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What is the lethal range of a shotgun?


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September 22, 2011 11:44AM

It depends on a number of factors. First, the gauge of the shotgun, that is in simple terms the diameter of the barrel, which partly controls the size of the shell the gun will take. 10 being the larges standard gauge, then 12 the most common, followed by 20 then 410.

Next is the shell length. They vary in different guages. 12 gauge accepts 23/4 inch and 3 inch shells. The difference is the size of the powder charge and the weight of the shot.

Last but not least is the shot size. Shot was once lead but now there is bismuth and steel. The key is mass and inertia. As Newton says once a body is in motion it tends to stay in motion until things like gravity and friction come into play. So the heavier the shot the farther it will carry before gravity and air friction overcomes the initial muzzle velocity.

So double 00 buck shot which consists of 10-12 1/4 inch led pellets will carry a lot farther than a load of No. 6 shot which is an ounce or two of 1/10 inch pellets.

Shot size varies inversely to the number. 8-9 are tiny, then 7 1/2 all considered bird shot for small birds. Then grading up to 6, 5, 3, 2, and finally BBB and BB, for ducks rabbits and geese.

A lead slug, designed for deer hunting fired from a shotgun is probably the most powerful and can carry quite a ways.

So you need to consider the gauge, shell size and pellet diameter to know for sure.

A 410 slug can be a lethal as a pistol at a greater distance. 12 gauge buck lethal out to 100 yards, a slug farther. But accuracy sucks beyond 100 yards.

The last thing to consider is the gun itself. Shot gun barrels can taper at the ends of the barrel, called choke, this controls the shot spread with distance from leaving the barrel. Cylinder choke has no taper, Improved, has slight choke, Modified more, and Full has the most choke. Most guns set up for self or home defense are in the Improved choke category. If a barrel has been shortened, it will have no choke at all and will be Cylinder. Choke has no effect on slugs, and little on 00 shot. For pure lethality 00 is the best choice. It is good out to 50-75 yards and is the equivalent of firing 9 .30 caliber projectiles in one go. Great for home defense and the preferred shell used by the military in it's combat shotguns.

For a comparison of the penetration of the various shot sizes in ballistic gellatin which simulates flesh, consider the following data from the Firearms Tactical Institute web site. But please note that the site did not give its' sources and I have not found any data to fully support these numbers.

12 Gauge Penetration Tests

10% Gelatin

Load Number of Pellets Penetration

@ 7 yards

000 Buck 8 14" - 16"

00 Buck 9 13" - 15"

1 Buck 16 12" - 14"

#4 Buck 27 9" - 11"

#6 Shot (Hard shot) 280 4" - 6" @5 yd

1 oz Foster Slug - 18"

450 gr SABOT Slug - 21"