Get an in-depth understanding of several shotgun types, their uses, ammunition, and much more.
- Most home-defense shotguns are either pump-action or semi-automatic
- Most pump-actions are lighter and less expensive than semi-automatics. Plus, they can chamber rounds of almost all lengths.
- Semi-automatic shotguns have more moving parts, making them harder to maintain
- The break-action, single- or double-barreled shotgun is generally limited to long-range hunting and sporting events
A shotgun, also referred to as a scattergun, is a long-barreled firearm that shoots a shotshell.
Over the years, shotguns have become quite popular in sporting tournaments, hunting, and a reliable firearm for home defense.
Some shotgun shells only contain a slug (a single large projectile) whereas others carry numerous spherical pellets of “shot.”
The shells come out of a smooth-bore barrel, and the bore refers to the interior space of a shotgun barrel.
Although shotguns aren't that accurate, the pellets increase the likelihood of striking the target.
There are a wide variety of shotguns on the market, and this guide will take you through the most common types and other specifics.
Shotgun ammunition and gauge
Shotgun ammunition generally falls into three main categories - birdshot, buckshot, and slugs.
Birdshot comprises many shells, spread out, and fired over a long distance to strike fast-moving targets, like birds, skeet, and shooting clay discs.
The smallest shot is #12, generally used for hunting small upland birds.
Buckshot is larger than birdshot and designed for hunting large animals and medium-sized game.
Certain tactical buckshot rounds are quite popular for home defense. The smallest buckshot size is #4 and goes all the way to 0000.
Slugs only fire one projectile instead of multiple pellets, generally used by law enforcement and in large game hunting.
Shotguns commonly appear in gauges. The 12 gauge is most common, besides 10, 16, 18, 20, 28 gauge, and .410 bore.
The 20 gauge is smaller, lighter, and produces less recoil, but the 12 gauge has more speed, power, and spread, making it popular for hunting, shooting, and home defense.
The .410 delivers negligible power and recoil, making it viable for pest control and small game.
Shotgun types - considerations
Almost all shotgun types are versatile. Depending on the ammunition, barrel length, and choke selection, a shotgun can take several roles.
Shooters prefer break-action shotguns for long-distance shooting. Shotguns used against larger, slower targets generally have shorter barrels.
Thus, a pump-action or a small-barrel semi-automatic shotgun is more suitable for close-distance shots.
Sometimes, when small-game hunting for rabbits and squirrels in farmland with dense brush, a small-barrel (22" to 24") pump-action can be more effective.
Else, opt for a shotgun type with a barrel length between 28” and 29".
For hunting, just the size of the shotgun isn't enough, also check the availability of choke selections and weight to avoid tiring yourself.
The Remington 870 is an inexpensive, all-purpose, pump-action shotgun. Besides that, you can invest in a semi-automatic, gas-operated Weatherby SA-08 with little recoil or a pump-action Winchester SXP.
The double-barreled break-action Browning Citori is a reliable option for shooting clays and hunting.
Ultimately, choosing a shotgun comes down to price, maintenance, recoil, and ease of use.
Shotgun types - customization
A shelf product may fulfill most buyers' needs, but you'll often come across gun owners who want to add more components and customize their shotgun to make a statement.
Most shotguns can easily accommodate a wide variety of tactical modifications.
The Benelli Raffaello and Beretta 1301 are two of the most customizable semi-automatic shotguns.
Most pump-action shotguns can go through a complete refinish.
Plus, shooters can attach red dot sights, tactical grips, replace the trigger assembly, add an optic, port the barrel, and so much more.
Almost all semi-autos allow several modifications, such as barrel and trigger adjustment. Furthermore, attaching scopes, sights, and other add-ons will not be a hassle.
Shooters can even change the stocks and forends. If that isn't enough, you can attach a recoil pad, flashlight mounts, shotshell holder, or sling.
There is practically no limit to how you can customize your shotgun.
Gun owners can even reach out to gunsmiths for the ultimate waterfowl gun, an unrivaled turkey shotgun, or a competition firearm.
Semi-auto shotguns come in two varieties: gas-operated or inertia-driven.
They have a large magazine capacity, low recoil, and are relatively easy to operate.
Under recoil, semi-autos automatically eject the spent casing and chamber a new round. Thus, the shooter only needs to focus on pulling the trigger.
Due to the complex design, they aren't as easy to maintain and are prone to jamming.
- Popular Semi-automatic shotguns include the Benelli M4, Saiga-12, Weatherby Waterfowl, Mossberg 930, and Browning Auto-5.
- Due to the rapid-fire ability, semi-auto's make a reliable firearm for home defense. They are also quite popular in sporting tournaments like skeet, clay, and trap shooting.
- Semi-automatic shotguns work well for deer, turkey, and whitetail hunting.
- Most semi-automatic shotguns have a capacity for five to nine rounds.
- The barrel lengths of most semi-autos are in the range of 18" to 28".
You cycle a pump-action shotgun by sliding the forestock back and forth to eject the spent cartridge and load a new one.
They can fire as fast as you can cycle the shotgun.
You load the shotgun one at a time through a port into the magazine tube, and almost all pump-action shotguns are easy to clean, operate, and maintain.
- Remington 870, Mossberg 500, Winchester 1897, and Winchester 1300 are the most popular pump-action shotguns.
- Pump-action shotguns most commonly appear in deer, turkey, and whitetail hunting.
- Pump-action shotguns are also quite popular in sporting tournaments.
- The Mossberg 590 is quite reliable for home defense.
- Use a 12 or 20 gauge pump-action for small game hunting.
- The hunting models have barrels between 24" to 28".
- Most pump-action shotguns have a capacity of four to five rounds. They are generally loaded with buckshot and slugs but can take all kinds of loads.
Elmer Fudd’s and probably your grandpa's favorite, the break-action shotgun has the front section of the shotgun hinged with the back section at the breech.
The hinge is opened to allow insertion of cartridges and closed before firing.
Break-action shotguns are either single-barreled or double-barreled, and they are considered safe and easy to operate.
- Break-action shotguns are the most commonly used for skeet and trap shooting.
- Break-action shotguns are also quite popular amongst hunters, especially in bird hunting.
- Load your break-action with birdshot for upland hunting.
- It’s easier to reload the shells. However, these shotguns only have a capacity of one or two rounds.
- The design makes it easy to check if the shotgun is loaded or not. Plus, they are quite affordable.
- Due to having a smaller capacity, break-action shotguns aren't as popular for home defense.
- You can chamber Break-action shotguns for longer cartridges. Most break-action rifles can load slugs and birdshot.
Shotgun types — the best shotgun
You might prefer a semi-automatic or a pump-action shotgun for home defense, whereas for hunting, you may choose a long-barreled break-action shotgun.
The point is the best shotgun type is the one that suits your personal preferences and uses.
If you wish to stay updated about the different types of shotguns, then keep visiting our blog section.