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A shotgun shell, shotshell or simply shell is a type of cylindrical cartridge used specifically by shotguns, and is typically loaded with numerous small, generally spherical pellet-like metallic projectiles called shot. The shell casing usually consist of a paper or plastic tube mounted on a brass base holding a primer, and the shots are typically contained by a wadding/sabot inside the case.[1] The shots are traditionally made of lead, but steel, tungsten and bismuth are also used due to restrictions on lead.[2] A shotgun shell can sometimes also contain a single, large solid projectile known as a slug, which can also be made with specialty non-lethal rounds such as beanbag rounds and rubber. The caliber of the shotshell is known as its gauge.

Shotguns have an effective range of about 35 metres (110 ft) with buckshot, 45 metres (150 ft) with birdshot, 100 metres (330 ft) with slugs, and well over 150 metres (490 ft) with sabot slugs in rifled barrels.[3][4][5]

Other rounds include:

  • Ferret rounds: rounds designed to penetrate a thin barrier (e.g. a car door) and release a gas payload.
  • Bolo rounds: two large lead balls attached by a wire.
  • Piranha rounds: shells full of sharp tacks.
  • Dragon's breath rounds: shells full of chemicals that burn when fired, and can ignite a flammable target at close range.

Most shotgun shells are designed to be fired from a smoothbore barrel, but dedicated shotguns with rifled barrels are limited to lead slugs or sabot slugs as "shot" would be spread too wide by the rifling. A rifled barrel will increase the accuracy of sabot slugs, but makes it unsuitable for firing shot, as it imparts a spin to the shot cup, causing the shot cluster to disperse. A rifled slug uses rifling on the slug itself so it can be used in a smoothbore shotgun.

Larger sizes of shot, large enough that they must be carefully packed into the shell rather than simply dumped or poured in, are called "buckshot" or just "buck". Buckshot is used for hunting medium to large game, as a tactical round for law enforcement and military personnel, and for personal self-defense. Buckshot size is most commonly designated by a series of numbers and letters, with smaller numbers indicating larger shot. Sizes larger than "0" are designated by multiple zeros. "00" (usually pronounced "double-aught" in North American Engli

Larger sizes of shot, large enough that they must be carefully packed into the shell rather than simply dumped or poured in, are called "buckshot" or just "buck". Buckshot is used for hunting medium to large game, as a tactical round for law enforcement and military personnel, and for personal self-defense. Buckshot size is most commonly designated by a series of numbers and letters, with smaller numbers indicating larger shot. Sizes larger than "0" are designated by multiple zeros. "00" (usually pronounced "double-aught" in North American English) is the most commonly sold size.

The British system for designating buckshot size is based on the amount of shot per ounce. The sizes are LG (large grape – from grapeshot derived from musket shooting), MG (medium grape), and SG (small grape). For smaller game, SSG shot is half the weight of SG, SSSG shot is half the weight of SSG, SSSSG shot is half the weight of SSSG, and so on. The Australian system is similar, except that it has 00-SG, a small-game shell filled with 00 buckshot.

Loads of 12-gauge 00 buckshot are commonly available in cartridges holding from 8 (

The British system for designating buckshot size is based on the amount of shot per ounce. The sizes are LG (large grape – from grapeshot derived from musket shooting), MG (medium grape), and SG (small grape). For smaller game, SSG shot is half the weight of SG, SSSG shot is half the weight of SSG, SSSSG shot is half the weight of SSSG, and so on. The Australian system is similar, except that it has 00-SG, a small-game shell filled with 00 buckshot.

Loads of 12-gauge 00 buckshot are commonly available in cartridges holding from 8 (eight) to 18 (eighteen) pellets in standard shell lengths (​2 34 inches, 3 inches, and ​3 12). Reduced-recoil 00 buckshot shells are often used as tactical and self-defense rounds, minimizing shooter stress and improving the speed of follow-up shots.

Most modern sporting shotguns have interchangeable choke tubes to allow the shooter to change the spread of shot that comes out of the gun. In some cases, it is not practical to do this; the gun might have fixed choke, or a shooter firing at receding targets may want to fire a wide pattern immediately followed by a narrower pattern out of a single barrelled shotgun. The spread of the shot can also be altered by changing the characteristics of the shell.

