What the Hell is Dram?

A box of shotgun shells gives you a lot of information. It’s big, bold, and upfront! The information includes the caliber, the length of the shell, the weight, and the type of shot. Another common addition to the front of that box is a number followed by DR. EQ. Sometimes, it just says DRAM. It’s easy to understand the caliber, the shell length, and the shot type, but what the hell does dram mean? Today we are digging in to give you the long explanation, the what, and the why behind dram. 

What Is Dram 

Dictionary.com says dram is “a unit of apothecaries’ weight, equal to 60 grains.” When you say Apothecaries, I immediately think of Skyrim. Dram is drawn from something called the British Avoirdupois weight system. There are 256 dr. in a pound. It dates back to the 13th century AD. So what exactly does this have to do with shotguns? 

Well, that unit of measurement stuck around for quite some time. Long enough to make it to the era of black powder firearms. In this era of early firearms, a dram was used to measure black powder. It specifically referred to the amount of black powder used in a specific load. We know that propellant plays a large part in the velocity of a round. 

When we use a certain amount of propellant, we know that velocity is affected. So it was used to represent velocity and even recoil to a degree. The higher the dram, the faster the projectiles moved. Dram would also clue you into recoil. These days we can measure velocity accurately. 

What’s even trickier is to remember that dram is referred to as black powder measurement. Smokeless powder is much more efficient than black powder. If you used 3 drams of smokeless powder, then you are going to blow a gun up. This is why we see DR. EQ. That stands for dram equivalent. That means the smokeless powder load is equal to 3 drams, but it is not 3 drams worth of powder. 

Isn’t That Overly Complicated? 

In an era where we can measure the velocity of projectiles accurately? Yes, using dram is a very silly way to measure anything in 2023. The reason it’s stuck around is because the firearms industry is slow to change. When we moved from black powder to smokeless powder, we didn’t have a very accurate way to measure velocity. 

This is where dr. eq. came into play. Even though it wasn’t quite 3 dram, it gave the shooter information regarding the velocity and recoil of the round being fired. Ever since then, it’s stuck around and still rears its head for better or worse. I don’t know anyone who goes buying ammo and looks for a particular dram. 

It’s being phased out slowly, and I’m seeing it less and less on ammo boxes. It might finally be phased out in my lifetime. Maybe. It might not be an important measurement these days, but now you know what it means. 

Travis Pike
Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.