Shotgun Shell Breakdown: Shotgun Shot Size & Shot Pellet Size Chart

Shotgun pellet size charts are valuable tools for comparing shot sizes. Pellet sizes can range from the smallest 9 shot all the way up to the largest No. 0000 buckshot. Knowing the shotgun pellet sizes commonly used for waterfowl hunting is important for reloading and ballistic calculations.

In this guide, we’ll review the most popular shot sizes for shotguns and describe their measurements in both inches and millimeters (mm). We’ll also discuss the most popular pellet types for waterfowl hunting and their effectiveness for field use.

Shotgun Shot Size Chart – Buckshot Size Chart

Shotgun Shot Size Chart - Shotgun Buckshot Size Chart
Shotgun Steel Shot Sizes Chart

The pellet size chart above lists the diameter of the most common pellet sizes used for hunting waterfowl and most other game animals. From smallest to largest, the pellet sizes are 9, 8.5, 8, 7.5, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, B, BB, BBB, T, and F.

The chart also lists the common sizes of buckshot and their measurements. From smallest to largest, the buckshot pellet sizes are No. 4, No. 3, No. 2, No.1, No. 0, No. 00, No. 000, and No. 0000.

Shotgun Pellets for Waterfowl Hunting

The most common size of pellets used for waterfowl hunting are #4, #3, #2, and BB. These pellets sizes are made from many types of non-toxic material. Steel is the most common, but denser alloys are also available. Below we’ll discuss the types of pellets used for waterfowl and their effectiveness in the field.

Types of Pellets Used for Waterfowl

  • Steel (7.8 g/cc)
  • Hevishot (12 g/cc)
  • Heavyweight (15 g/cc)
  • Tungsten Super Shot (18 g/cc)
  • Bismuth (9.6 g/cc)

Steel Shotgun Pellets

Steel shotgun pellets are the most popular type of shot used for waterfowl hunting. Steel is effective for decoying birds and costs less than other ammo alternatives. The density of steel shot is 7.8 g/cc.

The low pellet density of steel shot compared to other alloys requires larger pellets to obtain similar ballistics. Steel ammo can push 1700 fps as pellet speed can overcome the lack of pellet density in some cases. The most popular steel shot sizes for waterfowl are #2 and BB.

Hevishot Shotgun Pellets

Hevishot pellets are a tungsten-based alloy with a density of 12 g/cc. Because lead shot was outlawed for waterfowl hunting, Hevishot is marketed as a heavier than lead alternative. Lead has a density of 11 g/cc for comparison. Popular Hevishot pellet sizes include #4 and #2.

Hevishot can increase pattern density and range of pellets beyond what steel pellets are capable of. Hevishot ammo typically pushes 1300 fps and pellets can be reduced by two pellets sizes compared to steel for the same ballistic results. The performance of Hevishot can be increased by using an aftermarket choke tube.

Heavyweight Pellets

Heavyweight pellets are a tungsten alloy and have a density of 15 g/cc. They are mostly produced by Federal Ammunition for both waterfowl and turkey hunting. Heavyweight pellets are ballistically superior to both steel and Hevishot.

Heavyweight ammo for waterfowl is most common in 1 3/8 ounce and 1 ¼ ounce loads in pellet sizes of #4 and #2. The high density of Heavyweight shot allows for a decrease of up to four pellet sizes compared to steel and 2 pellet sizes compared to Hevishot to achieve the same ballistics results.

TSS Shotgun Pellets

Tungsten super shot (TSS) pellets are the densest pellet currently used for waterfowl hunting. TSS pellets have a density of 18g/cc and are almost pure tungsten. These heavy pellets pattern extremely tight with small pellet sizes (#8 and #9 shot) and are effective at extreme ranges (over 60 yards).

While TSS is the best performing pellet for waterfowl, it is also the most expensive. A box of 10 shells can exceed $50 and a pound of loose bulk TSS shot can be as high as $60/lb. Because of this, TSS is better suited for turkey hunting.

Bismuth Pellets

Bismuth pellets are made from the element bismuth and have a density of 9.6 g/cc. The softness of Bismuth pellets makes them ideal for older guns that can’t stand up to the harshness of modern ammo with hard steel shot.

Bismuth pellets were the first non-toxic ammo to be offered as an alternative to steel shot. It has since been surpassed by denser alloys, but still holds a niche with older side by side shotguns. Popular bismuth pellet sizes include #4 and #6 shot for small game.

What about the best shotgun for duck hunting?

