Already the many of you who missed that article are saying, “What?! How can you legally make a 12 gauge pistol?” Well, this one isn’t only a pistol, it also requires no FFL, and can be mailed straight to your door!
The Diablo is a black powder, percussion firearm, similar to an inline deer hunting muzzleloader. And just like many of those guns, it uses a 209 shot gun shell primer for ignition. You load it from the front with black powder or a black powder substitute, and whatever projectile you intend to use. Then the cap rests on a protected nipple in the rear. A lot of modern muzzleloaders have adapted the tried and true break open shotgun methodology, and this is a a surprisingly nice shotgun attempt at a similar design.
That detail makes the Diablo officially not a firearm according to the Federal government, and not subject to National Firearms Act restrictions. There is no way to load the Diablo with a regular shotgun shell, or any fixed ammunition, and whatever you do, do not attempt to use smokeless powder.
As a brief but worthy aside, there used to be an old “trick” with black powder guns to drop a couple flakes of a handgun cartridge powder called Unique in before the charge, but if someone offers you that advice, don’t take it. It’s not as hard as most people think to turn a firearm into a pipe bomb. Even though there are some great slow burning powders these days from Hodgdon these days, remember that the way powder companies make money is by getting guns to shoot bullets faster under reasonable pressures. If there was a way to beat Triple Se7en safetly (loads explained below), Hodgdon would do it.
For simple operation, you can’t make a gun much simpler to use than a muzzleloader, and the Diablo is no different. But there is one major difference between a rifle that is loaded from the front and a shotgun that is loaded from the front.
With a rifle, you press the bullet, sabot, or ball into the muzzle using a ball-shaped loading tool. This forces the lands and grooves of the rifling to cut into the projectile or its surrounding material, and as your ramrod follows the projectile down to the powder, it turns with the rifling and makes for a very snug fit.
With a muzzleloading shotgun, you don’t have the luxury of rifling to hold your projectile or projectiles in, and in the case of loose shot, keeping it in there can be very difficult. As I explained in the video, I actually used to carry a sawed off muzzleloading shotgun as part of my Cowboy Action Shooting wardrobe. I made a leather thigh holster for it myself, and would shoot it in side matches. Many times I would raise the gun to shoot it and the shot would roll out the front. It was hilarious. But the Diablo isn’t a fun gun. It’s what I would call a dead in the dirt gun. If it comes out, someone’s going to be dead in the dirt.
Fortunately for this article, I was able to order several different options for wads, and one of them turned out to be perfect for the Diablo. As you’ll see from the video, things came together very nicely for this gun. The links for all of the loading components are below. Note that I mistakenly used the overshot wads over the powder, and vice-versa. But hey it worked great.
The included video is just over an hour long, and I left a bunch of stuff out, as you can tell by comparing the loading table components to how many of them are in the video.
Blackpowder is a very different animal when it comes to gun reviews. When you don’t have a ready-made cartridge available, really anything is possible, ranging from a completely impish nothing load, right up to dangerous loads that will blow up your gun. As explained in the video, these are my personal experiments that I am documenting for you, not advice as to how to load and shoot the Diablo. You are responsible for your own safe operation of the gun.
I started with the manufacturer’s suggested load, 40 grains of FFG black powder and one half an ounce of lead. In my own experience with black powder firearms, I knew that this was kind of a joke, but tried it anyway. At 7 yards, which is the average gunfight distance, both the suggested 4 balls of OO buckshot, and 1/2 oz of #8 birdshot bounced off of a piece of plywood, right back at me. You can actually hear it on the video.
My gut feeling was that 70 grains of powder would be the sweet spot with this gun, but it was not. If you want to see how a great deal of the learning experience unfolded, watch the video. My feeling on 70 grains was because that’s what a 45-70 rifle uses, and the projectile on that cartridge for long-range shooting is about an ounce, similar to a traditional shotgun load.
There must be some dynamic of a larger 72 caliber 12 gauge shotgun breach size is dramatically different than a 45 caliber width. Perhaps it is that there is much more room to fill up before the pressure starts to ramp. I don’t know really, but it’s something. The 70 grain load had very little recoil, and lame penetration.
The burn rate of the powder was also a factor. The manufacturer suggests FFG powder, which is traditionally used in rifles and shotguns. In my tests, this did not prove to be the best choice. I tried both real black powder and Hodgdon Pyrodex RS (which is the FFG equivalent), so I quickly moved to the FFFG variety of Hodgdon Triple Se7en. That extra F means the powder burns quicker, and it is made for black powder handguns. With the 6″ barrel of the Diablo, there was zero chance that FFG was the right choice.
Triple Se7en itself is a newer black powder substitute from Hodgdon that has now been around at least for a decade. I first tried it shooting long range black powder cartridge rifles (The Sharps, Winchester Highwall, Remington Rolling Block, etc.), and found it to be amazingly consistent. It is also much like smokeless powder in that it does not begin to rust your firearm as soon as the smoke clears. And it doesn’t crap up your bore with soot. I shot the Diablo almost 30 times, with just an occasional dry swab every several shots, and there was no buildup whatsoever. With real Black Powder, after two to three shots it is impossible to get the same sized projectile down the barrel.
