Top 8 Best Shotgun Ammo Guides

Shotgun laying across a target with Winchester PDX shells in posed position

Argue with me if you wish, but I think the shotgun is the most versatile firearm on the planet. (Are you going to take an AR-15 dove hunting? Okay, I didn’t think so.) Now, along with versatility comes a mind-blowing amount of choices in shotgun ammo. It is difficult to figure out which load is appropriate for all the different tasks. Skeet shooting requires a different load than turkey hunting. You won’t—and sometimes legally can’t—use anything but a certain type of shell, like slugs when hunting deer. That is why I have collected our top eight shotgun ammo posts to help guide you through the confusing task of buying shotgun ammo.

Shotgun Ammo Guide

Shopping for shotgun shells—especially for newbies can be confusing. Unlike rifle and pistol ammo, there are hundreds, if not thousands of different loads to choose from. It’s a wonder the mind doesn’t blow when trying to make a decision. Birdshot, slugs, triple aught buck, #4 lead? What’s right? If you need to know what type of shotshell is best for home defense, bird hunting and everything else in-between, read this shotgun ammo buyer’s guide to lead you in the right direction.

Defensive Shotgun Ammunition

The shotgun is probably the most widely used firearm for home defense. I know plenty of people who have no interest in taking up shooting as a hobby, but still have a 12-gauge pump action in the closet. Though easy to learn, many incorrectly believe you do not have to aim a shotgun to hit your target and that just the simple act of pumping it is enough to scare an intruder. Written for the beginner and first-time shotgun owner, “Defensive Shotgun Ammunition” helps you pick out the best shotgun ammo for home defense.

Using the Shotgun and Shotgun Loads

Dispelling myths and offering sound advice on what type of shotgun to buy for home defense, writer Bob Campbell stresses practice, training and choosing the right load for your shotgun for the ultimate in self-protection.

Slug Up! Shotgun Ammo Choices for Self Defense

It is a common myth that birdshot—the smallest pellet size—is best for home defense. However, birdshot fails to penetrate effectively. In “Slug Up! Shotgun Ammo Choices for Self Defense,” Bob Campbell defends his favored choice of self-defense shotgun ammo—the shotgun slug. Read Bob’s take on why the 12-gauge pump-action shotgun loaded with Hornady Critical Defense 1-ounce slugs is his go-to home defense combo.

Rio 12 Gauge Buckshot

When you teach and train frequently, you need a reliable round that you can also afford. Rio shotgun slugs are inexpensive and generally easy to find. Tested at 7, 10 and 25 yards, find out why the writer concludes Rio 12 gauge buckshot is worthy and effective for home defense in this range report.

Turkey Loads

Spring turkey is right around the corner and hunters are gearing up—cleaning and patterning shotguns, dusting off decoys and laundering the camo. Much of your gear you use year after year, however, you will need to stock up on shotgun ammo. The right load is essential to bagging a turkey. From lead-free to traditional lead shot, we break down our favorite turkey load shotshells from Winchester, Hevi-Shot, Remington, Federal, Estate Cartridge and Fiocchi in “Turkey Loads.”

Best Slugs for Deer Hunting

Though the AR-15 is gaining popularity and the bolt-action rifle is unbeatable in terms of reliability, the shotgun is still favored by many hunters. Award-winning outdoor writer, Lisa Metheny presents her three favorites shotgun slugs for deer hunting—the Federal Premium Vital-Shok, Lightfield Commander and the Winchester shotshells.

PDX, Winchester’s Buck-and-Ball Loads (AND MORE!)

Buck and ball loads are a mix of large and small shot, intended to get the most lethality out of both. The spread of the little shot is for shorter distances and the single, larger projectile is for longer ranges. Americans have used buck and ball loads since the days we fought with muskets. Today’s buck and ball loads are much more effective. Using a trench gun, Remington 870 shotgun and a 1911 handgun, Bob Campbell tests Winchester’s PDX Buck and Ball load for shotguns and pistols.

What are you favorite shotgun loads? Tells us what works best for you in the comment section.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (23)

    1. Love the PDX Load! Keep them in both my 870 and Snake Slayer IV. My personal protection firearms. Wanna try the new slug that separates on impact. Meth addicts beware Lol..

  1. Bird shot will be a tight enough pattern in most any home that there is no need to go bigger.
    Getting hit with #7 shot a 25 feet or less is nothing anyone should want to experience because where you get hit ends up resembling hamburger.

