What are the Best Shotgun Gauges and Bores?

There’s plenty of shotgun ammo floating around the market, but it’s not all created equal. Before grabbing some off the shelf it’s helpful to know which is best suited for your planned shotgun outing. With multiple sized gauges to choose from, which one should you nab? The Guns.com staff has the details on the best gauge for each purpose.

Deer Hunting

For deer hunters opting for a shotgun over a rifle chamberings in 12-gauge and 16-gauge offer the most effectiveness with some hunters beefing up to 10-gauge. If you are looking to take advantage of the range envelope provided by jacketed sabot slugs and you don’t mind a stout recoil, then a bolt action slug gun like the Savage 212 or Browning A-Bolt would suit you well. Winchester and Hornady both make excellent slug ammo to accompany deer hunters.

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Two mature mule deer bucks in late summer on Seedskadee NWR (Photo: Tom Koerner/USFWS)

If slugs are off-limits in your locale, look to 00 buck or 000 buck as your next go-to ammo to humanely harvest a whitetail. Anything down to a 20-gauge will work for deer, especially if you want less recoil.  Depending on state conservation regulations, some recoil-timid hunters have had good luck with .410 slugs, especially in the Southeast at close range and with the right load. A word of caution though – make sure to put in some practice ahead of the season to perfect those ethical shots so you’re ready when that big buck comes strolling by.

Bird Hunting

When it comes to bagging birds, there are multiple factors at play when deciding on ammo. Bird hunters must take into consideration shotgun choke and barrel length as well as the type of game being hunted and distances. Further, here is where niche bores like 28-gauge really shine. That being said, big-name manufacturers like Federal, Winchester, and Fiocchi have made it easy for consumers offering a variety of loads specific to the bird hunt. As each bird species requires its own load, it’s easiest to nab a box of ammo from one of the aforementioned manufacturers. A simple rule of thumb is to make sure to match the picture on the box to the bird you’re hunting and you’re good to go.

Dove Hunting

A hunter and his dog scan for doves in Texas (Photo: Don Summers/Guns.com)

In the end, it’s best to match ammo to your shotgun keeping in mind the amount of recoil you can handle. Again, take some time to practice with your chosen platform spend some time before hitting the field.

Home Defense

Word of warning before we dive in – always check with your local and state laws regarding home defense regulation so you know what is and isn’t permissible in your area.

For home defense ammo, the best gauge is always the one you’re going to train with and can accurately manage under stress. A common misconception is that little aiming is required with shotguns, but that is a myth that we’re here to bust. While a 12-gauge will, yes, likely not need quite as much precision as a 9mm bullet, those stocking a shotgun for home defense still need to be able to accurately hit a target.

Home Defense

The proper gauge for home defense is a personal decision. (Photo: Guns.com)

While some say a slug or 00 buck is best for home defense, other experts argue those loads are too much and risk penetrating walls. Ultimately, it comes down to pairing your load to your overall defense plan. The ammo you choose is a personal choice depending on how your home is constructed and who lies within those walls.


At the end of the day, the best way to find the right gauge for you is to take a few out for a test run. After you narrow down what the purpose is, rent some shotguns at the range or grab a buddy’s and run some ammo through it to see what works best for you.

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