Following on from Matt Morgan’s blog piece about 12 vs 20 bore shotguns, let’s talk about “Loads” in your cartridge.

Because reminders are eternally helpful, lets recap on the 12 bore measurement from history

Q -What does 12 Bore mean & why is a 20 bore smaller?

A – The bore is the inside of your shotgun barrel.  If you take 1 pound (in weight) of pure lead, and divide it accurately into 12 pieces, forming each into an immaculate ball, each will fit perfectly down a 12 bore barrel, with no wiggle room. “Twelve Bore”. 

I promise you, it needs be no more complex than that.

A 20 bore is narrower because 1 pound of lead, divided into 20 pieces, gives smaller balls!

But we aren’t shooting huge, single lead balls. It’s a “Shot Gun”.

A gun to shoot “shot” from. Not a rifle either. Rifles have barrels with a rifled “spiral” inside to make the bullet spin. Shotguns are smooth bore. Shiny as a mirror inside, assuming you cleaned it. You did clean it, right?

Q – What is “shot”?

A – “Shot” is lots of small metal balls. Historically it was lead shot, but we are moving towards non-lead shot such as steel. Shot is not bullets.

Q – Why shoot “shot”? Not bullets?

A – Hitting a moving target is damn hard. With a single bullet…. Well, good luck with that. 

But with a dense cloud of hundreds of high speed “shot” coming out of the barrel, widening in a cone shape as they leave the barrels you have a much better chance of dusting those clay discs, popping those partridge, or bowling over the bunnies. Other quarry is available.

Q – What does shot “No” or Number refer to?

A – Shot size. It defines the size of each of the many tiny metal balls in the cartridge.

The larger the number, the smaller each ball is. For example; No 8 shot is tiny and often ideal for clays whereas No 3 is a lot larger and more appropriate for quarry such as ducks. 

The photo’s here show No 7 ½ and No 4 along with the boxes too, so you can compare the text with the contents. I promise, it’s not the minefield it looks. It’s genuinely interesting. And as a devoted shooter, I find cartridges quite magical. The gun is actually quite simple really. The cartridge is where the magic happens in many cases.

Q – And the load? 21 grams? 24 grams? 28 grams? 30 grams? 32 grams?

A – The more “shot” that you fire, the more is in the air to hit the target. But the more recoil you feel. All gun’s recoil, but we only feel it relative to the weight of the gun. When there is a larger weight of load, the cartridge manufacturer puts more powder in to make sure it all comes out at the right speed.

Q – What’s all this wadding info and choice?

A – If the explosive powder in your cartridge was mixed in with the “shot”, lots of the explosive energy would simply squeeze around the ammo, and not push it. So the “shot” sits on a tight-fitting “wad” and the explosive powder is behind that. It then pushes the “shot” up the barrel, like a piston.

Fibre wad is a compressed cardboard material that falls apart after it’s done the job. Plastic (not accepted everywhere) was very effective at holding the shot in a “cup” inside the barrel. And water-soluble wads are a modern adaption, a soluble version of plastic wads. Personal taste? Fibre has been my choice for years but with steel shot now needing more than fibre, soluble suits very well. 

The photo’s here show 

20 bore in yellow

No 7 /12 lead   28 grams of them, with a fibre wad

12 bore in orange

No 4 steel 30 grams of them, with a soluble wad

So to recap

Shot size – is the No/Number and the larger the No the smaller each ball is. No1 is a big job! No 9 is like fairy dust. There is a No 10 but I sneezed and can’t find it….

Load – is the weight of the shot measured in grams. More weight = more shot = more ammo flying towards your target but more recoil felt

Wad – fibre or water-soluble. You’ll get less choice as time moves on though each brand will trumpet their own creation of course

Bore / Gauge – 12 or 20 are most common, and 12 are cheaper to buy cartridges for because they make more of them! I’m a fan of 20’s though. Truly, up to 30-gram loads, a 20 is way easier to carry and recoil is fine

One last thing – shooting can seem complex, scientific and very calculated. It can be that if you want it to be. But first and foremost it needs to be safe and enjoyable. So don’t sweat the fine details. If you pull the trigger and the thing falls out of the sky, rinse and repeat with a smile the size of a 1 bore. And yes, that’s wide! 

Best regards to you all, shoot straight, shoot safe and spread the love of shooting please.


Country Gun UK