Or the best shotgun shell for waterfowl?

Shotgun Pellet Shapes and Designs

Shotgun pellets come in a wide range of shapes and designs, but round pellets are the most favored due to less drag in flight and better ballistics. Below are the most common shotgun pellet shapes found in waterfowl ammo.

Round Shotgun Pellets

Round Pellets – (Steel Shot, Bismuth, Lead). Round pellets are the most popular pellet type used for waterfowl hunting. The perfectly round design is meant to cut through the air as efficiently as possible while reducing wind drag. Penetration is also maximized over non-round pellets.

Non-Round Shotgun Pellets

Non-Round Pellets – (Hevishot). Some shotgun pellets are deformed. These are typically the result of alloys being fused together. The process of creating Hevishot pellets is notorious for producing a wide range of pellets sizes in the same loads. It’s not uncommon for a shot size to have pellets included that are within 1-2 shot sizes, either side of the main pellet size.

Blind Side Pellets

Blind Side – Federal Blindside is a steel pellet type that was created with a raised ring around the center. The elevated ring is designed to cut through feathers and penetrate waterfowl deeper than traditional steel pellets. Blindside pellets are housed in a special flight control wad that differs from traditional setups.

Shotgun Shot Size FAQ

Are 12 gauge shot sizes the same as other gauges?

Yes, 12 gauge shot sizes are the same diameter as those used in 20 gauge, 16 gauge, and 10 gauge shotguns. The main difference is the bore size of the shotgun. Standard pellet sizes, such as #6 shot, will still be the same diameter shot used in shotguns other than 12 gauge.
The biggest difference between shotguns of different gauges shooting the same pellet size is the payload and pattern density. Larger bore shotguns carry heavier payloads which can translate to more pellets and higher pattern densities.
Shotguns smaller than a 12 gauge lack the hull capacity to match the number of pellets, regardless of pellet size. It may be possible for smaller gauges to increase pellet density, but only by reducing the pellet size. Smaller pellets are lighter and retain less energy, thus decreasing the maximum effective range.

Do tungsten shot sizes differ from steel, lead, and other shot?

Tungsten shot sizes can vary depending on the amount of tungsten and alloy material being used to construct the pellets. Hevi-shot pellets are notorious for being out of round.
The process of combining tungsten, nickel, and iron results in more of an oval shape where pellet sizes in a single load can range between two and three different shot sizes.
Tungsten super shot pellets on the other hand are almost perfectly round. The ends of the TSS pellets do contain a dimple, but it’s barely noticeable. TSS shot sizes are true to form and the consistency between the same size pellets is a night and day difference over Hevi-shot.

What are the best lead shot sizes?

Lead shot is softer than steel and other pellet types when it lacks antimony. Lead shot sizes range from 9 shot up to the largest buckshot. Smaller #7.5 shot is best for small game such as dove, squirrel, and quail.  #4 lead shot is best for Sandhill cranes, wild hogs, and turkey.
Buckshot, ranging from #4 to 000, is best used for larger game such as deer, coyotes, and bear. Lead shot sizes are true to form, with pellets maintaining a consistent diameter. Lead slugs are also used for larger game, which contain only one sabot.

Is Buckshot the largest shot size?

Yes, buckshot is the largest shot size for round shotgun pellets. There are eight different buckshot sizes in total. They are No. 4, No. 3, No. 2, No.1, No. 0, No. 00, No. 000, and No. 0000. Number 4 buckshot is slightly larger than F-shot steel and a typical 12 gauge 2 ¾ oz. load carries 27 pellets.
00 buckshot is the most popular buckshot size and a typical 12 gauge 3 inch load carries 15 pellets. 0000 or ultrabuck is the largest with a 12 gauge 2 ¾ oz. load carrying 8 pellets. Buckshot is the preferred shot size for deer hunting, large game, and home defense. See the Buckshot Pellet Size Chart.

Shotgun Pellet & Shot Sizes: Final Word

The shotgun pellet size chart shown above includes the typical pellet sizes used for waterfowl and other game animals. It also includes large buckshot pellets and the common No. 000 buckshot diameter.

The material used to make shotgun pellets includes steel, hevishot, heavyweight, TSS, and Bismuth. Lead pellets are also used in these shot sizes but not for waterfowl.

Shotgun pellets are typically round but can vary in shape depending on the metal used. Hevishot alloy pellets are notoriously out of round and Federal Blindside pellets contain a ring around the middle of the pellet for better knock down power.