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When it comes to movie guns, bigger is typically better. Clint Eastwood’s .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson Model 29 would purportedly “blow your head clean off.” Deadpool’s massive twin Desert Eagles form an integral part of his hardcore look. However, Dirty Harry’s wheelgun and Deadpool’s big-bore semi-autos pale in comparison to a simpler, more austere piece of Hollywood hardware: the uber-cool double-barreled shotgun wielded by Mel Gibson in the dystopian classic Mad Max.

I built my own Mad Max 12 gauge shotgun that will reliably start a party anyplace two or more gun guys are gathered. However, even running low-brass birdshot through the thing will absolutely rock your world. The secret to gleaning practical utility from my post-apocalyptic Road Warrior blaster is Aguila’s revolutionary 12-gauge Minishell ammo. Drop a brace of those adorable little rascals down this unusual gun’s gaping gullet and you have a man-portable WMD for close-quarters battle.

On Screen

The shotgun in the original 1979 film Mad Max hailed from pretty humble stuff. The specific details have been lost to history, but a standard long-barreled sporting version of a VG Bentley 12-gauge, side-by-side shotgun was featured early in the film. This same gun appears to have been subsequently cut down and used as Max’s sidearm later in the movie.

Mad Max was shot on a scant $400,000 AUD budget. The movie subsequently grossed more than $100 million worldwide. This makes Mad Max the most profitable motion picture ever produced. However, things were so tight on the set that the inexpensive shotgun apparently had to be repurposed.

The sequel to Mad Max, The Road Warrior, enjoyed substantially better resources. Featuring a post-apocalyptic story arc that spawned legions of knockoffs, The Road Warrior featured an older, more battered Max wielding a similar but not identical side-by-side shotgun in his bloody crusade against homicidal highwaymen.

Serious Steel

After seeing the sequel, I resolved to someday craft for myself a replica of Max’s iconic handheld howitzer. My first iteration was a non-firing workshop project that I used to launch bottle rockets. Once I hit my 21st birthday, however, it was time for the real steel.

My Mad Max 12 gauge shotgun began life as a Russian-made Baikal side-by-side coach gun. This rugged shotgun was cheap and had the same slanting forend architecture I needed to replicate Max’s blaster. I filed a BATFE Form 1 and then waited roughly forever. Once the paperwork returned complete, I cut the barrels down using a cutoff wheel on a table saw and dressed the ends carefully with a Dremel tool.

I built a new front sight bead by spinning a brass screw in my drill press and dressing it down with a file until it looked right. Then drilled and tapped a new mounting hole. I filled the ugly void left between the barrels with J-B Weld and pronounced the snout complete.

I built five different pistol grips, but the final iteration was roughly patterned after that of a Colt Peacemaker. Also, I laminated three slabs of wood together to interface with the receiver geometry. To strengthen the whole assembly, I sank short dowels crosswise and sanded everything smooth.

First Impressions

When the project was finally complete, I took the gun out to my favorite shooting spot along with several boxes of 12-gauge birdshot. That first round promised to be epic. I dropped a single 2¾-inch shell in place, took careful aim and squeezed the trigger. I then realized all my effort had been utterly wasted. The gun was worthless.

The experience was like touching off a bomb in my hand. I felt the recoil from that horrible thing all the way down to my toenails. The muzzle flip was obscene, and the recoil impulse was simply horrendous.

The little gun actually patterned surprisingly well at close range, given its diminutive architecture, but no matter how I held it, the experience remained lightyears away from comfortable, recreational or fun. One buddy actually tried touching off both barrels one-handed and ended up bleeding for his trouble. That sharp triggerguard isn’t your friend when you light off both tubes at once.

I had invested a lot of time and money in this project only to find that the gun was absolutely miserable to shoot. Then I serendipitously tripped over Aguila’s Minishells. That chance encounter changed everything.

