Shotgun Shells Explained – Types Of Ammo (Birdshot, Buckshot, Slugs)

Shotgun Ammunition Explained

Shotgun Ammunition Explained

What is the difference between 12 gauge and 20 gauge shells?

The most common shotgun ammunition is the 12 gauge and the 20 gauge. The gauge is the diameter of the bore, which is the hollow part of the barrel. Shotguns come in different size gauges which determine the size of its ammunition. The 12 gauge has a diameter of 18.5 mm, or .729 inches. The 20 gauge has a diameter of 15.6 mm, or .62 inches. This makes the 12 gauge bigger than the 20 gauge. Do not try to mix the 12 gauge shells with a 20 gauge gun, or vice versa, because it could damage the weapon as a result.

Now when it comes to the ammunition and the shooting experience of each one, you have to consider the recoil and the number of spherical projectiles from the shells. A 20 gauge shell will contain less gunpowder, which means it won’t recoil as much when fired. A 12 gauge shell contains more gunpowder, so it will have a lot more recoil. Remember that recoil is the kickback you get from firing a weapon. If you are delicate or have poor balance then you might want to stick with the 20 gauge shotgun.

The part where people get confused is about the number “12” and 20.” If a 20 gauge is smaller than a 12 gauge, then what does the 20 signify? Well these numbers actually refer to the number of solid spherical balls the same diameter as the inside of the barrel that can be made from one pound of lead. In a 12 gauge, 12 lead balls can be made from one pound of lead. In a 20 gauge, 20 lead balls can be made from one pound of lead.

What is birdshot? What sizes of shot exist?

Birdshot is the smallest type of shotgun pellets. It is typically used by hunters who want to shoot birds or other flying wildlife. Inside a birdshot shell are small steel or lead spheres that scatter outward once it is fired from the shotgun. The more metal spheres, or pellets, that get packed into a shell the more the pellets will scatter around the target area. The reason why this type of ammunition works best for shooting birds is because it is easier to hit them with it. After all, birds fly in the air pretty fast which makes them a difficult target to hit. If you were to use a rifle to try and hit them then it would be impossible because rifles are only useful for precision hits. It would be luck to aim at a moving bird and hit them precisely dead center with your bullet. But with a birdshot, the pellets that scatter around the targeted area will help ensure that you land a hit on the bird as it is flying. In other words, you don’t have to be 100% accurate in order to land a hit.

Sellier & Bellot Practical Sport Shotgun Birdshot

Sellier & Bellot Practical Sport Shotgun Birdshot

Birdshot sizes are similar to how shotgun gauges are measured, but they use different terminology. The one thing they have in common though is that the larger the number, the smaller the shot; and vice versa. When you refer to a birdshot you would say something like a “number 2 shot” or a “number 10 shot.” The number 2 shot would contain 87 lead pellets per ounce, while the number 10 would give you 848 lead pellets per ounce. As you can see, the higher number contains more pellets. These higher numbers are better for shooting at close up targets because the more pellets you have the farther they will scatter as they travel through the air. The lower numbers, like the number 2, would be better for long range shotgun shooting.

Birdshot sizes

US Size EU Size SW Size UK Size AU Size Nominal diameter Pellets per oz (28 g) Quantity per lb.
Lead Steel
FF .230" (5.84 mm) 35
F .220" (5.59 mm) 27 39
TT .210" (5.33 mm)
AAA .205" (5.20 mm)
AAA .203" (5.16 mm) 35
T AAA .200" (5.08 mm) 36 53
AA .191" (4.93 mm) 40
BBB AA .190" (4.83 mm) 44 62 550
BB A .180" (4.57 mm) 50 72 650
Air Rifle BBBB or
.177" (4.50 mm)
B .170" (4.32 mm) 86
No.1 BB BB .160" (4.06 mm) 72 103 925
No.1 7 .158" (4.00 mm)
No.2 B .150" (3.81 mm) 87 125 1120
No.2 6 .148" (3.75 mm)
No.3 .140" (3.56 mm) 108 158 1370
No.3 5 .138" (3.50 mm)
No.2 No.2 .134" (3.40 mm)
No.4 .130" (3.30 mm) 135 192 1720
No.4 4 No.3 No.3 .128" (3.25 mm) 140
No.5 No.4 No.4 .120" (3.05 mm) 170 243 2180
No.5 3 .118" (3.00 mm)
No.6 No.5 No.5 .110" (2.79 mm) 225 315 2850
No.6 2 .108" (2.75 mm)
No.5½ No.5½ .107" (2.72 mm) 240
No.6 No.6 .102" (2.59 mm) 270
No.7 .100" (2.54 mm) 291 423
No.7 1 .098" (2.50 mm)
No.7½ .094" (2.40 mm)
No.7½ No.7 No.7 .095" (2.41 mm) 350 490 3775
No.8 No.7½ .090" (2.29 mm) 410 686 5150
No.8 00 .089" (2.25 mm)
No.8 No.8 .087" (2.21 mm) 472
No.8½ .085" (2.15 mm) 497
No.8½ .083" (2.10 mm)
No.9 No.9 No.9 .080" (2.03 mm) 585 892 7400
No.9 000 .079" (2.00 mm)
No.10 .070" (1.78 mm) 848
No.10 No.10 .070" (1.78 mm) 850
No.10 .069" (1.75 mm)