Narrower patterns

A buffering material, such as granulated plastic,[17] sawdust, or similar material can be mixed with the shot to fill the spaces between the individual pellets. When fired, the buffering material compresses and supports the shot, reducing the deformation the shot pellets experience under the extreme acceleration. Antimony-lead alloys, copper plated lead shot, steel, bismuth, and tungsten composite shot all have a hardness greater than that of plain lead shot, and will deform less as well. Reducing the deformation will result in tighter patterns, as the spherical pellets tend to fly straighter. One improvised method for achieving the same effect involves pouring molten wax or tar into the mass of shot.[17] Another is a partial ring cut around the case intended to ensure that the shot comes out tightly bunched along with the portion of the case forward of the cut, creating a 'cut-shell'.[18] This can be dangerous, as it is thought to cause higher chamber pressures—especially if part of the shell remains behind in the barrel and is not cleared before another shot is fired.[18][19]

Wider patterns

Shooting the softest possible shot will result in more shot deformation and a wider pattern. This is often the case with cheap ammunition, as the lead used will have minimal alloying elements such as antimony and be very soft. Spreader wads are wads that have a small plastic or paper insert in the middle of the shot cup, usually a cylinder or "X" cross-section. When the shot exits the barrel, the insert helps to push the shot out from the center, opening up the pattern.

A buffering material, such as granulated plastic,[17] sawdust, or similar material can be mixed with the shot to fill the spaces between the individual pellets. When fired, the buffering material compresses and supports the shot, reducing the deformation the shot pellets experience under the extreme acceleration. Antimony-lead alloys, copper plated lead shot, steel, bismuth, and tungsten composite shot all have a hardness greater than that of plain lead shot, and will deform less as well. Reducing the deformation will result in tighter patterns, as the spherical pellets tend to fly straighter. One improvised method for achieving the same effect involves pouring molten wax or tar into the mass of shot.[17] Another is a partial ring cut around the case intended to ensure that the shot comes out tightly bunched along with the portion of the case forward of the cut, creating a 'cut-shell'.[18] This can be dangerous, as it is thought to cause higher chamber pressures—especially if part of the shell remains behind in the barrel and is not cleared before another shot is fired.[18][19]

Wider patterns

Shooti

Shooting the softest possible shot will result in more shot deformation and a wider pattern. This is often the case with cheap ammunition, as the lead used will have minimal alloying elements such as antimony and be very soft. Spreader wads are wads that have a small plastic or paper insert in the middle of the shot cup, usually a cylinder or "X" cross-section. When the shot exits the barrel, the insert helps to push the shot out from the center, opening up the pattern. Often these result in inconsistent performance, though modern designs are doing much better than the traditional improvised solutions. Intentionally deformed shot (hammered into ellipsoidal shape) or cubical shot will also result in a wider pattern, much wider than spherical shot, with more consistency than spreader wads. Spreader wads and non-spherical shot are disallowed in some competitions. Hunting loads that use either spreaders or non-spherical shot are usually called "brush loads", and are favored for hunting in areas where dense cover keeps shot distances very short.

Spread

Most shotgun shells c

Most shotgun shells contain multiple pellets in order to increase the likelihood of a target being hit. A shotgun's shot spread refers to the two-dimensional pattern that these projectiles (or shot) leave behind on a target.[14] Another less important dimension of spread concerns the length of the in-flight shot string from the leading pellet to the trailing one. The use of multiple pellets is especially useful for hunting small game such as birds, rabbits, and other animals that fly or move quickly and can unpredictably change their direction of travel. However, some shotgun shells only contain one metal shot, known as a slug, for hunting large game such as deer.

As the shot leaves the barrel upon firing, the three-dimensional shot string is close together. But as the shot moves farther away, the individual pellets increasingly spread out and disperse. Because of this, the effective range of a shotgun, when fir

As the shot leaves the barrel upon firing, the three-dimensional shot string is close together. But as the shot moves farther away, the individual pellets increasingly spread out and disperse. Because of this, the effective range of a shotgun, when firing a multitude of shot, is limited to approximately 20 to 50 m (22 to 55 yd). To control this effect, shooters may use a constriction within the barrel of a shotgun called a choke. The choke, whether selectable or fixed within a barrel, effectively reduces the diameter of the end of the barrel, forcing the shot even closer together as it leaves the barrel, thereby increasing the effective range. The tighter the choke, the narrower the end of the barrel. Consequently, the effective range of a shotgun is increased with a tighter choke, as the shot column is held tighter over longer ranges. Hunters or target shooters can install several types of chokes, on guns having selectable chokes, depending on the range at which their intended targets will be located. For fixed choke shotguns, different shotguns or barrels are often selected for the intended hunting application at hand. From tightest to loosest, the various choke sizes are: full choke, improved modified, modified, improved cylinder, skeet, and cylinder bore.[20]

