Are You Choosing the Right Ammunition? – Shotguns (Part 2)

The Basics:

     Within the hunting world there are 2 basic types of shot shells used. The first is BBs or shot this a specific number and size of small lead or steel balls called shot and are fired from non-rifled barrels. This the most commonly know shot when people generally think of a shotgun. Bird shot is smaller diameter pellets designed for birds/waterfowl. Where as buckshot is much larger diameter shot with fewer pellets design for bigger game like whitetail deer, bear, hog etc.

     The second is a Slug which is a single projectile that varies in shape/size depending on the type of slug, which is also typically fired from a non-rifled barrel but can also be fired from a rifled barrel. Two main types of slugs are used in hunting; rifled slugs which are fired from smooth bore barrels, and sabot slugs that are fired from rifled barrels.

The easiest way to tell the difference between the two is: slug shells will have the end of the slug visible at the end of the shell. Where shot shells are crimped closed at the end (to hold in the pellets).

Determine Length of Shells you are considering:

     Shotgun shells come in various lengths and gauges. The longer the shell the more powder & shot/ or larger slug there is per shell, but also more recoil. The standard shotgun chamber size is 2 ¾” for all gauge shotguns. Some shotguns can fire longer shells up to 3 ½”. For example the classic Remington 870 Super Magnum can safely accommodate shells from 2 ¾”- 3 ½” for maximum versatility. All shotguns will have a stamp on the side of the barrel of the max length allowed.


Gauges are a measurement of the diameter of the shotgun smooth bore:

Learn the Shot Number #

The shot number will be printed on boxes of ammunition and refers to the size of the individual pellets in the shell. Larger shot numbers mean smaller pellets.

– The diameter of birdshot is equal to .17″ minus the shot number. So, #4 shot is .13″ in diameter. While it isn’t necessarily important to know the exact size of the pellets, it’s important to understand whether you’re getting larger or smaller shot if you’re planning on hunting.

– Buckshot is somewhat more complicated. Available in increments of zeroes, buckshot is usually referred to as “ought.” 000 is called “triple-ought,” and this buckshot is .36″ in diameter, while double-ought is .33″. To complicate matters, buckshot is also available in #4 sizing, which is .24″ in diameter.

Using the above information and the two charts below you should now be able to select the most appropriate shot shell for your target game!


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