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Joined: 09/19/2014
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.12 gauge ammo - which is best for what?

I was wondering if there exists a graph that explains the "best" uses for each .12 gauge round, as in which is best for home defense, which round is best for hunting (birds, small game, larger game, etc)...etc...

I fired a few weapons while in the military but never a shotgun and don't posses to much knowledge of them.

Thanks a ton for any assistance with this.



Critter's picture
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Location: Western Colorado
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I personally have never seen

I personally have never seen a chart for shot size in reguards to what you are hunting or planning on shooting, but then I grew up shooting a shotgun starting at a young age. 

Generally for me for upland birds such as grouse and pheasant size birds I like #6 shot out of my 12 ga.  For quail and doves I will switch to a 20 ga shooting 7's to 9 shot.  Rabbits #6 shot all the way no matter what shotgun I am packing.  Ducks will get a dose of #4 shot and if I am after geese I will switch it up to T shot in my 10 ga. 

Home defence on the other hand I would use any of them.  00 buckshot gets talked about a lot but do you want something the size of a .22 zipping through your walls and perhaps hitting what is on the other side?  But then even a load of #9's will go through a wall but usually not the second one. 

I'm sure that others on here have different opinions but that is what works for me. 

BikerRN's picture
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The term best covers a lot of territory and leaves much open to speculation. 

It's nice to see someone looking at the real firearm that won the west, the shotgun, instead of the noisemakers the kids use these days. I believe the shotgun still had a role to play in today's society. 

buffybr's picture
Location: Montana, USA
Joined: 11/15/2007
Posts: 358
12 ga shot size

In general terms, the smaller the target and the closer the shot distance, the smaller the shot size. For larger targets and at longer distances, use larger size shot.

For home defense where your shot would be measured in feet instead of yards, any 12 ga shot load could be lethal. Like has been mentioned, small shot pellets missing your target in a home will not penetrate as many walls as larger shot pellets will.

groovy mike's picture
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Shotgun basics including a bit on what shells are for


Every once in awhile new shooters ask some basic shot-gunning questions trying to decide which shotgun they should buy.  They are generally concerned with either home defense, or hunting, but often both. 


Yes you can hunt small game and game birds with the big 10 gauge, but it is more recoil than most people want to deal with on a regular basis.  By and large the “big gun” is the 12 gauge. It has been a fight stopper from the old west to World War Two. 


I have been asked many times if a 12 gauge is too much gun for hunting small game.  There is a fear among some new shooters that the smaller animals will be too peppered with pellets to be edible or at best a gruesome mess. It is not true.  Many, many, many rabbits and partridge and pheasants have gone down to the 12 gauge and been perfectly suitable for eating world wide over the last hundred years or so.


Sixteen gauge shotguns use a shell slightly smaller than the 12 gauge shell, but there is not a significant difference in the perceived recoil.  In my opinion, the only thing gained by using a sixteen gauge is greater expense because the shells are used a lot less common and thus cost more than the twelve gauge or the 20 gauge.

That said, a 20 gauge is also perfectly suitable for all shotgun hunting and for self defense without the full recoil from the larger shells of 16, 12, or 10 gauge guns. I agree with the often repeated advice that new shot-gunners, most women, and younger teens who wish to hunt or shoot trap or skeet should begin with a 20 gauge.  Many are built for smaller frame shooters (youth models) and they will probably be a better match for those folks.


The 28 and 410 gauge shells are much smaller than the 20 gauge and also more expensive.  They can be used for hunting and defense, but it is like deer hunting with a 22 rimfire. These shells are really not best suited to the job. These smaller gauges are useful for teaching shotgun use, and for youths to hunt squirrels with, but in my personal opinion do not throw enough lead to reliably take birds on the wing. Others will disagree.

Once you decide on what shell to fire, the next question is what action choice to make for your shotgun.  Single shots are simple to operate and inexpensive, but slower to reload and fire after the first shot than other types of actions.  The venerable side by side shotguns aka “double barrels” are basically two single shot guns sharing a single stock.  They are reliable in that you have two complete actions (triggers, hammers, chambers) so that if one breaks you still have the second, but also heavy.  You are carrying two barrels as well.  Pump guns are the next technological step.  There are good ones and bad ones.  They require two hands to operate and I have found them more prone to jam than any other action, but they did dominate the shotgun market for 50 years, so I really can’t put them down too much.  Any of these can and will work for you if you find one that you like and that feels natural for you to operate.  I personally love the old outside hammer side by sides but they are not the optimum for efficiency.  In my opinion that designation goes to the more modern semi automatic shotguns.


A semi auto will be more expensive than a pump, double, or single shot but it will kick less because the springs soak up recoil. Follow up shots will be very fast until you need to reload.  The number of shells you can load at a time varies but is generally at least three so that you will get at least one more shot than the old double guns without having to pump the action or work a bolt. 


If you have any concern with recoil get a semi auto. Regardless of what you buy, put a pad on the butt-stock to cushion your shoulder when you practice.


What does "gauge" mean anyway?  As used here gauge means the number of round lead balls the same diameter as the inside of the barrel (aka the bore) that it would take to weigh one pound. It takes 12 lead balls the same diameter as a 12 gauge barrel to weigh a pound.  The smaller 20 gauge would require 20 balls of that barrel diameter.


In general the number of pellets in a shotgun shell is greater for the bigger bore guns.  A 12 gauge is a larger diameter shell than a 20 gauge.   So when using the same sized shot the 12 gauge will throw more pellets than the 20 gauge per shell. 


Similar to the numbers used to designate gauge, shot size is also inverse to the number designation. The smaller the number - the larger the pellet. #8 shot is very small pellets suitable for bird hunting. #6 shot is a decent rabbit load. #4 and #5 is a larger pellet suitable for turkeys. #2 shot is suitable for goose hunting. #1 shot is big O, OO, and OOO are bigger pellets sometimes called buckshot. In general the larger the pellet, the more deadly it is when it hits large game. The trade off is that you fit fewer pellets in a shell.

A shotgun "slug" is one big pellet as big as the bore in your barrel (like a rifle bullet). For self defense any shotgun shell will kill at close range, but #1, O, OO, and OOO are considered man stoppers.

You can fire shorter shells (like 2 3/4 inch length) in a shotgun that holds longer shells with no downside.  But you can't fire longer shells in a shotgun designed for shorter shells. For example you can not use 3 inch shells in a shotgun with a 2 3/4 inch chamber. All things equal, get the longer chamber to increase your ammo options, but buy the shorter shells to reduce recoil. As a rule of thumb, the longer the shell the harder it will kick. So buy the 2 3/4 inch shells not the 3 1/2 inch shells. The short ones will do everything you want at under 50 yards.

This covers the very basics of shot-gunning terms and should give you enough information to start asking questions and narrowing down the choices when you decide which shotgun you want and what you want to feed it with.