Shotguns are a popular firearm among hunters and sport shooters alike. One of the questions that often comes up is how many pellets are in a shotgun shell.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: the number of pellets in a shotgun shell depends on the gauge of the shotgun, as well as the size of the shot being used.

In this article, we will explore the various factors that influence the number of pellets in a shotgun shell, as well as the pros and cons of using different shot sizes.

Understanding Shotgun Gauges

If you’re new to firearms, or shotguns in particular, one of the first things you’ll want to familiarize yourself with is the concept of shotgun gauges. Put simply, the gauge of a shotgun refers to the bore diameter, or the inside diameter of the barrel. It’s an important factor to consider when choosing a shotgun, as the gauge will determine a number of characteristics, including the size and weight of the gun, the amount of recoil you can expect, and, as we’ll discuss below, the number of pellets in a shotgun shell.

What is a Shotgun Gauge?

Shotgun gauges are measured in a somewhat counterintuitive way. Rather than being measured in millimeters or inches, gauges are determined by the number of lead balls of the same diameter as the bore that can be made from one pound of lead. So, for example, a 12-gauge shotgun has a bore diameter that can accommodate 12 lead balls weighing one pound in total.

Common Shotgun Gauges and Their Pellet Count

So, how many pellets can you expect to find in a shotgun shell of a given gauge? While there are some variations depending on the exact type of shell and shot size, here’s a general breakdown:

  • 12 Gauge: 9-12 pellets in a 00 buckshot load
  • 16 Gauge: 9-12 pellets in a 00 buckshot load
  • 20 Gauge: 8-9 pellets in a 00 buckshot load
  • 28 Gauge: 7-8 pellets in a 00 buckshot load
  • .410 Bore: 3-5 pellets in a 000 buckshot load

It’s worth noting that not all shotgun shells will contain the same number of pellets. Depending on the type of load and shot size, there can be considerable variation in pellet count even within a single gauge.

How Shotgun Gauge Affects Pellet Count

As you can see from the list above, larger gauges generally have more pellets in a shell than smaller gauges. This is because the larger the bore diameter, the more lead that can be used to create the pellets. Additionally, larger pellets will take up more space in a shell, so larger gauges are needed to accommodate them.

However, it’s also important to note that pellet count isn’t the only factor to consider when choosing a shotgun. Other factors, such as recoil and overall size and weight, can also play a role in determining the best gauge for your needs.

If you’re unsure which shotgun gauge is right for you, it’s always a good idea to consult with an experienced firearms dealer or instructor. With their help, you can find the perfect shotgun for your needs and preferences.

Shotgun Shell Components

A shotgun shell is made up of several components that work together to fire a shot. These components include the shell casing, primer, powder, wad, and shot.

  • The Shell Casing: The shell casing is the outer container that holds all the other components of the shotgun shell. It is usually made of plastic or metal and comes in different sizes depending on the type of shotgun you are using.
  • The Primer: The primer is a small metal cup located at the base of the shell casing. It contains a small amount of explosive material that ignites when struck by the firing pin of the shotgun.
  • The Powder: The powder is the propellant that is used to fire the shot. It is a fine, granular substance that burns quickly when ignited by the primer. Different types of powder are used depending on the type of shotgun and the desired velocity of the shot.
  • The Wad: The wad is a small plastic or paper cup that separates the powder from the shot. It also helps to protect the barrel of the shotgun from damage by preventing the shot from coming into contact with the metal.
  • The Shot: The shot is the small, round pellets that are fired from the shotgun. The number of pellets in a shotgun shell can vary depending on the size of the pellets and the size of the shell casing. For example, a typical 12-gauge shotgun shell can contain anywhere from 8 to 27 pellets, depending on the size of the pellets.

Knowing the components of a shotgun shell can help you understand how it works and how to use it safely and effectively. If you are interested in learning more about shotgun shells and their components, there are many resources available online, such as and

Factors That Affect Pellet Count

Shotgun shells are a crucial component in hunting and shooting sports. When it comes to the number of pellets in a shotgun shell, several factors can affect the count. Here are the key factors that impact pellet count:

  • Shot Size: The size of the pellets in a shotgun shell can impact the count. Smaller pellets tend to have a higher pellet count, while larger pellets have a lower count. For example, a shell with #8 shot will have more pellets than a shell with #4 shot.
  • Shot Weight: The weight of the pellets in a shotgun shell can also affect the count. Heavier pellets take up more space in the shell, resulting in fewer pellets per shell. Lighter pellets, on the other hand, take up less space, resulting in a higher pellet count.
  • Shot Composition: The composition of the pellets can also impact the pellet count. Lead pellets tend to have a higher count than steel pellets due to their lighter weight. Additionally, different manufacturers may use different materials, resulting in varying pellet counts.
  • Wad Design: The design of the wad, which separates the pellets from the gunpowder, can impact the pellet count. A wad with a smaller diameter will have less space for pellets, resulting in a lower count. Conversely, a larger wad diameter will allow for more pellets, resulting in a higher count.

It is essential to keep these factors in mind when selecting shotgun shells for your needs. Understanding how each factor can impact pellet count can help you make an informed decision and improve your shooting accuracy. For more information on shotgun shells, check out reputable sources like Field and Stream and Outdoor Life.

Pros and Cons of Different Shot Sizes

When it comes to shotgun shells, there are several different shot sizes available. Each size has its own unique benefits and drawbacks, depending on your intended use. Here are the pros and cons of three common shot sizes:

Small Shot

  • Pros: Small shot sizes, such as #8 or #9, are ideal for hunting small game like quail or dove. They offer a high pellet count, which increases the chances of hitting your target. They also have a lower recoil and less damage to game meat.
  • Cons: Small shot sizes have limited range and penetration, making them less effective for larger game or longer distances. They also have less knockdown power, which can lead to wounded game running away.

Medium Shot

  • Pros: Medium shot sizes, such as #6 or #7.5, are versatile and can be used for a variety of hunting applications. They offer a balance of range, penetration, and pellet count. They are also effective for clay pigeon shooting and self-defense.
  • Cons: Medium shot sizes may not be optimal for hunting smaller game or longer distances. They also have moderate recoil, which may be uncomfortable for some shooters.

Large Shot

  • Pros: Large shot sizes, such as #4 or #5, are effective for hunting larger game like turkey or waterfowl. They offer greater range, penetration, and knockdown power than smaller shot sizes.
  • Cons: Large shot sizes have fewer pellets per shell, which reduces the chances of hitting your target. They also have a higher recoil and can cause more damage to game meat.

Ultimately, the shot size you choose will depend on your specific needs and preferences. Consulting with a knowledgeable gun dealer or hunting expert can help you select the right shot size for your intended use.


In conclusion, the number of pellets in a shotgun shell varies depending on the gauge of the shotgun and the size of the shot being used. Understanding these factors can help you choose the right shotgun and ammunition for your needs.

Whether you’re a hunter or a sport shooter, selecting the right shotgun and shot size can make a big difference in your success. We hope this article has provided you with valuable information to help you make informed decisions.

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