Shotgun Shell Types Explained

5th Aug 2018

Shotgun Shell Types Explained

In our previous blog, we went through the differences and meaning of terms like Calibre, Gauge and Bore when talking about shotguns. If you’re not clued up on what these words mean when talking about shotguns, then we suggest you quickly delve into that blog before reading this one!

When it comes to shotguns, there are different gauges of ammunition available and there are different types of ammunition available.  Only 1 gauge of ammunition will work in your shotgun. For instance, only 12gauge shotgun ammunition will work in a 12-gauge shotgun.

However, there are different types of ammunition available on the market. So, you might see 12-gauge bird shot round ammunition or 12-gauge buckshot.

So, what do these different types mean? What are they used for and not used for?

How do shotgun shells work?


To fully understand the different types, it’s beneficial to understand how a shotgun shell is constructed and how it works.

Firstly, you have the primer. It’s the same as the primer found in rifle and pistol rounds. Once hit by the firing pin, it ignites all of the gunpowder in the shell.

Then you have the “wad”, its job is to separate the powder and the projectile and to transfer all of the energy from the exploding powder into the projectile.

All of this is wrapped in a plastic “shell” and the shell is crimped tight at the top to prevent the projectile(s) from falling out.

Types of Shotgun Shell

Now, there are a huge number and variations of shotgun shells and their projectiles, because for the most part, anything that fits into a shotgun shell can be fired. However, we’ll go through the most common types and what you need to know about them.


Bird Shot

Bird Shot is a shotgun shell filled with a large number of very small shot. It’s called bird shot because it’s most commonly used to shoot birds. The large number of projectiles means that they have an even and wide spread, making it easier to hit moving, small targets. In addition, the lightweight projectiles cause less damage to smaller targets, whilst still being lethal.

Birdshot pellet sizes are typically smaller than 3mm and shells tend to have hundreds of pellets in them.


Buckshot is a much heavier form of shotgun round and fires 6-10 larger diameter ball bearings (no larger than 9.1mm).  They carry more energy and do much more damage to a target when compared to birdshot. Typically, this kind of round is only used for large game where legal and humane to do so.


In the UK, slugs are relatively rare due to needing an FAC and the inability to shoot live quarrel with it. However, we’ll cover it anyway. Slugs are simply one large chunk of lead like a bullet. It may be rifled to give it spinning stability in a smooth barrel, or the barrel itself may be rifled to stabilise it. It goes without saying that using a Slug with a choked shotgun is not a smart idea. 


Read our explanation of shotgun chokes

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