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What Should You Consider When Choosing A Shotgun

L.p. Brezny | Updated February 26, 2024 | Why You Should Trust Us | How We Earn Money
What should you consider when choosing a shotgun cover photo showing fingers inserting a shotgun shell into a shotgun

Looking to buy a shotgun? Here is what you should consider when choosing a shotgun, including the top thing to avoid before you put money on the table.

For more reading after see our article on the best shotgun scope on the market.

What Should You Consider When Choosing A Shotgun

The most important question to consider is, what are you going to do with the gun? The top reasons for buying a shotgun are home defense, hunting, and sporting.

Beyond that, consider the gauge. Shotguns today come in 10, 12, 16, 20, 28, 32, and 410 gauges. The 410 is also called the 410 bore. 

Of these, the 12 gauge is the most common, and the 32 is the hardest to find. The smaller the number, the bigger the barrel and the more pellets it shoots or, the bigger the slug it shoots. 

Recoil, a big factor in choosing a gauge, is heaviest in the 10 and goes down until you get to 410, which is the lightest of them all. The 410 gauge is used mostly for hunting waterfowl and sometimes turkeys.

Home Defense

A home defense shotgun should have an 18-inch open choke barrel. An open choke is also called a cylinder bore. It means the muzzle end is the same diameter as the breech.

Chokes constrict the barrel at the muzzle, giving the pellets leaving the barrel a tighter pattern downrange compared to an open bore. You want the 18-inch barrel because it’s short, and the gun swings easily in tight quarters. Long barrels are for hunting.


Shotgun hunting is done with a couple of different shotshells: birdshot, which are tiny pellets; waterfowl shot, which is steel and bigger; and buckshot for big game. Buckshot has the biggest pellets of all.

Slugs, a solid chunk of lead, copper, or steel, are used on medium to big game. All shotguns will fire this ammunition. Just make sure your barrel is rated for steel. Old barrels cannot handle steel loads. (Reference: What to consider when choosing a shotgun)

Essentially, what you hunt tells you the gun you need. 

I realize animals are routinely taken with smaller guns and smaller shots than recommended. I believe in ethical and humane kills, and these recommendations achieve that. You can check the shotgun shell boxes to learn the game best suited for those loads.

Man holding a shotgun with a smoking open chamber


Most people prefer an autoloader or a double barrel when shooting sporting clays.

Olympic and professional shooters use over & under double barrels because the line of sight is down one barrel. These guns let you get off a second shot much faster and more accurately than a pump. You need that second shot for stands with a double bird.

Additionally, most of these guns also come with replaceable chokes.

People who go to turkey shoots (shooting paper targets, not birds) either professionally or occasionally want a long barrel. Barrels of 30 to 36 inches are common. These guns either come with a full choke or removable chokes, so the shooter can try different chokes to find what gives the best pattern.

It’s good to know that long barrels and tight chokes deliver denser patterns than short barrels with more open chokes.

Turkey shoot guns can be a single shot, auto, or pump. Double barrels are rarely used because a second shot is not allowed.

Gauge Needed for Certain Game

Upland birds, squirrels – Use 12 to 410 gauge.

Large birds – Crow, pheasant, duck, goose, and even bigger birds where it’s legal. Use 10 to 20 gauge.

Thin-skinned game – Deer, antelope, coyotes, smaller hogs, and small bears. Use 10 to 20 gauge.

Big game – Large bear, big hogs, elk, or moose. Use a 10 or 12-gauge, and use slugs.

Elk in a field and forest

What Might Be Included in a Shotgun Designed to Fire Slugs?

If you’re wondering how to tell if your shotgun can shoot slugs, the answer is that every shotgun can shoot slugs.

Where shooting slugs are concerned, the difference is in the barrel and the slug type. Some slugs perform best in a smooth barrel. Some perform best in a rifled barrel or a barrel with a rifled choke.

Barrels specifically meant for slugs have iron sights or a cantilever mount for an optic.

You can easily change barrels on a shotgun to accommodate different loads like birdshot or slugs.

What Is True of Most Shotguns?

The most important thing that is true about shotguns is they are short-range weapons

Slugs may reach 100 yards or so. Shotshells rapidly lose penetrating power as they move downrange. Even 00 buck is not very effective past 50 yards. The pellets are too spread out and would lose a lot of velocity.

How Is a Shotgun Fired?

If you’re wondering whether a shotgun might fire differently from other firearms, don’t worry. It fires just like a rifle or handgun. 

Just load a round in the chamber, take the safety off, and pull the trigger.

What Is the Purpose of the Shotgun Trigger Guard?

The shotgun trigger guard is in place to protect the trigger from being pulled before the shooter is ready. To a lesser extent, it keeps the trigger from being broken off.

So, what part of a shotgun prevents the firearm from firing when the trigger is pulled? That’ll be the safety switch. Make sure the safety is on until you’re ready to pull the trigger.


What should you consider when selecting a shotgun?

When selecting a shotgun, consider the use and how much recoil you can handle.

What should you consider when choosing a cartridge or shotgun shell for hunting?

When choosing a cartridge or shotgun shell for hunting, you must consider the shot size and the animal you hunt. Shell boxes can tell you the appropriate animals for that ammo.

What are the 3 key features of a shotgun?

The 3 key features of a shotgun are the barrel (or barrels), the action (which is single-shot, double barrel, pump, or autoloader), and the gauge.


  1. Texas Parks & Wildlife, Shotgun Ammunition: Shotshells. Retrieved from https://tpwd.texas.gov/education/hunter-education/online-course/firearms-and-ammunition-1/shotshells

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