Sizing Down

Aguila Minishells look like standard 12-gauge shotshells that you squished lengthwise in a vise. At only 1¾ inches long, they are undeniably adorable. Standard No. 7½ birdshot throws 5/8 ounce of shot at more than 1,100 fps. The Minishell buckshot load tosses an eclectic combination of seven No. 4 pellets and four No. 1 pellets at closer to 1,200 fps, and the Minishell slug launches a 7/8-ounce, pure-lead projectile even faster. Each load offers nearly the same performance as standard shells with a fraction of the recoil. In other words, Aguila Minishells transformed my Mad Max 12 gauge from a wall-hanger into a practical tool.

The 12-gauge Minishell slug loads throw a 386-grain projectile at 1,200 fps. That’s the firepower equivalent of more than three 9mm rounds with each trigger pull. At reasonable ranges, that slug remains threatening to almost anything that walks. So, for the sake of comparison, I dragged out my beautiful S&W Model 29 and an IWI Desert Eagle—both in .44 Magnum. These massive handguns push bullets about two-thirds the weight of Minishell slugs at roughly the same velocity.

The Model 29

The Model 29 is fairly brutal with full-sized defensive rounds. The gun will indeed run lower- powered .44 Special loads comfortably. But call me a pansy if you must; the serious stuff pegs my fun meter in fairly short order. Regardless, the Model 29 is delightfully accurate at reasonable ranges and could easily put venison in the freezer.

The Desert Eagle

The Desert Eagle certainly has sex appeal, but it can be a finicky beast. The thing is really too big for actual humans, and the gun’s massive action demands a particular manual of arms for reliable operation. Yes, I read the instructions. Don’t hate.

You need to maintain a rigid shooting stance and absorb the recoil firmly with your shoulders. Allowing the gun to rock back under recoil will frequently induce stoppages. That’s not a big deal on the shooting range, but if you were Deadpool being assaulted by two-dozen Yakuza hitmen, it might be tough to remember just how to cant your shoulders in the midst of a full-bore gunfight.

Running the Mad Max Shotgun

By contrast, when fed Aguila Minishells, the cut-down Mad Max gun is fun to run and as reliable as a tire iron. Reloading is a pain, but we expected that. The safety resets each time the action is cycled, but this keeps the gun safe enough to carry. And, predictably, the Minishell slugs have more recoil than the buckshot, which is itself slightly spunkier than the Minishell birdshot loads. But none of these little rounds are terribly unpleasant.

The birdshot created a pattern about as wide as a hubcap at 8 meters. Beyond that, the gun becomes an area weapon system. The buckshot printed similarly, only with much more horsepower. Out of my gun’s stubby tubes, the slugs will remain on a standard silhouette at across-the-room ranges. Both slugs and buckshot will detonate a milk jug filled with water like a thermonuclear bomb.

Practical Uses for the Mad Max Shotgun

If your mission calls for serious firepower at bad-breath range, nothing will get you there more stylishly than a cut-down 12 gauge pushing Aguila Minishells. To carry my gun comfortably, I crafted my own thigh rig and shoulder holster. (Yes, I’m man enough to admit that I sew.) And be forewarned: I used heavy black denim and 1-inch nylon webbing, but the sharp edges of the muzzle tend to cut into that over time.

I have used this remarkable gun to dispatch a dozen or more Mississippi water moccasins in the lake behind my house. For home defense, the buckshot loads will literally fill a room with lead, and the action is pretty stupid-proof. At close range, both the buckshot and slug rounds would easily drop a whitetail. If you live in the sort of place where carjacking might be a problem, the gaping maw of this cut-down 12 gauge screams: “Go rob somebody else, or explain your actions to Jesus!” in all the world’s recognized languages.

Down here in the Deep South, most kids start out with either a .410- or 20-gauge shotgun. Using Minishells, a youngster can run a 12 gauge without all the punishing recoil. Such Minishells would also easily bag squirrels, rabbits or doves and still allow a young shooter to stick with the same gun he or she grew up with. So, as you can see, these Aguila Minishells are pretty versatile. And they can reliably turn Mad Max’s double gun into a practical powerhouse. For more information, visit aguilaammo.com.

This article is from the June/July 2019 issue of Ballistic Magazine. Grab physical and digital copies at OutdoorGroupStore.com.

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