HUNTINGsmart! USA Knowledge Base



Illustration of different shot sizes and their shot paths. Shot types shown include birdshot, bb shot, no. 4 buck shot, no. 0 buck, and slug.

The length of a shotshell is given in inches and is based on the length of the hull after the cartridge has been fired. Common lengths for a 12 gauge shotgun are 2 ¾-inch, 3-inch and 3 ½-inch.

Picking a shot size comes down to choosing between energy and density. Shot size ranges from tiny ‘dust shot’ to big ol’ buckshot and big game slugs. Bigger pellets hit harder, but there are fewer of them in a given weight of shot. Smaller pellets promise multiple hits on the target but there will be less punch per pellet. Decide what you need based on the type of game you’re hunting-  for example, if you want to increase your odds of hitting a turkey, use multiple shot pellets. Don’t count on a single slug unless you’re aiming at some serious surface area.

Illustration of "magnum" shotshells.

Wise Words: Magnums

‘Magnum’ shotshells contain more shot and powder than standard shells. They can be used in place of standard shotshells but only if the correct gauge and shell lengths are used. They’re a bigger, tougher option meant for bigger, tougher game animals. Just remember that the ‘girth’ of a magnum will make it slightly slower than a regular field load.


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