5.56mm NATO rifle cartridge has at the muzzle. To compare to a full-sized slug load, the Winchester Super-X launches a one-ounce (437.5-grain) lead slug at 1,600 feet per second, generating 2,487 foot-pounds of energy.

The size of the slug is still nothing to sneeze at.
The size of the slug is still nothing to sneeze at.

The Minishell buckshot load packs 5/8-ounces of buckshot pellets and moves them at 1,250 feet per second. That translates to 273.4 grains of lead going downrange, generating 948 foot-pounds of energy. That’s still more projectile weight than two 9x19mm bullets or a single, fat .45 ACP projectile, and the energy level easily exceeds double the amount of most standard handgun cartridges.

Aguila crams 11 pellets into one of these tiny buckshot loads.
Aguila crams 11 pellets into one of these tiny buckshot loads.

So what can you do with these Minishells? Certainly the slug load has enough oomph for hunting, provided you keep to shorter ranges. At its slower 1,250 fps speed, the slug will drop pretty quickly and bleed off energy rapidly, so keep to closer targets. Personally, I think both slug and buckshot loads would make great home-defense options. The ballistics are very favorable when compared to handgun rounds, but the real benefit is the ease of aim with a long gun and the exceptionally light recoil. Firing these from a standard shotgun is actually pleasurable. Out of habit, I braced myself for the first slug shot, but as it turned out, that was completely unnecessary. Recoil was closer to that of a .22 LR rifle than any shotshell load I’ve ever fired.

I tried these in a Beretta 1301 Tactical semi-automatic shotgun. As expected, the small shells wouldn't feed, but then again, they're not supposed to.
I tried these in a Beretta 1301 Tactical semiautomatic shotgun. As expected, the small shells wouldn’t feed, but then again, they’re not supposed to.

It’s important to note what the Minishells won’t do. Given their low projectile weight and lower velocity levels, they’re not designed to function in semiautomatic shotguns. Instead, they’re designed for break-open and pump designs. While you can fire single shots from a semiautomatic, there’s not enough energy to cycle the action.  That’s the price of higher magazine capacity and exceptionally low recoil.

Just for kicks, I tried them in a Beretta 1301 Tactical semiautomatic shotgun and found the single-shot limitation to be true. There just wasn’t enough juice to drive the bolt all the way back to eject the empty shell and shove a new one into place. I’ve heard reports of them working in some semiautos, but be aware that’s not how they’re intended to work. Who knows? You might just get lucky, so it’s worth a try. If you’re going to run these in a pump gun, buy a box for trial before ordering a pallet load just to make sure they cycle happily in your particular gun.

I want to come back to the buckshot loads because they’re particularly interesting. Rather than jam a small number of large 00 pellets into the tiny shell, Aguila includes a mixture of shot pellet sizes. The buckshot shells contain seven smaller 4B pellets and four larger 1B pellets. As I was cutting a shell open, it appeared that the larger pellets were packed on top of the seven smaller ones.

Curious as to how this combination would pattern, I set up a 14-inch square target at a distance of 10 yards. I fired three shells at the center of the target to get a semi-scientific idea of average grouping performance. With three shots, a total of 33 pellets were fired consisting of 12 1Bs and 21 4Bs. When I retrieved the target, I counted 25 holes within the 14-inch square, but several were overlapped so there may have been more on the paper. If you plan to try these for home-defense use, just be aware of the wide patterning. That can certainly be a benefit at short indoor distances, just know that the shot pellets will spread out quickly.

A target peppered with three buckshot Minishells at 10-yards range.
A target peppered with three buckshot Minishells at 10 yards.

All in all, these are some pretty nifty shells. You can get much of the benefit of shotgun slugs and buckshot without the punishment of full-size and full-power loads.

Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon.

Images by Tom McHale

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42 thoughts on “The Aguila Minishell: The Little Shotshell That Could

  1. Love to give these Mini Shells a try out in my USA made Citadel 12 gauge pump seeing how it’s my primary home defense weapon. I keep it loaded with 3″ Remington magnum 00 Buck Shot or 3″ 1oz. Slug Shells.Recoil is perceived differently by individuals. My Citadel is light in weight having a aluminum alloy receiver and polymer Fore & Butt Stock. Hot loads fired from it I don’t find offensive at all. But I Have a Single and a Double Barrel that kick like a mule with the same loads. Mostly because of heavier the weapon the more mass to absorb by the body during recoil. Weapons with longer barrels tend to recoil more due to the load taking more time to leave the barrel producing more recoil. Most don’t care for the sometimes nasty recoil from a 12 gauge. Which is why many LE Agencies have gone to the 20 gauge. If these Mini Shells will cycle reliably in my Citadel I can load up with 15 to 16 shells in my Shotgun. Huge fire power up grade for home defense.

      1. No, it kicks less. The 32″ barrel is heavier and the kick has to push more weight up, so experiencedrecoil is effectivelyless than on your 18.5″

    1. Actually, a heavier firearm has less perceived recoil. The heavier the firearm, the more force is needed to move it.

      Recoil pads and stock design have a lot to do with it as well.

  2. Wouldn’t these be bad for the forcing cone? Surely the slugs couldn’t be accurate being expelled into a section of the barrel where they don’t fit snugly.

