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12-Gauge Shotgun Load Types
The 12-gauge shotgun is one of the most versatile firearms you can own. It has many options for shot loads. How do you know which 12-gauge ammo shot patterns work best for you? With options ranging from hundreds of tiny beads to a single heavy slug, there’s plenty that you can do with your 12-gauge shotgun.
Understand the different 12-gauge ammo shot patterns. Their applications will make you more productive in the field.
Possibly the most common type of 12-gauge shotgun load, birdshot comes in a variety of sizes. A variety of 12-gauge ammo shot patterns allow hunters to target game from small to medium sizes. For birdshot, the larger the number, the smaller the pellet. You get more pellets in a single load. A #9 shot will hold more pellets. However, a #1 shot will hold less.
At only 0.08 inches of diameter per pellet, #9 shot is one of the smallest sizes you’ll find. Large birds are not good for this load. Clay pigeons make better targets. It is useful as a snake shot and for eliminating small birds. This shot is for pest control.
Buying Guide: Federal 12-Gauge 2-3/4″ 9 Shot
#8 1/2 Shot
This shot has a diameter of .085 inches per pellet. Let’s compare it to #9. It does give slightly more weight to each pellet. Making it useful for sporting clays and trap shooting at slightly longer distances.
Buying Guide: Winchester 12-Gauge 2-3/4″ 8-1/2 Shot
Birdshot #8 & Under
Offering more power per pellet, the #8 shot remains popular for clay-pigeon shooting. Some of the smallest game birds are great for this shot. Rabbit, squirrel, and doves are good too. You’ll need to be close to do any real damage. Animals taken with this shot will be full of many small pellets. This makes cleaning and eating more difficult.
Buying Guide: Federal 12-Gauge 2-3/4″ 8 Shot
#7 1/2 Shot
Sometimes called the “dove shot,” this is one of the smallest legitimate hunting loads. With pellets that are .1 inches in diameter, this load can be used for doves, pheasant, and ducks. This is assuming they are within close range. It is a versatile load used for smaller game and trap if necessary.
Buying Guide: Winchester 12 Gauge 2-3/4″ 7-1/2 Shot
With good range and limited damage to the meat, #7 is an ideal load for pheasant, grouse, and dove. It is one of the largest. Ideal for trap shooting. It is used in shotgun-competition sports.
Buying Guide: Winchester 12-Gauge 2-3/4″ 7 Shot
Birdshot #6 For Medium-Large Bird Hunting
The #6 shot allows you to begin pursuing medium-sized and even larger birds. It’s the smallest load used for pheasant or duck if the distance is a factor. It almost always is. At .11 inches in diameter, this is pretty much the middle ground for birdshot. It can be used effectively for a variety of game from squirrels to turkey. If you can hit the turkey in the head.
Buying Guide: Fiocchi 12-Gauge 2-3/4″ 6 Shot
Birdshot #5 & Under
The #5 is considered the ideal load size for pheasant hunting. It gives excellent penetration on these tough birds. The pellet diameter is .12 inches. This gives the load enough power to be an effective duck shot. Great for shots that require greater reach.
Buying Guide: Fiocchi 12-Gauge 2-3/4″ 5 Shot
#5-6-7 Shot Mix
This is an interesting load that mixes #5, 6, and 7 shot into one shell. It’s primarily advertised to turkey hunters. It’s best for open-field hunting where shot distance can be hard to estimate. They are usually loaded into larger shells of three inches.
Buying Guide: Federal 12-Gauge 3″ 5-6-7 Shot
A #4 shot has a pellet diameter of .13, giving each pellet greater force and penetration. It’s great as a turkey load. Many people like to use it for a variety of game birds. It is considered effective for home defense. The #4 can deliver effective power without penetrating walls.
Buying Guide: Winchester 12-Gauge 2-3/4″ 4 Shot
Birdshot #3 & Under
This ammunition is great for multiple applications. Hunters will find it effective for many different upland game birds. It can be considered for waterfowl. The pellet is .14 inches and can be used for geese. The #3 may be too small for some.
