Ammunition | Hunting
Buckshot Sizes: Know Your Options

Buckshot Sizes: Know Your Options

Buckshot Sizes: Know Your Options

The shotgun is arguably the most versatile firearm ever created. The 12 Gauge shotgun in particular is probably a staple in every home of every gun owner and if it’s not it should be. The low price and availability of single shot and pump 12 Gauge shotguns makes them a very affordable asset for firearm owners on a budget. The versatility of the 12 Gauge allows hunters and shooters the ability to take nearly any game species in North America, from birds to bears and everything in between by changing barrels or loading the right ammunition.

There are various Buckshot loads available to hunters and shooters, and even some made expressly for home defense. However, not all Buckshot is created equal. We hope to present a guide that will help you understand the options you have at your fingertips when it comes to choosing the right size Buckshot for your shotgun.

What is Buckshot?

Buckshot represents the largest diameter pellets that can be loaded into a shotgun shell. Individual Buckshot pellet sizes can range from .24” to .36” in diameter. The larger the pellet size, the less can fit into a shotgun shell. These pellets can be made of lead or steel and can be copper plated.

Originally designed for big game hunting as well as personal defense, Buckshot is the gold standard for short-range efficiency when it comes to either use.

Buckshot Shotgun Shell Components

Primer: A shotgun shell primer is similar to the centerfire primer of a rifle or pistol, only it’s a bit bigger. It’s composed of a metal cup that holds the explosive priming compound. When the primer is struck by the shotgun’s firing pin it creates a burning flash that ignites the powder.

Propellant: This is the proper name for the shotgun’s powder. When it is ignited by the flash from the primer it burns and the resulting expanding gas propels the projectile through the shotgun barrel.

Base: The metal bottom of a shotgun shell is known as the base. This is where the primer resides and its composition ensures reliability with regard to feeding, extraction, and ejection.

Hull: Early shotgun shells were made entirely of brass, however as cartridge-based shotguns grew in popularity a cheaper material was needed. Early shotgun hulls were made of paper hulls bound to a brass or copper base. By the 1950s the paper hull was replaced by a plastic one. When a shotgun shell is fired the front of the hull expands to release the wad and the shot load.

Wad: The shotgun shell’s wad keeps the shot contained and separate from the propellant. It also minimizes shot deformation while traveling down the shotgun’s bore.

Shot: This is what gives the shotgun its name. Shot is the payload of metal pellets contained in the shotgun shell. They range in size from small BB’s to the largest buckshot and can even be replaced by a solid single projectile known as a slug.

Buckshot for Home Defense

If a shotgun is chosen for home defense, the shot type used in the shells should be Buckshot, unless you are Tippi Hedrin and anticipate an attack by a flock of seagulls. Buckshot is a proven round that has a track record of stopping attackers. Birdshot, which is a much smaller shot diameter and considerably less expensive is not recommended for use against animals larger than birds, including human attackers.

Buckshot Sizes

Size matters when it comes to Buckshot and the three size components are the gauge or caliber of the shotgun, the length of the shell, and the size of the pellets. There is a fourth known as the choke but that is less of a factor than the other three.

Shotgun Shell Sizes

Shotgun shells come in a variety of lengths. The two most common for 20 Gauge and 12 Gauge are 2 ¾-inch or 3-inch. However, 3 ½ inch shells are available in 12 Gauge and it is not uncommon to find 2 ½ and 2 5/8 inch lengths of 12 and 20 Gauge shotgun shells from a few manufacturers. The smaller 410 Shotgun shells are most often found in 2 ½ inch, 2 ¾ inch, and 3-inch lengths.

It is important to note that this length refers to a fired shell where the hull is completely opened at the front and not a loaded shell that is about to be fired. They will be anywhere from ¼-inch to 1/2 –inch shorter before they are fired.

From a safety perspective, a shooter should not load a longer shell into a shotgun rated for a shorter one. Even though the longer shell will chamber, excessive use will cause accelerated wear on the chamber and/or the receiver of the shotgun.

From a reliability perspective, many of the shorter shotgun shells such as the recently popular 1 ¾ -inch 12 Gauge mini shells may not function correctly in a shotgun intended for a longer chambering. These types of Buckshot shells may increase your capacity in a pump-action or semi-automatic shotgun, but you may sacrifice reliability and effectiveness.