  3. Other companies made similar shells. I have about 1,000 round of an identical sized buck and balls rounds made and still available in South Africa. They were designed to be fired out of a riot weapon that was not unlike a manual UZI. These have great range because of the propellant load and are man or beast stoppers. Some pumps will fire them including two current Bullpup ones. Careful setting of certain items makes them efficient and workable. There is a Bullpup conversion of the Remington 870 that can be coaxed into using them. I have found the Mexican rounds to be underpowered compared to the SA load but if they are all that is available they can work.

  4. Invalid arguments.
    Worried about kick of firing a regular buckshot or slug?
    How many shots do you intent to fire at an animal, 50 or so?
    Then you need to stop hunting. One or two shots should be max or maybe you should not be hunting. Limitation of use for non semi automatics is ridiculous. Who is buying a non semi these days? I would also expect damage to the gun as barrel, where she’ll is chambered in, is ridged for a certain size casing.
    I nix these shells.

    1. If you’re in PA then you are buying a non semi for deer hunting. I also would not use these for hunting, maybe home defense, but would still rather have a bit more thump

    2. Auto-loaders are less reliable than pump-guns and you don’t have to be a certified gunsmith to fix them when they break. I would think it’s obvious from the fact that manufacturers are still selling them, that lots of people still rely on pump action scatterguns.
      I do agree with your stance on recoil though. 12ga isn’t bad unless you’re using full power loads on clays at the range all day. I was actually thinking this might be a good way to introduce my 11 year old daughter to skeet and trap. The lower recoil will allow her to learn without being scared of the kick.

    3. No different than shooting a 2 3/4″ shell in a 3″ or 3 1/2″ chamber. With today’s chambers and long forcing cones, should be no ill effects.

    4. One, tons of people are buying pumps. Two, I don’t remember hunting mentioned at all. I have not had success with them feeding in an FN pump or an 870. I think if you are unable to handle 12ga, maybe you should step down to 20ga.

      1. Matt, did you not understand my reply. It has nothing to do with me being unable to handle a 12 ga although a 20 or 16 is as effective for slugs. What does a person fire slugs for if not hunting, target practice?

      2. Article says the slug has enough oompf for hunting. Maybe it will be a challenge for skeet or trap.

      3. OPSol sells an adapter for Mossberg 500’s and 590’s for these shells. It is an OPSol mini-clip. Fifteen dollars at Amazon and works great. By the way I haven’t heard of the mini’s failing in the KSG’s.

    5. *trigger warning*
      The market isn’t for hunters, believe it or not firearms aren solely used for quarry.
      *end of potentially shocking msg*
      You’re free to re-enter your preferred safe space.

      1. Home defense without killing your neighbors using Minishell #7.5 or buckshot makes sense, no slugs for HD. Being macho can be deadly for them. Tested them in my Remington 870 which works great if you pump quickly and smoothly. Mossberg 590 works well the same way. The $15 Op Sol adapter for Mossberg is best.. Pumping too slow or unevenly without the adapter may cause the short shell to drop and hang up

  5. I am in my 60`s now and I have tinnitus. I hate firing 12 gauge rounds. I have been using the low recoil low noise AA shells from Winchester and they are a joy to shoot. But they only come in #8 shot. Too bad. So I also use inserts so I can shoot .410 out of my 12 gauge for close range grouse hunting. I carry 12 gauge slugs with me too because I hunt birds in grizzly bear country and want to be able to defend myself if need be. I carry bear spray too for that and I would use that first. I also modify 12 gauge shells with my Lee-Loader II to reduce recoil. But I would prefer to have some smaller 12 gauge shells for grouse hunting. Unfortunately up here in Canada they do not sell Aquila.

    1. Sure they do! I’ve bought them several times in various places online. They can be hard to find in stock, but you can get them here

      1. Ammofast has the Buckshot and slugs but out of the #7.5 shot. $22 a box for Buckshot and a little more for slugs plus $10 shipping.

  6. The older variety of these shells have been used in the KSG with some success. 24 rounds in a shotgun? Anyone have any problems with this in a KSG?

    1. Works in my KSG nicely. One thing though, you have to rack them like you’ve got a pair and not short stroke it.

      Also you can hold 25 rounds total if you rack one.

  7. I haven’t done a lot of shooting with these but they seem to work fine in my KSG. 12 Buck shot in one tube and 11 slug in the other and dealers choice in the chamber, I feel sufficiently armed. Likely to run out of targets before running out of ammo. After four rotator cuff surgeries (two each) I can still handle the recoil.

    1. Hell yeah. Up close where a shotgun is good anyway, who needs those 3″ magnum 12 pellet 00 loads anyway? Kick like a mule! Fine if you are trying to drop a charging 350 lb boar hog, but not really necessary for two-legged opponents at 5 to 10 yards. I’d rather have the low recoil, controllable, FAST shooting loads like this. And you get more of them on board.

    2. “I feel sufficiently armed.” Two dozen 12 gauge loads on board? Sufficient indeed. More than the hardware is mindset, training, and the will to prevail. If you have those and practice with your weapon enough to be relatively proficient in a stressful situation, you are very well armed.

  8. When my son was a boy, I found a 7/8 oz. of 8-shot load in a 2-3/4″ case that I reloaded for his H&R single shot 12 ga. They were perfect for him to learn how to wing shoot.

  9. I wish they made an 870 specific to feeding these mini shells; ten mini shells, low recoil, and no burst ear drums during a self defense scenario!

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