Shotguns are extremely useful for both hunting and home defense. They are easy to use and provide you with shell options that can wound or kill animals ranging in size from birds to bears. They can be effective at short range and even at up to 200 yards.
But if you’re new to shotguns, the options to choose from can be overwhelming. How do you choose a gauge size? What are the differences between birdshot, buckshot, and slugs? What should you use for hunting and for home defense, and why?
As you hone in the shotgun that will be right for your needs, remember to always select ammunition that fits the firearm properly. Although you may be able to fit a larger gauge or length in the chamber, it can cause the gun to explode, and possibly injure or kill you or someone nearby.
12 Gauge vs 20 Gauge
The most common shotgun ammunition are 12 gauge and 20 gauge. A 12 gauge shotgun has a bigger gauge diameter than a 20 gauge shotgun. The number refers 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.
A 12 gauge can be used effectively at longer ranges, but will have more recoil. It is ideal for migratory bird hunting and skeet shooting. Smaller and younger individuals will probably not be comfortable with the recoil.
A 20 gauge is preferable for home defense, as well as bird hunting, hunting in general, skeet shooting, and duck hunting. The recoil is more manageable, and the weapon is more lightweight.
Birdshot is a type of shotgun ammunition that packs small metal spheres into a shotgun shell. The spheres are all the same size, and when fired, separate in the air. The spreading of the pellets makes it much easier to hit a moving target. Birdshot contains the smallest pellets out of all the other shotgun ammunition types. They also cause the least amount of damage because of their small size, but they are still strong enough to kill birds and small animals.
Birdshot is measured by numbers; the lower the number, the lower the number of pellets in each shell. For example, a “No. 2” contains 87 lead pellets per ounce. A “No. 10” contains 848 lead pellets per ounce. The No. 2 pellets are much, much larger than the No. 10 pellets.
Birdshot is great for hunting pheasant, turkey, quail, dove, rabbit, squirrel, geese, and ducks. It is also a good choice for home defense, as it is not likely to damage walls or doors. The effective range for birdshot is about 40 yards.
Buckshot is shotgun ammunition similar to birdshot, 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. Buckshot is large enough to kill animals like deer and bears.
Buckshot is the standard hunting ammunition. However, you have to be extremely careful when hunting with buckshot. You can seriously injure or kill someone if they step into your line of fire. You will also need to shoot from much farther away, or you will blow your target to smithereens.
Buckshot is also measured by numbers, such as #00 and #4. #00 Buck contains 8 lead pellets per ounce. #4 Buck contains 21 lead pellets per ounce. If you want to be more accurate, use #000 buckshot; if you want to target a wider range, use #4 buckshot.
Buckshot is the preferred choice for home defense. #00 (double-aught) will penetrate and stop any home intruder.
Slugs are the most powerful shotgun ammunition; they are actually bullets. A slug can kill a large animal with just one shot. Hunters are not always permitted to use slugs because of how dangerous they are if someone were to walk into the line of fire. You can use slugs to kill something quickly and from far away (think 75-100 yards).
Slugs are not preferred for home defense because they will hit your intruder and continue through your walls and doors, possibly harming a family member or neighbor.
When selecting your shotgun and shells, consider who will be using the weapon and for what purpose. Make sure that you are not using more firing power than you need, as you can cause damage to your home, or destroy your intended target when hunting.