Information in Helping Choose a Shotgun
Background Information on Shotgun
Single shot shotguns are generally the least expensive, but they only hold one shell at a time. To fire again, you have to open the breach, eject the fired shell and insert a new one, a time consuming activity. However, these guns are functional tools for some clay target shooting sports.
Pump-action shotguns are the most common, lowest cost and most reliable guns, though some models can be very expensive. After every shot you must pump/pull the forearm of the gun to eject the spent shell and load another from the magazine tube into the chamber.
Auto-loader shotguns (also known as "semi-automatic") use various types of ejection and re-loading systems so the only operation you do to fire a round is pull the trigger. Reliability is lowered, versus pump-action, and using a variety of rounds reduces reliability even more.
Double barrel shotguns come in two varieties: over-under (O/U) with one barrel above another, and side-by-sides, in which the barrels are located horizontally. In the US, O/U shotguns are the most popular style. With adjustable triggers and auto ejectors, these guns are very expensive.
For a beginner, a pump action is probably a good starter gun, since it is very common, cheap, versatile, and reliable.
Barrel length primarily affects the handling capabilities of the shotgun. It also affects the ability to aim the shotgun accurately.
Longer barrels swing more smoothly and are considered better for predictable targets. Shorter barrels are both easier to maneuver in restricted spaces and are quicker to point. They are, therefore, considered better suited for military and police combat or unpredictable bird shooting.
Longer barrels give you a longer distance from the end of the barrel to your eye, making eye alignment less critical. This makes them more accurate.
There is a slight increase in muzzle velocity with longer barrels, but it's not enough to worry about. More important is the increased flash and noise when shooting a shotgun with a short barrel.
A choke is a section at the end of the barrel, which slightly constricts the diameter of the muzzle. For shot, it makes the pattern tighter, and travel further while maintaining a dense enough pattern to kill/destroy your target. There are many sizes of chokes, and a couple types of chokes, which may be in a barrel.
The size of the choke changes how wide the spread of the pellets will be. The tighter the choke, the tighter the pattern. Loose patterns allow for greater aiming error, but it also means that your range is more limited.
The two types of chokes are fixed chokes and screw-in chokes. Fixed chokes are part of the barrel design and cannot be changed or removed (without major work). The screw-in choke means the end of the barrel is threaded (inside the bore) to allow many different sizes of chokes to be utilized.
Slugs and buckshot should not be fired through either tight fixed chokes (improved modified, full, or extra full) or any type of screw-in choke. You are likely to damage the gun.
Some shotgun barrels are rifled. These are much less versatile than most shotguns, not being able to shoot bird-shot, buckshot, or normal slugs, but are very accurate when shooting ''sabot slugs''.
This section explains all types of ammunition when shooting at a range where only target ammunition is allowed. Firing hunting loads at a clay target sports complex can result in serious injury to you or a fellow shooter.
Generally, shotguns are able to shoot two types of ammunition: single large pellets called 'slugs', which make the shotgun act a bit like a rifle, and shells full of smaller pellets called shot, which is useful for hitting small/moving targets.
Higher shot numbers indicate smaller size shot; #9 shot is much smaller than #4 shot. This applies to all 'categories' of shot.
One category of shot is bird-shot, used to hunt birds or shoot targets. The most common size, #7 ½, is about .1" in diameter.
The other category is buckshot, generally used to hunt large critters such as coyotes or deer. In such a load, pellets as large as .38" are carefully packed into a shotgun shell.
Shot shells are available in either ''high-base'' (high-brass) or ''low-base'' (low-brass) loadings. The high-base shells usually have more powder and are more powerful. Use them when you need something extra and but not at a shooting range.
Shot shells come in various lengths. In 12 gauge, for instance, common lengths are 2-3/4”, 3", and 3-1/2".
A shotgun can shoot shells shorter than its chamber, which will be marked on the barrel, but not longer.
Longer shells have more pellets and more powder... and generate much more recoil. You'll only want to use them when you need to.
When shooting Clay Target Shooting Sports, “NEVER” use a hunting load or High Brass shells or shot size larger than #7 ½. The larger projectiles travel too far and may cause a dangerous condition. Most shotgun ranges have had ballistic tests that assure safety when using target loads. Hunting loads are against the rules of all shotgun shooting sports. If in question, ask a Safety Official or someone familiar with the gun club shooting rules.
Bore size is also a big consideration, as 12 or even 10 gauge shotguns can be painful to shoot for some untrained, sensitive, small, or weak users. 16 gauge, 20 gauge, 28 gauge and .410" shotguns are available, with reduced kick and thus are easier to handle.
Slugs are useful for hunting large animals at moderate ranges.
Don't fire slugs through tight chokes.
Don't shoot slugs through "over-bored" barrels.
Sabot slugs won't perform well in smooth bore (unrifled) barrels. Use them in rifled barrels.
Rifled" slugs are designed for use in smooth bore barrels.
The patterning board is your best friend for determining: shot pattern percentages, pattern densities and Point of Impact (POI) -- actually the center of the pattern. After shooting once at a piece of paper on the patterning board, make a choice of the best shot size and barrel choke for your particular discipline.
Never shoot hunting loads or slugs at a metal plate pattern board. You will be taking a risk of serious injury from ricocheting pellets and slugs. Never use shot larger than #7 ½ on a pattern board. Shot sizes that are allowed for use on patterning boards are #9, #8 ½, #8, and #7-½. No other sizes are recommended. No other sizes are allowed at Bi State.