Desperado 12 Gauge Pistol – Diablo’s Big Brother (No FFL Required)

(Orders will open back up on these guns May 1st at American Guncraft $639)
12 Gauge Paper Cartridge Kits at from $24.95

With all of the hubub, websites and Telegram groups dedicated to 3D printed guns, I always offer the warning that if it’s too good to be true, it’s not true. Or it won’t be true for long. We saw this with bump stocks, a story I actually broke in 2012, and in the recent event with reset triggers. I suspect we will see the same thing with the birdshead grip shotguns, and eventually arm braces which have already come under attack. Once the government gets a gun law through, they don’t give it up so easily. Ask suppressors.

But there is a class of no FFL firearms that almost nobody attacks. Muzzleloaders.

Few states have regulated them at all, and the Federal government does not even consider them firearms. Even California, with all of their insanity when it comes to guns, has no appreciable muzzleloader laws. If you have been unable to leave that awful state, you can still ship a muzzleloader right to your door. The same is true for everywhere in the US except New Jersey, Washington D.C., New York City and Illinois, where they have to be shipped to an FFL dealer, but they are not forced to do a 4473.

One of the most viral stories ever here at GunsAmerica Digest was the Diablo 12 gauge shotgun pistol. It actually came up in my wife’s Facebook feed from one of her friends who was not a GA subscriber (she is now). Created by a small company called American Guncraft, this little shotgun is a standard smoothbore muzzleloader, that fires a 209 shotgun primer. The Diablo was a novel idea that got turned into a solid and fairly robust product. I love it, and that article and video sold them out for quite some time.

The Desperado is a standard smoothbore muzzleloader that fires 209 primers. I do not bother to even try true black powder in these guns because Hogdon Triple Se7en gives you more velocity, is cleaner, and is sulfur free so will not rust your guns as readily as black powder or any traditional substitutes.

This gun is the Desperado, Diablo’s big brother. The direct sale price is $639, and it is due to come back available next month. It likewise uses a 209 primer, and breaks down just like a standard double barrel shell gun.

Desperado has an 8″ barrel instead of a 6″ barrel, and the grip angle is slightly different, even though it looks the same side by side. There is also an 11″ version, but I haven’t been able to get one yet.

I don’t like to waste people’s time, in articles or video, so I am not going to bother with working up loads for this gun. I shot it with what is now my standard load for the Diablo, which is 100 grains of Hodgdon Triple Se7en in the FFFG granulation. If you watch the video to the end you will see that I did include some FFG velocities as the end as well, also with 100 grains.

In an 8″ barrel, it could be that velocity is not going to top out with 100 grains, but it’s frankly all I am wiling to shoot. This is a punishing load, even with the lightest of the projectiles I use, and I have actually dropped the gun when I did not hold onto it properly.

My standard load in these guns is 100 grains of FFFG Triple Se7en. I generally shoot them with gloves, because my preferred projectiles are in excess of 500 grains, and they beat you up pretty good. My tip in the video is to not hold your second hand behind the butt on the Desperado. Keep it on the side or it will hurt.

I offer my tests as an example of my experience, not instruction. These guns at these loads are not for those slight of build. If you fall into this category, please see my other articles and videos of this series. A ’58 Remington, or even a Ruger Old Army, also can be shipped to your door, and is an equally effective self defense weapon. The Diablo and Desperado are really novelty guns that just happen to be able to cut a man in two, or take down a Grizzly Bear.

For these tests I returned to what has become my standard for these guns, paper cartridges. I will post the video below on how you make them. There is only one source for the kits available, Star & Bullock Hardware, at They are sponsors of this column, and their products have been featured at length. I was deeply involved in the engineering of this kit, and it works really well. And there is a full article and video on the bullets and paper cartridges involved, including bullet casting.

I mostly used paper cartridges for these tests, (and I didn’t even make any new ones). Prior articles and videos explain how to make these at length. They are only available from Star & Bullock Hardware, a sponsor of this column.

The projectiles I kept to those that I know you can get bullet molds for right now, or that are generally available. The original article and video on the paper cartridges encapsulate most projectiles made for a 12 gauge, and grain for grain, the weights should produce similar velocities to those you see here in relation. I hope to return to these guns at some point soon to experiment more with actual head to head penetration. I have never experimented with accuracy on these guns, because they only have a shotgun bead, and the gun is a smoothbore.

Shooting the Desperado is almost as punishing as the Diablo, but there is enough of a difference to note it. I discovered that if you do not put your second hand behind the butt, the gun does not hurt to shoot with these loads. It rolls back easier than the Diablo, and the 2″ of extra barrel adds weight, so you get less of an unhinged “howitzer” kind of feeling when you shoot it. The tradeoff is that this gun is much less of a belt gun. It has a “horse pistol” feeling, and American Guncraft actually does sell a drop holster for such an approach.