You don’t have to limit your target to just birds though. Some people use birdshots for hunting rabbits and squirrels as well. Pretty much any small animal will be good enough for birdshot. If you are trying to kill a bigger animal, like a bear or deer, then you would need a more powerful type of ammunition because birdshot would only wound the animal rather than kill it. That is why it is important that you get familiar with birdshot so that you understand what kind of impact it can have on these animals.

What shot for what game?

Game Lead/Tungsten Steel
Pheasant 4 to 6 2 to 3
Turkey 4 to 6 2 to 3
Quail, dove, 7½ to 8
Rabbit 6 to 7½
Squirrel 6
Geese 2 to BB 1 to TT
Ducks, low 4 to 6 2 to 4
Ducks, high 2 to 4 2 to BB
Game Lead/Tungsten Steel
Pheasant 4 to 6 2 to 3
Turkey 4 to 6 2 to 3
Quail, dove, 7½ to 8
Rabbit 6 to 7½
Squirrel 6
Geese 2 to BB 1 to TT
Ducks, low 4 to 6 2 to 4
Ducks, high 2 to 4 2 to BB

See also: Shotgun chokes explained

What is slug? What types of slugs are there?

A slug is actually a word that describes a shotgun bullet. Most people use the term “shot” when describing the ammunition of a shotgun, but slugs are also another type of shotgun ammunition. The difference between birdshot and slugs is the slugs have a one solid lead or steel projectile that gets shot out. This makes them the most powerful and damaging ammunition you can use with your shotgun. There are actually many slug variations on the market.

RC TIRO A PALLA Shotgun Slug

RC TIRO A PALLA Shotgun Slug

Besides the lead slugs, there are less lethal variations of slugs that use rubber material for the projectiles rather than lead. The rubber projectiles will certainly do damage and cause great pain to whatever it hits, but it likely won’t be fatal if shot from far enough away.

The neat thing about slugs is that there are so many different variations of them based on the material they are made out of and their type. You can purchase or make wax slugs, cut shell slugs, plumbata slugs, steel slugs, foster slugs, wad slugs and brenneke slugs. Each type of slug causes a different amount of damage and has different characteristics because of the material they are made from and their form. Obviously, the ones that are metal based will do the most damage. If you are using slugs for the first time then you might want to start out with light lead slugs in order to get the feel of its impact. Then you can graduate up to heavy lead as you gain more experience and have a greater understanding of the damage each slug can do. Light lead slugs are the best for first trainings.

Since slugs are so similar to bullets, hunters typically use this type of ammunition for long range shooting because the accuracy is better than shells filled with pellets. Slugs don’t scatter when you shoot them the way pellets from shells do. Many government agencies forbid hunters from using slugs in certain jurisdictions because they are lethal and it increases the risk of another person getting killed if they are accidentally shot. That is why most states require hunters to use either buckshot or birdshot for hunting their prey. However, it is generally acceptable to shoot slugs at a professional shooting range.

What is buckshot? What types of buckshot exist?

Buckshot is shotgun ammunition that uses large metal pellets in the shotgun shells. When the buckshot is fired from the shotgun the pellets scatter outward just like the birdshot. The only difference is the buckshot does more damage than the birdshot because it uses larger pellets. The bigger the pellets, the more impact it will have on the target. That is why buckshot is typically used to hunt bigger animals than birds, such as deer. It can do enough damage to actually kill a bigger animal, instead of just wounding it. You could use buckshot on a bird, but it would blow it to smithereens. Hunters typically like to keep their prey intact after they kill it, which is why birdshot is used with smaller animals and birds.

Takho Ukraine Buckshot

Takho Ukraine Buckshot

The size of buckshot is referred to be a number or letter. The smaller numbers contain bigger size metal pellets while the larger numbers contain smaller pellets, but in bigger quantities. This is similar to the birdshot and gauge systems of measurement where large numbers mean smaller pellets, and vice versa. But with buckshot, the largest pellets are typically labeled as #000. This buckshot has 6.2 pellets per ounce, but their diameter is 9.1 mm. As you go to the smaller size pellets, you have #00, #0, #1, #2, #3, and so on. Obviously, the more pellets you have in the gun the more spreading that will occur. The neat thing about modern day shotguns is that the choke tubes are interchangeable, which means you can change how the pellets spread when they come out of the gun. However, not all shotguns allow you to modify the choke. Many shotguns will come with a fixed choke, which means you have to adapt to the spread that it gives you.