  2. Pete here is absolutely right as far as the hexolit and monolit being able to thwart PRETTY MUCH anything you thump it with. I love all of ddupleks steel slugs. They are all devastating in their respective ways . The Dupo28 is mean as well. The pdx1 comes in “1 slug 3 buck ball/buck” loads and in a brutal 3way segmenting slug that is also right up there with ddupleks’ stopping power.Can’t go wrong with a good 9-12 pellet buck shot to protect the home with. Good info all together tho pete

  3. At the rangees I have in my house, centered on a 3/4 acre lot, anything in 12 gauge will get the job done as even #9 bird shot will still have a real tight pattern.
    I do have a leather fanny pack that has (primarily) #8 shells filling the main pouch, with some 00 Buck in the second smaller pocket and slugs in the third front pocket, so I know just what I’m reaching for.

    I prefer a load that will lose lethality at longer ranges when there are so many homes so close to mine.

  4. Talking killing man or talking hunting deer sized and under game.? As to being attacked by soft skinned non body armored human, any damn slug out there from 2 3/4 to 3 1/2 under a legal self defense range will definately kill the SOB, and all I have used print in 12″ @120 yards.
    Some s/gunners have taken deer, small whiteails , up close under 100 yards with newer multi projectile rounds but most agree they should be limited to man and smaller varmits
    I see no mention of dangers and ruination of tightly choked barrels by some of new multi-metal oversized slugs. CHECK that choke size!


  6. I have a question about slugs, which I have never shot before. If you want to get serious about slugs, especially about accuracy, is it imperative to buy a shotgun with a rifled barrel?

    1. No.
      A rifled barrel will provide greater ACCUCERY over distance but there are a number of newer munitions that are as or seem to be as accurate in the 125 meter envelope from a smooth bore as others are from rifled.

    2. Thanks for the answer Pete! Can you recommend 2 or 3 brands that are accurate at 100 to 125 yards for smooth bore?

    3. @SS1
      Hey SS1,
      There are several of the Sabot type shells out there that work quite well from my expierance. I’m very much a fan of the DDupleks Monolite and Hexolite in 23 or 32 (weight if projectile). It seems that the “pop bottle” shape in a sabo configuration does very well and have fair to good accucery fron smooth bore from my expierance. The DDupleks rounds have consistantly printed 3 shot groups at 100 meters for me out of either my 500 or 870 (both short barrels) within a 12 inch circle. From a long barrel shot gun that three round group will drop into an 8 inch circle. Given the frontal area of the Monolite and the splintering effect of the Hexolite rounds this is more than enough for deer or even Elk. As defensive ammunitions it’s very effective. I carry it when fishing in Alaskan. It offers a close to mid-long range engagement envelope. The 23 is a bit light for Brown Bear but the 32 is devastating. As a side note, at 30 meters the Monolite will go thru both doors of a vehicle and three of five 3/4 inch CDX plywood spaced two inches apart (we tested it on 2001 Dodge Durango from 15 meters) and seems to have no predisposition to glance off of windshields either . . . at least up to 60 meters or so that we tryed it at. All three windshield shots were shot level to the ground so the the angle of the glass might effect the progectile. All three were clean entries from 25, 40, an about 60. I was impressed.
      I’m sure that many Slug and Buck /Buck-n-Ball would be as effective too. This however is the munitions I bet my well being on. I hope this is of some help and assistance. The only other point that I’ve notipced is that like many platforms, they each seem to like and preform better with specific ammunitation. You may have to try several different loads/manufactures until you find what your favroit scatter gun likes to eat best! Sabot loads seem to do well in most smooth bores. That may be due to the actual leanth of most sabos and their internal projectiles but that’s just a guess. Good to hear from you! Let me know what you find and what works for you!

    4. Pete I’m reading this when I’m pretty tired, but I wanted to say thanks for the detailed reply. I will study it more tomorrow and record the recommended ammo, and definitely buy some.

      BTW I have Remington 870 Express with an 18″ barrel. That’s what I have to work with for now.

      Thanks again!

  7. I do no discount or disagree with the opinions or suggestions listed above. I do however find the listings to be somewhat redundant, repetitive and unimamgenative. All these rounds will do the job with out any question but it’s like no one is looking outside the box were shotgun munitions is concerned.
    So, Google “DDupleks”. This company makes some if the most inovative shotgun rounds on the market today bar none. For Hunting, Defense, Offensive, and speciality munitions, including Armor Pieticing (AP20), nonleathel, non wall penatrating but soft tissue effective, and their Monolite32 and Hexolite32 hunting, and tactical loads.
    There’s more out there for shotguns than what’s suggested here. Old school is just fine, works great, proven track record and used for generations! However…………..It’s not nessessarly “the Best”.

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