Choosing the right shotgun gauge can make the difference between a successful hunt and a missed opportunity. It's not just about ammo size or recoil strength. Matching your unique needs — whether it's hunting game or home defense — is also very important.
In this guide, we'll simplify the complexities of shotgun gauges — helping you make informed decisions to enhance your shooting experience. Keep reading to learn the ins and outs of shotgun gauges!
A shotgun gauge refers to the diameter of the shotgun's bore, which determines the size of the ammunition. Common shotgun gauge sizes include the 10 gauge, 12 gauge, 16 gauge, 20 gauge, 28 gauge, and .410 bore.
Understanding the various shotgun gauges might seem daunting initially. For a quick and easy overview, refer to our handy table below:
|Common Shotgun Gauges Sizes Chart|
|Gauge||Bore Diameter||Recoil||Common Game for Gauge||Preferred Shot Sizes|
|.410||.410”||Very low||Rabbit, squirrel||#6, #7.5, #9|
|28||.550”||Low||Rabbit, squirrel, snipe, quail, woodcock||#7.5, #8, #9|
|20||.615”||Low||Rabbit, squirrel, dove, grouse, partridge, snipe, quail, woodcock||#6, #7.5, #8|
|16||.662"||Moderate||Turkey, duck, goose, deer, dove, grouse, partridge||#5, #6, #7.5|
|12||.729”||Moderate||Turkey, pheasant, duck, goose, dove, grouse, partridge, deer, bear||#2, #4, #6|
|10||.775”||High||Turkey, duck, goose||#BB, #1, #2|
The most common shotgun gauge sizes (from largest to smallest) are 10 gauge, 12 gauge, 16 gauge, 20 gauge, 28 gauge, and .410 bore. When you're in the market for a shotgun, the first decision you'll need to make is the gauge. Once you've determined that, you can refine your options further: considering factors like brand, price, and more.
The .410 gauge is the smallest type of shotgun, offering a unique blend of comfort and versatility.
The 28 gauge is the third most popular type of shotgun that is prized for its lightweight design and modest recoil.
The 20 gauge is the most common type of shotgun that is known for its shooting versatility and manageable recoil.
The 12 gauge is a popular and versatile type of shotgun that is suitable for mid-sized game and available in a variety of shots.
The 10 gauge is a heavy-duty shotgun that is primarily used for waterfowl hunting. However, its powerful recoil and larger bore size may not be for everyone.
Consider a 10 gauge for hunting geese or swans.
Shotgun shells are classified by gauges — with most shells available in different lengths. The length of the shell you need is determined by your firearm, so it's crucial to check this before making a purchase.
Standard shell lengths vary, and understanding these can help you make the right choice for your shooting needs. To get a clearer picture, look at the graph detailing these standard shell lengths.
|Shell Lengths||2 ½”, 3”||2 ¾”||2 ¾”, 3”||2 ¾”||2 ¾”, 3”, 3 ½”||3 ½”|
Shotguns with longer chambers can accommodate smaller shells, but the reverse isn't true — smaller chambers cannot safely fire larger shells. Most shotgun shells are made of lead, but there are regulations to consider. For example, when hunting waterfowl, non-toxic lead shots are required.
When shopping for ammo, you'll find key information on the box: the gauge it's designed for, the length of the shot after firing, the dram equivalent of powder, the weight of the shot in ounces, and the size of the shot.
Next, let’s dive deeper into a more detailed look at the number of individual lead pellets per ounce for each shot size. As the shot size increases, the number of pellets decreases. This will help you understand the relationship between shot size and pellet count
|Shot Size||Diameter||# of Lead Pellets Per Ounce|
|7 1/2||.095” (2.41mm)||350|
|#4 Buckshot||.240” (6.10mm)||21|
|#3 Buckshot||.250” (6.35mm)||18|
|#2 Buckshot||.270” (6.86mm)||14|
|#1 Buckshot||.300” (7.62mm)||11|
|0 Buckshot||.320” (8.13mm)||9|
|00 Buckshot||.330” (8.38mm)||8|
|000 Buckshot||.360” (9.14mm)||6.2|
When it comes to home defense, 12 and 20-gauge shotguns are the most popular choices.
Comfort, ease of use, and the ability to handle the recoil are all important factors to consider when choosing a shotgun for home defense.
The .410 is considered the weakest shotgun gauge. Despite its smaller size and less stopping power compared to other gauges, it's still effective for certain applications like shooting small game or controlling pests.
The biggest shotgun gauge commonly available on the market today is the 10 gauge! Although this gauge isn’t the most popular of the most widely used shotgun gauge sizes, you can still find it. Most hunt waterfowl (ducks and geese) with this specific gauge.