How far can shot travel?

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When a shotgun is fired, the pellets rapidly spread out as they travel through the air. The maximum distance a shotgun can shoot depends on many factors, including the size and speed of the pellets, and the shotgun’s barrel length. In this article, we will discuss how different shotgun attributes affect pellet spread and range.

Shotgun Pellet Sizes

Shotguns fire cartridges filled with spherical pellets or “shot.” The most common sizes of shotgun pellets are:

  • #9 shot – 0.08″ diameter
  • #8 shot – 0.09″ diameter
  • #7 shot – 0.095″ diameter
  • #6 shot – 0.11″ diameter
  • #5 shot – 0.12″ diameter
  • #4 shot – 0.13″ diameter
  • #3 shot – 0.14″ diameter
  • #2 shot – 0.15″ diameter
  • #1 shot – 0.16″ diameter
  • BBB shot – 0.18″ diameter
  • T shot – 0.20″ diameter

Smaller pellets like #9 shot are typically used for hunting small birds and clay target shooting. Larger pellets like T shot are reserved for hunting bigger game like deer and bear. The smaller the pellet size, the farther the shot will travel before losing kinetic energy and beginning to drop.

Shot Velocity

The velocity that shotgun pellets travel depends on the amount of gunpowder in the cartridge and the length of the shotgun barrel. Typical muzzle velocities for modern 12-gauge shotshells are:

  • 1,025 feet per second for light field loads
  • 1,150 feet per second for standard field loads
  • 1,350 feet per second for heavier magnum loads
  • 1,475 feet per second for high velocity magnum loads

Higher velocity pellets will travel farther before beginning to drop. However, air resistance will slow the pellets down over long distances.

Shot String and Spread

When pellets exit the barrel, they form a narrow “string” that begins spreading out downrange. The spread is typically measured as the diameter of the pellet pattern at a given distance. Spread is affected by:

  • Shot size – Smaller pellets spread more than bigger pellets
  • Shot shape – Cubic pellets spread less than round pellets
  • Choke – Tighter chokes constrain spread more

Wider pellet spread leads to quicker energy dissipation and shorter overall range. Tighter chokes and larger shot sizes maintain energy better for increased range.

Typical Maximum Ranges

The maximum effective range depends heavily on pellet size and density. Typical maximum ranges are:

Shot SizeField RangeHunting Range#935-40 yardsN/A#840-45 yardsDoves: 30-35 yards#745-50 yardsPheasant: 35-40 yards#645-55 yardsQuail: 35-40 yards#550-60 yardsTurkey: 40-50 yards#455-65 yardsDucks: 45-55 yards#360-70 yardsGeese: 50-60 yards#265-75 yardsDeer: 55-65 yards#170-80 yardsBear: 60-70 yardsBBB75-90 yardsHogs: 65-75 yardsT80-100 yardsElk: 70-90 yards

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These ranges are for lead shot traveling approximately 1,200-1,350 feet per second. Faster velocities extend ranges further. However, beyond 60-70 yards shot density becomes very sparse, limiting humane hunting applications.

Choke Effects

Shotgun chokes constrict the end of the muzzle to control pellet spread. Common chokes and their effects on 40 yard patterns are:

  • Cylinder – Spread 36″ diameter
  • Improved Cylinder – Spread 32″ diameter
  • Modified – Spread 28″ diameter
  • Improved Modified – Spread 24″ diameter
  • Full – Spread 20″ diameter

Full chokes can extend the maximum effective range 10-15 yards compared to more open choke constrictions. However, open chokes spread shot quicker for hunting moving targets at shorter ranges.

Lead vs Steel Shot

Steel shot pellets are lighter than lead and lose energy more quickly. Typical maximum ranges for steel shot are:

  • #2 steel: 50-60 yards
  • #4 steel: 45-55 yards
  • #6 steel: 40-50 yards

Lead shot is banned for waterfowl hunting in many areas because it poses ingestion hazards for wildlife. Steel shot has more limited applications for long distance shooting.

Heavy Payloads Extend Ranges

Heavier payloads with dense pellets and magnum velocities can extend effective killing ranges on game. For example, Federal’s Heavyweight TSS turkey loads with #9 tungsten pellets maintain energy out to 60-65 yards. Extreme long range turkey loads with #7 tungsten can reach out to 70-75 yards.

Rifled Shotgun Slugs

Rifled shotgun barrels allow shooting single, precision slug projectiles. Typical rifle slug ranges are:

  • 1 oz. slugs: 100-150 yards
  • 1-1/8 oz. sabot slugs: 150-200 yards

The aerodynamic, controlled trajectory of slugs reaches much farther than speading shot pellets. Slugs are used for deer hunting and competitive shooting tournaments.

Specialty Extreme Range Loads

Specialized utility/tactical shotguns can extend lethal ranges when loaded with projectiles like slugs or 00 buckshot. Maximum ranges with these loads can reach:

  • 00 Buckshot: 50-70 yards
  • 1 oz Slugs: 120-150+ yards
  • 1-3/8 oz Slugs: 175-225+ yards
  • Sabot Slugs: 200-275+ yards

These extended limits are achieved by barrels over 20 inches, high-power magnum loads, and enlarged pellet sizes. The ranges far exceed typical field use on game animals.

