How to Choose Shotshells: A Comprehensive Guide for Hunters and Shooters

Hunting is a popular outdoor activity enjoyed by millions of people worldwide. However, it’s important to choose the right equipment to ensure a successful hunt. One of the most critical components of a hunter’s arsenal is the shotshell. Choosing the right shotshell can make all the difference in the success of your hunt. In this article, we will provide important information you should know about buying shotshells and guide you on how to choose shotshells based on your gun, game, and hunting environment.

How to Choose Shotshells

Understanding Shotshells

Shotshells are the ammunition for shotguns and are used for a variety of purposes, including hunting, target shooting, and self-defense. When choosing shotshells, it is important to consider the type of game you will be hunting or shooting, the distance you will be shooting, and the type of barrel your shotgun has. Before we dive into how to choose the right shotshells, let’s first understand the basic components of a shotshell.

Components of a Shotshell

A shotshell typically consists of the following components:

  • Hull or shell case: The outermost part of the shotshell that holds all the other components together. It can be made of plastic or paper.
  • Primer: A small metal cap that contains a percussion mixture and ignites the gunpowder when struck by the firing pin.
  • Powder: The propellant that creates the energy to push the shot out of the barrel.
  • Wad: A plastic, felt, or paper cup that sits between the powder and the shot. It helps to create a gas seal, protect the barrel, and cushion the shot.
  • Shot: The small pellets that are propelled out of the barrel and hit the target.

Types of Shotshells

There are many different types of shotshells available, each designed for a specific purpose. The most common types of shotshells include:

1. Birdshot

As you might guess from the name, birdshot is used for hunting small game, such as birds. Birdshot consists of small pellets that spread out over a wide area, making it ideal for close-range shooting. Birdshot is the smallest type of shotgun shell available, with shot sizes ranging from #9, the smallest and most commonly used for clay shooting, to #2, the largest and most powerful for long-range waterfowl hunting.

2. Buckshot

Buckshot is the largest type of shotgun shell and is often used for hunting medium-sized game, such as deer. The shells contain larger pellets that are arranged in a tightly packed pattern. This helps maintain their accuracy during flight, making them ideal for longer-range shooting. Buckshot is generally available in 12-gauge and 20-gauge shells, and common loadings include #2, #4, and 00 buck.

3. Slugs

Slugs are single projectiles used for hunting large game such as elk and bear. Ideal for long-range shooting, slugs are typically used in shotguns with a rifled barrel, which has grooves and twists that create a spinning motion and stabilizes the slug when released. This increases the accuracy of the slug. Slugs feature higher velocity than buckshot, as well as a single, solid projectile rather than multiple projectiles, resulting in greater effective range and fight-stopping capabilities.

How to Choose the Right Shotgun Ammunition for Your Gun

Now that you have a basic understanding of the components of a shotshell and the types of shotshells available, let’s discuss how to choose the right one for your needs.

Gauge

When selecting the right shotgun ammunition for your gun, it is important to consider the gauge, shot size, and velocity. Gauge, which is an old English measurement of bore diameter, and in the case of shotguns, refers to the diameter of the inside of the shotgun barrel. The shotgun’s gauge determines the size of the ammunition and is expressed by a number. The higher the number, the smaller the gauge, and therefore the smaller the bore diameter and the number of lead balls it will take to weigh one pound. The most common gauges used today include 12, 16, 20, and 28.

  • 12 gauge: The most popular gauge for hunting and shooting. It has a larger bore diameter, which means it can shoot more pellets and deliver more energy to the target. It’s suitable for hunting large game, such as deer and turkey, as well as shooting sports like trap and skeet.
  • 20 gauge: A smaller gauge that’s popular among young or small-framed shooters. It has less recoil than a 12 gauge, making it easier to shoot accurately. It’s suitable for hunting small game, such as quail and rabbit, as well as shooting sports like sporting clays.
  • 16 gauge: A less common gauge that’s similar to a 20 gauge in terms of recoil and shot capacity. It’s suitable for hunting upland game birds, such as pheasant and grouse.
  • 28 gauge: A very small gauge that’s suitable for hunting small game, such as dove and quail. It has very little recoil, making it a popular choice among experienced hunters.

