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Guide to Shotguns and Shotshell Ammunition


This is a basic guide to shotguns and shotshell ammunition.  While this guide was designed quite some time ago, the information is timeless and will help you better understand shotguns and their operation.


As you might imagine, we get a lot of questions about shotgunning here at Remington. Hunters want to know if they can shoot 2-3/4" shells in their 3"-chambered gun; what choke works best on late-season pheasants; how steel shot compares to lead shot; or what the heck "dram equivalent" means? The list goes on and on. So, in response, we thought we'd take some of the most often-asked questions and create a concise, easy-to-understand reference that you can use whenever you need it. And here it is: The Remington Guide to Shotgun Use. If you're just getting started with a shotgun, it will provide a wealth of information and probably answer just about every question you can dream up. If you're an experienced shotgunner, you just might find a few bits of information that can make you even more knowledgeable.


Types and Actions

For as long as hunters have taken afield, there has been discussion about which type of shotgun is "the best." This, of course, is largely a matter of opinion. So, without delving into the many debatable benefits, here are the three main types of shotguns and some of the advantages each has to offer.

Pump Action Shotguns:

With pump action shotguns (like the Remington Model 870 and Model 887) shells are fed from the magazine into the chamber and then ejected by the back-and -forth pumping of the for-end assembly. The "pump gun" is very versatile and often preferred for its simple, reliable design. It's for these exact reasons that the Remington 870 is one of the most popular shotguns of all time.



Pump Action: sliding fore-end assembly back and forth manually ejects and chambers shells.




Autoloading Shotguns:

With autoloading shotguns (like the Remington Model 1100, Model 11-87 and Versa Max) the first shell is manually inserted into the chamber and the action is closed by depressing the carrier release. After firing, the automatic mechanism then extracts and ejects the fired shell and continues to feed successive shells into the chamber, and fire them, with successive pulls of the trigger. Autoloaders are sometimes inappropriately called "automatics." The more appropriate term is "semi-automatics" due to the fact that the trigger must be released between shots. Due to the speed of the autoloading feature, autoloaders are extremely popular among hunters and generally deliver less "felt" recoil.



Autoloading Action: shells automatically eject and chamber.





NOTE: Remington pump action and autoloading shotguns are supplied with a "plug" that, when placed in the shotgun's magazine, allows only three shells to be loaded in the gun at one time (one in the chamber; two in the magazine).

This plug may be removed to accommodate more shells; however, federal regulations prohibit the use of more than three shells in the gun at one time for all waterfowl and dove hunting--and many states have the same regulations for upland bird hunting. As always, check your regulations carefully.

Break Action Shotguns:

With break action shotguns, shells are inserted by hand into the chamber and and are extracted and ejected either manually or automatically as the action is opened. Break action shotguns can be further divided into three separate types: single shot, over-and-under and side-by-side. Each name is rather self-explanatory. Single shots have only one barrel and hold only one shell at a time. Over-and-unders have two barrels, one stacked on top of the other. Side-by-sides have two barrels which sit next to each other on a horizontal plane. Break action shotguns are often favored by those who shoot competitive trap and skeet or enjoy the compact feel and unique handling characteristics associated with their design.

break action.PNG



Break Action: shells are manually inserted into chamber and may be ejected manually or automatically depending on the model.







Shotgun barrels are classified by "gauge"--a term used to indicate the inside diameter of the barrel. Gauge is determined by taking lead balls the same diameter as the gun's bore, then counting the total number of those lead balls it takes to equal one pound. For example: a 12-gauge=12 lead balls to the pound; a 20-gauge=20 lead balls to the pound. The most common types of shotgun gauges are 10, 12, 16, 20 and 28, with 12 being the most popular. The .410 bore shotgun is really not a "gauge" per se, but an actual measurement of the bore in inches. Most importantly, remember: the smaller the gauge number, the larger the actual bore size.