The Desperado grip looks the same as the Diablo, except it has three fingers slots. For me the guns holds entirely different, at much more of an angle.
Whereas the Diablo has a 90 degree feel for me, the Desperado is more sloped, like a birdshead grip would be. It rolls back more naturally under the heavy recoil and is gives me the feeling of more control.
The downside, for me, is that I didn’t feel that the gun pointed as naturally. I view this as a quick draw gun, so to me that is important.

Please don’t post moron comments about the Russian bullet molds. Anyone who believes the official government story about anything at this point is a complete fool. And the comments will never see the light of day. What I can say is that if you want one of these, you should buy them now, because there probably will not be anymore in the country for quite some time. Star & Bullock did not raise the prices to benefit from the crisis.

i was surprised at the velocity I was able to get from these big heavy loads. I got over 1,000 fps from a one ounce standard shotgun slug. In comparison a 5″ 44 mag is 1,000 to 1,300 fps with a 240 grain bullet. Holy howitzer Batman.

The balistics were really impressive. I only used 100 grains of Triple Se7en, and in the FFFG granulation, this is what I got:

Zeverboy (segmented) 520 gr. 891 feet per second/916 foot pounds.
Botfly (segmented) 535 gr. 802 feet per second/763 food pounds.
Paradox (full size) 630 gr. 788 feet per second/868 foot pounds
12 gauge (.69 cal) roundball 780 feet per second/682 foot pounds
Ballistic Product LBC Slug 1140 feet per second/1037 foot pounds

For an apples to apples comparison, that LBC slug in a standard 24″ 12 gauge deer barrel will probably clock at just over 1,500 feet per second with a 2 3/4″ shell. And it will pack a punch of over 2,500 foot pounds, but I believe this highlights the problem I have always had with “muzzle energy” calculations.

In addition to my hand cast “pet” Russian slugs, I made sure to include a fairly standard sexy modern one ounce LBC slug from Ballistic Products. As I write this they are actually in stock!
I also included a standard .69 caliber 12 gauge roundball, with a traditional fiber wad and overshot card. A lubed patch also would work, and probably is more practical. I don’t think lube with shotguns, so I didn’t think of it. These were actually cast for my Charleville flintlock musket. The 12gauge wad didn’t seem to provide an adequate gas seal for the high pressure Triple Se7en. A standard plastic wad will work much better, but so also probably would a lubed patch.

In any standard calculator of muzzle energy, velocity is squared in the equation, multiplied times itself before multiplying it against the weight of the bullet, which is only factored once. This leads to extravagant numbers for light projectiles, and makes heavier projectiles look inferior. Couple that to some mythology created and repeated over and over again by the Strassbourg Goat Tests. This was a fake news story propagated by magazines in the 1970s and repeated ad nausium by gun writers since, and that was admitted later to be faked by those involved. It said that lighter bullets moving faster were more effective.

This is a point blank gun. Most likely it will go right through any living thing in front of it, and create devastating damage due to the width of the 70 caliber hole…no matter what the projectile. But I think a heavier bullet is going to be more effective on barriers, and large dangerous game. Just my 2 cents.

I also tried a couple rounds of 9 pellet #00 buckshot, and got a similar velocity just under 900 feet per second. A standard Winchester military load of the same stuff travels at just over 1,300 feet per second through a standard 20″ riot gun. That’s not too shabby for a handgun.

I tried my buckshot paper cartridges after all those rounds prior, and they did not go in as easy as I had tested them with on the Diablo. The gun was dirty, so it could be just that, but it seemed like it was slightly tighter choked as well. You can always break the powder off once you insert the paper cartridge, then send the projectile down without the paper. It is a quirk worth mentioning for those of you who intend to buy the gun and use it for self defense though.

The one caveat I would say about the buckshot is that this particular Desperado seemed to be a little tighter choked than the Diablos I have, which were very early guns. Getting the paper covered plastic wad down the bore, especially after shooting several rounds, was a challenge. Clean, or maybe the first reload after shooting the gun the first time, I think it would be easier, but I didn’t have it in me to shoot that gun anymore that day. With the paper cartridges you can always break off the powder charge and thumb it in, then put the projectile in with the paper removed. The shot paper cartridges need a cardboard overshot card regardless, and you build that right in.

The only negative I see to this gun is the same that I did with the Diablo, and that I feel obligated to mention. The Desperado will fire from half cock, unlike almost every other single action I have ever owned. So if you are sloppy with putting your finger in the trigger guard before are ready to fire at an intended target, it is not safe to put the Desperado on half cock as if it was a safety of sorts. I hope they modify that in future versions of these guns. The holsters sold for these guns usually have a strap across the hammer so that it can be carried on full cock.

But other than that, the Desperado does not point as naturally for me as the Diablo, but it is easier to manage recoil. I would say I prefer the Diablo. Both guns are surprisingly robust, and totally awesome IMHO.

{ 16 comments… add one }
  • Ransom April 8, 2022, 4:44 am

    Growing up in New Jersey in the 80s and 90s I had an 1858 army reproduction and my brother had an 1851 navy reproduction.
    But of course in The PRNJ they can’t leave their subjects with any unrestricted freedoms. This is a state where BB guns are considered firearms and slingshots are straight up illegal.
    I’m so glad I got out of there.

