Shotguns are named for the ammunition used in shooting them, namely "shotshells" that are loaded with multiple pellets or "shot." Shot sizes are described in ranges based on the size of the individual pellets contained within a cartridge. The size of the animal being hunted generally dictates the size of the shot used. For smaller birds, shot size should range from #7.5 to #8, which are smaller size pellets; for rabbits and pheasants, #6 to #4; wild turkey #5 to #4; and waterfowl, steel or bismuth shot ranging in size from #6 up to T. States may have specific laws about shot sizes, so check state hunting regulations before buying supplies. Its a wise idea to practice using the same size shot and same kind of ammunition that would be used when hunting. 

Types of Guns 

Types of shotguns include the semi-automatic, the over-and-under, the side-by-side and the slide action or "pump" guns. 

Semi-automatic - Also known as self-loaders or autoloaders, semi-automatic shotguns are not true automatics because, unlike machine guns, the finger of the shooter must be Shotgun - Overviewreleased from the trigger between shots. Semi-automatics are the most popular shotguns used for clay target shooting by beginners because they have a less pronounced recoil as other guns. Semi-automatics must be well maintained, as the major causes of malfunction arise from unclean guns. 

Over-and-under - This gun is the most popular and safest of all shotguns. Two single barrels are joined within the same frame in over-and-unders. This prevents a third shell from becoming "hidden" within the gun. The double barrel often allows for two different choke sizes to be used. Over-and-under malfunctions are less than those of semi-automatics because there are fewer moving parts in the gun. 

Slide action - Commonly called the "pump gun," the slide action is rarely used on skeet and sporting clays fields, where double shooting is involved. The pumping action has a slower response time and excessive barrel movement, making it unpopular among sport shooting shotgunners. 

Side-by-side - Another uncommon gun used in shotgunning games, the side-by-side is still regarded by some people as the "classic" shotgun. It is mainly used, however, for upland game hunting instead of clay target shooting. They are relatively expensive, and some users say that target sighting is hindered because the width of two barrels tends to obscure the target. Some grades have two triggers, also, which make it more difficult to fire in competition. 

Single-shot - Another uncommon gun seen in the clay shooting circuit is the single-shot, due to the fact that only one shell can be fired before reloading. These guns often have tightly choked barrels, which produce a tighter cluster of shots. Because the single-shot is lightweight, it is an excellent gun for teaching younger beginners to shoot clay targets. Also, only one shot can be loaded at a time, thus alleviating an accidental second shot. 

Shotgun - OverviewChoke 

"Choke" refers to the amount that the barrel is constricted at the muzzle (located at the end of the shotgun barrel). The more constricted the bore opening is, the narrower and denser the pattern of shot which can be thrown. Several degrees of choke are commonly available, including full, improved-modified, modified, improved-cylinder and cylinder bore. Full choke barrels are made for long range shooting because they make the shot pattern denser at greater distances. Improved modified chokes fall between the full choke and the modified choke and are sometimes used in trapshooting. Modified chokes are midway between the full choke and the improved cylinder choke. Improved cylinder and cylinder bore or skeet chokes have little constriction and give the greatest spread (most open pattern) when shot is fired at close range. 

Shot patterns are linked to the amount of choke, which affects the spread of the shot. Shot patterns are related to how widely the shot is dispersed once it is released from the barrel of the shotgun. This can be useful to decide which choke works best for what animal or target and at what range. Shot patterns are described as what percentage of the pellets are found in a certain target area at a given range. Following is an example of choke types producing the percentage of the shots total number of pellets in a 30-inch circle at 40 yards: 

Some shotguns use adjustable or replacement "choke" systems. That means that the shot pattern can be adjusted to produce a "tighter" or "broader" pattern of shot. Typically, you might use "skeet" or "cylinder bore" for grouse and dove when you need an open pattern of shot, an "improved cylinder" choke for rabbits, pheasants and squirrels, a "modified" for waterfowl, and "full" or "extra full" for wild turkey, which would give you the tightest pattern.

Gauge Shotgun - Overview

The "gauge" of a shotgun, as it refers to guns and shells, originated from the number of lead balls the diameter of the barrel needed to make a pound. For example, a 12-guage shotgun had a bore that, without a choke, would be able to take one ball, 12 of which would weigh a pound. This outdated terminology does not apply to todays standard of measuring a gauge, but it is still used in shotgun marketing. Referring to current day shotguns, the smaller the number means the larger the gauge. This means that a 12-gauge gun has a larger barrel than a 16-gauge gun, and a 16-gauge gun larger than a 20. Because the bore is larger, a 12-guage shot shell holds more shot than a 16-gauge shell, allowing the larger gauge to hit a flying target easier.  

Gauge measurement in relation to the diameter of the barrel:

10 gauge = .775 inches
12 gauge = .729 inches
16 gauge = .662 inches
20 gauge = .615 inches
28 gauge = .550 inches 

The .410 is the smallest commercially available shotgun, but is probably not the best choice for the beginner sport shooter due to the small amount of shot in its shell. A better choice is the 20-gauge shotgun. The amount of shot is less than the amount in a 12-gauge, and it produces a lighter feeling recoil against the cheek and shoulder, which encourages accuracy. A 12-gauge "kicks" back against the shoulder more and can be responsible for eye closing and flinching. This can result in poor accuracy. The 12-gauge, however, is the most versatile and widely used shotgun. Other gauges available include 10, 16 and 28. You can get replacement barrels for some shotguns that are used to shoot "rifled slugs." This turns the shotgun into a rifle for big game, saving the shooter additional expense as they expand their hunting interests.

Shotgun - OverviewStock

The stock is the part of the shotgun that is placed against the shoulder of the shooter when mounting the gun. This is also where the grip of the gun is located. Stocks that are too short can cause improper mounting of the gun, causing pain in the shoulder because of recoil. If there is too much drop at the heel of the gun, it will not allow the entire butt to rest against the shoulder, possibly causing bruising. "Drops" are measured from a straight edge laid along the top of the muzzle and receiver, or along the rib of the gun if it has one. The comb is at the top front of the stock, and the heel is at the top point of the butt. The "comb" and heel drop is measured as the distance from the straight edge to those points. Stock length is measured from the front center of the trigger to the center end of the butt plate. Shock absorbers or recoil reducers can be built into guns by positioning them inside the length of the stock, or recoil pads can be mounted on the end of the stock. 

Gun Care

Currently improved ammunition, with non-corrosive primers and all-plastic wads, allows for easier cleaning and better maintenance of shotguns. The plastic wad removes most of the gunpowder residue each time the gun is fired. Expert shooters will use a rag or cleaning patches, though, to run up and down the barrel of the gun after each event and each day. This will remove plastic residue that builds up along the barrel of the gun. Dirt and moisture can build up inside the barrel of he gun, and it is recommended that a lightly oiled rag or "mop" be pushed through to remove this. Excess gun oil should be removed from the barrel and not allowed to soak into the woodwork as it can cause swelling. 

Shotguns should not be stored for long periods in leather, plastic or nylon gun cases, especially if theyre lined in cloth, fleece or other material. The lining will hold moisture and can rub off or absorb some of the oils used to maintain the gun. This can cause the metal to rust in spots. Monthly inspections to check for rust should be done if a shotgun must be stored in this manner. A better method is to store the gun in a locked wood or metal gun case. Guns should never be stored loaded, and ammunition should not be stored in the same area as the gun. 


Prices for shotguns vary widely, from the low hundreds to many thousands of dollars. But a beginner should be able to purchase an adequate outfit for $200-$300.

(Material courtesy of National Shooting Sports Foundation)