The appeal of shotguns is their ability to be useful in many situations. From shooting clay pigeons with a multi thousand dollar over and under, to Grandpa’s single shot for deer hunting. Shotguns can and have done it all.
Shotgun ammunition‘s basics are fairly easy to understand, but like many things in the shooting world, can become complex very quickly. Shotgun ammunition consist of a primer, a hull (shell case), wad, and shot. The shot is what make the shotgun such a versatile firearm. Shotgun ‘shot’ comes in sizes from 12 (.05 inches) through OOO Buck (.36 inches), and also includes slugs (typically large single projectiles). The smaller shot usually translates to more pellets per round. Shot can also come in different shape pellets and be made of lead, steel, and even bismuth. In the case of slugs they can be designed for smooth bores or rifled barrels and often with weight in excess of an ounce.
One of the more archaic parts of shot shells is the use of dram equivalents. Dram equivalents were a comparison of black powder loads with modern smokeless powder. This term is still used today, but is fading out of popularity. Depending on the gauge, drams are often seen between 2.5 dram to 4 dram equivalent. In the past one would refer to shotgun shells as high brass or low brass, denoting how much charge was used. More often, modern ammunition is listed by it’s velocity and may not have high brass.
One of the overlooked items with shotguns is the wad. The wad is three basic parts, the powder wad, the cushion, and the shot cup. The powder wad is designed to provide a seal between the powder and shot, and to keep the two from mixing. Next the cushion is generally a plastic buffer to reduce damaging or deforming the shot. Lastly the shot cup is a slotted ‘cup’ designed to hold the shot as one unit and to protect the shot as it travels down the barrel.
One of the confusing aspects of shotguns is the gauge. Most shotguns use a volumetric measurement to denote size. A gauge is the number of lead spheres that are required to equal a pound in a given volume. A 20 gauge would require 20 to equal a pound and a 12 gauge would only require 12 and is larger. Although some shotguns are in bore diameter, such as the .410.