The chamber is the opening at the rear of the barrel where the shell is placed for firing. A "standard" length chamber is for 2-3/4" shells. A "magnum" length chamber is for 3" shells. In many cases, shotguns with 3" or 3-1/2" chambers also function with shorter shells (like the Model 870 Express Super Magnum). Shotguns with 2-3/4" chambers and barrels are designed for use with 2-3/4" shells ONLY. Always match your ammunition with your barrel and receiver capacity. (Also see "Shell Length")


Contrary to some opinions, longer barrels do not shoot "harder" or "further" than shorter barrels. Barrel length is really a matter of personal preference and often depends on terrain and the type of game you are hunting. Generally, longer barrels aid in pointing and are often preferred for pass shooting waterfowl and shooting targets such as skeet, trap and sporting clays. Shorter, more compact barrels can provide faster handling and are often chosen for hunting upland birds, turkeys, deer with slugs and buckshot. Common barrel lengths include 20", 21", 23", 26", 28" and 30".


(See Choke Chart below)

The inside bore constriction at the muzzle end of a shotgun's barrel is known as the "choke." When a shotshell is fired, shot travels down the bore, exits the muzzle and begins to "spread out." Just as a nozzle on the end of a garden hose controls the spray of water, the choke controls the spread of shot--making it narrower or wider. The three basic chokes for a shotgun are known as "full" (tight constriction; delivers a narrow, dense spread), "modified" (less constriction; delivers a medium-width spread) and "improved cylinder" (even less constriction; delivers a wide, open spread). A gun which has no choke is called a "cylinder bore" and delivers the widest spread. There are also a number of specialty chokes that provide narrower or wider spreads--some of the most popular are for skeet shooting and turkey hunting. A shotgun's choke also determines its effective range. The tighter the constriction, the farther the effective range. For instance, a "full" choke is most effective at 40 to 50 yards. An "improved cylinder" is most effective from 20 to 35 yards. Shotgun barrels come with either "fixed' (non-removable) chokes or today's more popular "interchangeable" screw-in choke tubes (like the Rem Choke or Pro Bore system) that allow hunters to quickly and easily change chokes to match changing shooting conditions.

choke patterns.PNG


Super-Full and Extra-Full Chokes: "The gobbler getters." Specialized chokes with extra-tight constrictions and the densest patterns--usually suited for the head shots necessary in turkey hunting.

Full Choke: Tight constriction for dense pattern (approximately 70% of a shell's total pellets in a 30" circle at 40 yards). Best for trap shooting, pass shooting waterfowl, turkey hunting and shooting buckshot loads.

Modified Choke: Less constriction than full choke (approximately 60% of a shell's total pellets in a 30" circle at 40 yards). Excellent for all-around hunting of waterfowl, long-range flushing upland birds (such as late-season pheasant and sharptail grouse) as well as other small game. Also used for trap shooting.

Improved Cylinder Choke: Evan less constricted than modified (approximately 50% of a shell's total pellets in a 30" circle at 40 yards). Ideal for close-in small game shooting, upland bird hunting (such as quail, grouse and pheasant) as well as hunting waterfowl close over decoys. Rifled slugs also perform well from this choke.

Cylinder Bore: No constriction (approximately 40% of a shell's total pellets in a 30" circle at 40 yards). Most often used by law enforcement for service shotguns.

Skeet Choke: a specialty choke (approximately 50% of a shell's total pellets in a 30" circle at 25 yards) designed to deliver optimum patterns for close-range skeet shooting.


Since you are firing shells loaded with pellets rather than a cartridge with a single bullet, it's easiest to think of shotguns being pointed rather than aimed like a rifle. Therefore, sights on a shotgun usually play a less important role than those on a rifle. However, there are several types of sights available to the shotgunner, including scopes and mounting equipment for deer and turkey hunting.


Beads are the most commonly used sights on a shotgun. Most shotguns have a single bead placed at the end of the barrel, just above the muzzle. Sometimes, a second bead is placed near the center of the barrel to better facilitate alignment. Beads are most commonly steel or white, but are also available in other high-vicibility colors such as orange.


For those who hunt deer with slugs, shotgun scopes are readily available. In fact, many turkey hunters also prefer scopes on their turkey guns. Some Remington deer barrels come equipped with a cantilever scope mount system that allows a scope to be attached directly to the barrel (guaranteeing permanent zero) and extending back over the receiver for natural, quick-sighting eye relief. For shotguns without this pre-installed accessory, Remington offers a versatile, removable cantilever system that attaches directly to your shotgun's vent rib barrel to provide the same benefits--with the additional advantage of not having to drill holes in your gun as with some scope mount systems.

