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Shotgun Basics

PheasantBefore you buy and shoot a shotgun you should understand how it works, how to care for it, and how to handle it safely. Today’s shotgun is a high quality instrument designed to function flawlessly year after year.

While most firearms fire single projectiles, the shotgun typically fires multiple projectiles, called shot. The shot begins to spread as soon as it leaves the gun’s muzzle. Obviously, the area the shot covers, called the shot pattern, increases as the shot moves away from the gun towards the target. This is why the shotgun is preferred for shooting at moving targets.

Most shotguns have a constriction, or choke, at the muzzle that controls the size of the shot pattern. The tighter the constriction, the greater the range of the shot. Many shotguns have changeable chokes that allow the shot pattern to be changed for different situations.

Choosing The Right Shotgun

Choosing the right shotgun can be intimidating for a new shooter. A little homework can make it easier. Read as much as you can and seek the advice of an experienced shooter or a shotgun professional before you buy.

There are three basic types of shotguns used today: the pump, break-open single and double barreled guns in either side by side or over and under configuration, and the semiautomatic.

Shotguns are further distinguished by the length of their barrels, usually 26 to 30 inches long, and the barrel diameter, or bore, which varies according to the gun’s design and intended use. The diameter of the bore is called its gauge. The smaller the gauge number, the larger the bore size. Modern shotguns are available in 10, 12, 16, 20, and 28 gauge. An exception is the .410, which is actually a 67 gauge.

Shotgun Fit

Much of what is said today about gun fit is highly technical and not particularly helpful to the beginner. The essential point is that proper fit depends largely on the length and shape of the gun’s stock. And most manufacturers tailor their gun stocks to fit the average size male adult. If you’re an average size male shooter, an off-the-shelf shotgun will provide an average fit. Shorter or taller shooters, especially youngsters and women, usually require some stock adjustments, which should be done by a competent gunfitter.

Black's Wing & Clay This material adapted from Black's Wing & Clay. All rights reserved.

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