how does a shotgun work

How Does a Shotgun Work?

Since the advent of the shotgun, the technology has improved immensely. Today, the most popular shotgun type is the semi-automatic shotgun, which fires one round per pull of the trigger. However, they aren’t the only option available: some models have twin hammers that fire both barrels simultaneously.

Additionally, the pump action provides a unique firing mechanism that can shoot a wide range of ammunition, from small rounds of birdshot, to larger rounds of buckshot. Today, there is debate as to which type of shotgun is best for you, but one thing is for certain: you can’t go wrong with a shotgun, and this article is a step-by-step explainer on how does a shotgun work.

So, how does a shotgun work? When you shoot a shotgun, the gun’s firing pin strikes the primer to produce sparks. The heat sparks produced by the primer ignite the gunpowder. The burning powder converts into gas that expands the shell. The expanding gas also forces the wad and shots off the shell’s body, resulting in a shot.

Whether you are talking about a rifle, handgun, or shotgun, all modern guns are designed to do almost the same thing. They are typically designed to send ammunition flying out of a long cylinder known as a barrel. They also have to allow for the loading and unloading of new and spent ammunition. Like most other types of guns, a pull of a shotgun’s trigger will cause a hammer or a firing pin to strike the explosive charge located behind the cartridge. This process causes a small explosion that will automatically change the air pressure in the barrel, forcing the bullet out through the other side at a breakneck speed.

The Operating Mechanism of A Shotgun – Step by Step Process

how do shotguns work

As we’ll learn later in this article, there are three types of shotguns. However, as explained earlier, all modern shotguns are designed to use a mechanical system in the chamber. The different parts of the chamber combine smoothly to produce the mechanical energy that the gun needs to function.

There’s a firing pin located somewhere close to the chambers. The primary job of the firing pin is to detonate the primer by firing it.

After detonation, the primer ignites the nitro powder, which serves as a propellant. The burning process of the propellant allows it to accumulate a large volume of gas and pressure. The gas produced is typically enclosed in the barrel, and since there’s nowhere else to pass to, it uses its only exit point, which is down the barrel. 

While the process is going on, the wad expands to seal the barrel. The pressure of the gas forces the was open as it pushes shots out of the cartridge, didn’t the barrel. 

The whole process works within a very short time to release your shots. Once these shots are out of the barrel, they typically spread, making it more possible to hit the target.

Let’s also clarify that different shotguns feature different design and shooting processes (more on that later). However, shotguns that are not designed with rifling would not spin the bullets. However, you can also find rifle shotguns with a unique design to fire slugs.

Types of Shotguns and How Each Works

As we’ve explained earlier, there are several types of shotguns. However, the most popular are:

  • The break-action shotgun
  • The bolt-action shotgun
  • The pump-action shotgun

To properly understand how a shotgun works, it’s crucial that we explain each type of shotgun and what to expect from them.

Break-Action Shotgun

break action shotgun

The break-action shotguns are the safety type of shotguns. Their simple design means that they have a straightforward working mechanism, and they are mostly used for shooting competitions and hunting sometimes.

The break-action shotgun features a hinged opening which serves as a meeting point for the chamber and the gun’s barrel. Users can simply open the gun to see whether it is loaded or not. 

Loading a new cartridge requires that the shooter breaks the barrel open on its hinge. After opening the barrel, you can then place the cartridge into the chambers and close it.

If you are using an older model shotgun, you might need to cock the hammer manually before pulling the trigger. However, most modern shotguns do not require cocking the gun every time you want to shoot.

In most cases, you’ll need to manually remove the spent cartridge from the chambers after each shot to get the gun ready for another firing round.

During your search, you’ll find both single- and double-barrel shotguns in the break-action category. You can choose based on your preference and what you intend to do. However, it’s worth noting that modern double-barrel shotguns feature only one trigger and a manual or automatic barrel selector.

Bolt-Action Shotgun

Bolt-action shotguns are less common compared to break-action shotguns, and they have similar operation mechanisms to bolt-action rifles.

The bolt is a rod usually attached to a spring with a handle sticking out of it. As a shooter, you’ll need to twist the bolt handle upwards and pull it back to load a bolt-action shotgun successfully. The twist would expose the chamber while cocking the gun’s firing mechanism.

