A Primer on the Shotgun

The shotgun is a classic firearm that was first created in the late 1700s. It has been used for hunting, self-defense and even law enforcement duties throughout the years. Today, we take you on a trip down memory lane with this brief history of how shotguns came to be!

The “gun primer composition” is a primer on the shotgun. It includes information about how to make your own, what types of ammunition can be used with it, and more.

Vintage man holding shotgun black and white illustration.

I’ve been itching to get my hands on a shotgun lately. After reading Creek’s essay on how to make a survival shotgun, I got into it. The itch only became worse once I bought a house (I’m starting to feel like Kevin McAllister). The shotgun is ideal for home defense and catastrophe preparedness. It’s strong, dependable, and adaptable. You may use it to keep intruders out of your house, hunt for food, and even shoot skeet with your friends.

However, as I’ve already said on the blog, I’m a total newbie when it comes to firearms. I grew up with them, but it wasn’t until lately that I became interested in them. I wanted to make sure I understood how a shotgun operated and how to shoot it safely and accurately before bringing one into my home.

So I went to the United States Shooting Academy in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to speak with Mike Seeklander, the Academy’s President and co-host of Outdoor Channel’s The Best Defense. Mike has already assisted me with articles on how to shoot a pistol and a rifle. On this tour, he taught the fundamentals of shotgun handling and fire. Today, I’ll share what I learned from Mike with anybody else interested in purchasing a shotgun for the first time.

Shotguns come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Vintage types of shot guns pump-action and semi-automatic shotguns.

Mike’s shotguns are pump-action and semi-automatic.

Shotguns are primarily used to strike targets at short range and are shot from the shoulder. Unlike rifle and pistol cartridges, shotgun cartridges often shoot several pellets termed “shot” that spread out as they exit the shotgun’s barrel. The energy of the shot reduces dramatically as it travels further from the rifle because the power of a single cartridge charge is distributed over numerous pieces of shot. Shotguns are short-range weapons because of this.

Shotguns come in a range of shapes and sizes, and they may be used for a number of reasons. The most prevalent varieties are highlighted below.

Vintage break action shotgun illustration.

Shotguns with a break-action. Break-action shotguns feature a hinge between the barrel and the stock that enables you to “break” or open the barrel to expose the breech for loading. If you’ve ever seen photos of vintage large game hunters or cowboys using a shotgun, it was almost certainly a break-action shotgun. Break-action shotguns are commonly double-barreled, with the barrels stacked one on top of the other or side by side. Hunters and sport shooters are the most common users. Break-action shotguns have the major drawback of being single shot firearms, which means you must reload after firing the one cartridge in each barrel.

Vintage pump action shotgun illustration.

Pump-action shotgun Mossberg 500

Shotguns with a pump action. A pump-action shotgun is a shotgun with a single barrel that can store numerous rounds (unlike break-action shotguns). By drawing a pump handle towards yourself and then pressing it back into its original place along the barrel, you may remove spent shells and chamber a new round. Because of its dependability and capacity to store numerous rounds, pump-action shotguns are commonly utilized by police agencies all over the globe. For years, the Remington 870 has been the go-to shotgun for American cops, while the Mossberg 500 has been favored by the military.


Pump-action shotguns are often regarded as the best option for home defense in the firearms world. They’re simple to use, virtually hard to break, and very dependable. Even the most hardened criminal’s britches will be soiled by the sound of chambering a hot round into a pump-action 12 gauge. They’re also reasonably priced, with costs starting at roughly $200.

Short-stroking is one of the things to look out for while shooting a pump-action shotgun. That happens when you don’t fully return the pump to its original position, causing the next round in the magazine to fail to chamber.

Vintage semi automatic shotgun illustration.

Browning shotgun (semi-automatic)

Shotguns that are semi-automatic. When the trigger is pressed on a semi-automatic shotgun, it shoots a single round, ejects the spent shell, and automatically chambers a fresh shell from a magazine. You’ll be able to fire off rounds swiftly as a result of this. If you intend on hunting with your gun, be aware that several states prohibit semi-automatic shotguns.

Semi-automatic shotguns are more prone to jamming problems than pump-action or break-action shotguns because bullets are automatically loaded and the design is more sophisticated.

Vintage diagram of a shotgun illustration.

A shotgun is shown in this diagram.

Ammunition for Shotguns: What You Need to Know

Vintage shotgun ammo broken down into three categories birdshot, buckshot, and slugs.

Birdshot, buckshot, and slugs are the three types of shotgun ammunition.

Birdshot. Birdshot is a smaller version of buckshot that is mostly used for hunting birds. The size of a birdshot is determined by a number; the higher the number, the smaller the shot. The smallest birdshot is size #12, while the biggest is size FF. The diameter of all birdshot pellets is less than 5 mm. Because birdshot is so little, it’s simply poured into a shotgun shell until it reaches a certain weight.

