Hunting Shotguns: The Features and Criteria to Consider Before Selecting the Right One


December 3, 2021


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Hunting shotguns

The shotgun is quite a versatile piece of gear. Depending on the caliber, it may be used to hunt small game, waterfowl, or moose. While it’s impossible to have one shotgun that does it all, there are interchangeable barrel models that make great choices for several types of hunting without having to invest too much. Learn more in this article.

Before we get started, be aware that rifles and shotguns have very different characteristics that you will notice as you read the following article: The ABCs of Hunting Rifles.

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In this article, you will learn more about shotguns:

  1. A look at the mechanisms of the shotgun
  2. The different calibers
  3. Choke types
  4. FAQ

A look at the mechanisms of the shotgun

Break action shotgun

Recommended type of hunting: The perfect choice for novice hunters thanks to its ease of operation, the break action shotgun is ideal for those who hunt small game.

Features: It’s a safe gun for walking in the woods because the mechanism is fully open. You can also wear it on your shoulder unlike others that require a shoulder strap. A rocker gun may have one or two barrels. The two-barrelled version gives hunters an extra chance so that they can redeem a less precise shot or catch a second animal nearby.

Pump action shotgun

Recommended type of hunting: The pump action shotgun has the advantage of recharging quickly for types of hunting where several different types of game are targeted.

Features: Shotguns can sometimes be finicky if the mechanism is clogged with sand or other debris.

Bolt action shotgun

Recommended type of hunting: Bolt action shotguns are essentially twisted barrel guns. This shotgun is well suited for hunting big game (white-tailed deer) and bears because of its twisted barrel.

Features: The lock is very simple and easy to clean since it can be removed completely.

Semi-automatic shotgun

Recommended type of hunting: The semi-automatic shotgun is preferred for hunts where several shots must be fired quickly, such as hunting migratory birds.

Features: This mechanism uses the power released by the cartridge to reload the weapon. The user therefore has no movement to make other than pulling the trigger. The semi-automatic shotgun, however, remains more expensive and requires increased vigilance.

The different calibers according to the type of game

The smaller the caliber number, the more powerful the caliber.

To choose a caliber, you must refer to regulations surrounding hunting in Quebec in Ontario.

Recommended sizes according to the species:

  • Moose: 12, 10
  • White-tailed deer and black bear: 20, 16, 12, 10
  • Wild turkey: 20, 16, 12, 10
  • Migratory birds: 10 et plus petit (12, 16, for example)
  • Small game: all calibers (including .410)

It may seem surprising that moose and partridge can be hunted with the same caliber. It’s that the type of ammunition used plays a big role in the potential of the gun. Shotgun ammunition is made up of either a single one single projectile or of several pellets, called shots. The size of the beads is expressed by a set of letters or numbers.

Moose, black bear, and white-tailed deer hunting

Big game hunters usually don’t use a shotgun, but rather a rifle. It’s when a rifle is prohibited in certain areas that a shotgun becomes an option. Certain models with a twisted barrel offer impressive power that can allow for shots up to 200 yards. However, the shotgun hasn’t other technical advantages compared to the rifle. Recoil caused by a single bullet sent through a twist barrel can be a deterrent.

Wild turkey hunting

A twelve gauge shotgun is used by the majority of hunters here. Only ammunition between 4 and 7 in size is authorized for hunting wild turkey. The specifics of shotguns designed for turkey hunting are that the barrel features rifle scopes. A shot for a turkey is precise because the projected pellets form a tight pattern to reach a very precise area.

Hunting migratory birds

Migratory birds, like wild turkeys, are predominantly hunted with a 12-gauge shotgun. Since steel ammunition must travel far and be shot powerfully to reach these birds, the recoil may be an issue. Note that non-toxic ammo is required for this type of hunting. This is why, in general, the semi-automatic mechanism is preferred because it absorbs some of the recoil, which helps when several shots are needed. In Quebec, the most notable feature of shotguns used to hunt migratory birds is that it must contain at least three (3) cartridges.

Small game hunting

There are many options for small game (hare, partridge, etc.); each person decides what is best.
You may select a shotgun for its lightness and maneuverability if you take long walks through the woods. Small calibers like the .410 and 28 are ideal. One aspect that is generally appreciated, regardless of the caliber, is a relatively short barrel if you are walking off-trail. The usual type of ammunition for small game is size 5, 6, or 7 ½.

Choke types

The choke of the barrel has an important role to play in the dispersion of the pellets. Some shotguns have a fixed choke that cannot be changed, while others offer greater flexibility with interchangeable chokes.

Common choke types are: full choke (suitable for long ranges and offers the narrowest dispersion), modified choke (suitable for medium ranges), improved cylinder choke (suitable for short ranges), and cylinder choke (suitable for shorter spans).

Here are the abbreviations to look for:

  • FULL
  • MOD (modified)
  • IMP (improved)
  • CYL (cylinder)

Select a choke according to the distance pellets must travel while on a certain trajectory. For example, if you want to shoot several shots in a 40-yard zone for a wild turkey, you’ll want a tighter choke. However, for a partridge that’s 25 yards away, opt for a modified or improved choke.

What you need to remember is to properly assess the type of hunting you’ll be doing. If you’ll be hunting in variable weather conditions, you will like being able to change to choke on your gun. In the case of side-by-side barrels, you will even be able to add different chokes and choose which one to use when firing, depending on your distance from the game. If you are purchasing a rifle or shotgun for a specific type of hunting where conditions are similar, you probably won’t need an interchangeable choke rifle.

Try out different models

The elements discussed in this article offer tips for choosing your first shotgun or rifle. But be aware that there isn’t one right answer. Your choice depends on personal preference, habit, traditions, comfort and more. The somewhat cumbersome gun your grandfather passed down to you may be the right choice, even if a friend of yours claims that the all-new adjustable, short barrel model is the way to go. Take advantage of group outings to ask questions and try out guns with your hunting buddies (if you all have your licences, of course). You will certainly be able to find the shotgun or rifle you want according to your needs and budget.


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