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Cutaway view of shotshells

Shot size is adaptable to the game being hunted. In general, as the size of your target decreases, you should decrease the diameter of the shot you use. As pellet diameter decreases, more shot can be placed in a standard shotshell. The smaller the shot “number,” the larger the pellet diameter.

  • Non-toxic shot is required throughout the United States for waterfowl hunting. Lead pellets from traditional shotshells were picked up and digested by waterfowl. To reduce this problem, conservationists worked with shotshell manufacturers to produce effective alternatives to lead shot such as steel, tungsten alloy, or bismuth.
  • Steel shot pellets react differently than lead when fired. Because steel shot pellets are not as dense, they weigh about ⅓ less than lead shot pellets the same size. In addition, steel is harder, does not deform, and is more stable in flight, producing a tighter and shorter pattern than lead and deeper penetrations. If using steel shot for hunting, you may want to choose one or two sizes larger than the lead shot you would select.
Comparison of three shot sizes