Buckshot Size Chart: Pellet Diameter

The size of the individual Buckshot pellets increases as the number goes lower. Number 4 Buckshot, for example, measures 0.24-inch while Number 1 measures 0.3-inch.

As these numbers decrease into zeroes or the oughts, the size increases more. 0 Buckshot represents 0.32-inch diameter pellets and the largest 000 Buckshot pellets are 0.36-inch in diameter.

The actual diameter of the various buckshot pellets are as follows:

Buckshot SizePellet Diameter (inches)
#4 Buck.24
#3 Buck.25
#2 Buck.27
#1 Buck.30
#0 Buck.32
#00 Buck.33
#000 Buck.36

How Many Pellets are in Buckshot?

The number of Buckshot pellets found in each shotgun shell varies based on shell length, gauge, the size of the Buckshot pellets, and the manufacturer of the Buckshot ammunition in question.

A typical 12-gauge, 2 ¾-inch 00 Buckshot shell holds 8 pellets that are 0.33″ in diameter. A 3-inch shell most often contains 12 of these same sized pellets. Some longer shells such as the aforementioned 3-inch or the longer 3 1/2-inch shells may be a specialty load that contains the same number of pellets as a 2 ¾-inch shell because the load was designed for longer range or greater velocity and sometimes it will contain more pellets.

Going to the lowest extreme of Buckshot loads would be the 410 Shotgun loads. An average 410 000-Buckshot factory load holds a mere 3 pellets while a 410 # 4 Buckshot load may have 9 pellets in each round.

The combinations and variety vary so much, that it is best to consult the manufacturer of the Buckshot shotgun ammunition in question. All of this information is also listed on the ammunition boxes themselves.

Buckshot Ballistics

We have heard shotguns compared to having a “Howitzer in your house”. Hyperbole aside, a shotgun is a good supplement to a defensive handgun in the home and for the hunter, a lowly pump shotgun may be the most versatile arm in the gun cabinet.

For people who get their first impressions (or all of their knowledge, for that matter) of a shotgun loaded with Buckshot from the movies they may expect to see targets flying across the range from a single shot or wonder why something so devastating could be used for hunting.

The answer is because those are movies and not always based in reality, especially with regard to shotguns and Buckshot.

Depending on the shot size, shell length, and the gauge of the shotgun; Buckshot travels as fast as 950 fps to 1300 (feet per second).

Every box of Buckshot ammunition will have these numbers printed on the box. However, as shot travels downrange, the pellets will lose velocity. This makes Buckshot an effective, but relatively short-range solution.

Buckshot Range

The range of Buckshot will vary based on the shotgun’s gauge, the length of the Buckshot shell, the size of Buckshot in the shell, and the length and choke of the shotgun’s barrel.

With all of these factors taken into consideration, the average range of Buckshot fired through a shotgun can be anywhere from 30 to 60 yards. Fired Buckshot pellets may travel much further than that; however, they lose velocity and energy over distance.

For this reason, it is very important for every shotgun shooter to pattern their shotgun to determine at what distance their Buckshot spread begins to lose effectiveness.

Buckshot Patterning

All shotguns should be patterned for the loads that will primarily be shot from them. This is imperative with Buckshot whether you use your shotgun for hunting or home defense.

Patterning refers to firing your shotgun at known distances to see where the pellets impact the target. A good rule of thumb is to start at about 10 feet and incrementally move the target further out to see when that particular load spreads too wide to be effective.

An effective Buckshot spread is about 4 to 8-inches. If your Buckshot patterns are wider than that you may not effectively stop a threat or drop an animal. Another factor to consider is the accountability of fired shots. While your broader pattern may still hit your target, there is a greater chance of errant Buckshot pellets that miss their mark traveling further and potentially injuring or killing an innocent party.

While we recommend Number 1 Buckshot as a minimum for home defense, your shotgun may pattern more efficiently with Number 2 Buckshot. This is truly a trial and error type of experimentation with you and your shotgun. Try various loads and see what patterns best.

Frequently Asked Questions

We realize this is a lot of information to give at once about Buckshot and its use in a shotgun. The following are some of the most frequently asked questions that we receive regarding shotguns in general and Buckshot in particular.

Can buckshot be used with a suppressor?

A shotgun is very different to suppress than a conventional cartridge firearm like a pistol or rifle due to the nature of shotgun ammunition but it can be done and you can shoot buckshot through them. SilencerCo developed a suppressor that is designed for shotguns called the Salvo 12.