Load Size

The next thing to consider is the load size, or the number of pellets in the shotshell. The load size is indicated by a number, such as 7.5 or 8. The smaller the number, the larger the pellets.

  • 7.5: A common load size for hunting upland game birds, such as pheasant and quail. It’s also suitable for shooting sports like trap and skeet.
  • 8: A common load size for hunting small game, such as dove and rabbit. It’s also suitable for shooting sports like sporting clays.
  • 9: The smallest load size that’s suitable for shooting sports like skeet. It’s not recommended for hunting.

Shotshell Length

Shotshells come in different lengths within their respective gauges and it’s important to select the correct one for your gun. The shotshell length refers to the overall length of the shotshell, including the hull and components. The most common lengths are 2 3/4″, 3″, and 3 1/2″.

  • 2 3/4″: The shortest and most common length. It’s suitable for most hunting and shooting applications.
  • 3″: A longer length that’s suitable for hunting larger game, such as turkey and waterfowl.
  • 3 1/2″: The longest length that’s suitable for hunting the largest game, such as geese and elk.

Choke

The choke is the constriction of the barrel of the shotgun at the muzzle. The choke affects the spread of the shot as it travels down the barrel. A full choke produces a very tight pattern of shot, while a cylinder bore produces a very open pattern of shot. When choosing shotshells, it is important to match the choke of your shotgun to the type of game you will be hunting or shooting.

Quality

If you’re shopping for shotgun ammunition, it’s important to choose a reputable brand and high-quality shotshells. Cheap or low-quality shotshells can malfunction or fail to perform as expected, which can be dangerous or ineffective. Look for brands that have a proven track record of reliability and performance, and consider spending a little extra for high-quality shotshells.

How do I choose the right size shotshell for my shotgun?

To choose the right size shotshell you can follow a few simple steps. By taking into account the size of your shotgun and your intended target, you can narrow down your choices to a more manageable number.

First, you must consider the gauge of the shotgun. Only use shotshells that match the gauge of your shotgun.

Next, consider the length of the shotshell. It’s important not to use a shotshell that is too long for the shotgun chamber. The markings on your shotgun barrel will specify the correct shell length for the shotgun. A good rule of thumb is to only use shells equal to or shorter than the markings on your barrel specify.

Finally, you’ll want to use the right shotshell type for your game.

Birdshot is used for hunting small game, such as birds and ground varmint. Buckshot is used for hunting medium-sized game, such as deer, while slugs are often used for large game such as elk or moose.

Following these steps will help ensure you choose the correct size shotshell for your shotgun.

How to Choose Best Shotshells for Your Game

Different games require different shotshells. Here are some tips on how to choose shotshells based on your game:

Upland Game

Upland game birds, such as quail, pheasant, and grouse, require shotshells with smaller shot sizes. Choose shotshells with #8 or #7.5 shot for smaller game, and #6 or #5 shot for larger game.

Waterfowl

Waterfowl, such as ducks and geese, require shotshells with larger shot sizes. Choose shotshells with #2 or #1 shot for waterfowl hunting. Non-toxic shot is required for waterfowl hunting in most areas.

Big Game

Big game, such as deer, elk, and moose, require slugs or large shot sizes. Choose shotshells with #00 or #000 buckshot, or slugs for big game hunting.

The Best Shotgun Ammo for Your Hunting Environment

The environment you hunt in can also affect the shotshells you choose. Here are some tips on how to choose shotshells based on your hunting environment:

Open Fields

If you hunt in open fields, you’ll likely need shotshells with longer ranges. Choose shotshells with larger shot sizes, such as #4 or #3, and a high muzzle velocity to ensure that the shot reaches the target.

