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Are you using the right cartridge?

All a shotgun cartridge has to do is propel shot towards the target to hit it cleanly. But if only it were that simple. There are many different cartridges on the market for all sorts of disciplines and guns. So how can you choose the best one for you?

shotgun cartridges

You’ll need to think about a variety of considerations to be using the right shotgun cartridge.

Chamber length

The cartridge you use needs to match the length of your shotgun chamber or be smaller. If you use a cartridge with a longer chamber length than your gun you are likely to cause serious damage to your gun and risk injury to yourself. Chamber length is clearly marked on both the cartridge and the cartridge box and shotgun chamber lengths are generally 2 ½, 2¾, or 3 inch (65, 70 and 76mm).

best shotgun cartridges

Larger shot will travel further with more energy

Shot and loads

  • The larger the shot number, the smaller the shot.  Nine is the smallest, down to 1 and then into letters with BB and SG being the largest shot available, used for vermin control and hunting larger animals. Larger shot travels further with more energy, giving a cleaner kill for larger or more distant targets.
  • Steel shot is used for wildfowling – this is a legal requirement and lead shot for clays, game, pigeons and rabbits.
  • The load is the number of shot pellets packed into the cartridge and this is known as the total weight of the shot, usually in grams.
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Steel shot is legally required for wildfowling

Weight of gun

Usually the heavier the gun, the better the recoil is absorbed. Side by sides generally require a lighter load of around 28-30 grams whereas over-and-unders are heavier and can take a cartridge load up to 34 grams.

Your choice

Apart from your size and legal requirements, what cartridge you shoot with is up to you. Some Shots like an all-round cartridge that gives a comfortable level of recoil, accuracy and shooting style.

Some Guns lean towards No. 5 shot, as the heavier pellet is more likely to kill cleanly, though there are fewer pellets in the killing pattern.

Pigeon shooters sometimes prefer No. 5 shot for pigeon as, again, there is more stopping power and penetration.


  • Whatever size shot you decide to use you must minimise wounding.
  • Do not shoot at a living creature beyond the capability of yourself, your gun and your cartridges.