A Guide to Buying Ammo for Shotguns

Ammo Guide for Shotguns
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A Guide to Buying Ammo for Shotguns

Buying shotgun shells can be overwhelming for a new gun owner but learning a bit about what's available will help you make the right decision

If you're new to the world of shotguns, the boxes of ammo you see on shelves can be confusing.

There are various measurement units and numbers on every product, so figuring out what you need takes a little context and understanding. 

The good news is these numbers simply inform you of the projectile's size and potential energy.

Once you know what everything means, the entire process becomes far less intimidating.

This guide will take you through the different types of ammo for shotguns and how to buy them anywhere in the United States.

Key Takeaways

  • Boxes of shotgun shells have a lot of things written on them
  • Learning what the numbers mean ensures you buy the right product
  • Ammunition Depot has the ammo you need for your shotgun

Various Gauges

You'll have to know what gauge your shotgun is so you can buy the right shells for it.

Gauge is a method of measuring the bore diameter of shotguns that reflects the number of same-sized pure lead balls it would take to equal one pound.

For example, if you have a shotgun with a .729-inch bore diameter, it would take 12 .729-inch solid lead balls to reach one pound of total weight.

Therefore, a gun with a .729-inch bore diameter is a 12-gauge shotgun. A 20-gauge shotgun has a bore diameter of .615 inches.

The higher the gauge number, the smaller its bore diameter.

Fortunately, it's easy to tell the gauge of your shotgun, so all you have to do is buy the corresponding ammo.

In addition to 12-gauge and 20-gauge shotguns, you'll also find 10-gauge, 16-gauge, 28-gauge, and 410-gauge guns on the market.

Shotgun Shells

Once you've determined the correct gauge, it's time to look at the ammo types available for it.

The three main options are birdshot, buckshot, and slugs. 

As its name suggests, birdshot is mainly used for shooting flying wildlife as well as the popular sports skeet and trap shooting.

It's the smallest type of shotgun pellet and works well when hunting birds because its small steel or lead pellets scatter once you fire the projectile.

Therefore, you don't need perfect accuracy to hit these fast-moving targets, and the smaller shot does less damage to the meat and feathers.

Buckshot also utilizes pellets inside the shotgun shells, but they're larger than birdshot because hunters use them to take down deer and other larger mammals.

You could use buckshot on a bird, too, but it would likely damage the carcass too much for eating or mounting.

Slugs are the most potent ammo you can purchase for a shotgun.

Rather than pellets, this ammunition is a single projectile that's usually made from lead.

This form of ammo is the best option if you want to kill a deer or other animal with a single shot, and there are various options, like foster slugs, steel slugs, and wax slugs available.

For home defense, slugs or buckshot are your best bets.

Shot Size

When buying birdshot, you can select the diameter of the pellets inside the shot.

Although the pellet diameter is measured in inches, it's given a numerical value like gauges.

As you look through the available shots, you should know that the larger the number, the smaller the size of the pellet.

So, if you're hunting large ducks, you'll want to choose number two or four birdshot, while number eight is best for smaller birds.

After shot size number one, the naming convention scraps the numerical values and is simply called buckshot.

The Ounce or Pellet Count

As you purchase shotgun ammo, you'll likely see the term "ounce shot" on the box, at least if you're buying birdshot or slugs.

This unit measures the weight of the payload or pellets in each projectile. Buckshot uses pellet count instead of ounces.

On the surface, it might seem like a projectile that weighs more would produce more energy because it has a greater payload.

However, it also requires more power and energy to fire slugs or shot with a higher weight.

Therefore, it could end up with less velocity. Determining the projectile that will provide the most power involves looking at the dram equivalent number.

Dram Equivalent

In their earliest days, shotguns were loaded with powder measured in drams, 16 drams equaling one ounce.

This unit is no longer active in an official sense, but it's still applicable when choosing ammo.

Dram equivalent is the term used today, and it's the measurement of powder inside a shotgun shell.

There are multiple gun powder types on the market, so the measurement isn't an exact science.

Still, shells with a higher dram equivalent will generally produce more energy, reach a greater velocity, and have more significant recoil.

Shell Length

The length of your chosen shells is meaningful because it often determines how many pellets or how much powder it contains.

Shotgun shell lengths typically range between 1 3/4 and 3 1/2 inches, depending on the projectile type and brand. 

As a rule, the longer the shell's length, the greater its energy output. It also means more significant recoil when firing your weapon.

A 3.5-inch magnum shell, for example, could hold up to 18 buckshot pellets and contain extra powder, helping it travel at greater speeds and do more damage to its target.

Feet Per Second

Another thing you could see listed on your box of shotgun shells is its velocity, which measures in feet per second.

The typical shot will travel between 1,150 and 1,300 feet per second, although there are some exceptions.

A magnum shell could travel at a higher velocity because of its greater dram equivalent, which means it has more powder packed into it.

It's not uncommon for these projectiles to reach 1,500 feet per second.

However, with this increased velocity comes more significant recoil and downrange energy.

There are lower-velocity options available, too. 

Making Your Purchase

As you can see, you'll have plenty of choices when purchasing shotgun ammo because there are so many options on the market.

The process starts by looking at the gauge of your gun and determining its purpose because that will narrow your choices down to a fairly easy decision.

Ammunition Depot makes it far easier to buy ammo for shotguns by allowing you to shop from the comfort of your own home.

We aim to make these products as accessible as possible to eliminate some of the barriers you might face when exercising your Second Amendment rights.

Visit the Ammunition Depot eCommerce store for a look at the shotgun ammo we currently have in stock.

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Jeff Pendegraft
interesting content would love to see more of these