Maximum Hunting Shotshell Ranges

For regular hunting loads, maximum recommended shot placement ranges on live targets are:

  • Doves/Quail: 30-40 yards with #6-8 shot
  • Pheasant/Grouse: 35-45 yards with #5-7 shot
  • Turkey: 50-60 yards with #4-6 shot
  • Waterfowl: 45-60 yards with #2-4 steel shot
  • Deer: 50-70 yards with 00 buck or slugs
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Ranges beyond 60-70 yards provide very sparse pellet density. Only rifled slugs or large buckshot maintain enough energy for ethical shots at longer ranges.

Shot Drops Over Distance

As soon as shot leaves the barrel, gravity begins pulling it down. The drop is minimal at closer ranges but increases exponentially at longer distances. For example, Federal’s dropped shot density tests show #6 lead shot drops:

  • 3 inches at 30 yards
  • 12 inches at 50 yards
  • 32 inches at 70 yards

This demonstrates more vertical spread and energy loss beyond 50 yards. Good shotgun marksmanship requires knowledge of hold points and drop.

Skeet/Trap Shooting Ranges

Shotgun shooting sports use very specific ranges for breaking clay targets:

  • Skeet – Stations 1-7 at 17-41 yards
  • Trap – 16 yards
  • Sporting Clays – Varying stations from 15-45 yards

hese disciplines simulate gamebird hunting situations in the field. Standard field loads in #7-9 shot are used.

Shot Pattern Density by Range

As range increases, the shot string spreads out and individual pellet density decreases. Federal’s pattern density tests at 40 yards show the number of pellets in a 30″ circle for different shot sizes:

Shot SizePellets in 30″ Circle#9143#8104#769#649#537#426#319#213#19

As pellet size increases, the number of pellets and hits on target decreases. Smaller shot sizes maintain higher downrange densities.

Shot Energy Retention by Range

As range increases, air resistance gradually slows the shot, reducing kinetic energy. Downrange energy retention out to 40 yards averages:

  • 50% energy retention at 30 yards
  • 41% retention at 35 yards
  • 33% retention at 40 yards

Energy retention declines faster past 40 yards. Shots beyond 40 yards have considerably less stopping power.

Supersonic Lead Shot Velocity

When fired, different shot sizes travel at supersonic speeds above 1,125 feet per second. Typical supersonic ranges are:

  • #9 shot – 29 yards
  • #8 shot – 32 yards
  • #7 shot – 36 yards
  • #6 shot – 41 yards
  • #5 shot – 46 yards
  • #4 shot – 50 yards
  • #3 shot – 58 yards
  • #2 shot – 68 yards

Once pellets drop below supersonic velocities, air resistance increases as the shockwave effect weakens. This causes the shot to slow and drop more rapidly.

Shotgun Pellet Speed Loss

Muzzle velocity declines as the shot string travels downrange. Average velocity loss is:

  • 200 feet per second loss at 30 yards
  • 300 fps loss at 40 yards
  • 400 fps loss at 50 yards
  • 500 fps loss at 60 yards
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These velocity losses demonstrate why energy retention and pellet density drop quickly past 50 yards. Gravity pulls the slowed shot down and spreads it out farther at longer ranges.

Long Range Shooting Factors

Several factors affect pellet spread and density at long distances:

  • Pellet Size – Large pellets retain energy better for extended range
  • Pellet Shape – Round pellets spread more than cubic pellets
  • Pellet Density – Heavy pellets resist air resistance better
  • Shot Payload – Heavier shot loads maintain momentum longer
  • Muzzle Velocity – High velocities extend supersonic ranges
  • Barrel Length – Long barrels increase shot velocity
  • Choke Tightness – Tighter chokes constraint pellet spread

Modifying these parameters allows tuning shotguns for specific long range shooting applications.

Maximum Effective Shotgun Ranges

The maximum effective range for lethal use of a shotgun depends greatly on the projectile and target. Typical maximum shotgun ranges are:

  • 50-60 yards – Maximum range for breaking clay targets
  • 60 yards – Ethical range limit for most upland gamebirds
  • 70 yards – Maximum hunting range for large steel shot on waterfowl
  • 80 yards – Maximum hunting range for buckshot on deer
  • 100 yards – Hunting range limit for rifled slugs
  • 150-200 yards – Maximum range of sabot shotgun slugs
  • 275+ yards – Expert or exhibition shooting of sabot slugs

Careful shot placement and energy transfer must be considered beyond 60 yards. Shot density past this distance is marginal for clean kills.

Conclusion

Modern shotguns are effective hunting and sporting tools out to 60 yards and beyond when properly loaded. Understanding ballistic capabilities and pellet dispersal is key for accurate shot placement. With dense patterns and controlled choke, today’s loads can humanely take game out to 70 yards.

Specialized loads like heavy TSS shot, sabot slugs, and magnum velocities continue pushing the long range limits. However, shot placement and ethics should dictate choice of range in the field. Most game animals are still reasonably taken within 50 yards where patterns are optimal.

With knowledge of your loads, practice hitting targets at hunting ranges so you can place effective shots when game appear in your sights. As long as you consider distance, wind, and hold points, today’s shotguns can be counted on to deliver at long last.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>