Buying Guide: Fiocchi 12-Gauge 3″ 3 Shot
The #2 is a heavy pellet and has an effective penetration at 40 yards. It is a favorite load for goose hunters. The pellet size is .15 inches. This gives enough power for geese. It is effective for distance shots on ducks and other waterfowl.
Buying Guide: Winchester 12-Gauge 2-3/4″ 2 Shot
The #1 shot has a pellet diameter of .16 inches, giving it effective power to knock down geese and other large birds. It is rarer and some manufacturers don’t even make it. It can be an effective load for large waterfowl.
Buying Guide: Fiocchi 12-Gauge 3-1/2″ 1 Shot
BB Shot: 12-Gauge Ammo Shot Patterns
You might think “BB” means a small toy gun for children. A 12-gauge shotgun shell loaded with BB shot measures .18 inches. It is an effective hunting load. It is primarily used for geese and large ducks. Shotgun shells loaded with BB are popular for larger game at greater distances. There are the smaller “B” pellets at .17 inches. Slightly larger are the “BBB” pellets at .19 inches.
Buying Guide: Hornady 12-Gauge 3″ BB Shot
Buckshot: 12-Gauge Ammo Shot Patterns
The buckshot uses larger and fewer metal pellets. Harvesting deer and larger game is its primary function. The 12-gauge ammo shot patterns are great for a home-defense load.
With a pellet diameter of .244 inches, #4 buckshot is popular for medium-sized game. It is great for deer and coyote. Home defense is a good excuse to buy this 12-gauge ammo shot pattern and size. It gives a good balance of power and penetration.
Buying Guide: Fiocchi 12-Gauge 2-3/4″ #4 Buck
With #1 buckshot, you are starting to get into some seriously heavy equipment. The pellets measure .3 inches. Deer hunting is their primary use. A properly-placed load of #1 shot, from the desired distance, will have no problem dropping a mature buck.
Buying Guide: Winchester 12-Gauge 2-3/4″ #1 Buck
The #00 buckshot, or “double aught”, is an effective round that can be used for deer hunting. It’s great for larger game, including heavy hog and even large game animals found in the western United States. Usually holding about eight .32-inch pellets, the #00 shot delivers reliable penetration and energy transfer.
Buying Guide: Federal 12-Gauge 2-3/4″ 00 Buck
Three-inch 12-gauge round loaded with #000 buckshot hold around eight or ten .36-inch pellets. The effects are devastating on a deer or game animal. It not powerful enough to use on large game like moose and bear. This makes it unethical to hunt larger game with.
Buying Guide: Federal 12-Gauge 2-3/4″ 000 Buck
Slugs: 12-Gauge Ammo Shot Patterns
A shotgun bullet or a slug is a solid piece of lead. It makes them the most powerful ammunition for 12-gauge shotguns. There is no spread, making them difficult to place properly. Whitetail deer are their most common game. You can use slugs for hogs and black bears.
Buying Guide: Hornady 12-Gauge 2-3/4″ Lead Slug
A rifled slug has spiraling grooves on the body of the projectile. This gives it a spin to increase accuracy. Rifled slugs are great for long-distance shots. Rifled slugs will not outperform a true rifle shot. The advantage of rifled slugs is better accuracy in a smooth-bore barrel.
Buying Guide: Remington 12-Gauge 2-3/4″ Rifled Slug
A sabot slug is thinner and longer. The slug comes wrapped in a casing called the sabot. This ensures a seal between the projectile and the barrel. Sabot slugs do not have rifling. Most commonly, they are used in shotguns with rifled barrels.
Buying Guide: Hornady 12-Gauge 2-3/4″ Sabot Slug
Now you understand the basics of 12-gauge ammo shot patterns and loads. You can choose the right option for your specific needs. If a jittery squirrel or a thick-necked buck makes an appearance, you’ll be prepared to take any game!