Definitely the cutest shotshells ever made, Aguila’s 1 ¾-inch 12 gauge MiniShells are good for more than just filling up a Kel-Tec KSG and blazing away. The birdshot version is a serious—and fun—training tool for clay target shooting. A full inch shorter than a standard 12 gauge load, a Minishell holds 5/8 ounces of shot, fired at 1175 fps. That’s about the same as a .410 shell, making these the lightest kicking 12 gauge loads you can buy. They have a noticeably quieter muzzle blast as well. New for this year, Aguila will offer them in 8 and 9 shot in addition to the 7-1/2 loads. MiniShells also available in buckshot loads and slugs. Plus, the short shells will now be sold in 25-round boxes with a lid instead of the old 20-rounders that opened on the end and were almost impossible to refill.

Recoil Affinity

Before we go further, let’s get on the same page when it comes to recoil.

I bring this up because there are those who aren’t happy unless they’re getting smacked by the gun. Otherwise, they think they’re not shooting. The problem is that recoil beats bad habits into you, sometimes involuntarily. It makes shooters tense up and flinch. Even those who don’t react dramatically eventually suffer recoil fatigue: soreness, headache, or just the feeling that shooting isn’t fun anymore. It’s especially true with beginners, who aren’t used to bracing themselves against the gun’s kick.

Minishells take recoil out of the equation and let you concentrate on building good habits.

Recoil has nothing to do with a gun’s gauge. It’s a function of payload and velocity, divided by gun weight. The heavier the gun, the less recoil it generates with the same payload.

A 12 gauge loaded with very light loads kicks significantly less than a lightweight 20 with regular target loads (which can be surprisingly sharp on the shoulder), and it’s much easier to point and swing smoothly, too. As long as the shooter is strong enough to hold it up, a 12 gauge with light loads like the Minishell is a great gun to learn with.

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On the Range

Despite their light playload, MiniShells break clays consistently at reasonable ranges.

Recently, I shot a 25 straight from the 16 yard line at trap with MiniShells, and those birds average 35 yards from the muzzle.

It’s true that any time you reduce shot, you’ll reduce the size of your effective pattern slightly, but the lack of recoil makes it easier to put that pattern on target.

The Downside

For their various attributes, MiniShells have a couple of drawbacks you should be aware of.

They don’t generate the recoil nor the volume of expanding gases to make semiauto shotguns cycle.

They hang up in some pumps, while running smoothly in others.

With some break action guns, they may not reset inertia triggers for a second shot. None of this matters if you’re using them as you should: for single shots, doled out one at a time.

It’s also true that they are dirty—but you were going to clean your gun anyway, weren’t you?

Other Options

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Although Minishells are the absolute lightest-kicking target loads I know of, some other shells come close. Winchester’s subsonic AA Feather ammo comes in 12 and 20 gauge, it has just under an ounce of shot, very low velocity and a very quiet report.

Fiocchi offers “Trainer” loads in 7/8 ounce 12 gauge and ¾ ounce 20 gauge. Clever has a very light ¾ ounce 20 gauge load as well. All of these are full-length shells, and will function in pump guns and some semiautos.

Low recoil ammunition does cost more than the Wal-Mart stuff, usually around $10 per box. I believe it’s one of the best investments you can make in a new shooter’s success. You don’t have to shoot them forever. You’ll build tolerance to recoil, first lessons should be all about fun and success, and that’s when the “less” of Minishells and other low-recoil ammo is truly more.