A shotgun is one of the most versatile firearms you can have. Shotguns come in six different gauges – 10-gauge, 12-gauge, 16-gauge, 20-gauge, 28-gauge, and .410 bore. But the most widely used is a 12-gauge shotgun.
This shotgun should only be loaded with 12-gauge shells and these shells come in birdshot, buckshot, and slug styles.
But the confusion doesn’t stop there. To help you thoroughly understand 12-gauge shotgun loads, we will discuss all styles in detail.
Birdshot is probably the most common type of 12-gauge shotgun load and is mostly used for small and medium game hunting. Its pellets come in many different sizes:
#9 – loads with pellets of 0.079 inches in diameter, best used for shooting clay pigeons, snakes, and small birds.
#8 ½ – loads with pellets of 0.085 inches in diameter. Because they are slightly heavier than #9, they are suitable for sporting clays and trap shooting at somewhat longer distances.
#8 – with a little more power per pellet, the #8 is best used for small birds, rabbits, squirrels, and clay-pigeon shooting. If you want to inflict serious damage with this shot, you need to fire at a close range.
#7 ½ – loads with pellets of .1 inches in diameter. These are often called “dove shots.” Besides doves, these pellet size is also good for shooting pheasants and ducks at close range.
#7 – often used in shotgun-competition sports, the #7 excels in pheasant, grouse, and dove shooting. It can be effectively fired from a median range and causes less tissue damage.
#6 – loads with pellets of .11 inches in diameter. #6 can be used for medium-sized and larger birds. At shorter ranges, you can even hunt turkeys with this load.
#5 – loads with pellets of .12 inches in diameter. #5 is the optimal load for pheasant hunting as it can produce enough force to penetrate through these tough birds. It is also an effective load for duck hunting at greater ranges.
#4 – loads with pellets of .13 inches in diameter. These loads produce great force and have great penetration power. They are best used for turkey hunts and home defense.
#3 – loads with pellets of .14 inches in diameter. These are best used for upland game hunting.
#2 – loads with pellets of .15 inches in diameter. These heavy loads have an effective penetration power at 40 yards range shooting and are best for the goose, ducks, and other waterfowl hunting.
#1 – loads with pellets of .16 inches in diameter. This is a very heavy load and it is very hard to find in stores. Best used for hunting larger waterfowl animals.
B shot – heavy loads with pellets of .17 inches in diameter. Used for hunting larger birds at greater distances.
BB shot – heavy loads with pellets of .18 inches in diameter.
BBB shot – heavy loads with pellets of .19 inches in diameter.
As you have probably noticed, a higher number means a smaller pellet diameter. There are smaller and larger loads for birdshot than these listed above, but they are rarely used.
12-gauge buckshot is a bit heavier shotgun ammo. Its loads typically come in seven different sizes, and just like the birdshot, the higher the number, the smaller the pellet’s diameter:
#000 – loads with pellets of .36 inches in diameter. These can be used for deer hunting, but shooting deer with #000 pellets is considered overkill.
#00 – loads with pellets of .33 inches in diameter. These are mostly used for deer hunting and most animals in the western United States. 12-gauge shell will hold up to 8 #00 pellets.
#0 – loads with pellets of .32 inches in diameter. A 12-gauge shell can hold up to 9 #0 pellets.
#1 – loads with pellets of .30 inches in diameter. #1 is primarily used for deer hunting. 12-gauge shell will typically hold up to 11 #1 pellets.
#2 – loads with pellets of .27 inches in diameter. A 12-gauge shell will hold up to 14 #2 pellets.
#3 – loads with pellets of .25 inches in diameter. A 12-gauge shell can hold up to 18 #3 pellets.
#4 – loads with pellets of .24 inches in diameter. A 12-gauge shell will hold up to 21 #4 pellets.
The three most used loads are #1, #00, and #00. You can find these at any time in shops like Natchez, while others are rarely used and very hard to find.
Slug is the only shotgun ammo that fires a single projectile instead of multiple pellets of the same size. A 12-gauge slug can be riffled or sabot.
A riffled slug contains spiraling channels on the projectile’s body. This allows it to spin upon firing, which results in more accurate shot placement.
A sabot slug is thinner and longer than the riffled one. It comes wrapped in a casing, called a sabot, hence the name “sabot.” These slugs are mostly used for 12-gauge shotguns with rifled barrels.
If you own a 12-gauge shotgun or thinking of buying one for hunting or home defense purposes, you need to understand the different types of loads.
This will help you prepare your ammo according to your needs and come back home from your hunting adventure with a worthy catch.