Shotgun Shells


There are similarities and differences in the construction of shotshells. The brass, hull and primer are all quite similar. Shot cup designs, specific powders and the shot itself can vary greatly--particularly with steel shot, saboted or rifled slug shells. Here is a cross-section of the basic components of a shotshell.



Shotgun shells, like shotguns, are classified by gauge. Shells are designed to be fired in a matching gauge gun (ex: 10 gauge shells are made to be fired in 10 gauge shotguns only). Therefore, you will find shotshells available in 10, 12, 16, 20, 28 gauges, and the .410 bore. For safety, it is extremely important to remember that shotshells can only be used in the gauge of gun for which they were intended. For example: placing a 20 gauge shell in a 12 gauge gun can result in the shell becoming lodged in the bore. If the gun is then fired with the smaller shell still lodged in the bore, the barrel could explode--thus causing serious injury or death.


Within their respective gauge designations, shotshells are available in different lengths. Common lengths are 2-3/4", 3" and 3-1/2". The longer the shell, the greater the amount of shot that it delivers. Remember, your shotgun chamber must be able to accept the length of shell you wish to shoot (See above "Chamber Length"). 3" or 3-1/2" shells cannot be safely used in guns with 2-3/4" chambered guns. However, 2-3/4" shells can be used in 3" or 3-1/2" chambered guns.


The measured amount of smokeless gunpowder in a shotshell is known as the "dram equivalent." Dram equivalents are a measure of the velocity the powder will generate. They match the velocity of today's new smokeless gun powders with old-time measurements of black powder. In effect, a shotshell with a 2-1/2 dram equivalent would be equal in velocity to 2-1/2 drams of black powder--making the assumption that both measurements are pushing the same amount of shot. Overall, the most important thing to remember is that the higher
the dram equivalent, the more powerful the charge and, as a result, the higher the velocity.


Remington manufacturers shotshells with two different kinds of shot--lead and steel--as well as special lead slugs and Copper Solid sabot (pronounced ‘sabo¯ ’) slugs for hunting deer and other medium-sized game. Each type of shot has unique characteristics that affect its overall performance.


Ever since the first lead has been the material of choice for making shotshell pellets. Today, that still holds true. Lead is dense, easy to work with and inexpensive for use in making shotshells. Ballistically, it is also generally recognized as the time proven standard due to its ability to deliver even patterns and its proven lethality on game. Remington lead shot is formed by pouring molten lead through a sieve, then it is dropped 140 feet into water. During the fall, the drops of lead form round pellets. Because lead is a fairly soft material, lead shot may also be copper-plated or nickel-plated for added hardness in certain loads. Shot cups for lead shot are molded from flexible, low-density polyethylene plastic that compresses when firing as well as seals powder gases for optimum performance.


After much research that documented lead poisoning among waterfowl that had ingested lead shot, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service mandated the use of non-toxic shot for all waterfowl hunting. Since then, steel shot has become the recognized standard for waterfowling and is now also required to hunt upland birds on just about every federal and state wildlife area where waterfowl share the habitat. From the beginning, Remington has led the industry in the development and improvement of steel shotshells. Remington steel shot is created by cutting steel wire into short lengths, grinding and forming it into highly-concentric pellets, then zinc-galvanizing it to prevent corrosion. Because steel is harder than lead, the shot cups used for steel shot are designed from higherdensity polyethylene with thicker sidewalls to prevent the pellets from scoring the bore. ( Please refer to “Steel vs. Lead”)

Saboted Slugs and Rifled Slugs:

Saboted slugs and rifled slugs are generally used for shotgun deer hunting in areas where rifles are not permitted, but are often the preferred choice for any deer hunting at close ranges. For a saboted slug (like the Remington Premier Copper Solid), the slug is enclosed in a polyethylene capsule that falls away when the slug exits the muzzle. This type of slug can be extremely accurate when fired from a fully rifled shotgun barrel — capable of producing very tight 2-1/2" - 5 shot groups at 100 yards. A rifled slug (like the Remington Slugger) has helical ribbing around its circumference to enhance its stability when traveling through the bore and is recommended for shooting in smooth-bore, open-choked shotguns.


