Introduction to Shotguns

Introduction to Shotguns

The 12 gauge shotgun is one of the most common and useful all-purpose firearms. Shotguns are usually less expensive than most handguns and carbines, and they are staples for hunting and defense. They are also pretty handy when removing the hinges from doors.

The shotgun is not my first choice for social work, but I still have a few of them in the safe. They are fun to shoot and very versatile.

In this post I'll give an overview of the main types of shotguns and the most common 12 gauge ammunition.

Types of Shotguns

There are three main types of shotgun actions: pump action, break action and autoloader. 

Pump Action

The pump action is one of the most common shotguns and is a favorite for a utility piece. This is the gun that makes the infamous loading sound. It is probably the most bang for your buck as pump actions are often inexpensive in relation to other firearms.

Break Action

Break action shotguns are your side by side and over under models. These are ideal for sport shooting, hunting and wild west reenactments. Double barrels really shine for sporting purposes because each barrel is set with different chokes for different ranges.


Autoloaders are semiautomatic shotguns that cycle each time the shooter pulls the trigger. They are a favorite amongst hunters and sport shooters alike when a higher rate of fire is required to hit multiple targets. Followup shots are generally faster with an autoloader giving it an edge with tactical and competition shooters. 

Types of Shotgun Ammo

Shotgun Ammo

Below is an overview of the three most common types of shotgun ammo. We’ll keep it simple and stick with the most common size 2 ¾” shells.


These are the 100 packs you see at Walmart for about $20. Great for cheap target practice and small game. There are hundreds of tiny pieces of shot in each shell. This makes birdshot ideal for hitting smaller moving targets.

Usually no. 7.5 and no. 8 size shots are used for target loads. Birdshot is great for busting clay birds and cheap target practice. However, it is still good to practice with buckshot if you are training for defensive purposes, especially if you are going to be running buckshot while the shotgun is in service. You will see the difference immediately on the range whether you’re shooting steel or paper.


This is probably the most common tactical load. Buckshot has bigger pellets designed to stop larger game and is also used for tactical and defensive purposes. Below I’ll cover two of the more commonly found loadings.

Federal Buckshot Sizes

No. 4 Buck

No. 4 buckshot is a common round used for defense and hunting. The typical loading is 27 pellets in 2 ¾” shells for no. 4 buckshot. This will give you more spread density when patterning but still yields a decent amount of knock down power.

00 Buck

The 9 pellet 00 2 ¾” shells are probably the most common defensive load run by most LEO and operators.

00 Buckshot

00 buckshot has a high amount of knockdown power with the average load running from 1,200 FPS (low recoil) to 1,600 FPS. The downrange effectiveness of a solid close range hit with 00 buckshot is hard to argue with and is accepted by most as a fight stopper. 


A slug is a large singular projectile that basically turns the shotgun into a rifle. 

The one ounce rifled slug is probably the most commonly used and available. Slugs enhance the effective range and capability of a shotgun delivering a devastating amount of energy transfer to target. They are great for hunting and tactical applications.

12 Gauge Rifled Slugs

In a smooth bore shotgun (most common), the shooter will need rifled slugs. The rifling is actually in the projectile and not the barrel of the shotgun. 

In a shotgun with a rifled barrel, the shooter will need sabot slugs. It is important to know if you have a smooth or rifled barrel. Rifled barrel shotguns are largely used for deer hunting in locals that restrict rifle use. 


It is good to pattern your shotgun and know the spreads and distances of different brands and loadings.

This is the same concept as confirming your zero with a rifle.

It is easier to learn to shoot a shotgun effectively for most people, especially when compared to handguns. However, it is also easy to miss with a shotgun. It’s not like the movies. It is important to know the capabilities and limitations of the platform.

Back to blog


Once its gone. It's gone forever.

1 of 4