When I first looked a the Diablo black powder shotgun pistol, my question was hey is this thing just a novelty, or a for real self defense weapon. Obviously the attraction to the gun is that it’s a legal sawed off shotgun, and no FFL required at that.
The answer was that it’s for real, but with some caveats. The power is there. But a two shot muzzleloader has serious reload limitations. You better hit what you are aiming at the first time, because there is a really good chance that those two are all you are going to get.
Enter our friends from Star and Bullock Hardware at cartridgekits.com. Many of you who have wandered into my new black powder series have seen the cool stuff they make for cap and ball pistols, as well as the Sharps percussion rifle.
Now there is a kit for the Diablo. And they even made an ammo wallet. It’s nifty stuff.
My approach to these new paper cartridges was to start with my standard test load for the the Diablo, 100 grains of Hodgdon FFFG Triple Se7en black powder substitute. The manufacturer is now suggesting 60 grains of regular black powder, do don’t necessarily take my experience as instruction for your own loads.
For me, 100 grains with an ounce or more of lead in the gun is enough, and even a little too much, which is usually my sweet spot. But with that load the Diablo can be tough to hold onto, especially with one hand. You’ll notice I used gloves in the video.
The nice thing is that the kit adjusts for pretty much any powder charge, wad and projectile. The full sized paper is 4″ long, and you can use the whole thing, or any shorter version you choose for how you want your cartridge to work.
If this is your first introduction to paper cartridges, and the kits, I’ll back up a second to explain.
The Diablo is a muzzleloading pistol. So you dump the powder into the barrels first, followed by whatever you are shooting out of it. The most traditional load for a smoothbore muzzleloader (like a Revolutionary War Brown Bess), would be a patched roundball. And patched roundballs work fine in the gun.
Lots of things actually work fine in the gun, which I covered in my first video. I tried some cool slugs that come with a cushion wad attached, and a load for nickle plated buckshot, both of which came from ballisticproducts.com, and a host of other ideas. I got some fantastic penetration through several sheets of 3/4″ plywood, using my 100grain load.
But all of them had the same issue. To reload, you had to lay the gun out on a table (the Diablo actually breaks down into it’s own loading stand), dump in your powder, then insert your projectile and bang it in with the ridiculously long ramrod that comes with the gun.
Paper cartridges addressed this problem in the 1860s. The ordnance folks during the war of Northern aggression designed several different methodologies for holding the powder and bullet in a single paper package that would ignite reliably and burn up completely on firing. They system at cartridgekits.com duplicates the popular system for cap n ball revolvers of the period, and their kits are made for the replicas of those guns today.
The original paper cartridges supposedly used “nitrated” paper, which turns the paper into cellulose. We don’t need to do that today because cigarette rolling papers come in ridiculously thin and combustible form right out of the package. The suggested brand in the cartridge kits is Elements, which you won’t find at your local gas station, but in my tests, regular L&M and other gas station brands work fine. They all burn up completely. You will see an occasional shred and nothing more.
For 12 gauge, we can’t use the rolling papers for the barrel of the cartridge. They aren’t big enough, and even if you glue a couple together, I don’t think the resulting paper cartridges would be terribly robust due to the weight of the bullets. If you grabbed the cartridge by anything but the bullet, it most likely would break.
The solution are what are called “end wraps.” They are made for hair salons that do perms and mixed colorings. They use them to isolate small sections of hair from one another. Made of some kind of fibrous paper or linen or something, they are extremely durable, and they stick to themselves fantastic with a regular Elmers All Purpose glue stick.
We saw this same issue with the Sharps Percussion Rifle kit, but unlike the Sharps, this 12 gauge kit only likes one brand of end wraps, TrueWave. The Sally are slightly too thin to reach around the fat width of a 12 gauge. You will find these papers on both Amazon and Ebay at roughly $5 per thousand.
I decided to make a separate video with a visual overview of the projectiles I have personally tried in the Diablo. If you are not a bullet caster, and you have no plan to start casting, the easiest thing is the buy projectiles from ballisticproducts.com. They are the go to for shotgun reloading components, and if anyone has stuff in stock, it will be them, and no they are currently not an advertiser here. They just have all the good stuff. Right now you have about a dozen different slug and sabot options, all of which will work in these paper cartridges.