Shotguns generally fire a multiple of pellets that are secured in the shell by a wad. Between the buckshot pellets and the plastic wad hurtling through a suppressor, it sounds like there is a lot that can go wrong.

SilencerCo averted this by adding an internal rail to center the wad as it is propelled through the suppressor with the buckshot.


What choke should I use for Buckshot?

A shotgun choke shapes the shot pattern of a shotgun to improve range and accuracy. While some older shotguns, particularly over-under shotguns, will have a barrel fixed to a certain choke; many will have an interchangeable choke tube system.

These interchangeable shotgun choke tubes are typically installed via internal threads in the shotgun’s barrel. Almost every manufacturer uses a proprietary choke system. For example, Remington uses the Remchoke system, Winchester uses the Winchoke system and Saiga type shotguns rely on an externally threaded barrel.

Not all shotguns are equipped with chokes. Most so-called defensive or riot shotguns leave the factory as “cylinder bore” guns with no method of adding one of the various choke systems. If you need to have a system installed, it will need to be performed by a competent gunsmith.

Chokes are popular with hunters and competitive shotgun shooters because the correct sized choke tube will improve the shooter’s range and accuracy. The three most common choke sizes are Improved Cylinder, Modified, and Full. Each of these gets progressively tighter and holds the payload of shot denser than the previous.

Buckshot can be used with any of these chokes, with cylinder bore being the most common. Every shotgun is different so if you can use interchangeable chokes to change your pattern at different ranges, it is a good idea to try them out with the particular buckshot load you have in mind.

What is Buckshot used for?

As the name implies, Buckshot was originally designed for use in deer hunting. However, it can be used to hunt other animals of the same size or weight class such as black bears, wild hogs, and many varmints.

Outside of hunting, Buckshot is most often used as a self-defense round. The low price of many shotguns and their availability makes them a useful tool in a home defense setup and certain types of Buckshot have proven themselves to be extremely capable within this role.

What is Buckshot made of?

Most buckshot is made from lead. Other dense metals can be used such as tungsten, copper, and even copper plated steel pellets. Loads such as these are mostly used in wetland areas or environments where lead projectiles are banned. Some special-purpose riot control loads use buckshot made from rubber. Rubber buckshot pellets are considered less-lethal projectiles.

Why is it called Buckshot?

Buckshot, like many other types of shot sizes, gets its name from the type of game it was intended for shooting. In this case, it was designed to shoot deer, so the term buckshot was coined.

Where should you shoot a deer with Buckshot?

Most deer hunters try to place their rifle bullets or even their arrows in the animal’s largest vital area, namely the lungs. However, using Buckshot in a shotgun changes this rule somewhat.

For one thing, Buckshot pales in comparison to the power of a rifle shot. So hitting the lungs broadside will do far less damage as a centerfire rifle, especially with regard to penetration.

The multiple projectiles in a Buckshot shotgun shell do, however, increase the hunter’s chances of scoring a hit on some of the smaller vitals like the spine or maybe the heart. These kinds of hits will drop a deer immediately.

Never attempt a direct or forward headshot on a deer with Buckshot. More often than not you will maim and cripple the animal. Their brains are particularly small in relation to the size of their heads. Injured, it will run off as fast as it can to die a lingering and painful death.

The better traditional methods are behind the shoulder and where the neck meets the shoulder. This gives the hunter the opportunity to hit numerous smaller vital areas including the heart, lungs, windpipe, and spine with a decent shot spread.

Make an Informed Choice

The bottom line is that every shotgun, even mass-produced ones, has a character all its own. The best way that a shooter can discover this and be able to master it is to take the shotgun out and try a variety of loads in that shotgun to see which Buckshot load will be the most effective.

Recoil from a 12 Gauge shotgun with Buckshot can be brutal to a new shooter, but with enough practice, it can be mastered. The 20 Gauge makes a good compromise for the recoil sensitive, but we would hold off on any shotgun chambered in .410 bore as the Buckshot loads are marginal at best.

Whether you live in a state that restricts deer hunting to shotguns only or you need an affordable home protection firearm, a shotgun is a sound choice. However, you will need to tailor the loads to your needs and the 12 Gauge gives you the most options, especially when it comes to Buckshot options.