At this point, you can load a magazine into the chamber and return the bolt into place. Pulling the bolt back into place strips the cartridge from the magazine and prepares it for action.

After your first shot, the gun automatically ejects the spent cartridge every time you pull the action back and forward. This action also strips the next cartridge and prepares it for the next shot. 

Pump-Action Shotgun

pump action shotgun

This type of shotgun also comes with a moving belt. However, they don’t have a handle. In this case, the gun’s bolt system is attached to a composite or wooden slide, popularly known as the fore-end.

Here, a shorter tube located under the barrel serves as the magazine. For starters, you’ll need to fill the magazine with three or more cartridges. A spring in the magazine area applies the tension to the magazine.

After filling in the cartridges, you’ll then pull the fore-end to the gun’s rear. The pull would only eject everything in the chambers; it’ll also cock the hammer and load a shell in the chamber.

Next, you’ll need to push the slide forward so that the block and firing pin can get into the right firing position against the cartridge. With each shot, you’ll need to repeat the process to eject used cartridges and reload the gun. 

As you get more experienced with shooting, you’ll learn to repeat the firing motion while pumping to reload at the same time.

How To Make Your Shotgun Shots Better

“If you can’t shoot well, you might as well not shoot.”

You’ve probably heard people say this. While it may not be a very diplomatic way to say it, the message is correct.

Whether you are going hunting or buying a gun for home defense, you want to get your shots right. Of course, different shotguns do not have different working mechanisms, but you can take steps to make them work better.

Here, let’s look at some tips to help you shoot faster and better without sacrificing accuracy. 

1. Practice Your Gun Mount in the Field

Nothing beats practice when you want to get better at anything. This step is especially vital if you’ll use your shotgun for hunting. Before the actual hunting experience, take a moment to mount your shotgun and track the bead along the tops of nearby trees. This step helps you to accomplish two things: 

You’ll reinforce the techniques you’ve practiced all summer in the field

You’ll make sure your mount is as smooth as possible without anything impeding it. 

2. Begin The Swing As The Gun Comes Up

A proper swing would indeed originate from the hips, but experts often recommend starting your swing before the gun is mounted to save time and promote a smooth and clean follow-through. To improve on this:

  • Work on tracking the target with your torso.
  • Maintain the position of your lower body while your feet remain planted.
  • At the same time, keep your shoulders square with the target.

With the gun mount complete, and your position perfect, the shot becomes easier and better.

3. Hold Your Gun Properly

It’s common for hunters to miss shots when they lose track of their shotgun. If you carry your gun propped on your shoulder while your free hand dangles by your side, the chances of mounting your shotgun quickly and efficiently becomes slimmer. Instead, it’ll be better to keep the recoil pad below your shoulder while maintaining your hold on that forend with your free hand so that it can guide the muzzle towards the moving Target. This strategy is safer as the barrel is pointed towards your target, and you’ll have better control over the gun in case you trip. 

4. Loosen Up

If you are an ardent shooter, you’ll know how herky-jerky your swings can be if you shoot with tight muscles. Clamping down on your shotgun with this level of authority can cause your track to the target to be as shaky as radio waves. The best way to do it is to maintain a firm grip of the but not too hard. A grip that’s strong enough to break an egg would be too much force on the gun. Easing up helps you achieve faster and more precise shots. 

5. Avoid Riding The Target

You won’t be wrong to call this a psychological problem. However, following the target after mounting the gun can make your shots slower. The truth is that it’ll take so much mental preparation to pull the trigger. We are naturally pushed by our instinct to change our bearing when our target is on the move, but that’s a huge mistake. This is not saying you rush the trigger. Instead, you want to time muzzle trigger breaks and position to avoid hesitation when you target.

Conclusion: How do Shotguns Work?

There are 3 main types of shotguns (break action, bolt action, and pump action), but this is how most shotguns work:

  • When you shoot a shotgun, the gun’s firing pin strikes the primer to produce sparks.
  • The heat sparks produced by the primer ignite the gunpowder.
  • The burning powder converts into gas that expands the shell.
  • The expanding gas also forces the wad and shots off the shell’s body, resulting in a shot.

…and that’s how a shotgun works, folks!