Buckshot. Buckshot is often used for small to medium-sized animal hunting as well as police and home protection. Buckshot, like birdshot, is classified by a number that lowers as the shot size increases. The smallest buckshot is #4, and sizes go up from there to 0000 (quad-ought), 000 (triple-ought), 00 (double-ought), and 0 (zero-ought) (ought). Buckshot, unlike birdshot, is too massive to fit inside a cartridge. To fit, the buckshot pellets are piled in a set geometric pattern within the shell.

Slugs. Slugs are essentially large bullets. A shotgun round with a slug in it only discharges one slug instead of numerous pellets. Slugs are generally utilized for big game hunting as well as military and law enforcement objectives. Slugs are rifled, giving them spin as they exit the gun’s barrel, making them more precise and stable in flight.

Gauge, Length of Chamber, and Tubes for Choking: What You Need to Know


Unlike handguns and rifles, shotguns employ gauge to determine the diameter of the barrel. The use of a measuring gauge may be traced back to the days of muzzle-loading firearms. The gauge number of a shotgun is defined by the number of lead balls the diameter of the gun bore that can roll down the barrel to create a pound. In a 12 gauge shotgun, for example, twelve lead balls with a diameter equal to the barrel’s diameter equal one pound.


Confused? Don’t be concerned. It takes some time to get your mind around it. Just keep in mind that the lower the shotgun gauge number, the bigger the barrel; the bigger the barrel, the greater the boom from your boomstick.

10 gauge =.775 inch, 12 gauge =.729 inch, 16 gauge =.662 inch, 20 gauge =.615 inch, and 28 gauge =.550 inch are the most popular shotgun gauge sizes.

The 12 gauge shotgun is the most popular shotgun gauge in the United States, and it’s a solid all-around gun that’s suitable for home protection, hunting, and skeet shooting. Ammo and accessories for 12 gauge shotguns are significantly simpler to come by than for other shotgun sizes due to their extensive usage. If you want to use your shotgun mainly for hunting or skeet shooting, shotgun expert Bob Brister recommends opting with a smaller gauge gun, such as a 20 or 28 gauge.

Chamber Length

The chamber length is another measurement you’ll find printed on a shotgun’s barrel, in addition to the gauge number. The chamber is the area where the shell is loaded into the gun before being fired. Make sure the length of the shell you’re inserting into your shotgun corresponds to the chamber length. Shells that are longer than the chamber length might result in dangerously high pressures in your rifle. That is a significant safety hazard.

Choke Tubes

When you fire a shotgun, the pellets in the shell spread out as they exit the gun, as we explained before. The pellets leave a spread pattern when they impact their target. Small and dense spread patterns may be found, as well as large and sparse ones. The more compact and devastating your spread pattern becomes as you approach closer to your target.

While shooting your shotgun at long distant targets (such as when hunting), you’ll want to utilize a choke tube to maintain a thick spread pattern. A choke tube constricts a gun’s shot charge, keeping it together for longer before it spreads, resulting in a denser shot pattern at longer ranges than an open choke or no choke at all. Choke tubes are available in a number of diameters, depending on how thick you want your pattern to be. You probably don’t need a choke tube if you’re only using your shotgun for home protection. Hunters and skeet shooters are the most common users.

When firing a shotgun, where should you stand?

Let’s get down to business and learn how to shoot a shotgun now that we’ve learned about its anatomy and workings. But first, let’s go over the four cardinal laws of gunfire.

When shooting a shotgun, Mike and the staff at the US Shooting Academy educate his trainees to take an athletic posture. Face the target with your shoulders squared up. Stand in a straight line with your feet shoulder-width apart. Your strong-side foot should be around six inches behind your weak-side foot.

Place the shotgun’s buttstock towards the body’s midline and high on the chest. Maintain a low-angle position with your elbows.


Mike demonstrates the athletic stance:

Vintage man firing with shotgun illustration.

The athletic stance has the largest benefit over the bladed stance (standing sideways) in terms of decreasing recoil while shooting a shotgun. Consider that for a moment. What posture would offer you greater balance if you were a lineman in football and you wanted to oppose the other person pulling you backwards? Is it better to be squared up to the other person or to stand sideways with just one shoulder facing him? Of course, I’m squared up.

Another benefit of the athletic stance is that it lets you to keep a better track on a moving target.

What Is the Best Way to Hold a Shotgun?

Mounting the gun refers to the act of placing a shotgun on your shoulder. You don’t, however, lift the rifle to your shoulder right away. Before sliding the buttstock to your shoulder, put the side of the stock to your cheek first.

Bring the shotgun to your head while keeping your head up. Set your cheek firmly on the side of the stock, then place the shotgun’s buttstock towards the midline of your body and high on the chest, like follows:

Vintage man trigger hand grip illustration.

