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Unlike rifles and handguns, shotguns are generally measured by gauge rather than caliber.

  • Common shotgun gauges are 10 gauge, 12 gauge, 16 gauge, 20 gauge, and 28 gauge. The smaller the gauge number, the larger the shotgun bore. Gauge is determined by the number of lead balls of size equal to the approximate diameter of the bore that it takes to weigh one pound. For example, it would take 12 lead balls with the same diameter as a 12-gauge shotgun bore to weigh one pound.
  • The .410-bore shotgun is the only exception to the gauge designation for shotguns. It has an actual bore diameter of 410/1000ths of an inch, which is approximately equivalent to a 67½ gauge.
  • Each gauge of shotgun shoots only shells of the same gauge. For example, 12-gauge guns use only 12-gauge shells.
  • The gauge of a shotgun is usually marked on the rear of the barrel, and the gauge of a shell is marked on the shell as well as on the factory box.
Shotgun gauge sizes
Sizes shown are the minimum inside bore diameter with a tolerance of +0.020". Data is presented courtesy of SAAMI.