the rogue turtle the rogue turtle
Our Mission
We provide information on survivalism, camping, food storage, cooking and grilling, and self reliance.

Our goal is to ensure you are prepared for natural and man-made disasters, before, during and after they occur.
Home Research Sign Up Links About the Rogue Turtle Contact Store

Sign up for newsletter updates!
The Armory: Shotguns
© 2006

The shotgun is a long gun without internal twists or grooves. They may be referred to as a "smooth bore" weapon. The barrel of the shotgun is usually much larger than the common rifle or handgun, but shoots a far different type projectile. These bullets are most commonly known as shells. They look like a plastic snub-nosed bullet. The basic shell design is still the same as any bullet. There is a small primer explosive at the brass base of the shell that, when struck by the firing pin of the weapon, explodes a much larger gunpowder load in the shell. This expanding gas then propels a "load" of round balls out the end of the barrel. The sizes of the shot shells (balls) depends on what you are hunting.

A shotgun shell (shotshell) is a self-contained cartridge loaded with shot or a slug designed to be fired from a shotgun. Most shotgun shells are designed to be fired from a smoothbore barrel, but with the recent gain in popularity of dedicated shotguns with rifled barrels for firing slugs, there are many rounds specifically designed to be fired from a rifled barrel. A rifled barrel will increase the accuracy of the shotgun with slugs, but makes it unsuitable for firing shot, as the rifling causes the shot to form a hollow "O" shape.

Shotgun Gauges


Actual Diameter


0.775" (19.7 mm)


0.729" (18.5 mm)


0.662" (16.8 mm)


0.615" (15.6 mm)


0.550" (14.0 mm)

Shotgun gauges are determined by the number of lead balls of a given diameter required to make one pound of that size ball. Thus 10 balls of 10 gauge diameter are required to make one pound of such balls, or 20 balls of 20 gauge diameter are required to make one pound, and so forth. This is the traditional, and very old, system. The actual (nominal) bore diameters of the various gauges are as shown in the graph (right). The .410 is named for its nominal bore size, and is not a gauge at all.

It's all very confusing but if you consider that the shotgun of today is a close relative to the muzzle loading blunderbuss (photo, left), its easier to understand that the terminology is at least as old as the weapons' history. The blunderbuss shown here was used by the Navy to repel boarders. I bet it really worked.


Shotshells are loaded with different sizes of shot (balls) depending on the target. Historically, these balls were (and still are) made of lead. Now you can get loads made of other metal alloys. For the sport of skeet shooting, a small shot such as a #9 would be used, because range is short and a high density pattern is desirable. Trap shooting requires longer shots, and so a larger shot, up to #7 1/2 would be desired. For hunting game, the range and the penetration needed to assure a clean kill must both be considered. Shot loses its velocity very quickly. Small shot, like that used for skeet and trap, will have lost all appreciable energy by 100 yards or meters, which is why trap and skeet ranges can be located near inhabited areas with no risk of injury to those outside the range. Also, when shot inside a relatively close area populated by large numbers of people (apartment buildings, etc), a shotgun with smaller birdshot loads will not usually penetrate walls as far as heavier small arms bullets. This keeps down "collateral damage" or killing innocent people by accident.

Don't purchase or use the ammunition shown earlier that I pointed out as "illegal". In a survival situation you have enough problems without getting into trouble with the law. Normal shells work just fine.

Types of Shotguns

There are three separate types of shotguns available today. The differences are almost immediately apparent when you see these weapons up close.


These weapons may have one or two barrels. Two barrel configurations can be either "over and under" with one barrel on top of the other; or side by side like the logo for this article. Both are considered to be "double-barreled shotguns. To load these weapons, a lever is pushed aside and the barrel section opens on a hinge to "break open" the gun for shell extraction and reloading. This is the oldest style shotgun still currently on the market and for many shotgun fans its "the only way to go". Many competition target shooters, skeet and trap shooters and serious bird hunters still use a hinged or break action shotgun. In hinged or break-action shotguns, shells are inserted directly into the chamber by hand. They are extracted (lifted from their flush fit in the chamber) and ejected (literally thrown clear of the chamber and shotgun itself) when the action is opened. Some older hinged or break action models have extractors but lack automatic ejectors, requiring the shells to be physically removed from the chamber by hand.

Right: Remington SPR210 Side-By-Side
Classical shotgun design. Two shots only.
Some makes of shotguns have 2 triggers,
one for each barrel.


As with semi-automatic handguns, the semi-automatic or autoloading shotgun fires, extracts, reloads, and is ready to fire again with each pull of the trigger. Semi-automatic or autoloading shotguns offer speed in cycling from the first to second to third shot. Because they "bleed" off a portion of the fired shell's gases to operate the loading, unloading, and cocking mechanisms, the shooter perceives less recoil than with other types of shotguns. Most semi-automatic shotguns are considerably heavier than either the hinged break or pump action shotguns. By their nature of having a lot of moving parts, the chances for malfunction increases. All semi-automatic/autoloading shotguns are considerably more expensive because of all the extra machining needed to make the weapon work smoothly.

Left: Remington Model 1100 "Classic Trap" The fore-stock on this shotgun does not move. Once the first shell is loaded in the chamber, a new shell is automatically reloaded every time you pull the trigger.


Slide or Pump Action Shotguns are a compromise between the break action and semi-automatic shotguns. All pump action shotguns extract spent shells every time the slide is pulled to the rear. You don't have to pull the shells out by hand.

