Laws on Shotgun Cartridges

Updated April 17, 2017

Shotgun cartridges claim few federal laws compared to those surrounding other firearms and firearm accessories. Individuals may own shotgun cartridges without a permit in the United States. Shotgun cartridges differ in total cartridge size, load size and intended use. Many hunters load personal shotgun shells, an act permissible in several U.S. states. Loading personal shells ensures exact measurements for obtaining preferred shot patterns and recoil strengths while allowing for experimentation and the fine-tuning of cartridges.

Cartridge Sale Laws

Shotgun cartridges and other firearm accessories may not be sold to minors in the United States. Shotgun cartridges must contain approved safe levels of powder and shot. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, ammunition-specific dealers may sell firearm ammunition without a license. Dealers may sell most ammunition, including shotgun cartridges, without keeping transaction records, though retailers must record the sale of all armour piercing ammunition. An individual may sell ammunition to another individual provided he may legally own firearms and firearms accessories such as ammunition. The legal sale of shotgun cartridges occurs at many retail locations across the United States daily.

Cartridge Size Laws

Manufacturers classify shotgun cartridges by one distinction: those containing large pellet shot and those containing small pellet shot, according to online firearms experts with the Firearms Tactical Institute. Large pellet, often called buckshot, cartridges contain #4-#000 pellet sizes measuring larger than 0.20 inches in diameter. Small pellet (often called birdshot) cartridges hold #12-BB pellet sizes measuring less than 0.20 inches in diameter. Pellet size classifications relate to the classification and intended use of shotgun shells. Shotgun pellets commonly available include lead and steel materials. Firearms Tactical Institute notes buckshot loads typically work best for home defence, as birdshot loads cannot pierce targets deeply enough to halt advancement.

Cartridge Use Laws

Several states limit the size pellets permissible when hunting particular animals. Many states limit birdshot use to bird and small animal hunting and buckshot use to large animal hunting. Birdshot fired at deer causes painful injury without immediate death, while buckshot intercepting birds would decimate such small targets. Use laws typically allow sport to remain in hunting while causing the least amount of unnecessary pain or suffering possible to prey.

Several states limit even carrying shells not permitted for particular types of hunting while engaged in said sport. For example, a hunter carrying a permit for hunting dove may not carry buckshot loads unless holding a permit that allows the hunting of an animal large enough to legally warrant such cartridges on her person.

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About the Author

Jonathan D. Septer offers more than a decade of professional writing experience and owns/operates Bone Machine Books in Kent, Ohio. A professional bicycle mechanic with more than ten years experience at various Midwestern shops, Septer studied at Kent State University, where he earned his Bachelor of Arts in English.