Buckshot is probably the most popular defensive shotgun load, and loading it in the Diablo is no different than slugs. The important thing is to understand that you are dealing with a muzzleloader here, and that you have to physically jam the load in so it will be tight and stay where you expect it to be later. We found a rigid, thick shotcup wad at Ballistic Products that fits the bill. The cup is deep, over 2 1/4″, and holds 10 of the nickel plated 00 Buck that they sell at BP. If you want smaller or bigger, they have most sizes usually. The 10 balls don’t stack nicely, and string out when you shoot them, but hey it’s a nasty load. I will do several followup articles in my Black Powder Project on all of the issues involved with these guns down the road.
The other slug I have to mention is the Hammerhead sabot slug from SlugsRUs.com. It weighs roughly an ounce, and the sabot stays with it downrange. I suspect that this slug will shine next to others in its class, and it isn’t expensive. Even better, you can buy just the sabots from them, and they sell the bullet mold.
Casting Your Own
At the very start of this Black Powder Project I did an article and video on basic bullet casting. The nice thing with casting is that if you want to stock up on a lot of ammo, with black powder you don’t have to lay out all that money for completed cartridges. Snag some caps at usually about a nickel apiece, or in the case of the Diablo, 209 primers, under 15c a round. Yes, I know that the parasites were selling 209s for a lot more during the boom, but the boom is over for now and you will be able to find them for a reasonable price again.
Black powder never sold out during the boom, and I was able to get Triple Se7en and other BP substitutes from my local Bass Pro and usually online throughout the crisis. There just aren’t that many of us buying these powders outside of deer season.
When you cast your own, you have unlimited bullets, at $1 to $3 a pound for the lead.
By far the cheapest bullet mold for 12 gauge slugs is the Lee (as always). It goes for $37, and honestly you can’t beat it. Just beware that the Lee slug is not a bore riding design. For some reason they built it to ride inside a shot cup, so if you plan to use this slug, also buy some shot cups. I just looked around online and it appears that the cheap grey Winchester wads are out of stock out there, but any shot 1oz shot cup wad will work. The slug is pretty tight in the breech of the Diablo using the shotcup, but I still prefer to top it with an overshot card meant for muzzleloading shotguns.
If you watch the video on how to make the paper cartridges, you’ll see that the length of your wad is not relevant, the same as the powder charge. You can start with the full 4″ length, dump your stuff in, then measure to see where you want to cut your paper for future cartridges. And you can always use the full length and just twist it up.
The longest of the paper cartridges is that long buckshot wad we found at BP. It holds 9 of the Lee OO Buck gang mold, but with that mold it is tough to get perfectly formed balls out of all 18 holes, so most likely you are just going to fill it up with whatever you have. That cup with a full to the top load of 00ish size balls is about 600 grains, and kicks pretty hard. With #4 or BB, 600 grains isn’t going to fill 3/4 of the cup.
As you will see in the video, I found some shotgun slug molds in Russia that I think are far superior to the pre-made designs out there. Who knows if they are ballistically more effective, but they sure look better, and the biggest among them weighs a whopping 630 grains. When you are dealing with a slow propellant and a short barrel, the most bang for your buck is always going to be a heavier projectile traveling slower. I will give you an overview of the slugs here, and they are also in the video. They are for sale at Star & Bullock currently, but their stock is pretty thin. Getting things out of Russia is getting more and more difficult as we descend in the pit.
Paradox – This is the 630 grain monster. It is not pleasant to shoot in the Diablo with 100 grains of powder, and I have dropped the gun a couple times trying to shoot it one handed. I’ve also embedded the back of the hammer in the web of my thumb (genious design there guys). So beware, this bullet just isn’t going to be for everyone. Also note that there are two other plugs made for this mold, but Star & Bullock do not carry them because the wads are not available that were designed for the two bullets.
Zeverboy – A hollowpoint design that comes with segmented and unsegmented plugs. the design has a hole in the base so that you can attack a gas seal wad to the bullet with a screw, making the screw an expanding plug as well as keeping the wad on the bullet as a tail, much like other modern sabot and standard slug designs. These slugs have two thin bore riding bands meant to reduce friction and recoil.
