Shotgun Ammunition: What and When to Use
Smooth and Rifled Barrels
Your ammunition choice depends on what you are shooting at. A shotgun shell or sometimes referred to as a “shot shell” is loaded with either shot or a slug. Most shotgun loads are designed to be fired from a smooth bore, in other words the barrel is not rifled. There are however, dedicated shotguns with rifled barrels that are more accurate, but making it unsuitable for firing shot. Shot would simply wear the rifling away and this of course will defeat the purpose of the rifled barrel. There are shells for self-defense and various shells for hunting game. Shot is traditionally for bird and small game whereas slugs and buckshot are for larger game.
Birdshot: Lead, Steel, Bismuth and Tungsten
Birdshot is typically called shot or BB shot. Because of environmental concerns steel, bismuth and tungsten is replacing lead shot, for bird hunting. The problem with steel shot is the hardness, which can cause damage to the bore and choke in older shotguns. Unlike lead there is no give to steel and it can damage the bore especially if the choke is on full. Tungsten is also very hard, but it is often alloyed with other metals making it softer causing less damage in older models shotguns. Bismuth falls in between tungsten and steel, being the softer of the two by far.
Buckshot is very common and the most commonly produced buckshot shell is the 12 gauge 00 (“double-aught”). Buckshot is used for large game and home defense. Double-aught buckshot, having nine pellets, is also ideal for self-defense because there is no question of stopping power and penetration.
Shotgun Ammunition for Hunting and for Home Defense
BB or birdshot is obviously for birds, while #4 is much larger shot and the 00 or double-aught is considerable larger still. The slug is for large game and it can be used for home defense, as well. With home defense, you have to consider over penetration. You want stopping power yet do not want the slug penetrating and exiting (through and through) an intruder and striking someone else. Therefore, the #4 and 00 are the most popular for home defense. You must also consider your choke setting. The tighter the choke the less spread you have, which is ideal for short range, but if you have multiple targets and want to disable two intruders at once of course loosen the choke to allow more spread as the shot exits the barrel. One pellet of 00 will certainly disable a person if fired from close range.
The object regardless of what you are shooting at is stopping power. When hunting birds you want range, yet you do not want excessive damage to the bird. When hit you want penetration and knock down. You do not want to wade for miles hunting an injured bird. You want the bird to drop immediately when hit.
What shot for what game?
Turkey for example can be hunted with BB and # 2 and 4 shot, with full or modified choke. Duck hunters prefer # 1 and 2 shot using a modified or full choke. Pheasant are typically hunted with # 6 with a modified choke.
Squirrel and rabbit can be hunted with # 5 and 6 with modified choke, keep in mind the damage to the animal and distance from it when deciding on choke. Larger animals such as deer can be hunted with a rifled slug or 00 buck.
Some are of the mind that any round out of the barrel toward an intruder works. This of course is true in a situation where you simply grab any available weapon. However, when will you be in a situation where you simply grab whatever is available? Typically, you will have the opportunity to choose your ammunition for home defense. Some prefer rifled slugs, because of the range, but home intrusions by their very nature are close quarters so range is not important unless you are defending a large estate where the firefight is taken outdoors or you are defending yourself in a survival situation.
Some may prefer birdshot because in the back of their mind some people while, they want to stop an intruder they do not necessarily want to cause a fatality. Birdshot however at close range is devastating but not as guaranteed as a rifled slug would be at close range. The other option of course is buckshot, which will stop an intruder and create enough damage to ensure the intrude stays on the ground and is no longer a threat. Your number one objective is to neutralize the threat by any means possible and as quickly as possible.