See also: Shotgun chokes explained

Buckshot sizes

US Size UK Size AU Size Nominal diameter Pellets/oz (28 g)
Lead Steel
Tri-Ball 12 [12 Gauge] 0.60" (15.2 mm) 1.4
Tri-Ball 20 [20 Gauge] 0.52" (13.2 mm) 2.1
#000 Buck
LG .36" (9.1 mm) 6.2
MG .346" (8.79 mm) 7
SG .332" (8.44 mm) 8
#00 Buck
00-SG .330" (8.38 mm) 8
#0 Buck
.32" (8.1 mm) 9
#1 Buck .30" (7.6 mm) 11
Special SG .298" (7.57 mm) 11
#2 Buck SSG .27" (6.9 mm) 14
SSG .269" (6.83 mm) 15
#3 Buck .25" (6.4 mm) 18
SSSG .244" (6.3 mm) 20
#4 Buck .240" (6.10 mm) 21
SSSSG .227 (5.77 mm) 25
F .22" (5.59 mm) 27 39
.213 (5.41 mm) 30
AAA .203" (5.16 mm) 35
T .200" (5.08 mm) 36 53

If you want your buckshot to be more accurate then you should use shotgun with #000 buckshot. If you want to target a wider range then use a #4 buckshot. The type of buckshot you use depends on the animal you are hunting and the distance you plan to hunt it. There are also low recoil buckshot shells available now that reduce the kickback of the shot, since buckshot is more powerful and usually gives a greater kickback than birdshot. Look for the low recoil shells the next time you are in the gun store looking for buckshot ammunition.

Shotgun shells of what length exist?

Shotgun shells come in all different lengths. The way you measure the length of a shell is by measuring the length of the spent hull. With shell length, you use inches to measure it instead of millimeters like you would with the bore’s diameter. However, some shells that come out of Europe still use millimeters for both the bore’s diameter and shell length. The most common shell lengths are 2 ¾ inches, 3 inches and 3 ½ inches. A 12 gauge shotgun will usually be able to handle shells of these lengths (but be sure to check this). There are also shells that are called magnum shells because they contain more gunpowder in them than your average shell. This means they do more damage to its target. Magnums are also longer than regular shells as well.

When you go to shop for ammunition you need to know the correct length and gauge of the shells you are looking for. The manufacturer’s manual for your shotgun should tell you all of the information you need to know about what kind of shells you need. The main difference between longer shells and shorter shells has to do with the amount of pellets/gunpowder it can hold. Obviously, if you have a longer shell then you will be able to hold more pellets, which means you will have a much wider spread when you shoot the shell in your shotgun. On the flip side, shorter length shells will have fewer pellets in them. But the true benefit of using longer shells has to do with fitting more big pellets into it. With standard size shells, putting bigger pellets in the shell means there are fewer pellets in the shell. So if you have a longer shell then you can fit more of the bigger pellets in them. That way you can do even more damage on a wider scale after the shots scatter all over the place.

You might think that smaller length shells are weaker, but this is not always the case. Many slugs are made with small length shells because they only contain a single metal projectile that resembles a bullet. So you should take that into consideration as well when evaluating various types of ammunition for yourself.

Shotgun shells – what is high brass shell? What is low brass shell?

In modern times, there is really no difference in performance between high brass shotgun shells and low brass shotgun shells. People used to claim that high brass shells travel farther than low brass, but this is just a myth. Back in the old days, the hulls of shells used to be made out of paper instead of plastic. This paper would burn easily from the ignition of the gunpowder. High brass shells were eventually created in order to prevent the paper of the shell from being burnt after pulling the trigger of the gun. Now days there are plastic hulls that have replaced the paper ones, which prevent it from getting burned. However, the shells manufactured today still come in high brass and low brass with the plastic hulls attached to them. High brass is typically advertised to consumers as having more power, but most gun experts will tell you that this is a big scam. The power of high brass will be just as good as the power of low brass. If there is any difference at all it likely has to do with the amount of gunpowder that is in the shell. High brass shells, like magnum shells, are typically advertised as having more power because they have more powder in them. With more powder, you can also shoot at greater velocities. So if you are hunting birds that fly high above you then high brass shells might be more appropriate.

Low brass, high brass shotgun shells

Low brass, high brass shotgun shells

Another possible difference between low brass and high brass might be found with auto loading shotguns. Some gun owners who have auto loading shotguns claim that low brass shells do not cycle through the gun like high brass shells. In this situation it really depends on the type of shotgun that you have. People claim to have difference experiences when it comes to the loading and cycling of high brass shells. If you are someone who likes to reload their own shells then you might find low brass easier to reload as well. Talk with your local gun shop dealer to find out more information about cycling. Either that or just experiment with low and high brass shells to see how they work with the various shotguns that you own. Low brass shells are about 33% cheaper than high brass shells. So if money is an issue for you, then go with low brass simply for economic reasons.