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A shotgun is a type of firearm that can be used to fire many different types of ammunition. The most common type of ammunition is called "shot", which consists of multiple small pellets which spread out when fired. However, since the energy of the blast is distributed amongst each piece of shot, the velocity of each piece is relatively low. This limits the effective range of a shotgun.

Because of their stopping power, high probability of causing wounds, and low chance of collateral damage, shotguns are favored by police forces and homeowners as a self-defense weapon. The United States Code (18 USC 921) defines the shotgun as "a weapon designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder, and designed or redesigned and made or remade to use the energy of the explosive in a fixed shotgun shell to fire through a smooth bore either a number of ball shot or a single projectile for each single pull of the trigger."

Pump Action

Pump action shotguns are the most common and fastest acting shotguns. They typically load new shells from a tube magazine.


Semi-automatic shotguns use gas pressure from the spent shell to operate the action automatically, allowing the user to only have to pull the trigger to fire. Typically semi-automatic shotguns are faster but not as reliable as their pump action shotgun counterparts.

Popular Semi-Automatic Models

The most common semi-automatic shotguns include:

  • Remington 1100
  • Beretta 390/3901
  • Weatherby SA-08
  • Saiga 12
  • SRM Arms Model 1216

Bolt Action

Bolt action shotguns are rare, but not impossible to acquire. They are typically slower than other action types, but have the advantage of being magazine fed and thus can have much greater capacity.


There have been several attempts at fully automatic shotguns for military purposes, but they are extremely rare and difficult to shoot due to the massive "kick" experienced in each shot.

Ammunition Types

Shotguns are able to fire many types of unique ammunition due to their larger bore and compressed air propulsion method. This is a list of some of the types they can fire.


Buckshot consists of multiple projectiles (lead balls) packed together that are easily capable of taking down large prey with one shot. They run from No. 4 buckshot with .24 caliber balls up to "000" (pronounced "triple ought") which are .36 caliber balls. The most popular version for a 12 ga. shotgun is "00" or "double ought" buckshot which contains 9 (2 3/4" shells) - 12 (3" shells) .33 caliber balls.


Birdshot is made up of small BBs for greater spread. Birdshot is rated by size and half sizes from nos. 12 to 1, followed by "B" to "BBB" and finally "T", "TT", "F" and "FF" as the largest birdshot. The latter sizes are rare and are designed for the largest gamebirds such as geese, turkeys and swans. The smallest birdshot, size 12, is merely lead flakes and used for snake shot rounds. Common practice loads and upland game loads are sizes 7 1/2 - 4 depending on whether lead is used or steel. Sizes 4 - 1 are duck loads while BB shot is generally preferred for geese. Steel shot has mostly replaced lead shot and is required for waterfowl hunting due to concerns about lead pollution in watersheds.

Birdshot is preferred for home defense as well as for practice due to the lower cost per round, multi-purpose and surprisingly for it's decreased lethality at anything other than close range. Overpenetration and injury to bystanders are of general concern. Using birdshot reduces that risk and yet is still quite able to perform the required job at ranges where a home intruder will be faced. For personal defense outside a home buckshot or slugs are recommended.


Slugs are single large bullets fired from a shotgun, usually solid lead, generally used for defense and large game hunting. The advantage of a slug is to give the shotgun greater range, out to 100 meters. There are several types of slugs:

Standard Slugs

Standard slugs were lead balls with no other unique traits, were nicknamed "flying pumpkins" by hunters due to their low velocity and large size. They are now obsolete due to their poor accuracy.

Rifled Slugs

There are two primary designs to so-called "rifled" slugs. They are the Brenneke and Foster slugs. Both appear to have rifling on the outside of the rounds but in fact this imparts no spin to the round nor are they designed to benefit from rifled shotgun barrels. The rifling is to minimize the contact between the slug and the shotgun barrel thus minimizing velocity loss due to friction. The Brenneke slug is stabilized in flight by the wad which acts as a drag like a kite tail. It is more popular in Europe where it was designed in 1898. The Foster slug, designed in America in 1931 uses a hollow base like a shuttlecock and is the American standard slug.

Sabot Slugs

Sabot slugs are smaller, lighter, copper-jacketed lead-core bullets encased in a discarding plastic shell (sabot) designed to be fired from a rifled shotgun barrel. They have greater speed and accuracy than other slugs. The sabot (shell) engages the rifling of the barrel and bullet becomes spin stabilized as other traditional bullets do.

Exotic & Speciality Ammunition

Shotguns offer greater flexibility in use than any other type of firearm. Consequently, there are a number of speciality ammunitions produced for it, commonly in 12 ga. only.

Breaching Rounds

Breaching rounds are a special type of slug designed for scenarios where the user needs to forcibly open a locked entry with minimal risk to themselves, teammates, or people standing on the other side. These rounds fire a special frangible slug that pulverizes into dust upon impact with a solid object such as the hasp of a padlock. These slugs can be a solid metallic mass of sintered metal (often copper rather than lead), metal dust supsended in a binder such as wax or epoxy, or simply powdered lead contained in a slug-sized plastic capsule that bursts on impact.

Multiple Projectiles (non-buckshot)

Multiple projectiles of mixed calibers make up the "Buck and Ball" or "Duplex" round designed for defensive purposes. It has greater penetration and range than standard buckshot loads due to it having a single simple slug in it. Other versions may have two slugs connected by wire (i.e. "bolo" rounds), multiple flechettes loaded into the round, or extruded cube-shaped pellets similar in size to buck or birdshot. These types of rounds are restricted in some states and countries to military and law enforcement only.

