Education| Beginner’s Guide To Firearms

Welcome to part five of the Beginner’s Guide To Firearm Basics. This week we are going to cover Shotgun Basics. Shotguns are much more in-depth than I planned on them being so it will be broken down into two separate parts. As, usual this guide is here to be an introduction into shotguns and their operation.

In this part of Shotgun Basics I will cover: the 3 most common types of shotguns by their actions and the ammunition used. In part two we will discuss the more obscure shotgun actions, shotgun nomenclatures, and cycle of operations for a couple different shotguns. In part three we will cover gauges, chokes, and shot patterns.

This entry is here to provide new shooters the core concepts for understanding the types of shotguns, their actions, and ammunition used.

Shotgun Basics

What is a Shotgun?

Let’s get down to the the nitty gritty and let’s define, “What is a shotgun?” A shotgun(also known as a scattergun) is a firearm that is designed to be fired from the shoulder, which uses the energy of a fixed shell to fire a number of small spherical pellets called shot, or a solid projectile called a slug.

Types of Shotguns

Shotguns. On Shotguns. On Shotguns.

Shotguns come in many varieties, shapes, and sizes. Some are shotguns are more commonly used nowadays versus others. Due to ease of use and practicality. The different type of shotguns you have are: break-action, lever-action, pump-action, revolver action, semiautomatic, and fully automatic shotguns.

The shotguns we will focus on in part one are:

  1. Break-Action
  2. Pump-Action
  3. Semiautomatic

Shotgun Types By Their Actions

When discussing shotguns types we classify them by their actions. When, we are describing a shotgun type we are also describing its action. They are both one in the same. I know it’s a little confusing. When it comes to shotguns things can be a little more complicated than need be. So, keep that in mind as we explore shotgun types and their actions.

Break-Action Shotgun

Coach Shotgun

First, we have break-action shotguns. Break-action shotgun is a type of shotgun that utilizes a hinge to rotate perpendicularly to the bore axis to expose the breach of the shotgun. Allowing for the loading and unloading of ammunition. A separate operation may be required for the cocking of the hammer to fire the weapon. Break-action shotguns are normally single and double barreled variant shotguns. A coach gun that we seen growing up in westerns, is an example of a double barrel break-action shotgun.

Pump-Action Shotguns

Remington 870 Tactical

Next, are pump-action shotguns. Pump-action shotguns have a sliding forearm handle (the pump) works the action, extracting the spent shell and inserting a new one shell into the chamber. Also, while pumping the action allows for the reset of the hammer and trigger allowing you to shoot again. A pump-action shotgun is typically fed from a tubular magazine underneath the barrel, which serves to guide the pump. The rounds are fed in one by one through a port in the receiver, where they are lifted by a lever called the elevator and pushed forward into the chamber by the bolt. A pair of latches at the rear of the magazine hold the rounds in place and facilitate feeding of one shell at a time.

Well known examples of a pump-action shotguns are the Remington 870 and the Mossberg 500/590.

Semiautomatic Shotgun

Taran Tactical Benelli M2

Finally, we have semiautomatic shotguns. A semi-automatic shotgun is a shotgun that is able to fire a shell after every trigger pull, without needing to manually chamber another round. These weapons use gas, blowback, or recoil operation to cycle the action, eject the empty shell, and another round is loaded.

Well known examples of semiautomatic shotguns are the Benelli M2 and M4. Well, known within the firearms community and popularized by the John Wick Movies starting Keanu Reeves.


One of the beautiful things about shotguns comes down to its versatility of ammunition. You have different ammunition for clay shooting, hunting, and home defense. Allowing you to have the right ammunition for all occasions. Shotgun ammunition usually falls into three main categories. Those ammunition types are: birdshot, buckshot, and slug. Before we jump into ammunition types we will discuss the anatomy of a shotgun shell.

So, in this section we will discuss the anatomy of a shotgun shell and the three main types of shotgun ammunition.

Let’s jump in and take a look at the anatomy of a shotgun shell.

Anatomy Of A Shotgun Shell

First, let’s breakdown the inner components that make up a shotgun shell. The parts of a shotgun are: primer, base, hull, propellant, wad, and shot.

Primer- the primer of the shotgun shell is the same as the primer to pistol or rifle round. The striking of end primer by the firing pin causing a flame through the base to ignite the propellant.

Base- the base is the brass, steel, or aluminum that is a multifunction element that houses the primer, binds the hull, and provides a rigid base to interact with the extractor and ejector of the firearm.

Hull- the hull is a plastic shell that ensures the proper functioning of the shot shell by holding all the parts of the shell together behind the crimp.

Propellant- the propellant is the mixture of gunpowder that once lit by the primer, produces the gas expansion required to fire the projectile.

Wad- a wad within a shotgun shell provides two different purposes: 1. it provides a small compartment to separate the propellant from the shot. 2. to create a buffer that captures shock and reduces deformation of the shot as it accelerates out of the barrel.

Shot- shot is the projectile that sits at the front of the shotgun shell. The shot can be birdshot, buckshot, slug or a non lethal projectile.


Birdshot ammunition is loaded with small pellets smaller than 5mm in diameter. The size of birdshot is given as a number or letter. The larger the number the smaller the shot size. Birdshot is commonly used in bird hunting, so not to destroy the meat. The smallest birdshot is #12 and the largest size is FF.


Buckshot ammunition uses medium-sized to large-sized pellets of 6mm in diameter or larger. The larger size reduces the amount of shot that can be held in each one. Buckshot is also categorized by number. As, the number decreases the size of the pellets increase. The smallest buckshot size is #4. Sizes increase past #1 to include 000 (triple-ought), 00 (double-ought), and 0 (ought). Buckshot ammunition is widely used in hunting deer and home defense applications.


Slug ammunition is an individual projectile that discharges from a shotgun. Slugs for smooth bore barrels are rifled to create stability in flight and to make the slug more accurate on target.

As, stated before shotgun ammunition has a wide variety of uses from sport shooting, to hunting, to home defense. We learned that birdshot is suitable for bird hunting and sports shooting (I didn’t mention the latter, apologies.). That buckshot has improved application for hunting medium size game and home defense. Also, that good old slug ammunition gives you that nice large projectile but you have to be aim to be able to hit your target.


That wraps it up for part five of Shotgun Basics. In part five we covered shotgun types by their actions, anatomy of a shotgun shell and ammunition used in a shotgun. I hope this guide gives you a better understanding of the basics of a shotgun. In the next part we will dive a little deeper into the mystery that is shotguns.

If you have any questions please feel free to drop them in the comments below.

Thanks For Reading

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