Flybot – A single plug option not unlike the Zeverboy, but the slug has three bore riding bands like Paradox. Like the Zeverboy, these slugs weight just north of 500 grains when cast from pure lead.
Italian – This is a difficult slug to like, but it looks cool. It is the only pointy design among these slugs, and one of the two plugs has a hole for screw, like the hollowpoints. The second plug has a post down the middle, and is meant to attach to the Russian wads that are not currently available. My big problem with these slugs is that they are very hard to release from the pin insert, even when the pin is well smoked. Unlike the other designs, the Italian cannot easily be grabbed by the mold to yank it off while you are casting, so you end up damaging the slug. Not a fan.
Roundball – The size of this roundball is identically to the Lee and Lyman balls, but it is a two cavity mold. My experience with the mold is that it overheats pretty easy due to thin aluminum walls and two giant projectiles. So if you are doing a lot of casting where you are already alternating molds, you could put this in as a third to cast every second round or something. Otherwise the balls start frosting pretty quick. Note that if you use these for paper cartridges, any roundball, that you will need a shotcup wad.
For slugs, you don’t use a shotcup. Instead you need a gas seal, and Ballistic Products has a bunch of options, and they are all far better than traditional muzzleloading shotgun wads with the paper cartridges. I tried cork wads, and overpowder cards, and all kinds of other things, but the plastic gas seals work the best. You can find cushioned and uncushioned, so don’t feel like you have to use the one we settled on for these tests. As I said, you are going to cut your cartridge paper to the length of your load, so no one is better than any other for making the cartridges themselves.
Note that I tried to make paper cartridges without a gas seal. The Lyman Forster slug especially looks like it would be really promising for that, because it has a cup base. The Paradox also has a cup of sorts. But I tried both of them in the Diablo, and after a couple shots on the chronograph, it appeared to me that you lose a lot of velocity due to gas cutting around the slug. Perhaps if we had a forcing cone into a rifled barrel, the rear of the bullets would expand like a Minnie, but straight out of the breech with no resistance it’s a dud, even though the tiny cartridges are really easy to load.
Loading Paper Cartridges in the Diablo
There are some very important things to understand about how the Diablo is different from a regular “sawed off shotgun.” One is obviously velocity. Even a tiny sawed off Mossberg is going to give you much more velocity than the Diablo because shotgun shells use very fast pistol powder to begin with, not slow black powder.
But even more importantly, when it comes to these paper cartridges, none of these wads and gas seals were created to ride the bore of a 12 gauge encased in a hair wrap. It is almost comical when you think about it. These wad companies went to great lengths to ensure that they had the most tight gas seal, with enough tolerance for practical use in modern breech loading shotguns.
Then we go and glue a hair wrap around it, and try to stuff it in the front of our gun.
So that is the challenge with paper cartridges. If you want to be able to effectively reload in the middle of a gunfight, you have to practice getting the gas seal past the lip of the muzzle. Some wads are much easier than others, like those grey Winchester ones. But if it’s easier, it is going to be a less effective gas seal. So the answer is to practice getting them in there.
While practicing, you will quickly understand that all of the designs suggested here have a backup plan. you don’t have to force the gas seal in with the paper around it. If you booger the edge on first try and can’t seem to get it in there, just push in the powder, break it off, and peel back the paper from the edge of the seal. Then insert the seal, and pound in the rest of the cartridge.
Ultimately the purpose of the paper cartridge is to get your round to the gun without having to pour powder and keep separate components. So even if you have to break off the powder, it still accomplished it’s job. You will find that with practice, you won’t have to do with this many, if any, but I have to mention it.
In all cases, with the design options I have tested here, when you break off the powder and stuff in the projectile, it does not come tumbling out. The bore riding slugs covered in hair wrap have enough friction to stay in the bore indefinitely, and I have suggested overshot cards for everything else.
The Ammo Wallets
From the people I have spoken to, very very very few people bought a Diablo to carry for self defense right now. I have a friend who bought six of them, purely because the government does not have them on a 4473 tagged to his name. But I don’t think he has even shot one of them yet.
Star & Bullock created the ammo wallets for these guns based on the original ammo wallets that were issued with the original 1860s paper cartridges during the war. They have been updated (and patented) to include a spot for a 209 primer and a sliding lid, and a place for a short brass ramrod.
