How Far Can Shotguns Shoot

How Far Can Shotguns Shoot? (2023 Update)

How far can your shotgun shoot? This is very important to know, because both as a hunter or a target shooter at a trap or skeet shooting range, you’re responsible for knowing how far out your shotgun is capable of shooting. 

While there is a common conception that shotguns have very limited range, the truth is that the answer to the above question is a bit more complicated than that. This is because there are a multitude of factors at play, including the type of ammunition that you’re shooting, the barrel length of your shotgun, the choke, and so on. 

In this article, we’ll attempt to shed some light on the answer to this question. We’ll discuss the factors impacting how far a shotgun can shoot, and then we’ll dive into the effective range you can expect out of a twelve gauge shotgun depending on the ammunition being used. 

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Factors Impacting How Far A Shotgun Can Shoot

Factors Impacting How Far A Shotgun Can Shoot

The primary factors impacting how far your shotgun can shoot are the gauge, the barrel length on the shotgun, the type of ammunition that you’re shooting, and 

Ammunition

There are three primary types of shotgun ammunition: birdshot, buckshot, and slugs. How far your shotgun can shoot depends perhaps heavily on which of these three ammunition types you’ll be using. 

Birdshot

Birdshot is the collective term for shotgun shells that include numerous small pellets inside the shell. Birdshot is most commonly used for bird hunting, small game hunting, or skeet or trap shooting. Each pellet in birdshot ammunition can range anywhere from .20 inches in diameter to 0.01 inches in diameter. Birdshot has the worst penetration of the three shotgun types, and is therefore the worst choice of the three for self-defense. 

  • Note: #9 shot (for 12 gauge) is one of the smallest birdshot loads and is a good choice for clay pigeon shooting. Try a heavier load, such as #6 or lower for bird or small game hunting.

Buckshot

Buckshot is the collective term for shotgun shells that include several larger pellets in the shell. This is the most common shotgun type used for home defense and military use. Each pellet in buckshot ammunition is usually .24 inches in diameter or higher.

The diameter sizes of buckshot ammunition are as follows:

  • #4 Buckshot: .24 inches
  • #3 Buckshot: .25 inches
  • #2 Buckshot: .27 inches
  • #1 Buckshot: .30 inches
  • #0 Buckshot: .32 inches
  • #00 Buckshot: .33 inches
  • #000 Buckshot: .36 inches

As with birdshot, the higher the number, the smaller the diameter of the pellet.

Slugs

Slugs are a solid projectile that are housed in the shotgun shell, usually close in diameter to the bore of the shotgun. Slugs are designed to provide the best penetration of the three shotgun types, and are most commonly used for hunting medium to big game (typically within ranges of one hundred yards) or for personal defense. They have the greatest range of the three shotgun types, though they still can’t reach out to distances that rifle rounds are capable of achieving. 

Spread

Let’s talk about birdshot and buckshot ammunition a bit more. Both of these ammunition types are made out of several pellets that will spread out after being shot out of your shotgun’s muzzle.

The more the pellets travel, the more the pattern will start to spread out, reducing the chances of you hitting your target. Furthermore, each pellet’s resistance against the air as it travels causes it to lose energy, meaning that it will penetrate less upon impact.

Choke

If you’ve done any research on shotguns, you’ve no doubt heard of the term shotgun ‘choke.’ A choke, in this context, is simply a constriction that is added onto the end of the barrel. The purpose of this is to restrict the pattern of the shot as it leaves the barrel. 

As a general rule, the more open your choke is, the larger the diameter of your birdshot or buckshot pattern will be. Conversely, a tighter choke will equivalate to a tighter pattern.

To be clear, a choke is not going to improve your shooting skills single handedly. But if you want to have a tighter group at longer ranges with your shotgun, in general a tighter choke will help ensure that this is easier to achieve. 

There are four primary types of shotgun chokes. These are:

  • Cylinder Choke – the barrel is completely unconstricted, and the shot will spread very quickly.
  • Improved Choke – the barrel has a very small constriction at the end, so the shot will still spread quickly but not as far or as fast as a cylinder choke. This is a good choice for hunting small game or small birds (such as grouse or quail) where you are likely to shoot at close ranges.
  • Modified Choke – the barrel has a moderate constriction at the end, so the pellets will remain closer together longer. This is a good choice for waterfowl hunting where you are likely to shoot at longer distances than small game or small birds.
  • Full choke – the barrel has a very tight constriction at the end, so the shot pattern will be held together even tighter at longer ranges (around forty yards at more). This is the best choice for turkeys, which are notorious for requiring shots at longer  distances than other game commonly hunted by shotguns.

Barrel Length

Barrel Length

Barrel length also significantly impacts your shotgun’s range and pattern. A longer barrel will increase the velocity of your ammunition, and 

As a general rule, a shotgun with a 24-inch barrel is going to produce a tighter pattern at a longer range than a shotgun with an 18-inch barrel will. And a 24-inch shotgun with a full choke is also going to produce a tighter pattern than the same shotgun with an improved or modified choke. 

Again, there are multiple factors at play. 

So, How Far Can Your Shotgun Shoot?

So, How Far Can Your Shotgun Shoot

With the above factors in mind, how far can your shotgun shoot?

Well, it’s still difficult to answer this question because we don’t know what gauge, ammunition type, choke, and barrel length of shotgun that you’re using. 

But what we can do is create an example.

Let’s say that you’re firing a 12-gauge shotgun with a modified choke (the modified choke is the most common type of choke used so it makes the most sense in our example) and a 24-inch barrel. We’ll use this as our base.

For birdshot in the #6-#8 size, you can expect to keep a tight pattern on your shotgun out to about twelve yards while still being capable of inflicting severe injury on an individual or making an ethical kill on the bird or game you’re hunting. 

For larger birdshot in the #4 and under size, your shotgun should be capable of reaching out to twenty yards while still ensuring deep penetration to stop an intruder or, again, to make an ethical kill. Keep in mind that shot placement matters significantly here  as well. 

For buckshot from #0 to #000 (the most common buckshot type used for self-defense), at around forty yards you can expect to have between two to four pellets to hit your target while still inflicting severe injury.

  • A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that a 12-gauge shotgun can be effective against an intruder out to about fifty yards while still meeting the minimum penetration standards set by the FBI. Beyond that range it’s not guaranteed that a pellet will hit your target even when you are aiming directly at it, and even if you do, the risk of shot dispersion is very high (where other stray pellets cause collateral damage). This is why many experts recommend using buckshot ammunition within range of twenty five yards. 

12-gauge slugs, as a general rule, are lethal out to about two hundred yards, but accurate out to about one hundred yards. That being said, you will have great difficulty with tapping targets at this range if you’re shooting a shotgun without rifle sights. If you add rifle sights you’ll have a much easier time of shooting accurately out to one hundred yards; without rifle sights, plan on keeping your shots within fifty yards.

Conclusion: How Far Can a Shotgun Shoot?

Conclusion

The best way to definitively know the effective range of your shotgun is to test it.

Take your shotgun out to a field or shooting range, and bring multiple types of ammunition with you. Set up your targets and fire away (safely of course) and then record your results for each ammo type.   

Keep in mind, shotguns were always designed to be close range weapons, and the same is true for slugs just as it is true for buckshot and birdshot. As long as you keep it within its limits, your shotgun will be among the most versatile weapons that you own. 

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