Buckshot is used for close-up deer hunting situations in tight quarters and is also very popular for varmint hunting (coyotes, foxes). Like other shotshells, buckshot contains pellets. However, the pellets are much larger in size and fewer in number — sometimes as few as 8 or 9 large pellets per shell.


Shot, whether lead or steel, is available in a range of sizes suited for different types of hunting. Here is a comparative look at the different sizes of shot. For common recommendations on matching shot sizes to game, see MATCHING GAUGES AND AMMUNITION TO GAME.

Shot sizes.PNG

Shot Charge (Ounces of Shot):

The shot charge of a shell is simply the weight of the pellets inside the shell, displayed in ounces. You will find this designation on the top of every shotshell box. The ounce-weight of the pellets inside a shotshell can vary considerably — from light 1/2 oz. loads for .410 bore to heavy 2 or 2-1/4 oz. 12-gauge loads. The higher the weight, the greater the charge. It is important to remember that higher weights do not necessarily mean more pellets. You should also note that with large steel shot loads like “T” and “BBB,” as well as with buckshot, the shot charge is determined by pellet count rather than weight.

Steel vs. Lead-Differences you should know

Because steel shot is both lighter and harder than lead shot, there are some important factors you should consider in order to maximize your success with steel shot. By studying the following easy-to-use charts, you can get a better handle on these differences and use them to your advantage when shooting steel. Note: The following specifications apply to choke tubes and choke tube barrels only. Steel shot can be used in improved cylinder or modified choke tubes without any special notation on the tube. However, steel shot can only be used in full choke tubes that state “lead or steel”. Steel shot cannot be used in a fixed full choke.

avg pellet count.PNG

energy comparison.PNG



Steel shot has a higher
initial velocity than lead
when it first exits the
muzzle. However, due to its
lighter weight, it can lose
knockdown power at longer
ranges. By using larger steel
shot sizes you can maintain
a comparable velocity and
retained energy to that of
lead — even at long distances







As a rule of thumb, use steel
shot two sizes larger than you
would for lead. Since steel is
less dense than lead, the larger
shot size allows you to have the
same “weight charge” load with
roughly an equivalent number
of pellets — therefore
maintaining comparable
pattern performance and pellet
energy to your lead loads.


Hunting & Shooting with a Shotgun


Different species of game and their unique habitats and characteristics require hunters to vary their approaches. By selecting the proper choke, shot size and shotshells for the particular game you are hunting, you can increase your chances for success and, perhaps more importantly, make clean, quick kills.


Use the following chart as a guide.






Express Nitro Mag

Nitro Pheasant

4, 5, 6

Improved Cylinder - close cover

Modified or Full - for long field shots

WHAT EXPERIENCED HUNTERS SAY... No. 4 for field shooting where long shots are usual. No. 5 for a normal rise over dogs. No. 6 is all-around favorite.

Grouse or Partridge

Express, Game Loads, Shur Shot, STS Target

5, 6, 7 ½, 8

Improved Cylinder or

Modified - for brush

Full - for open ranges


Game Loads, Shur Shot, STS Target

71/2, 8, 9

Improved Cylinder or Modified

WHAT EXPERIENCED HUNTERS SAY... On smaller birds such as grouse or partridge, use the smaller shot. Use the larger shot for heavier loads and larger birds. For early season shooting on small quail, use No. 9 shot. As quail get larger, use 71/2 or 8. Larger shot is used on longer range quail shots.

Doves & Pigeons

Game Loads, Express, Heavy Dove Loads

6, 7 ½, 8, 9


WHAT EXPERIENCED HUNTERS SAY... For normal ranges on these birds, use the No. 8 or 71/2 for light shooting. For longer ranges, use the heavier payloads of larger shot.


Game Loads, Shur Shot

7 ½, 8, 9

Improved Cylinder or Modified

WHAT EXPERIENCED HUNTERS SAY... Your choice of shot will depend on the distance and cover.


Express, Game Loads, Shur Shot, Nitro Mag

4, 5, 6

Improved Cylinder or Modified - for brush

Full - for long, open shots

WHAT EXPERIENCED HUNTERS SAY... For rabbits at normal range, use lighter loads. For larger jack rabbits and longer distances, use heavier loads.



