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12 Gauge Shotgun Shells You Need To Own And Shoot

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Article first appeared at Ammoland.com

Ammoland.com – The 12 gauge shotgun is one of the most versatile firearms on the planet. I have used the same Remington 870 pump shotgun to hunt everything from squirrels to mourning dove to snow geese to deer, shoot trap, skeet and sporting clays, dispatch venomous snakes, explode two-liter sodas for fun, and dispose of a large wasp nest in a tree too close to the house.

Two times when I thought an intruder was approaching my dwelling late at night, I reached for the same pump 12 gauge – Neither instance required me to fire a shot, as one case proved to be a neighbor’s aged, ailing dog, looking for place to die, and the second was a different neighbor’s wayward cow.

Around midnight on moonlit-night, a black cow with a completely white face does a remarkable impression of a man wearing a white t-shirt, running through the yard.

One reason 12 gauge shotguns can serve so many purposes is the vast array of different shotshells you can stuff into them. And if you own a 12 gauge scattergun (and if you don’t what’s wrong with you?) there are some types of ammo you simply must own and shoot — a lot – through your shotgun.

I am going to name some specific brands in the following list, but realize that there are lots of companies that make great shotgun ammunition. And you can find 12 gauge ammo just about anywhere, from Big Box stores, to sporting goods outlets, or even well-known internet retailers like Brownells ( goo.gl/pEhMue ).

Also, I’m going to leave some really great types of shotgun ammo off the list, because I’m listing only 5. If you’re a hardcore Olympic trap shooter or a dedicated goose hunter, you probably won’t find your favorite shotshell listed here, simply because of limited space. But that’s one of the great things about 12 gauge shotguns — you can spend years and years exploring and perfecting something as specific as taking Canada geese at long range, and always have worlds’ more information left to discover.

12 Gauge Shotgun Shells You Need To Own And Shoot

5. Affordable Birdshot

Affordable, inexpensive, or downright cheap, no matter which term you prefer, every 12-gauge owner needs to have several dozen boxes of this type of shotshell lying around. One of my favorites is the classic Remington Game Load ( goo.gl/7LoZkl ) , in shot sizes from #6 down to #8. Winchester’s Super Target andFederal’s Target Load ( goo.gl/dGXw33 )  are also examples of this type of ammo. Although intended mainly for clay birds, I have used them both with great results on feathered birds like dove and crows.

I’ve also found these types of shotshells to be great on snakes, two-liter sodas, even steel targets in 3-Gun competition. And at the price, you can shoot and shoot and shoot and not feel the least bit guilty. A 100-count value pack of this type of ammo plus a case of clay targets and a cheap plastic hand thrower is a recipe for an afternoon of fun with a friend.

For lots of average shotgun shooters, this type of ammo may be the only type they’ll ever shoot. And for good reason. There’s so much you can do with it.

Is it right for every situation? Absolutely not. But it’s plenty good for many types of shotgunning.

Remington Game Load
Remington Game Load: http://goo.gl/7LoZkl

4. Specialized Turkey Loads

Lots of companies make “turkey loads,” ( goo.gl/lo0UoZ )  that have bigger size pellets than affordable birdshot, usually #6 down to #5, #4 or even #3. These shells are designed to give reliable hits on targets the size of a turkey’s head out to 45 or 50 yards, and they can be rather expensive compared to the loads listed above. But these turkey loads can give you extra range, and more hitting power, especially if you do your research and carefully select the appropriate choke tubes.

Advances in pellet material, such as tungsten and bismuth, allow for small pellets that weigh more than they would if made of lead. This extra density gives more pellets in the pattern at extended ranges, thus increasing hit probability.

Again, such advanced shells will be more expensive, but they give you outstanding performance.

In addition to turkey hunting, some folks find this type of ammo to be great for coyotes and foxes, also out to 50 yards or so. Another use for this type of ammo that I know first-hand is to instantly flip a shotgun spinner target in a 3-Gun match. With regular birdshot, it takes me at least 3, and sometimes 4 shots to get a heavy steel shotgun spinner to make one rotation. One good smack with a Federal FLITECONTROL Turkey Shells ( goo.gl/ga4Z1N )  usually sets that same target to whirling like a manic Dervish. Before you decide to use a specialized turkey load in your next 3-Gun match, be sure to check the match rules about possible limits on shot size.

The FLITECONTROL specialized wad is so good at keeping the shot pattern denser for longer ranges that it’s also used in buckshot and waterfowl loads. Other companies also make their own version of specialized wads that help extend ranges.

Federal FLITECONTROL Turkey Shot Shells
Federal FLITECONTROL Turkey Shot Shells: http://goo.gl/ga4Z1N

3. Buckshot

Buckshot is okay for deer at close range, but even better as a self-defense load. There are reasons why police shotguns have traditionally been stoked with several rounds of buckshot. The classic 00 or “double-aught” buck load usually delivers 8 or 9 .33-caliber pellets in a standard 2¾” shotshell, or around 12 pellets if you’re using a 3-inch magnum shell. Check your shotgun’s barrel for a stamping that tells you the maximum shell length you should use.

Buckshot ( goo.gl/UEK1vz ) is usually available from #4 size down to 000 or even 0000 buck; but the “sweet spot” for 12 gauge really seems to be 00. As a child, I helped dress and process many deer that my grandfather and uncles quickly and ethically killed with a single blast of 00 buckshot. As an adult, I typically used a rifle for deer, and now that I’ve moved to a Midwestern state with “shotgun-only” regulations, I opt for slugs, as I’ll explain in just a bit.

