Types of shot gun shells

Written by maureen malone
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Types of shot gun shells
There are three main types of shotgun shells. (Cartridges image by cdbdi from Fotolia.com)

Shotgun shells are available in several different gauges. “Gauge” is a method of measuring bore diameter for shotguns, similar to the way that “calibre” describes bore diameter in rifles or handguns. According to the website Introduction to Shotgun Gauges, a gauge, or a bore, is equal to the number of lead balls of a certain size required to add up 1 pound. For example, 12 balls with a 12-gauge diameter (0.729 inches) would weigh 1 pound. Shells are available in 8-, 10-, 12-, 16- and 20-gauge sizes. The most popular size of shotgun shell is 12-gauge. Shotgun shells also vary in the outer casing. Some shells have a brass base with plastic or paper covering; others are all brass. There are three basic types of shot loaded in the shell.

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Buckshot shells are loaded with large lead balls. The quantity and size range from 27 balls of 0.24 inch diameter to eight balls of 0.36 inch diameter. Because the size of the balls is quite large, this shot is usually used for hunting big game. Buckshot is also commonly utilised for self-defence situations.


Like buckshot, birdshot shells are filled with lead balls. Birdshot has a much smaller diameter than buckshot. According to the article "Shotgun Ammunition," birdshot is effective only at a short range, approximately 20 to 30 feet. Birdshot pellets range in diameter from 0.080 inches for #9 birdshot to 0.190 inches for BBB birdshot.


Slugs are shells loaded with one solid pellet. Slugs do not scatter like buckshot and birdshot, so the shooter must take greater care when shooting a slug. According to the article "Shotgun slugs," shotgun slugs are less accurate than rifles and should be used only for short range firing, up to 100 yards.

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