Hand Grip with Trigger

Between the stock and the trigger guard on most shotguns is a crook. Simply place the crook in the “V” formed by your trigger hand’s thumb and index finger. Take a solid but not too tight grip on the rifle.

If your shotgun has a pistol grip, like Mike’s gun in the photo, center the grip in the “V” formed by your trigger hand’s thumb and index finger. Take a firm hold on the gun’s backstrap (the backstrap is the back of the grip on the gun). As follows:

Vintage support hand grip lustration.

Hand Grip Support

The support hand should hold the shotgun’s fore-end about halfway down the weapon’s length. Here’s a video of Mike demonstrating:

Vintage man holding a shotgun in close quarter situations.

When shooting, moving your support hand forward on the fore-end will offer you better control over the muzzle, which is important when accuracy is required. It will also provide you with extra leverage against the rifle, allowing you to better manage recoil.

In Close Quarters Situations, How to Hold a Shotgun

You’ve undoubtedly seen action movies when the hero discharges a shotgun from the hip in close quarters. That was something I inquired about with Mike.

He responded, “That’s a terrific technique…for the movies.”

To put it another way, do not use it in real life. It’s not safe, and it offers no benefits other than the ability to seem fashionable.

Mike recommends putting the shotgun stock behind your armpit if your target is very near to you in order to create more distance between you and your target while retaining control. This is how it appears:

Vintage aim a shotgun illustration.

What is the Best Way to Aim a Shotgun?

Shotgunners have a lot of disagreements on how these things should be aimed. “You don’t aim a shotgun; you point it,” many people will remark (See Shotgunning by Bob Brister.) Others would argue that you should aim it like a rifle.


When I questioned Mike about this, he explained that although you should always aim a shotgun, the technique you aim would vary based on the scenario.

Mike warns, “You’re accountable for every shot you fire, so be sure you know where they’re going.” “Don’t simply aim it and start shooting like in a movie.”

In Home Defense and Large Game Hunting Situations, Aiming a Shotgun

If you’re using a shotgun for home protection or deer hunting with slugs, aim your shotgun the same way you would a rifle. A rear sight notch and a bead at the end of the barrel are seen on certain shotguns (most shotguns do not have a rear sight). Align them as though you were using a rifle. You’ll want to configure your sight picture when you’ve achieved adequate sight alignment. In our article on shooting a pistol, I spoke about getting a good sight picture. Here, too, the same concepts apply. I won’t repeat myself, so go back to that thread for shotgun shooting advice.

In Small Game Hunting or Trap Situations, Aiming a Shotgun

You don’t have time for the methodical targeting approach outlined above while bird hunting or shooting skeet. If you attempt to aim that way, your bird will be far gone before you can fire a shot. Instead of meticulously aligning your sights and focusing all of your attention on them as you would with a rifle while hunting tiny, fast-moving wildlife or shooting clays with a shotgun, just concentrate on the target and fire.

“When shooting at poultry, you must also guide the target. “Focus on the target’s front edge rather than the target itself,” Mike advises.

Management of Triggers (aka Pulling the Trigger)

Unlike a rifle or pistol, where the trigger is gently squeezed, a shotgun allows for a more immediate and less controlled trigger push. When shooting a shotgun, the aim is to get a shot off as quickly as possible.

Exercise, Exercise, Exercise

Practice is the key to effective and safe pistol training. If you don’t possess a shotgun but want to buy one, go to a nearby shooting range and rent one for an hour. Request that someone demonstrate how to use it securely and appropriately. The majority of establishments will gladly assist you. If you already have a shotgun, here is a gentle reminder to keep practicing with it.

Oh, and if you’re wondering what kind of shotgun I ended up with. It’s a Remington 870 Express, to be precise.

Do you have a shotgun in your possession? Do you have any other advice for first-time shotgun shooters? Please share them in the comments!

Note from the editor: This article is about learning how to use a shotgun safely and accurately. It’s not about gun rights or whether firearms are fantastic or dumb. Keep it on topic or it will be removed.


Note from the editor: This article is about learning how to use a shotgun safely and accurately. It’s not about gun rights or whether firearms are fantastic or dumb. Keep it on topic or it will be removed.

Mike and the team at U.S. Shooting Academy deserve special gratitude for their assistance with this piece. The sources for this essay were Mike and the US Shooting Academy Handgun Manual. Stop visit their facilities if you’re ever in the Tulsa region. It’s excellent, and the staff and trainers are kind, knowledgable, and fierce.



The “5 types of shotguns” is a primer on the shotgun. Shotguns are used for hunting and self defense. They come in many shapes and sizes, but all have the same purpose.

Related Tags

  • 12 gauge shotgun
  • shotgun for survival weapon
  • shotgun types and names
  • break action shotgun
  • types of shotguns for hunting