A hunter who intends to hunt an animal such as rabbit or grouse knows that the animal will be encountered at a close range—usually within 20 m (22 yd)—and will be moving very quickly. So, an ideal choke would be a cylinder bore (the loosest) as the hunter wants the shot to spread out as quickly as possible. If this hunter were using a full choke (the tightest) at 20 m (22 yd), the shot would be very close together and cause an unnecessarily large amount of damage to the rabbit, or, alternatively, a complete miss of the rabbit. This would waste virtually all of the meat for a hit, as the little amount of meat remaining would be overly-laden with shot and rendered inedible. By using a cylinder bore, this hunter would maximize the likelihood of a kill, and maximize the amount of edible meat. Contrarily, a hunter who intends to hunt geese knows that a goose will likely be approximately 50 m (55 yd) away, so that hunter would want to delay the spread of the shot as much as possible by using a full choke. By using a full choke for targets that are farther away, the shooter again maximizes the likelihood of a kill, and maximizes the amount of edible meat. This also guarantees a swift and humane kill as the target would be hit with enough shot to kill quickly instead of only wounding the animal.

For older shotguns having only one fixed choke, intended primarily for equally likely use against rabbits, squirrels, quail, doves, and pheasant, an often-chosen choke is the improved cylinder, in a 28 inches (710 mm) barrel, making the shotgun suitable for use as a general all-round hunting shotgun, without having excess weight. Shotguns having fixed chokes intended for geese, in contrast, are often found with full choke barrels, in longer lengths, and are much heavier, being intended for fixed use within a blind against distant targets. Defensive shotguns with fixed chokes generally have a cylinder bore choke. Likewise, shotguns intended primarily for use with slugs invariably also are found with a choke that is a cylinder bore.

"Dram" equivalence is sometimes still used as a measure of the powder charge power in a shotgun shell. Today, it is an anachronistic equivalence that represents the equivalent power of a shotgun shell containing this equivalent amount of black-powder measured in drams avoirdupois.[21] A dram in the avoirdupois system is the mass of ​1256 pound or ​116 ounce or 27.3 grains. The reasoning behind this archaic equivalence is that when smokeless powder first came out, some method of establishing an equivalence with common shotgun shell loads was needed in order to sell a box of shotgun shells. For example, a shotgun shell containing a 3 or 3 1/2 dram load of black-powder was a common hunting field load, and a heavy full power load would have contained about a 4 to 4-1/2 dram load, whereas a shotgun shell containing only a 2 dram load of black-powder was a common target practice load. A hunter looking for a field or full power load familiar with black-powder shotgun loads would have known exactly what the equivalence of the shotgun shells would have been in the newly introduced smokeless powder. Today, however, this represents a poorly understood equivalence of the powder charge power in a shotgun shell. To further complicate matters, "dram" equivalence was only defined for 12 gauge shotgun shells, and only for lead shot, although it has often been used for describing other gauges of shells, and even steel shot loaded shells. Furthermore, "dram" equivalence only came around about 15 years after smokeless powder had been introduced, long after the need for an equivalence had started to fade, and actual black-powder loaded shotshells had largely vanished. In practice, "dram" equivalence today most commonly equates just to a velocity rating equivalence in fps (feet-per-second), while assuming lead shot.

A secondary impact of this equivalence was that common shotgun shells needed to stay the same size, physically, e.g., 2-1/2 or 2-3/4-inch shells, in order to be used in pre-existing shotguns when smokeless powder started being used to load shotgun shells in the place of black-powder. As smokeless powder did not have to be l

A secondary impact of this equivalence was that common shotgun shells needed to stay the same size, physically, e.g., 2-1/2 or 2-3/4-inch shells, in order to be used in pre-existing shotguns when smokeless powder started being used to load shotgun shells in the place of black-powder. As smokeless powder did not have to be loaded in the same volume as black-powder to achieve the same power, being more powerful, the volumes of wads had to increase, to fill the shotgun shell enough to permit proper crimps still to be made. Initially, this meant that increased numbers of over powder card wads had to be stacked to achieve the same stack-up length. Eventually, this also led to the introduction of one-piece plastic wads in the late 1950s through the early 1960s, to add additional wad volumes, in order to maintain the same overall shotgun shell length.

Dram equivalence has no bearing on the reloading of shotgun shells with smokeless powder; loading a shotgun shell with an equivalent dram weight of smokeless powder would cause a shotgun to explode. It only has an equivalence in the reloading of shotgun shells with black powder.

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