My “sweet spot” load of the FFFG Triple Se7en was 100 grains, held down by an overpowder wad. Above that is one ounce of lead, in various flavors of buckshot, with an overshot wad. For one oz slugs, which are very tight in the Diablo, you can just push them in and they don’t require a wad to hold them in.
One ounce is pretty standard in 12 guage shotgun loads. They can go up a bit from there, and I think that the final slugs I used were actually 1 1/16th ounces, but my constant throughout most of these tests was one ounce. This is twice what the manufacturer recommends, and generally what you’ll find in a .410 shotgun. So I don’t know. But it does seem that the manufacturer is not taking responsibility for genuine tests of the gun, waiting for saps like me to try to remember to put the safety glasses on while testing their firearm for them.
The key to the buckshot loads for me was the use of a standard Remington shot cup, one that you’ll find in shotgun shell reloading components. I found that when I used the cup, it kept the shot on the target, and gave much better penetration. My focus was OO buck and #4 buck, and stopped the birdshot after my initial trial, but I think this gun could serve even as an effective short range survival bird gun. The shot cup really made a huge difference.
Once I settled into a load, penetration tests with the Diablo were very impressive. Both OO and #4 buckshot penetrated a 3/4″ plywood board, and the slugs went through 3 of them. At the end, I tried a second type of slug, and that hammered through all three boards and blew out the back of the third, so there is room for further testing.
The fit and finish of the Diablo are average. I was sent the plastic grips, and it isn’t what I would call an impressive-looking firearm, but hey, very few of you will be buying the Diablo for display lol.
At $479 in this configuration, the Diablo is not a cheap gun, but I think very reasonable, and with the wood grips and nickel finish it never reaches above $589. The holster in the video is another $129, and is very nice. My advice is to order the wood grips, which I will use for my next article on this gun. I’m no fan of the two finger grip decision for this gun, but if you only have two fingers, I would rather have wood.
I saw no evidence of pressure problems with my load of 100 grains of Triple Se7en and a one-ounce projectile. The gun locks up really tight, and after over 20 rounds there was almost no burned powder residue in the action. If there were serious pressure problems, you would generally see the primer flattened against the breach by the blowback, and at the very least the primers would be difficult to remove.
My very last round in the Diablo for the day was a different slug (Lightfield, links below), and had been more difficult to seat than the red ones, and even harder to seat than the other barrel. Maybe I had finally accumulated some crud in that barrel, but more likely the slug had a small burr, and that made it really snug. It also turned out that those slugs are 1 1/16th ounce, not one ounce. And when I shot it through three boards, it kicked like a mule, tore through the 2 1/4″ of plywood like nothing I had seen before, and (drum roll please), that cap did not come off with fingernails. So I think I my tests were probably pushing the platform to about where you would want to go not much further. Just my experience. None of my tests are meant to be advice.
I show you a rudimentary cleaning at the end of the video. I’m not one of those guys who takes guns apart every time I clean them, and when I’m shooting Triple Se7en, I don’t generally even take out the nipples. One reason I didn’t do this with the Diablo is that the manufacturer does not send you a nipple wrench. It would behoove you to bring a socket that fits the nipples, because it is very common to brain fart when you shoot muzzleloaders, forgetting if you put the powder in before the bullet. Taking apart the back end is not required on the Diablo, shooting Triple Se7en. The breachface had very little residue at all.
Is the gun pleasant to shoot? No, not at that loading. As I said, I am not a fan of the two-finger grip approach, and I hope the manufacturer offers a full hand option with a more traditional grip angle at some point. I have a habit of shooting single-action handguns one-handed from my old Cowboy Action Shooting days, and I ended up with the hammer lodged in the web of my thumb when I was not paying close attention to a good hold.
I would also be remiss if I did not mention the legalities of the Diablo.
If this gun attracts you because there is no other way that you can legally own a handgun, watch the end of the video. I explain the some of the legal issues of the Diablo. By Federal law, it can be shipped to your door, and right now the manufacturer is willing to ship it to anyone anywhere, regardless of state laws that may include this gun. For the most part, we as firearm enthusiasts tend to be law-abiding and it is important that you figure out your own laws, including the caselaw for your state, before you order this gun. Always remember, if it’s too good to be true, it’s not true.
Overall the Diablo is a huge score of a firearm. For those of us who live in the less restrictive gun states, there is no problem with the gun at all. You can legally own and even carry a devastating 12 gauge pistol. It has impressive ballistics, works really well, and the manufacturer has partnered with a high quality leathersmith to create a gorgeous and functional crossdraw holster for open carry. Beat that right.
- American Gun Craft Products
- The Red Slugs
- Nickel Plated Buckshot
- Lightfield Slugs
- Triple Se7en Primers
- Triple Se7en FFFG Powder
- Remington Shot Cups
- Overpowder & Overshot Wads from Dixie Gunworks