As you can see in the video, these wallets turn the Diablo into a serious carry weapon, that will not be limited to two shots. Reloading two more rounds, with a little practice, will not take longer than popping the shells out of a revolver and loading another six.
Don’t be shy with loading these guns. As you can see in the video, the most practical way to start the projectile down the barrel is by banging against a wall, tree, or even the floor. Then the short ramrod will finish the job, using the same approach if required.
On a clean bore, no banging should be required. Once you get the gas seal past the edge, it will go in no problem. During the video you will see that the nickel gun I am testing requires banging, and I realized afterwards that it was because I had shot a lot of rounds out of it without cleaning whatsoever.
So the good news is that with the Diablo and these paper cartridges, even a dirty bore isn’t going to stop you from being able to seat the load at the breech.
For now, while we are all carrying 4473 guns and nobody is knocking on the door to take them away, obviously the Diablo is going to be a “come the day” option for most people, but if you really want to prepare to actually carry it, it might behoove you get a wallet now. When you eventually need the gun, all of this is going to be gone, and it’s coming.
Diablo vs. Desperado vs. Traditional Muzzleloading Shotguns
American Guncraft has a new version of their 12 gauge pistol that is bigger, beefier, and that has a longer barrel. It is called the Desperado. I recently received the longest version of it, and honestly I didn’t instantly prefer it, even though I have created some definite hand damage with the Diablo. But this admittedly came from trying to hold the gun sideways with one hand trying to maneuver around a camera.
Shortly I hope to come back with a head to head comparison of the two guns, but I need to secure the short version of the Desperado first. I’m sure there will be ammo wallets made for the gun at that time as well. The short ramrod in the current wallets probably won’t fit even the short Desperado.
The first question on many people’s minds is going to be, can I use these paper cartridges for my traditional muzzleloading shotgun. There answer is that I don’t know. I just couldn’t get to it yet. In the video you will see a Beretta 300th Anniversary over/under, and I have a few 12ga side by sides as well, so yes, I will get to it. I think I even have a single barrel 12ga turkey gun somewhere.
I suspect that the paper cartridges will work ok in these guns, but there is no way to tell until I get to testing them. The fire chamber is longer on these guns than they are on revolvers. In a revolver, the back of the paper is only about 1/2″ away from the explosion of the cap. And granted, in the Sharps, it has a long fire chamber, but it also uses a musket cap, which is much larger, and which was created to improve reliability in military arms.
Any 209 shotgun will work fine with these kits, including of course the Desperado. I have not seen a smoothbore 209 gun outside of these pistols personally.
I decided that for this article and video that I would focus on the paper cartridge kits primarily. My prior video on the Diablo showed some very basic performance tests with both slugs and buckshot, and this was long enough already. I measured the 630 grain Paradox bullet at about 800 feet per second, but I have to confirm this in subsequent tests, because chronos don’t behave very well with black powder, and I didn’t have time to do more. As a comparison, the standard government roundball 45 ACP round is 230 grains at 830 feet per second. So this is a howitzer of a pistol, and really not for everyone. But if a Diablo, or Desperado is in your possession or your future, these tools from Star & Bullock turn those guns in a real carry option. Just remember that the gun can fire from half cock, and that you should get the hammer hold back holster for it if possible. Otherwise you could just shoot your nuts off.
Detailed Instructions (from cartridgekits.com)
The 12 gauge version of paper cartridge former kit for the Diablo and Desperado pistols is not that much different from the standard instructions for revolvers, but there are some interesting choices made to give you more flexibility than you would find in our other black powder kits.
There is no standard “charge” for this kit. We provide a 100 grain dipper, because that is the charge that our R&D guys prefer. Certainly if you are plinking to get used to shooting the gun, the manufacturer’s recommendation of 60 grains is more than adequate.
But unlike say, our Sharps kit, if you want a smaller charge, just measure your paper with the depth of the smaller charge, then your wad and projectile, and cut your paper to that size. The same would go for a larger charge. Just measure it out as a complete unit, and use that paper length.
The pin is designed for the full size end wrap paper, so you can always just make the full length, load it up, and either cut the top off, or twist it up and glue it down. The videos should make this very clear.
Here are the general steps. Note that there is no lube for these paper cartridges.
