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Shotgun Basics

There are a lot of people who are passionate about shotguns. In case you are one of them, this blog is for you.  Maybe you’re new to gun ownership and want a shotgun for home defense. Or perhaps you’re picking up hunting or target shooting as a hobby. Regardless of the circumstances, there are some basic things you need to know before choosing the best shotgun for you.

What is a shotgun?

A shotgun is a long-barreled firearm. We fire it from the shoulder, which shoots cartridges (or “shotshells”) containing projectiles. There are many types of projectiles, but there are three main categories: buckshot, birdshot, and slugs.

  • Buckshot shotshells are loaded with larger projectiles and typically have fewer “pellets” than birdshot. Buckshot was designed for hunting deer and is a popular home defense weapon.
  • Birdshot shotshells contain smaller pellets, but there are more of them. It discharges smaller pellets because buckshot-sized pellets would decimate a bird, making it more difficult to harvest the game. Also, the higher quantity of pellets increases the likelihood of hitting your intended target. Other uses for birdshot include sport shooting (skeet and trap), small game hunting, and pest control.
  • Slugs are solid projectiles best fired through a barrel with a rifled bore. Slugs can travel much further than buckshot and birdshot and are typically more accurate, as the rifling in the barrel puts a spin on the projectile and gives it a flatter, longer trajectory. Slugs have an average effective range of 75 yards. People use it for hunting deer. Other applications for slugs include competition shooting and large game hunting (bear, boar, etc.)
Shotgun Gauges and Shotshell Sizes
Shotgun Gauges and Shotshell Sizes

Shotgun Gauges and Shotshell Sizes

Beyond the different types of shotgun ammo, there are also different gauges (calibers) and shot sizes to choose from within each ammo category. The most common shotgun calibers include 12 gauge and 20 gauge, the former being more powerful and more popular and the latter lighter and easier to handle with less recoil.

Shotgun cartridges are also available with different shot sizes, labeled with numbers that are inversely related to the size of the pellets. What do we mean by that? Well, the No. 2 shot will contain larger pellets than the No. 9 shot.

We could write several articles on the various types of shotgun ammo, but for now, know shotgun ammo is available in different styles, calibers, and shot sizes.

Shotgun Action Types

Shotguns use many of the same actions as rifles, but the most common are pump action, semi-automatic action, and break action. Break-action shotguns can be with either a single or double barrel.

  • Pump Action: Probably the most popular, a pump-action shotgun requires a user to manually cycle the action by pulling back on the gun’s fore-end to expel a spent cartridge, then pushing it forward to chamber another round, making that distinct click-click sound you hear in the movies. Pump action shotguns are highly reliable, versatile, and easy to operate.Pump-action is best for home defense applications but is not the best choice when placing successive shots, such as duck hunting.
  • Semi-Automatic: These are auto loading shotguns. The action will cycle itself when the gun is fired, expelling a spent cartridge and loading another without manual intervention. Semi-automatic shotguns are versatile.They are famous for hunting, home defense, and sport shooting. They can fire multiple shots rapidly and tend to have less felt recoil, which can be beneficial depending on the application. One drawback is that they have a more complicated design than pump-action models, and the internals can get dirty, requiring more maintenance.
  • Break Action: These shotguns are available in both single-barrel and double-barrel designs. Break action shotguns “break open” at the chamber where shells are loaded. Like pump action shotguns, break action shotguns require manual manipulation to unload spent shells and re-load live cartridges.
    Choosing a Shotgun
    Choosing a Shotgun

Choosing a Shotgun

So, now that you know the different types of shotguns and available ammo, which is right for you? Well, that depends on a lot and is ultimately your choice, but we do have a few recommendations based on your intended use:

  • Home Defense: Get a 12 gauge pump-action shotgun like a Remington 870 or Mossberg 500. Not only are they incredibly reliable, but the sound of the action (“click-click”) can be a valuable tool to scare away an intruder.
  • Hunting: Go with a 12-gauge semi-automatic shotgun. We love the Beretta A300 for hunters, but there are many models to choose from. They allow multiple shots for rapid firing, and newer models can often shoot different types of ammo without swapping barrels or parts.

We hope this helps! We update our inventory in real-time. If you’re looking for a new shotgun, please visit our website at

As staunch supporters of the Second Amendment, Founders Tactical donates 10% of its annual profits to gun advocacy groups such as Gun Owners of America and the Firearms Policy Coalition.

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