Selecting Shotgun Ammo
When deciding the best shotgun ammunition to purchase, the first and best step is to decide on your purpose for using the gun. Few guns are as easily modified and as versatile in purpose as the shotgun. Almost any shotgun can be modified from a slug wielding, heavy penetration, home defense weapon to a sportsman’s non-lead, ecologically friendly, waterfowl gun, simply by changing the ammo type.
Understanding Shotgun Gauges
With those considerations in mind, there are a large variety of shotgun load types that are compatible with various shotgun sizes. 12-gauge is by far the most popular shotgun size, with a variety of sized shot, buckshot and slug options to choose from. 20-gauge and .410-gauge round out the more common shotgun sizes, although you will find rarities like a 10-gauge, or 16-gauge on occasion in the wild. Due to its popularity and availability in the market, there are more 12-gauge cartridge options than other gauges,
Be aware, there are some non-modifiable aspects of the shotgun. For instance, you must know the gauge or diameter of the barrel. The smaller the gauge number, the larger the diameter of the shotgun barrel. For instance, a 12-gauge shotgun barrel has a larger diameter than a 20-gauge shotgun barrel. 12-gauge shells are larger and heavier than 20-gauge shells.
A larger chambered shotgun can fire smaller shotgun ammo, but not the reverse. You cannot go bigger. In other words, if your shotgun chamber is 3-1/2 inches, you can safely fire a 2-3/4 inch shell, but not the other way around. A shell that is too long for the chamber can damage not only the shotgun, but the shooter as well.
Popular Shotgun Load Types
Shotgun load types vary in size and spread depending on their application, birdshot and buckshot are both matched to numerical scales. Here again the larger the number the smaller the pellets. No. 8 dove load has cartridges with .09-inch pellets, where as No. 00 or double aught buckshot has cartridges with .33-inch pellets, and consequently, much greater stopping power. Generally, most shot cartridges are effective within 45 meters.
Shotgun Slugs & Sabot Slugs
Slugs are a single projectile launched from a shotgun shell cartridge. Slugs can be heavy and dense imparting tremendous kinetic energy to big game targets, and are highly effective for defense, or law enforcement and military applications. Depending on barrel length, most slugs have an effective range within 100 meters.
The saboted slug is a regular metallic slug supported by a plastic sabot, that engages the rifling of the shotgun, and imparts a ballistic spin to the slug for greater accuracy. Most shotgun bores are smooth, because in order to fire scatter shot, you have to have a smooth barrel. A shooter attempting to fire scatter shot from a rifled shotgun barrel would have a lateral spray pattern instead of directing pellets forward towards the target.