Shotgun Essentials


Stay safe at the range, in the field or at home by following these guidelines.

• Gun Handling 10 easy-to-follow rules to keep yourself and loved ones safe.

• Transportation Rules regarding the proper transportation of firearms differs greatly by jurisdiction. Always consult local laws when you hit the road.

• Eyes And Ears Whenever you shoot, it's critical to protect your eyesight and hearing. Fortunately, there's protective gear to fit any style, personal preference and shooting need. Visit to learn more.

• Range Etiquette For an inexperienced shooter, a busy range can be a confusing and intimidating place. It doesn't need to be. Learn how to have fun, fit in and stay safe at your local shooting range in this video.

• Access Control With rights come responsibility. It's critical that firearm owners secure their firearms to prevent unauthorized people from accessing and using them by locking them in an approved safe. Champion shooter Julie Golob explains how all gun owners can become safer and more responsible through the National Shooting Sports Foundation's Project ChildSafe.


Shotguns fill a variety of roles. Loaded with the right ammunition, they can serve in home defense, target/competitive shooting and hunting.

• Home Defense Although most shotguns can be used for home defense, models with shorter barrels, pistol-grip stocks and fast-acquisition sights are best suited for the job. Buckshot loads, such as Federal Premium's Personal Defense® Shotshell cartridges, feature large shot and produce optimal patterns for the close-range shooting typical of home defense situations.

• Recreation Trap shooting is a great way to have fun with family and friends. Target ammunition for shotshells are relatively low-recoil loads that propel light payloads of fine shot—sizes 7.5-9.

• Hunting Shotguns are arguably the most versatile hunting firearms, because they can be used to take almost any game animal depending on the ammunition. Their primary use is shooting birds in flight—ducks, geese, pheasants, grouse, doves and quail—using shells loaded with small pellets called shot. However, they're also used for larger game like deer, bears and hogs when loaded with slugs (single projectiles similar to rifle bullets).


Shotshell ammunition is offered in six different gauges: 10, 12, 16, 20, 28 and 410, with payloads that vary from 1/2 ounce to 2 1/4 ounces. A plastic tube called the hull encloses a wad filled with shot, and the brass head holds the primer, powder and base wad. Some loads also have a granulated plastic buffer, which prevents pellet deformation and produces tight, uniform patterns. Shells can be loaded with lead, steel or HEAVYWEIGHT® (tungsten-alloy) shot, as well as slugs or buckshot.


Hitting your target consistently requires solid fundamentals. Check out these tips for building a strong foundation.

• Fit Unlike rifles and handguns, shotguns are meant to be pointed rather than truly aimed. The shooter focuses on the target as it moves through the air, and if all goes well, the shot column goes where the shooter is looking. Because of this style of shooting, proper gun fit is critical—if the gun's stock isn't sized so that the gun points where the shooter is looking, it won't hit the target.

• Actions Shotguns are generally divided by action into three primary groups: Semi-automatic, pump and break action. Semi-automatics fire one shot with each pull of the trigger and feed cartridges from a magazine. With pumps, when a shell is fired, the shooter must pull the pump back to eject the spent shell and push it forward to chamber a new one. As their name suggests, break-action shotguns hinge, or break, open at the breech and a cartridge is inserted into the chamber, then the action is closed, making the gun ready to fire. Break-action shotguns can be single-barrel or double-barrel; double-barrel guns are offered in over-and-under or side-by-side varieties.

• How to Load How you load a shotgun depends on the action. For semi-automatic and pump-action guns, push cartridges into the tubular spring-loaded magazine through the loading port at the bottom of the receiver. In break-action guns, simply open the action, insert a cartridge into the exposed chamber(s) and close the action.

• Grip & Stance When holding a shotgun, your non-firing hand should grip the middle of the forend, with your trigger hand on the grip behind the trigger. Hold the gun firmly, but do not squeeze it tightly. To bring the shotgun into firing position, pull the butt into your shoulder. Place your feet shoulder width apart, with your knees flexed slightly and your body turned roughly 40 degrees. Weld your cheek to the stock; this aligns your eye with the barrel. When shotguns are used to fire slugs or when shooting at relatively stationary targets like wild turkeys, it's best to use a stance and shooting fundamentals like you would when shooting a rifle.

• Sights Rather than sights common on rifles, most shotguns used for wingshooting or target shooting feature a single bead. Shooters should keep both eyes open while focusing on the moving target—not the bead.

• Recoil Management All firearms produce recoil. The challenge for shooters, especially newcomers, is managing it. This requires a proper grip and stance, as well as practice. It's important to resist anticipating the recoil and pushing the shotgun downward to counter it. Rather, concentrate on moving the shotgun with the target and pulling the trigger while following though.

• Chokes Constriction in a shotgun's muzzle is referred to as "choke." The three most common chokes are full, modified and improved cylinder. Lead, steel and tungsten alloy shot pattern differently in each of these chokes. To determine which load provides the best pattern density and most even pellet distribution, it is necessary to shoot a variety of loads into a large piece of paper at different distances. This exercise, called "patterning," lets hunters choose the best loads and chokes for their style of hunting, as well as learn their maximum effective range.

• Training Options Many new shooters are interested in shotguns for hunting. If you're among them, check out one of the many hunter safety classes available. To find a class near you, check out one of Federal Ammunition's education partners.