Bird Bombs

"Bird Bombs" also known as "Cracker" rounds contain a firecracker that will detonate harmlessly about 150' away from the shooter. These are used to frighten away flocks of unwanted birds from fields and airports.

Dragon's Breath

Similar in appearance to a flamethrower this pyrotechnic round shoots flammable material (zirconium-based) out of the barrel of the shotgun for about 20' but the flames only last for 2–3 seconds. It is banned in many states and countries.


Signal flares, for use in distress, are made in 2 3/4" and 3" lengths. These are often loaded to extremely low pressures to make them safe for use in plastic flare guns, and may not cycle a semiautomatic shotgun properly. Prompt cleaning should follow use of these rounds as they are corrosive to the barrel.

Less-Lethal Rounds

There are many types of "less-lethal" ammunition designed for shotguns, and these rounds are usually restricted to law enforcement use only. While these rounds are referred to as "less-lethal", care should be taken when firing them at an individual, as they have a very real capacity for injury or death at close ranges.

Baton rounds

Flexible Baton rounds are sometimes referred to as "beanbags" are a type of less-lethal projectile typically used in specially-designated shotguns by police to disable/disarm suicidal suspects. They fire either a small sack of powdered lead (e.g. "Hammer" round) or short plastic batons (e.g. "Bouncer" round) that incapacitates individuals rather than killing them.

Rubber/Plastic Bullets

Rubber ball rounds (i.e. "rubber bullets") or plastic (Zytel) ball rounds that are also used as less lethal crowd control rounds. They may form one solid slug or multiple rounds similar to buckshot (e.g. "Stinger" shot).

Electrical Stun Rounds

Stun rounds consist of low velocity, electronic stunning projectiles that are incapacity the target upon contact.

Gas Rounds

Gas rounds are a plastic ball containing either Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) powder or teargas (CS) powder which bursts when it hits a solid object like a window or the wall of a house.


Shotgun barrel diameter is rated by "gauge", (also called "bore" in Europe and parts of Canada, or when referring to specially-chambered rifles using slug ammunition in these claibers). The lower the gauge the larger the barrel diameter. 12 gauge is the most popular size, with 20 and .410 Bore also being common. For disaster preparedness and home defense applications, 12 gauge is preferred due to its wide spread availability of parts and ammunition, with 20 gauge coming a rather close second.

Gauge is a traditional term which is used exclusively in shotguns in place of the more common measurement of "caliber". The gauge of the shotgun is calculated by the number of balls equal in diameter to the internal diameter of the barrel that are required to weighone pound. Thus, it takes a ball of lead 1/12th of a pound in weight to equal the bore diameter of a 12 gauge shotgun. A notable exception is the .410 cartridge, which is named according to traditional caliber designation - although it is actually larger than .410 inches, and several firearms have been produced which can fire .410 shotgun shells or .45-caliber pistol ammunition interchangeably.

The most common shotgun gauges are:

  • 10 Gauge
  • 12 Gauge
  • 16 Gauge
  • 20 Gauge
  • .410 Bore


Another unique trait of shotgun is a "choke" or narrowing of the barrel at the muzzle end effecting the pattern of shot being fired. Chokes constricts the shot so it does not spread apart till later in flight, thus giving it greater range when firing birdshot against say, flying fowl or clay pigeons. Chokes can either be a permanent modification to the barrel or as replaceable components (i.e. screw on chokes). Use of chokes are not recommended when firing slugs or speciality ammunition.

Cylinder Bore

This is a barrel without any choking at all. Most "riot" or short barreled shotguns come with a plain cylinder bore allowing for the greatest spread of shot possible as soon as it leaves the barrel.

Improved Cylinder

Improved cylinder choke has the least amount of constriction at the muzzle giving very wide dispersal but greater range than cylinder bore.


Modified choke gives a wider dispersal of shot than full choke, but is still fairly concentrated.


Full choke yield the most focused pattern, concentrating damage and extending range.

Shotgun List

This is a list of notable shotguns, based on their popularity, versatility, or historic significance.

  • Benelli M4 Tactical Shotgun - At $1,700 retail who can afford the new standard US military semi-auto shotgun?
  • Mossberg 500 - An old favorite of hunters the Mossberg 590 is the upgraded military pump action version
  • Remington 870 - The police standard pump action shotgun is also a favorite of hunters
  • Saiga-12 - Russia's adaptation of the AK-47 into a semi-auto and fully automatic shotgun for police/military use
  • Franchi SPAS-12 - Unique police/military semi-auto could switch to pump action for less lethal ammo, used in Terminator movie
  • Winchester Model 12 - This pump action has become the Model 1200 and 1300 "Defender"
  • Winchester M97 "Trench Gun" - Military version of the Winchester Model 1897, first successful pump action shotgun


  • "Without a long gun (shotgun or rifle) you are nothing, worthless, you are waiting for death, any minute, any second." -- Aron Bielski
  • "If you can choose what to bring to a fight, bring a long gun. And a friend with a long gun" - NRA Lifer

"Never bring a knife to gun fight." "Never bring a pistol to a shotgun fight." -- Anonymous

"I need a pistol only to fight my way back to my rifle or shotgun."—Anonymous

See also

External links