If you rely on Hollywood for your information, a shotgun can never miss and is capable of knocking a 1970 Pontiac GTO clear across Hazzard County.
In reality, they’re not quite that impressive, but a shotgun is one very versatile gun. Competition, recreation, hunting and home defense—a shotgun can do it all.
Before we get into types of shotguns and their various uses, let’s talk about what a shotgun is. A shotgun used to be a gun with a smooth (non-rifled) bore that fired multiple pellet projectiles. As with everything, the lines got blurry because gun people like to invent new stuff. Now some shotguns can fire single projectiles, have rifled barrels and are available as handguns.
For purposes of this discussion, let’s consider a shotgun as a shoulder-fired gun that has a smooth bore and is intended to fire ammunition loaded with multiple pellet projectiles. Even with this basic definition, the versatility of a shotgun is evident.
The versatility comes from shotgun ammunition, commonly called shot. Shot type is identified by number. The higher the number, the smaller the pellet size. For example, 000 buck shot shells have pellets that measure .36 inches in diameter. That’s the same diameter as a .357 Magnum bullet! Number 9 shot shells have a gazillion tiny pellets that measure .080 inches in diameter. There are about a dozen options in between. If you require longer range and more power, you can use a shell with fewer, but larger and heavier pellets. If you’re shooting at clay targets or bird hunting, you can use a shell with many smaller and lighter pellets. Using the same gun, you can customize your ammo choice for the job.
We need to talk about one more thing before we get into types of shotguns—choke. Think of a choke tube as a nozzle you put on a garden hose. If you put a small nozzle on the end, the water stream gets narrower and shoots farther. It’s the same thing with a shotgun choke tube. For example, a “full choke” tube constricts the diameter of the muzzle, causing the pellets to compress into a tighter cloud.
Types of Shotguns
There are three common types of shotguns: break action, pump and semi-automatic. We’ll lump the more unusual designs into the “other” category. Let’s take a look at each.