Shotgun Gauges and Shells….What’s it all about?

PSA recently held a Home Firearm Safety course in which one of the students wanted to gain a little more understanding on how and why shotguns get their specific designations.  Being quite the interesting conversation, we thought that we would share the historical significance behind these designations to all of our wacky readers out there!!

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What’s exactly inside your 12 gauge shotgun shell?  Well now you know!!!

At first glance, it would be easy to assume that the number “12” designation for a 12-gauge shotgun indicated a specific metric measurement (as it does in caliber designation for other firearms).  Unfortunately guys…..that’s not quite how it goes!!  The number “12” when designating shotguns simply means that the shooter is able to make 12 lead balls (all of an equal diameter of the bore) out of 1 pound of lead.  More than likely, the designations for shotguns came about in the the days when shooters would buy lead by the pound to make their own ammo.  Thus, it would take 12 lead balls, each with the same diameter of the bore of the shotgun, to add up to a pound of lead.  The same goes for a 4-gauge shotgun (4 lead balls with a diameter equal to that of the bore), a 16-gauge, 20-gauge, and so on.  The only exception would be the .410 shotgun.  These little buggers are actually measured using the imperial system of measurement and more likely resemble a caliber designation (diameter of .41 inches).

Now that you now how the shotguns get their specific designations lets talk about the different types of shells you can get!!  Most generally speaking you can get variations of either “birdshot” or “buckshot” loaded shotgun shells.  Shot pellet diameters 0, 00, and 000 are pronounced “aught”, “double aught”, and “triple aught”.

Birdshot.   When describing “birdshot” sizes (like the shell pictured below), you can think of them similarly to shotgun gauges because the smaller the number, the larger the shot.  These loads are used specifically to hunt smaller game (pheasant, turkey, rabbit, geese, etc).

Buckshot.   Buckshot size (like the shell pictured above) is sometime designated by actual diameter, but most commonly by letter or number.  Usually the smaller numbers indicate larger shot.  Common uses for the buckshot loads include: personal defense and  hunting medium to large game (deer, small bear, zombies, etc.).

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Bird-shot loads have significantly smaller pellets than those in defensive loads.

As a general rule-of-thumb in the world of firearms, the smaller the barrel diameter, the less felt recoil (commonly referred to as “kick”) the shooter experiences as a result of discharging the firearm.  When training novices about the utility of shotguns, tons of instructors recommend a 20-gauge as a serviceable beginner’s shotgun.  This is due to the relatively little recoil but the ability to fire more shot per shell than the smaller-diameter .410 shotguns.

***  If you are unfamiliar with firearms and/or their accessories, and want to learn more, PSA strongly suggests that you find, enroll, and attend a comprehensive and reputable firearms safety course. Firearms safety is all of OUR responsibility.  

We want to thank you for taking out the time to stop by our lane at the shooting range!!  We hope that you enjoyed your stay and hope that you stop back by early and often to catch up on all PSA updates!  We truly hope that we were able to hit the target, and if you ever have any questions please don’t hesitate to shoot them our way!!  We look forward to shooting the breeze with you soon again!!

And as always….remember to watch your six and stay low!!!

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