Looking at history through the eyes of the firearm, undoubtedly it is the shotgun that has the longest, most revered, most common and most utilized historical background than any other firearm in the world today.
The combined history of all the rifles, handguns and “black-gun-modern-sporting-rifles”, do not even come close to the widespread versatility of the modern day shotgun. Being that the first gun was a shotgun (although archaic at best), every subsequent firearm since then has been merely a variation on the platform.
I’ll stop using big words now and tell you about shotgun shells, what to buy them for and why. Hopefully you will have a better idea of what to look for the next time you go shell shopping.
First: Shotgun Gauge
The gauge of a shotgun refers to the size of the bore hole.
- 10 gauge. This is the largest gauge that is allowed in the United States. Because of its size, it provides quite a large kick or recoil. In order to provide compensation, this is a very heavy firearm. The 10 gauge has very few uses these days, except of course to make your fillings fall out of your head.
- 12 gauge. This is the most common and versatile of the shotguns. It offers 12 packs, which is the perfect size for just about any job. Whether you are plinking clay loads under 1 ounce or the over 2 ounce ones you can take out something such as a turkey from the other side of a field. Another added addition to the 12 gauge is that ammo is cheaper, because of the volume produced.
- 16 gauge. This gauge is a concession between the 12 gauge and the 20 gauge. It is great for hunting birds and waterfowl. The 16 gauge packs enough punch to take out whatever you are shooting at. Additionally, because is it light weight enough on the recoil, you won’t have to worry about having your shoulder relocated.
- 20 gauge. This is a great gun for shooting competitions, upland hunting and some game. One of the things that makes it great is that it does not have the strong recoil that the 12 gauge has.
- 28 gauge. This gauge offers the lightest recoil, while still proving a great shooting device. It is not great for big game hunting or shooting clay pigeons, but it will work well for same game and close-up shooting.
- .410 caliber. This is actually a “67 gauge”. However, it is referred to as the “410”. It offers a very light load. Actually, it is the lightest load available in the world today in a shotgun. It is actually more similar to a bullet than an actual shotgun shell.
Second: Shotgun Usage
Looking to get into trap or skeet shooting? Maybe you’re an aspiring bird/waterfowl/ game hunter? Perhaps home defense is on your mind? Whatever your reasoning for having the shotgun, there is a different kind of shot, and therefore a different kind of shotgun shell that you will need to consider.
Shot is the long-sticking term, historically used to described anything that could be rammed down the barrel of a muzzleloading scattergun This could be nails, lead balls, broken pieces of chain, etc. With a load of black powder that would cause, an explosive force that would turn the aforementioned “shot” into lots and lots of little projectiles, upon ignition.
Today, shot commonly refers to little pieces of lead, and/or other metals, of similar sizes to achieve certain effects. Characterized by a sizing number and corresponding shell size, the most common are listed below:
- 2-3/4” Shell #8.5 Shot – Practice target load. Very manageable recoil and perfect for shooting those clay birds out on the skeet or trap fields.
- 2-3/4” Shell #6 Shot – A pheasant load. This will be little difference from the target loads you have practiced with until now. Slight more punch, but still not appropriate for defense unless at extreme close range.
- 3” Shell 1.5 ounces of #4 Hevi-shot – Enough to bring down a goose in flight, and will make a noticeable difference in the recoil of the gun. However, this is still not ideal for defense, but getting there.
- 3” Shell 1.75 ounces of #6 Hevi-shot – A classic turkey load. Even more recoil on the gun, so time to start thinking about a better recoil pad. This one can be used for defense. Ouch.
- Any Size Buckshot – A deer hunt or any large game is the territory of the buckshot. 00 or 000 (pronounced “double-aught” or “triple-aught”) buckshot is also a perfect defensive shell.
- Any Size Rifled Slug – If punching a thumb-sized hole (or larger) into something is more your style, then consider a slug. Rifled slug for smoothbore shotgun barrels, or a saboted slug for a rifled shotgun barrel. Slugs are scary little lugs of metal that are the average equivalent of a .48 – .50 caliber bullet. You’ll have to aim carefully when using a slug because you do not get the “scatter” benefit like with a load of multiple projectiles.
- Home Defense Loads – Exactly what they are designed for, a home defense load is usually one of hundreds of combinations of smaller slugs and buckshot, strategically loaded into a 3” shotgun shell. The results are very impressive, unless you are on the receiving end of one. Note that HDL shells do not have good range. Anything more than around 20 feet and you should consider the buckshot or slug option. Being that most home “occurrences” that would require the use of such a product generally take place at around 15 feet, it’s not a problem.
The general rule of thumb is that the larger the shell and heavier the shot, the more felt recoil you are going to have with each pull of the trigger. That being said, even the heaviest loads are nothing to be afraid of, as chances are that those heavy hunting loads will be a one shot per day occurrence if you are lucky.
The key to dealing with felt recoil is practice, practice, practice. If you practice with the light loads, you will condition your body to prepare for the heavier ones. Not that you won’t feel a heavy load, but you will be much better prepared for it with experience…and a good recoil pad.
There you have the ins and outs of the shotgun shell and how to find the best one for you. Remember to consider what you will use the gun for, as well as how much recoil your body can comfortably handle. Once you find the best combination for yourself you will be on your way to shooting bliss. In order to find the best pump action shotgun, click here for our advice.