1. Cut your circles. – For this kit we use a 1″ craft cutter, which is available at Michaels, or in our Master and Deluxe kits. The best way to get the cutter to work well is to remove 10 of the cigarette rolling papers from the pack, and stack them at the fold. Then fold them over the long way, creating a thick square that is 20 papers thick. Slide the square down to the base of the cutter, and quickly, very hard, compress the cutter.
If the blade sticks, which is usually does not on 20 thicknesses, push the cutter back open with your thumb from the bottom side. If you push hard it will pop back. This seems to have no negative effect on the cutter. The circles will sometimes have a little tab on the side where the cutter bound, but this does not affect their use.
2. Make the shell. – The outside shell of the cartridge is made from a TrueWave jumbo sized hair wrap. These are available on Amazon, and come with our Master and Deluxe kits. Sally brand does not work with this kit. It is about 1/8″ thinner and does not fit around the barrel of the pin.
If you are making a long cartridge, like the buckshot cartridge from our video, you can just use the whole 4″ length of the hair wrap and the pin. Glue with your Elmers All Purpose Glue Stick (not school glue and not liquid glue) just the very edge along the 4″ length, then wrap it around the pin and stick it to itself. The overlap will only be about 1/8″, so this is a finesse step. Fortunately the fibrous nature of the hair wraps makes them stick instantly, and they hold on right away.
If you are making a shorter cartridge, how short you cut the paper before glueing it is up to you. All of your cartridges can start with the full tube if you want. There is certainly no reason to not.
At minimum, line up your wad and projectile(s), and eyeball the thickness of your preferred powder charge. You could also just make a cartridge from a full paper first, then measure that.
When you glue the paper, move the edge down to the edge of the pin. The very end of the pin is tapered to facilitate getting the powder end into the bore.
3. Attach the circle – Now take your pin, which has an end wrap around it now, and glue the very edge of the pin all the way. The smaller the glue ring around the pin the better, because the circle does not come up the sides that far.
Now pick up a circle with the pin. There will be enough glue on the edge to do so without having to handle the circle at all.
Insert the end of the pin, which is now centered on a circle, into the base of the 12ga die just a little. This will crease the edge nice and square. Then turn the die over and insert the shell all the way down. This will make it good and solid.
Pull the pin and your new cartridge shell out of the die, and grip the end of the shell firmly. Twist the pin, which will break free any glue that may have been on the paper where it touched the pin.
Now lightly place your paper back in the die, read for powder.
4. Dump your powder. – Your kit comes with a funnel. Drop that on the top of your cartridge, and dump your powder charge. Don’t worry if you have wrinkled the end of the cartridge. You can gently put the pin back into it to straighten it out.
5. Glue your projectile. – This only applies to slugs. For any of the loads with a shot card, you can drop those directly into the shell. With slugs you should glue either the side of the plastic wad, or the sides of the slug, or the top of the slug, depending on where you cut your paper.
Where you glue your projectile is up to you, but if you glue the sides, beware that it may be tough to scoochie it down into the paper. You can use your fingernail to drag up any edges that may have caught., dragging the edge over the bumps in the side of the cartridge.
If you glue the top surface of the projectile, the whole thing should slip in, then pinch the top to glue it solid. This works for nearly every type of slug.
We strongly suggest using an overshot card on top of all shot and the Lee slug and a standard 12ga roundball. Because even if you twist up the top over the end, having that snug card in there is always going to be a plus, especially for long term carry. We supply a small quantity of these in our starter kit, or you buy them from most internet retailers:https://rmcoxyoke.com/product/overshot-wads-024-thick-2/
The gas seals that we use are at Ballistic Products:https://www.ballisticproducts.com/12ga-Flex-Seal-Wad-250_bag/productinfo/072FS12/
Also the unslit cushioned shot cups:https://www.ballisticproducts.com/Cushioned-12ga-TPS-wad-250_bag/productinfo/322CTPS/
6. Insert your wad and projectile, or shot cup and card. – If you glued the top of your slug, you will pinch the top to secure the glue, and that’s it. Pop the cartridge out of the die with your finger from the bottom.
If you used a long shell and it now extends above the shot cup, place the overshot card at the top and make sure it is square. Then twist up the remaining shell, and glue the tab down. This sounds a lot more complex than it is, so watch the video if possible.