  • Glynn Mitchell April 5, 2022, 12:54 am

    I would like to see a coordinated effort between the author and blackhorn 209 powder on load development. I have been using blackhorn 209 in this shotgun and another in 20 ga. It will not work unless the cards and load offer enough resistance to allow the powder to fully burn but it burns very cleanly and I see no pressure signs. But again, please please add a transfer bar to the hammer!

  • Glynn Mitchell April 5, 2022, 12:43 am

    At 10 yards the diablo is throwing about a 18” pattern with number 4 buckshot with only over powder and over shot cards (no plastic wad). The larger grip is good but is has a hump at the back that should be removed. MOST importantly it needs a transfer bar between the hammer and firing pins so it can be carried safely. Ruger, charter arms, H&M’s single shots all have this feature. It would avoid liability for the company and allow us the carry the guns safely.

  • Grumpy 49 April 4, 2022, 10:30 pm

    At one time I wanted one of these shotguns, but with a 12″ – 14″ set of barrels and a butt stock. (Think REBEL Cavalry shotgun.) Still think that would be a much more useable version than the 70’s dual hammer version or the current “handgun” models. Even suggested to American Guncraft going with a version of a wire stock, like used on some COLT percussion handguns. That way, stock could be used when required, or removed for transport/storage. Yes, I would suggest that some type of recoil pad be added to the wire stock, or oversized butt plate, to help handle the recoil.

    • Anna April 5, 2022, 12:36 pm

      I would love a stock. The 1850/60s revolver stock is a great idea

  • dan C April 4, 2022, 12:09 pm

    Many years ago I shot Muzzle loaders. If I recall in the 80’s there was someone tht milled Brass 12 GA shells for loading black powder in a muzzle loader shotgun. If they are no longer around, there is a market here. I think at the time they were pricie, $20-30 each……

    • Paul Helinski April 4, 2022, 12:42 pm

      Those would be for a black powder shell gun, not a muzzleloader. And you can get them from Dixie gunworks and other places.

  • Buford April 4, 2022, 11:17 am

    Nice! Too bad you can’t find any primers.
    If you do the gougers poke you in the eye.
    Useless toy!

  • Anna April 4, 2022, 9:37 am

    Interesting idea. I would have preferred something with two hammers instead of the single hammer that has to be rotated left / right. The finger grooves on the grip are a little cheesy but comfortable.

    I’m hoping they will make an O/U version for slimmer carry. The SxS is cool and the holster they offer is well made but a O/U would be better. And if I’m really dreaming a hammer-less would be even better.

    • Walleye April 4, 2022, 11:49 am

      The complexity, weight, and costs associated with making an O/U pistol would far outweigh any potential benefit.

      • Anna April 4, 2022, 3:38 pm

        O/U muzzleloaders DID exist. Its just that O/U guns arent as popular; but an O/U is possible. Remember this is essentially a cartridge gun with plugged chambers, so its no more difficult than a SxS design. The O/U isnt any more complex and it certainly wouldnt have to weight anymore than a SxS. Im not sure what YOU think is the potential use of this gun; but making it more carry and storage friendly seems like a huge benefit.

        • Paul Helinski April 4, 2022, 6:37 pm

          Not even a kernel of truth in any of this. O/U muzzleloaders have a problem that the bottom barrel has a long flame chamber and the bottom barrel often does not touch off. In a modern inline design you could just use a selective hammer, much like an O/U derringer. An alternating or selective hammer would be above the level of engineering that this company employs. It’s just a cool gun that really doesn’t need another version.

          • Anna April 5, 2022, 8:54 am

            Wow I’m surprised at someone who speaks with such authority has never bothered to google the subject. There were O/U cap guns being made as late as the early 2000s. A hammer designed like the LeMat or any of the O/U combo guns selectively fires the barrel by flipping the front of the hammer to align with the desired barrel. It works much the same as the L/R flip of the current SxS model

  • lefty April 4, 2022, 9:21 am

    What about[bird]shot loads[#6,4,2,BB-and lead or steel?]h that both usable for snakes AND close range upland birds[e.g.grouse,pheasants, doves,,turkey?,rabbits]?,how left hand”friendly” are either of these,esp since I have a large hand?,any kind of manual safety?

    • Paul Helinski April 4, 2022, 10:51 am

      Because the hammer is in the center, I would say it’s pretty ambi. Heavy gun to be carrying for snakes, and it won’t pattern well enough for shots at game 10 yards away I don’t figure, but who knows I’ll try it. Heavy gun to be traipsing through the woods while deer hunting regardless I think. Not really it’s lane.

  • Matthew Hudson April 4, 2022, 8:52 am

    Muzzle loaders cannot be regulated under federal or state law, because they are required under the 1913(?) Militia act. State law cannot over-ride federal law, and everyone in the USA, from 17 to 45, must have a weapon at home. That law was superseded but never revoked, so it is still law.

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