Buckshot vs Birdshot vs Slug - How to Choose Shot Size for Shotgun She – Foundry Outdoors

Buckshot vs Birdshot vs Slug - How to Choose Shot Size for Shotgun Shell Ammunition

Choosing the correct shotgun shell ammunition for your upcoming hunt will help you maximize the efficiency of your prized shotgun. 

Shotguns are some of the most versatile weapons we can get our hands on. Not only are shotguns versatile, but they are extremely efficient as well. Depending on the state you live in, your shotgun might get use for 9 or more months out of the year, and take aim at a variety of targets as well. From dove and cottontails, to deer and turkey, shotguns can just about do the job on anything you’ll want to hunt. These are some of the reasons shotguns are found in the vast majority of sportsman’s gun cabinets.

Although shotguns are versatile, it’s not the gun that gets the job done, it is the ammunition. Selecting the correct ammunition for your shotgun, and the animals you will pursue, is an important step toward harvesting your animal. If you don’t have much experience in this department, here is a brief breakdown of the most popular shotgun shell ammunition.

Shotgun Gauge

Before visiting the types of shotgun shell ammunition, it’s important you first understand the basics of your shotgun. Rather than calibers, shotguns are classified by their gauge. Gauge is a reference to the bore diameter. The smaller the number, the larger the diameter of the barrel. The larger the diameter of the barrel, the more powder and shot that will go into your ammunition. Finally, more powder equals more energy in the shot for better killing power, but also more recoil which can make larger bore shotguns less enjoyable to shoot.

Many people opt for 20 gauge or 12 gauge shotguns, and these are easiest to find ammunition for. If you are lighter framed, or plan on doing a tremendous amount of shooting, the 20 gauge might be a good choice. If you are a sturdier individual and plan on hunting many different animals, the 12 gauge is hard to beat.

Whatever gauge you choose to shoot, make sure your ammunition is the same size.


Perhaps the most widely used shotgun shell ammunition is called birdshot. As you could probably guess, birdshot is used to hunt birds and other animals on the move. Birdshot shells look like other shotgun shells, but inside they have many small pellets generally of lead or steel. They are best for shooting small targets because when the gun is shot, the pellets spread out and cover a large area. By spreading out they increase the likelihood you will hit the small moving target.That being said, you also want to avoid shooting birdshot at larger animals. Since the small pellets spread out, they don’t have the same power as slugs and buckshot.

When it comes to shot size you can improve your chances of hitting your target by selecting the correct size. All birdshot is labeled to inform you about the number of pellets each shell contains. When looking at shot size the basic rule is the smaller the number, the larger the pellets. For example, a box of No. 3 shells would have larger (thus less) pellets than a box of No. 8. Having larger pellets is good for hunting larger birds like geese, ducks, and pheasants, while smaller shot is adequate for quail and dove. Once you pass No. 1 shot, you start to move into shot classified as either B, BB, or BBB. In this instance, the more B’s the larger the pellets.


Like birdshot, buckshot shells have multiple pellets in the shell casing. The main difference lies in the size of the pellets. Unlike birdshot, which contains many small pellets, buckshot contains a few large pellets. This type of shotgun shell ammunition is designed to be used on large species like deer and hog.

Buckshot also has a similar identification system in which larger numbers signify smaller shot. In the case of buckshot, the largest you will come across 000, or more commonly known as “triple aught”.  Decreasing in size, you can also purchase 00, or 0 buckshot as well. Once again, the smaller the number the smaller the shot, thus the more pellets that will be in the casing. On the other hand, the 000 shot will pack a heck of a wallop once it reaches its destination. From the “aught” classification, buckshot comes in shot size as small as No. 4. Also, it may be worth clarifying that No. 4 buckshot, and No. 4 birdshot are not the same size. Each shell type gets its own classification.


As the final type of shotgun shell ammunition on our list, slugs, certainly are quite a bit different from buckshot and birdshot. Slugs are shells that are much more like a bullet than anything else. Like a bullet, slugs are a single piece of material that will punch one hole downrange. Although slugs can be made from many materials, they are most commonly made from lead for hunting purposes. You can shoot slugs from your standard shotgun barrel and have no problems. On the other hand, many times shooters who want improved accuracy and distance will buy a slug barrel for their shotgun. Like rifle barrels, a shotgun barrel will have rifling that improves the accuracy of the slug. Whatever you decide, slugs are common for hunting big game like deer and even bear. Also whatever gauge you are shooting, it is likely you can find slugs to fit your gun.

As you can tell, choosing shotgun shell ammunition is not overly complicated, but choosing the right shot is important. By understanding the benefits and characteristics of birdshot, buckshot, and slugs, you can choose the best shell for your upcoming hunt. If you keep a few different boxes of shells on hand, you will help maximize the versatility of one of the most multipurpose guns we have.


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Lavern - May 06, 2021

I just purchased the Keltec KS7 12g shotgun. My local trap range regulations say buckshot and Magnum shells are not allowed. Only target loads of 7 1/2, 8, and 9 are allowed. I purchased ammo from Remington and Winchester but nowhere on the packages state whether it’s birdshot, buckshot, slug, Magnum, etc.

Remington Premier STS Light Handicap
Winchester Universal
Both ammo manufacturers spec’s:
12 g, 2 3/4 length, 1 1/8 oz, 7 1/2 shot

I assume this is a dumb question and that the answer to whether I can shoot these rounds is obvious, but it isn’t to me.

Any help would be appreciated.

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