Shotgun Basics

man shooting shotgun at an indoor range

Breaking clay targets, shooting gamebirds, launching slugs at big game, protecting your home—there's almost no limit to what a shotgun paired with the right ammunition can do. But to maximize their potential, shooters need to do their part.

Home Defense

Although most shotguns can be used for home defense, models with shorter barrels, pistol-grip stocks and fast-acquisition sights are best suited for the job. Buckshot loads, such as Federal Premium's Personal Defense Shotshell cartridges, including Force X2 segmenting buckshot, feature large shot and produce optimal patterns for the close-range shooting typical of home defense situations.

Force X2 shotshells being loaded into a shotgun


Clay target shooting is a great way to have fun with family and friends. Target ammunition for shotshells are relatively low-recoil loads that propel light payloads of fine shot—sizes 7.5 to 9. Gold Medal Grand and Top Gun are excellent options for breaking targets in skeet, trap and sporting clays


Shotguns are arguably the most versatile hunting firearms, because they can be used to take almost any game animal depending on the ammunition. Their primary use is shooting birds in flight—ducks, geese, pheasants, grouse, doves and quail—using shells loaded with small pellets called shot. However, they're also used for turkeys, as well as larger game like deer, bears and hogs when loaded with slugs (single projectiles similar to rifle bullets).

Hunter Shooting Shotfun in the middle of the field

Ammunition Construction

Shotshell ammunition is generally offered in six different gauges: 10, 12, 16, 20, 28 and .410 bore (10 gauge is the largest and .410 the smallest), with payloads that vary from 1/2 ounce to 2 1/4 ounces. A plastic tube called the hull encloses a wad filled with shot, and the brass head holds the primer, powder and base wad.

Shothell being emptied into a hand

Some loads also have a granulated plastic buffer, which prevents pellet deformation and produces tight, uniform patterns. Shells can be loaded with lead, steel, bismuth or TSS (tungsten-alloy) shot, as well as slugs or buckshot.