With Slide or Pump Action shotguns, shells are fed from the shotgun's magazine by pulling the slide to the rear, then "pumping" it forward. The rearward motion opens the action, extracts and ejects the spent shell casing, and allows a fresh shotshell to move from the magazine to the chamber area. The forward motion on the stock's slide seats the new shotshell into the chamber at the rear of the barrel bore and closes the action bringing the breech snuggly up to the shotshell's base.

After the trigger is pulled, the shooter must bring the slide to the rear, and then pump it forward before a second round can be fired. I have seen grown men "freeze" just at the sound of a pump action shotgun "tromboning" a new shell into the chamber. It's a sound you will NEVER forget...particularly if it is behind you.

Right: Remington 870 Express, pump action shotgun. Shown with and without a magazine extension to hold more rounds that the standard 3 rounds. To operate this weapon, the fore-stock must be pulled to the rear of the gun to eject the spent shell, and then "pumped" forward to reload the next shell in the magazine.

Shotgun Rifled Slugs

Many shotgun slugs are designed to be stable when fired from a smoothbore barrel, which lacks the rifling normally used to stabilize the projectile. Rifled slugs have what looks like rifling cast into the surface. This acts like fins to impart a spin on the slug as it exits the smooth barrel, and thus stabilizes the slug. Foster slugs are designed with a deep cup in the back, so that the center of mass is far forward and drag will tend to keep the slug moving point first. Many Foster slugs are also rifled; the forward mass of the slug helping keep it stable until the rifling begins to provide spin. A variation on the Foster design is the Brenneke slug, which uses a solid lead rifled projectile with an attached plastic, felt, or cellulose fiber wad that provides drag stabilization. Brenekke slugs are more suited for dangerous game, as the solid slug is less prone to deformation than the hollow Foster type (see terminal ballistics).

Shotgun slugs intended for use in smoothbore barrels need to be made out of very soft lead alloys as they must be able to fit through the restrictive choke present in most shotgun barrels. Even so, it is not recommended to fire slugs through very constrictive chokes, as the effort of compressing the slug will eventually flare the end of the barrel, effectively reducing the degree of choke.

Because of the large mass of the shotgun rifled slug, the useful range is far less than heavy caliber rifle bullets. For that reason, many states limit deer hunters to the use of rifled slugs ONLY for deer hunting. This is also where the limit to 3 rounds per gun comes into effect in many states. Rifled slugs work very well for deer hunting, or any other large game.

Rifled barrels for shotguns are an unusual legal issue in the United States of America. Firearms with rifled barrels are designed to fire single projectiles, and a firearm that is designed to fire a single projectile with a diameter greater than .50 caliber (0.5 inch, or 12.7 mm) is considered a "destructive device" and as such is severely restricted. The ATF has ruled that as long as the gun was designed to fire shot, and modified (by the user or the manufacturer) to fire single projectiles with the addition of a rifled barrel, then the firearm is still considered a shotgun and not a destructive device.

Many law enforcement agencies now are training their deputies in the use of shotguns with the rifled slug. At short to medium range shooting, the slug has awesome stopping power. The decision to use these rounds probably came about as a result of the Los Angeles shootout where the bank robbers were fully protected by body armor. The police at that time had no weapons available to stop them. Now they do...after the incident was over.

Using a rifled shotgun barrel is great for use with the rifled slug only. If you purchase one of these, then the other optional shells (following) will be of no use since the rifling makes the balls fly out into an oval pattern that is not predictable. For general survival use, the smooth bore shotgun is best.






#4 to #6



# 7-1/2 to # 8



# 6 to # 7-1/2






BB to #2

BBB to #1

Ducks, low flying

#4 to #6

#2 to #4

Ducks, high flying

#2 to #4

BB to #2

For hunting, shot size must be chosen not only for the range, but also for the game. The shot must reach the target with enough energy to penetrate to a depth sufficient to kill the game. Lead shot is still the best performer for the money, but with environmental restrictions on the use of lead, especially with waterfowl, steel, bismuth, and tungsten composites are required. Steel, being significantly less dense than lead, requires larger shot sizes, but is a good choice when cost is a consideration. Steel, however, cannot safely be used in some older shotguns without causing damage to either the bore or to the choke of the shotgun due to the hardness of steel shot.






.36" (9.1 mm)



.33" (8.4 mm)



.32" (8.1 mm)



.30" (7.6 mm)



.27" (6.9 mm)



.25" (6.4 mm)



.24" (6 mm)


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." Buckshot is used for hunting larger game, such as deer (hence derivation of the name), and also in riot shotguns and combat shotguns for defensive, police, and military use. Buckshot is also categorized by number, with smaller numbers being larger shot. It is called either "buckshot" or just "buck", such as "triple-ought buck" or "number 4 buck".

First Choice for Survival Weapon

The smooth bore, pump action SHOTGUN is RogueTurtle's FIRST CHOICE for purchasing your FIRST survival weapon. The reasons are many:

  • The shotgun is a tried and true (reliable) weapon with a multitude of uses.
  • The shotgun does not have to be aimed with the same degree of accuracy as other weapons.
  • The shotgun ammunition available is relatively inexpensive and works for a multitude of targets.
  • "Bad Guys" will back down from a shotgun before they will back down from a small caliber gun.
  • The shotgun is an intimidating weapon with guaranteed stopping power.
  • The shotgun can be used for hunting large game as well as small game.

Drawbacks to the shotgun:

  • The shotgun and ammunition are heavy compared to a handgun. Shotguns are about equal in weight to long guns (rifles).
  • The shotgun is not easily concealed on your person.

In my opinion, the reliability, versatility, and power of a shotgun outweigh all other weapons choices for a single gun purchase for survival reasons. It has more practical uses than any other weapon.