Wooded Areas

If you hunt in wooded areas, you’ll need shotshells with shorter ranges and less recoil. Choose shotshells with smaller shot sizes, such as #7.5 or #8, and a lower muzzle velocity to avoid damaging the surrounding trees and vegetation.

Wetlands

If you hunt in wetlands or marshy areas, you’ll need shotshells that can penetrate through thick foliage and water. Choose shotshells with larger shot sizes, such as #2 or #1, and a high muzzle velocity to ensure that the shot reaches the target. Non-toxic shot is also required for hunting waterfowl in most areas.

How much do Shotshells cost?

Shotshells are purchased by the box, and the price can range depending on the number of rounds in the box. A box of 25 rounds or shotshells can range from $15 to over $30. Buying larger boxes will drop the price per rounds. The price of the shotshell is usually determined by the quality of the components, such as the type of gunpowder and the type of shot.

Where to Buy Shotshells

Shotshells can be purchased at most sporting goods stores and online outdoor recreation retailers. Bushcraft Base Camp makes it easy to find the lowest price on shotshells from top ammunition brands. Browse our selection of the best shotgum ammunition online.

How should I store shotshells?

Storing shotgun shells properly is important to ensure your shells remain safe and in good condition. Here is a step-by-step guide to storing your shotshells:

  1. Keep the shells away from high temperatures and direct sunlight. Excessive heat can cause the shells to deteriorate over time.
  2. Store the shells in a cool, dry place away from any moisture. Moisture can cause the shells to rust or corrode over time.
  3. Ensure the shells are stored in a closed container. This will help keep any dirt or dust from getting into the shells.
  4. Keep the shells away from any sources of ignition, such as lighters or matches. The shells can become very dangerous if exposed to high temperatures or flames.
  5. Check the shells periodically. Make sure the shells are in good condition, with no signs of rust or corrosion. It’s important to replace any shells that are in bad condition.

Following these simple steps will help ensure your shotgun shells are properly stored and ready for use.

FAQ

Can I use any gauge shotshell for my shotgun?

No. The gauge of your shotgun determines the size of the shotshell you can use. Use shotshells that match your shotgun’s gauge.

What is the difference between gauge and shell size?

Gauge refers to the diameter or circumference of the shotgun shell. Shell size refers to the length of the shell.

Can I reuse shotshells?

No, shotshells are designed for one-time use only and should not be reused.

What is the difference between birdshot and buckshot?

The main difference between birdshot and buckshot is the size and spread of the pellets. Birdshot and buckshot are both types of shotgun shells that contain multiple round projectiles.

Birdshot pellets are typically below .20 caliber and have a wider spread when shot, making birdshot ideal for close-range shooting and hunting small game, such as birds. It consists of small pellets that spread out over a wide area, making it ideal for close-range shooting.

Buckshot, on the other hand, is usually between .24 and .38 caliber and is better suited to hunting larger game, such as deer. The larger pellets travel in a tighter pattern when fired, making buckshot ideal for longer-range shooting.

Can I use a 12 gauge shotshell in a 20 gauge shotgun?

No, shotshells are specifically designed for a certain gauge and should only be used in a corresponding shotgun.

Final Thoughts About How to Choose Shotshells

Choosing the right shotshell is crucial for a successful hunt. When choosing shotshells, consider your gun, game, and hunting environment. Use shotshells that match your shotgun’s gauge, choose the right shot size for your game, and select shotshells that are appropriate for the environment you’ll be hunting in. With these tips in mind, you’ll be well on your way to a successful hunting trip.

Bushcraft Charlie

As an avid outdoor enthusiast, Bushcraft Charlie first developed his wilderness and survival skills in the suburbs of Maryland. After relocating to Montana, he's continued to spend time outdoors - hiking the Rocky Mountains and practicing bushcraft skills like shelter building and fire making.

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