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2 3/4 vs 3 Inch Shells | Which Should You Choose?

In this article, I’ll provide more information about the differences between 2 ¾ and 3-inch shells. I’ll also discuss their best uses in hunting and home defense.

When choosing between 2 ¾ and 3-inch shells, consider the size of your shotgun and the type of shooting you intend to do. The shells should be the same length or shorter than your gun’s chamber. Whether for sport shooting or hunting, pick the smallest ammunition that can do the job. 

Let’s dive into the differences.

Hunting cartridges and bandoleer on camouflage background

Differences Between 2¾ and 3-Inch shells

The standard chamber size for all gauge shotguns is 2 ¾ inches, but shotguns with a 3-inch chamber or longer are also available. The most common shotgun shells are the 12 gauge and are usually available in 2 ¾, 3, and 3 ½ inches. 

The shell length determines the number of rounds that can fit in the shotgun’s magazine. The longer the shell, the fewer you can load. A 3-inch magazine will fit more 2 ¾ shells than 3-inch shells. 

The 2 ¾ inch lead shells are deadly at close range. However, they don’t pack as much energy and impact if using steel pellets. Steel is lighter than lead, so you need bigger pellets, and fewer will fit in the shotshell. The smaller number of pellets produces a less dense pattern and lesser recoil. 

The 3-inch shells have a higher payload weight, giving a denser pattern and increased recoil. With a higher number of pellets, you can use an open choke to improve the pattern size at a shorter distance. Alternatively, you can leave the choke to maintain a compact pattern at a more extended range. 

Longer shells have more powder that gives more pellets per shell. Shotguns favor different types of loads and shots, and experimentation with multiple combinations is needed to find the best match. Pattern your gun with different choke combinations and shell sizes to establish their pattern densities at varying distances with different shots. 

Winchester 3 Inch Shells Above Federal 2.75 Inch Shells on a White Background

Related The 9 Best Shotguns for SHTF.

Best Uses for 2 ¾ and 3-Inch Shells

You can take out small animals with a small shot. It’s ideal to use 2 ¾ inch shells for target shooting. These shells work perfectly for hunting wild birds in the early months of the year. Also, if your shooting range is within 20 to 30 yards, the 2 ¾ inch shotshells can still hit the target. 

However, some hunters prefer using larger shots to kill at a more extended range and use fewer pellets. The 3-inch shell is best for hunting with a 12 or 20-gauge gun. 

Sometimes, you need the additional space in a 3-inch shell for non-lead shots. Non-lead pellets are less dense and require more space than an equivalent number of lead pellets of a similar size. You don’t need the extra space for target loads. 

Larger shots penetrate more effectively. Therefore, they’re more valuable when hunting larger animals. Additionally, as the weather becomes colder and you need to hunt birds from 40 to 50 yards (37 to 46 meters) away, a 3-inch shell will provide the knockdown power you need. 

For self-defense, the standard shells are 2 ¾ inches. There’s usually no good reason for using anything heavier against humans. The longer 3-inch shells provide more pellets at a higher velocity to increase range or fend off deadlier animals. However, it’s not necessary for your protection in or around your home. 

Shot pattern density is critical to prevent stray pellets from causing damage to your loved ones or home. You can optimize your shotgun ammunition for home defense and design it to produce a tighter shot pattern than hunting ammunition. 

If you ever have to defend yourself in your home, the last thing to worry about is the size of your ammunition. If you hit the target, either 2 ¾ inch or 3-inch shells will stop the intruder. If you engage with a criminal inside your home, you want all pellets to hit the target, especially if your loved ones are still in the home. 

Does the Length of a Shotgun Shell Matter?

The length of a shotgun shell doesn’t matter because the shell’s headspace and the barrel (chamber walls) are straight. The difference between 2 ¾ inch shells and 3-inch shells is negligible because it’s safe to fire once you place the shell inside the barrel. 

Modern-day 12-gauge shells range from 2 ½ – 3 ½ inches with varying shot charges. A 3-inch shotgun can safely fire 2 ¾ and 3-inch shells, while 3 ½ inch shells can fire 12-gauge shells of any size. 

Sometimes, a shotgun can chamber different lengths of a specific gauge but fail to fire all the shells reliably. Always consult the manufacturer’s manual to determine the best load for it. It’s critical to remember that you cannot interchange shells of a different gauge. Such an error can damage the firearm and cause serious injury. 

2 ¾ vs. 3 Inch Shell Recoil

The amount of smokeless gunpowder in the shells distinguishes 2 ¾ from 3-inch shells. A 3-inch shell produces about 100% more recoil than a 2 ¾ inch shell because the 3-inch shells hold more gun powder which translates to more significant recoil. 

When necessary, the 2 ¾ inch shells have less recoil and quicker follow-up shots. They can pump pellets quickly and return to the target. They produce more rounds and a faster recovery time. 

A light 12 gauge 3-inch has a sharp recoil because the powder in shotshells burns faster. They get more shots for a denser pattern when hunting from a distance. 

2 ¾ vs. 3 Inch Shells for Turkey

When hunting turkey, you’ll need shells that can penetrate all the layers of feathers if your headshot is off-target. Sometimes, a 3-inch shell will come in handy for the job. However, you can still hit your target if you set your decoy at the proper distance and use a powerful 2 ¾ shotgun. 

When comparing 2 ¾ to 3-inch shells, you can put more pellets in a 3-inch than a 2 ¾ shell, so it’s more about range. You can hit a turkey in the short range with a 2 ¾ shell with no need for a turkey choke. You stand a better chance of taking a long-range turkey with bigger pellets, a full choke, and a 3-inch shotgun. 

2 ¾ vs. 3 Inch Shells for Deer

Hunting cartridges and bandoleer on camouflage background

The typical 2 ¾ inch buckshot is designed to hit deer roughly 50 yards (46 meters). It has less recoil and an additional round of capacity. The 3-inch shells have a slower velocity due to a heavier payload. They’re not worth the added cost, lower capacity, substantial recoil, and worse patterns. 

Chamber pressure is the one thing that limits a shotgun. High velocity 2 ¾ inch shells max out the pressure accurately. The 3-inch slugs burn slower to gain higher muzzle velocity but are still less accurate and slower than the 2 ¾ slugs. 

For the 2 ¾ buckshot, less recoil will allow you to shoot more accurately. Accuracy eclipses power; the amount of lead you use is inconsequential if you miss the target. 

2 ¾ vs. 3 Inch Shells for Ducks

As a duck hunter, consider the length of your shotgun as it impacts how much charge and shot payload you can release every time you pull the trigger. Most waterfowl hunters avoid the 2 ¾ inch shells because of their limitations regarding the amount of charge and shot. 

The shotshells you use for hunting waterfowl should be lead-free. The shells may use non-lead shots like steel to avoid lead poisoning if the fowl ingest it. 

Lead is denser than steel; therefore, a more significant shot size is needed for steel to maintain the pellet energy level. To keep the pellet count up, you’ll need 3-inch shells. 

The 3-inch shells hold more shots, but they also generate a significant recoil. If you choose a more extended shell to shoot a duck, you can pair it with an open choke to help create a more extensive pattern that will catch a fast-flying duck. 

Parting Shot

Your choice of shells will depend on the purpose of your gun. The 2 ¾ inch shells are suitable for hunting deer and turkey and for in-house home defense against human intruders. The 3-inch shells work better for ducks and other waterfowl. 

You can try different loads to see what works for you. However, always check the manufacturer’s specifications for safety guidelines.

For more, check out Pump Action vs. Semi-Auto Shotgun for Hunting | Pros and Cons.