Shotgun Ammo Types: Birdshot, Buckshot, & Slugs

When it comes to firearms, shotguns are versatile and widely used for various purposes, including hunting, sport shooting, and self-defense. While firing a shotgun is pretty straightforward, understanding the different types of shotgun shells isn’t.

Generally, you get three types of different shotgun shells including birdshot, buckshot, and slugs. Each of these ammo types has it’s own unique set of use cases, benefits, and limitations.

In this article, we have your shotgun shells explained, covering these different types of ammo and discussing for which application each is best suited.

What Are The Different Types Of Shotgun Shells?

These are the three types of shotgun ammunition.

  1. Birdshot Ammo
  2. Buckshot Ammo
  3. Slugs Ammo

shotgun ammo types

1. Birdshot Ammo

Birdshot pellets, as the name suggests, are for hunting birds, fowl, and other small game. The shotgun shell is packed with small pellets, which spread upon firing, creating a shot pattern that increases your chances of hitting your target.

2. Buckshot Ammo

Buckshot ammo is designed for hunting larger game and even for self-defense. This ammo is much larger compared to birdshot pellets. The ammunition is typically made from solid lead balls and requires high-brass shotgun hulls to accommodate the higher pressure.

3. Slugs Ammo

Shotgun slugs are designed for hunting large game and for self-defense. A shotgun slug is a single, large projectile, often constructed of lead, copper, or an alloy, that provides the highest impact and penetration compared to birdshot and buckshot pellets.

A slug, when combined with rifled shotgun barrels, is the preferred ammo type if you want to prioritize range, with slugs offering considerably more range than the previously two mentioned ammo types. They come in two most basic types: rifled slugs and sabot slugs. They are ideal for hunting large, tough game such as elk and bear. And the size of the slug also determines its use case.

How Big Are The Different Shotgun Shells?

The ammo/ shot size depends on the type of shotgun ammo you have, as well as the diameter of the shotgun barrel. Generally, birdshot ammo ranges from #12 shot (0.05″ in diameter) up to FF (.23” in diameter). In comparison, buckshot ammo is usually bigger. And slugs the biggest – weighing almost an ounce in weight.

It is important to note that the size of the pellets in birdshot and buckshot is indicated by a number – the smaller the number, the larger the pellets. Luckily, they are easily identifiable, thanks to the color coding system.

shotgun ammo sizes

Are Shotgun Shells Color Coded?

Yes, shotgun shells are color-coded. While the color coding can vary depending on the manufacturer, the most common color coding system is as follows:

  • 10-gauge: Brown
  • 12-gauge: Red or black
  • 16-gauge: Purple
  • 20-gauge: Yellow
  • .410: Red

As mentioned, shotgun shells are color-coded, but it’s best to look at the shotgun shell boxes before assuming the colors match the shotgun shell sizes you are used to.

Which Type Of Shotgun Shell Should You Use?

The type of shotgun shell you should use depends on your shotgun’s bore diameter as well as your use case. For hunting, you can use all three types of shotgun shells. In comparison, for sport shooting and self-defense, you should stick with one shotgun ammo type.

What Is The Best Type Of Shotgun Ammo For Hunting?

The buckshot is the best type of shotgun ammo for the shotgun hunter. It has enough power to take down larger game and contains enough pellets for a decent shot spread. The buckshot is ideal for board and deer hunting and boar.

Which Type Of Shotgun Ammo Is Best For Small Game Hunting?

You can use birdshot for small game and birds. Remember, small game are often delicate – you don’t want too much power. Buckshot has an adequate spread, but the power is too much.

Additionally, slugs don’t have a spread, so hitting a flying target will be incredibly difficult with the slug. Even with the large birdshot spread, it can be difficult. Luckily, you can use red dot scopes for turkey shotguns to ensure you always hit your mark/target, even if it’s flying.

hunting shotgun ammo

Which Type Of Shotgun Ammo Is Best For Large Game Hunting?

The shotgun ammo most adept at tackling large game is slugs. Slugs are ideal for elk, moose, and bear, as they deliver a powerful, fatal blow if the shot placement is accurate, which is why I rely on shotgun scopes to ensure I deliver accurate shot placement.

What Is The Best Shotgun Ammo For Self-Defense?

For self-defense shotgun ammo, the buckshot is the best, especially when used in conjunction with a shotgun red dot sight. This is because it offers the best balance between stopping power and shot spread size. Birdshot can injure your target, but they can still pose a threat, while slugs are too difficult to shoot accurately in those fast-paced shooting situations.

What Is The Best Type Of Shotgun Shell For Trap Shooting?

The birdshot is ideal if you just want a shotgun shell for target shooting, for instance, clay pigeon shooting. They are the cheapest, have the best spread, and won’t leave your shoulder too sore the next day.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is birdshot primarily used for hunting small game and birds?

Yes, as the name suggests, birdshot is specifically designed for hunting small game and birds. This is because they offer the best spread - increasing your chances of hitting small or flying objects - and don't have too much power.

Can buckshot be effective for both self-defense and hunting larger animals?

Yes, buckshot is ideal for self-defense and hunting larger animals. Buckshot pellets offer a good combination of spread and stopping power, making them versatile for both scenarios.

Which type of shotgun ammo has the most range?

Shotgun slugs have the most range and accuracy for single targets at a distance. This is why they are often used for hunting large or dangerous game.

The Bottom Line

Shotguns are incredibly versatile firearms, and understanding the type of ammo to use is crucial for effective and safe operation. Remember the next time you are out shopping shotgun ammo – birdshot is best for small game, buckshot is best for self-defense and hunting medium to larger game, and slugs are suited for large game. Ultimately, there is a type of shotgun ammo that’s right for you, now you just need to go buy it!

About the author

Patrick Howard

I have been working as a gunsmith for 20 years. Rain, fog, moisture, high temperature, or even snow are all the things a product must withstand in order to be recommended by me.

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