I’ve practiced for self-defense with buckshot quite a bit, and have found that I must take care to aim it, as the patterns typically remain pretty small at inside-the-house distances. A tight cluster of .33-caliber lead balls arriving at more than 1,000 FPS is simply devastating. I just hope I never have to find out how much so, for real.

If you find the recoil of magnum or even standard buckshot loads to be a bit too much, there are several types of “reduced” or “managed” recoil buckshot loads available. They do kick less, but realize the lighter recoil comes at the price of downrange performance. Just remember to keep your shots short if you choose to hunt with these loads.

Because most self-defense situations happen at such close range the slightly-reduced power of these loads just isn’t much of an issue in that case.

Remington Express BuckShot
Remington Express BuckShot: http://goo.gl/we3ig7

2. Slugs

I love shotgun slugs. And I mean the plain-Jane Remington Slugger ( goo.gl/rurhgb )  or Winchester Super-X ( goo.gl/oq4Uaz )  or Federal Tru-Ball slugs that have rifling on the slug itself, and are designed to shoot through smoothbore barrels. I know that the expensive, advanced, aerodynamic sabot slugs – combined with rifled barrels and scopes – can give rifle-like accuracy out to 150 or even 200 yards.

I just don’t care, at least not enough to spend the cash on a rig like that.

I love that a couple of $5.00 boxes of slugs instantly turn my old 870 pump into a .73 caliber rifle, at least out to 100 yards. With my 18-inch, smoothbore barrel topped with rifle sights, I can choose where on a silhouette target I want to hit out to 75 yards. I can consistently hit the same target at 100 yards, although I can’t call my shots with as much precision.

Once, after watching some Youtube videos of shotgun sluggers hitting at 200 yards and beyond, I had to try the same thing. After getting several hits at 200 yards, I fired 5 shots at a 300-yard silhouette and got two good hits and one graze. I’ll probably never try a “real” shot at 300 yards with a shotgun slug, but it still blew my mind to find out such a thing is actually possible. And a lot of fun to try, if you have the appropriate range for it.

Shotgun slugs are, in a word, awesome. Not only can you hunt deer with them, they’re also a lot of fun on reactive targets, like 2-liter sodas, or watermelons, or old left-over pumpkins.

If you haven’t shot slugs before, you owe it to yourself to drop about $30 on five or six boxes, and head to the range. You’ll be amazed at what you’re able to do out to 100 yards, even if all you have for a sight is a vent rib with a bead.

Winchester Super-X Shotgun Slugs
Winchester Super-X Shotgun Slugs: http://goo.gl/oq4Uaz

1. Dragons Breath

Surely I cannot be serious. The gimmicky “Dragon’s Breath” shotshell at number 1?

Yes I am. For the uninitiated the “Dragon’s Breath” round is a low-pressure shotshell that fires a pyrotechnic payload and looks like golden fireworks blazing from your shotgun’s muzzle to about 40 yards or so downrange. Dragon’s Breath shells won’t cycle semi-autos, and have to be single loaded.

They have no value whatsoever for hunting or self-defense.

So why do I put them at Number 1? Because they are pure fun. They are the perfect way to combine playing with fire and shooting guns. If you look around the Internet for Dragon’s Breath videos, you’ll quickly ascertain that these are to be fired at night, and in a location where nocturnal shotgun blasts won’t bring multiple SWAT teams racing to the scene. Be sure to check for local burn bans, and keep some buckets of water or fire extinguishers on hand, just in case.

What better way to give a 2nd Amendment flavor to your 4th of July festivities than launching $20 worth of Dragon’s Breath shotshells skyward with a group of good friends? Want a new way to ring in the New Year? Gather on a buddy’s rural property and crack off some of these at midnight. Are you planning a bonfire party of some sort? Talk about a memorable way to get the bonfire started!

And a Warning to Go With The Fun Videos:

Of course, no matter how creative you get with Dragon’s Breath shotshells, be sure to follow strict safety rules. Dragon’s Breath shells are dangerous, and you must practice the same level of gun safety as you would at all other times. Also, you must take extra fire-related precautions, like not firing into dry vegetation, and having some fire control methods available. Most commercial or public ranges probably don’t allow Dragon’s Breath shells. These are pretty much for use on private land only, with permission of course.

And lastly, during your shotgun-as-fireworks-launcher session, take pains to ensure that you have only Dragon’s Breath shells in the area, and not any other type of shotgun ammo. Mistakenly launching a slug into the night sky when you thought it was a Dragon’s Breath could have tragic results.

Dragon’s Breath
Dragon’s Breath

Enjoy Your Shotgun’s Amazing Versatility

It’s amazing how many different things you can do with just one 12 gauge shotgun. There’s a wide variety of ammo types that you can fire for all sorts of purposes, from hunting birds, to hunting deer, to defending yourself, to making a pretty light show in the sky. Just be sure to stay safe, and take the time to pattern your shotgun so you know where it shoots at a given distance.

Above all else, get your hands on some of these different types of ammo, and get out there and start pulling the trigger. You’ll probably surprise yourself at what you can do.

Thomas Conroy is a writer and firearms aficionado who lives in the Midwest.

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