Shotguns 101

November 22, 2018

Tom Claycomb

If you’re new to guns, then you may wonder why anyone would need more than one gun. Well, let’s put it in everyday terms. A gun is a tool. You don’t just have one screwdriver, do you? One cooking utensil? One golf club? One pair of footwear? No! It’s the same with guns. You need more than one to complete all of your hunting tasks.

Today we’ll cover shotguns. First let’s start off with how a shotgun is classified as far as size. Rifles and pistols are categorized by caliber. Shotguns are classified by gauge. Gauge is determined by the number of lead balls of that bore size that it takes to weigh one pound. Example: It would take 12 lead balls the size of the bore of a 12 gauge to equal one pound. Make sense? So, a 20 gauge would take 20 lead balls to equal one pound.

The smaller the gauge, the larger the bore. So in order of size from smallest to largest gauges are 28, 20, 16, 12 and 10. Although decades ago, commercial duck hunters, I believe, used 2, 4 and 6 gauge shotguns strapped onto the front of their boats.

Now, for one little kinker — the .410 is not classified by gauge but by caliber, like a rifle is. It is actually a .410 caliber and is the smallest of shotguns.

Let’s talk a second about the shells. They are called shotgun shells, not shotgun bullets (although you can get slugs which is a solid projectile). They come in various lengths. 2¾-inch, 3-inch and 3½-inch. Some guns will only shoot 2¾-inch shells, some both 2¾- and 3-inch and some all three: 2¾, 3 or 3½ inch.

The advantage of shooting 3-inch or 3½-inch shells is that they will hold more powder and BB’s so they are deadlier and you can reach out further. But … they also kick harder. I had to have a 3½ shotgun. I had some turkey loads I had to test out for an article and went out on the prairie with a variety of shells to shoot.

Uh-oh, I hate to be a little wimp but the Hevi-Shot 3½ turkey loads about knocked me for a loop. You talk about kicking! After that, I was all about 3-inch being the largest I’d hunt with. I’d still recommend getting a 3½ in case you want it someday, but for sure at least a 3-inch.

So, why would you even want to shoot 2¾-inch shells? Because they kick a whole lot less which is important if you’re hunting doves where you may burn through a good number of boxes in a day.


If the end of the barrel is wider, then your pattern would widen out, right? And if it was a little tighter it would shoot a tighter group, which is important if you’re shooting ducks/geese/pheasants that are way out there and tough to kill.

This brings us to chokes. There are multiple chokes you can purchase but the most common from widest to the tightest: improved cylinder, modified and full choke. Why are chokes important? Let’s say that you’re quail hunting and making fast, close shots in the brush right before they zip behind the brush 25 yards away. You don’t want a tight choke then, you need a wide pattern to hit these little bottle rockets on steroids. But if you’re shooting ducks way out there, you need a full choke so you hit them with more BB’s.

Some shotguns come with a fixed choke and then some have interchangeable chokes. It is nice to have interchangeable chokes so one gun can fulfill more tasks. Many double barrel/over unders have an improved cylinder on the right barrel (which is the first barrel to fire) and on the left a modified. Or, they may have a modified on the right and a full choke on the left. They do this since most likely your first shot is close and on your second shot they’ll be spooked and flying away and out further. You can buy various lengths of barrels, too. For further shots you’ll want a longer barrel and a full choke.

There are basically six models that I can think of, off the top of my head. Single shots, double barrels, bolt action, lever action, pumps and semi-autos. Space doesn’t permit to go in detail on them but if you’re buying your kid a gun, I suggest buying them a real gun and not a single shot. Dad bought all of us kids our first shotgun at the ripe old age of 10. For a couple of years we could only carry one shell in the gun. I know they make youth guns, etc., but I say buy them one they can use all of their life.

Wow, we have barely gotten started and are out of space. I can’t even cover shells. One last word and we’ll end on a note of safety. Many competitive shooters don’t like ear muffs because when you throw up your shotgun the stock hits the ear muff and messes up your shot. Check out the Silynx Clarus Pro ear protection. They have hearing enhancement capabilities but shut off at a loud report and are cell phone compatible.

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