5, 6, 71/2


WHAT EXPERIENCED HUNTERS SAY... Most hunters prefer heavy loads and use 5 or 6.


Premier Mag Turkey Loads, Express, Nitro Turkey

2, 4, 5, 6

Full, Super Full, Extra Full, Straight Rifles

WHAT EXPERIENCED HUNTERS SAY... Shot size will depend on your range. The longer the range, the heavier the payload and larger the shot size. 4, 5, or 6 are the best choice.


Nitro Mag, Express

BB, 2


WHAT EXPERIENCED HUNTERS SAY... A good choice is always BB or 2.



Rifled Slug

Improved Cylinder

Express Buckshot


Full, Modified or Improved Cylinder

Copper Solid Sabot Slug

Copper Solid

Rifled Choke* or Fully Rifled Barrel

WHAT EXPERIENCED HUNTERS SAY... Any smooth bore choke may be used with rifled slug and buckshot. Best results would be with Improved Cylinder. *



Sportsman Hi-Speed Steel

Express Steel

Nitro Steel

Hypersonic Steel

T, BBB, BB, 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7

Improved Cylinder-for small ducks up to 45 yards. Modified-for medium and large ducks, Full-for geese and large ducks beyond 45 yards.

WHAT EXPERIENCED HUNTERS SAY... For ducks at normal ranges No. 2 and 4 are most popular; BBB most effective for geese. Modified choke is the best all-purpose choke.

*For optimum accuracy, use fully rifled barrel with Copper Solid Sabots.


Target shooting is not only good practice, it can be fun competition and an excellent way to become thoroughly familiar with your shotgun while honing your shooting skills. Shotgun target shooting is usually performed in four common ways: trap, skeet , sporting clays and informal shooting. Specialized target loads (such as Remington Premier STS) are designed specifically for breaking clay targets and are often the preferred choice for sport shooting.


In trap shooting, a single trap (“launcher”) throws clay targets away from the shooter at varying angles. There are five shooting positions. Shooters stand 16 yards behind the trap and rotate positions after shooting. In “handicap” trap shooting, shooters stand as far back as 27 yards (having to break targets at up to 50 yards or more). With every increase in distance, the game becomes more difficult. Shot sizes for trap include 7-1/2, 8 and 8-1/2.


In skeet shooting, two traps inside “houses” — one “high house” and one “low house” — throw clay targets. There are eight stations placed in a semi-circle between the two houses. Shooters rotate between stations. Single target shots are taken at high-house and low-house clays from all eight stations. Double target shots (two clays thrown simultaneously) are also taken at stations 1, 2, 6 and 7. The most common shot size for skeet is 9.


Sporting clays is the newest shooting game and probably presents the truest hunting scenarios and can be extremely challenging. Shooters walk a course and stop at different stations —each having unique terrain and representing special hunting situations. Clay targets are thrown at varying angles and speeds at each station to specifically simulate the flight of birds and, in some cases, running rabbits and squirrels. Shot sizes used for sporting clays are 7-1/2, 8 and 8-1/2.


There are a number of ways you can find good places to hunt and shoot in your area. Your Remington dealer is a great place to start. Ask your salesperson about public hunting and shooting areas nearby. Oftentimes, you'll also find posters and brochures for gun ranges and hunt clubs right at the store. The local Yellow Pages can also provide listings of gun ranges and clubs. You may also want to contact the National Shooting Sports Foundation ( or the National Rifle Association ( for information regarding activities in your area. If you haven't done so already, it's important to call or visit your local Department of Natural Resources or Game & Fish offices. They are an ideal source of information on public hunting and shooting areas--and can also help familiarize you with licenses and state laws regarding hunter safety and hunting seasons. Be sure to obtain good state and county maps, as well as information regarding trespass laws. Always ask permission to hunt on private property and respect the rights of landowners.

We hope this guide has helped you become more familiar with shotgunning and your Remington shotgun. We at Remington wish you well on all your hunting and sport shooting endeavors. And remember, the shooting sports are best enjoyed with safety as your top priority.


To download a copy of this brochure, please click on the following link: The Remington Guide to Shotguns

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