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Birdshot vs. Buckshot | What’s the Difference?

This article takes you over the differences between birdshot and buckshot, giving you a better idea of what each round can do. You can think of it as your ultimate guide to shotgun ammo.

The main difference between birdshot and buckshot is their penetrating power. Buckshot pellets are larger and can penetrate two or three walls, while birdshot pellets are smaller and don’t have much penetration power. However, both rounds are lethal at close range.

Now, let’s define each type of ammo and then discuss the differences as well as the pros and cons.

What Is a Birdshot?

Birdshot is a type of shotgun ammunition that is used for hunting birds. The pellets are small and numerous, making them effective for taking down smaller game. The size of the shells also makes birdshot less likely to penetrate deeply into walls, making them a safer choice for home defense.

Birdshots can be identified by their size designation. They’re typically marked with a number from 6 to 8, which refers to the size of the pellets in millimeters. As the size of the pellets decreases, so does their range.

Open Shotgun Shell With Birdshot Spilling Out

Most people use birdshot for hunting game birds like quail, dove, and pheasant. However, it can also be used to take down small mammals like rabbits and squirrels. It can also penetrate an unprotected human torso up to about 25 yards (23 meters).

What Is a Buckshot?

Buckshot is a type of shotgun ammunition larger in size than birdshot. It comprises lead or steel pellets that are typically about .25 inches (6.35 mm) in diameter. This size allows them to travel further and do more damage than birdshot.

The easiest way to tell the difference between birdshot and buckshot is by judging their size. Birdshot will be much smaller than buckshot. And while birdshot can cause damage, buckshot is specifically designed for hunting purposes, as it can take down larger targets.

Open Shotgun Shell With Buckshot Spilling Out

This ammo is particularly popular for deer hunting, as the larger pellets are more likely to cause a lethal wound. Buckshot is also available in a variety of different sizes, making it a versatile choice for any hunter.

Differences Between Birdshot and Buckshot

Aside from their penetrating power, buckshot and birdshot are also used for different purposes. Here’s everything you need to know:

Pattern Spread

Birdshot spreads out more than buckshot, making it ideal for home defense or hunting small game. Still, many pellets will concentrate in the middle, resulting in significant damage. The pattern will also spread out further if the shotgun is fired at a distance.

On the other hand, Buckshot doesn’t spread as much as birdshot and will penetrate deeper. It’s suitable for hunting larger game but would be risky in a home defense situation. A lead pallet could pass through several walls, injuring family members or neighbors.

Related Pump Action vs. Semi-Auto Shotgun for Hunting | Pros and Cons.


The range for birdshot is also shorter than for buckshot. Buckshot can travel up to 500 yards (457 meters) before it loses power, while birdshot is effective for about 30 yards (27 meters).

This means that if you’re hunting deer, buckshot is a better option. However, birdshot is a better choice if you’re going after a smaller game or want to use your shotgun for home defense.


Birdshot is also cheaper than buckshot, making it a more affordable option for many shooters. The main reason for this price difference is that buckshot is produced with solid lead pellets. Birdshot pellets are typically made with a steel core covered in a thin layer of lead.

This material difference also accounts for the difference in penetration power. Buckshot will cause more damage than birdshot, but birdshot is still lethal at close range. In the end, it all comes down to what you’re using your shotgun for.

Stopping Power

Buckshot is also more effective than birdshot when it comes to stopping power. A single buckshot pellet can take down an animal, while birdshot will usually just injure it.

This is why buckshot is the preferred choice for hunting large game. 

Size of Pallets

The size of the pallets is also a consideration you’ll want to keep in mind when making a choice. Buckshot pellets are typically 9mm in diameter, while birdshot pellets are between .2 and .3 inches (6 and 8mm).

This difference in size means there are more pellets in a buckshot cartridge than in a birdshot one. As you can imagine, with more shells, come more chances to reach your target.

Buckshot and Birdshot in Green Gunpowder

Pros and Cons of Birdshot

Here are a few of the pros and cons of using birdshot:

                            Pros                          Cons
Good for hunting a variety of small gameLacks stopping power
Less likely to penetrate walls than buckshotSmaller pallets mean less damage
InexpensiveRange is limited

Pros and Cons of Buckshot

Buckshot also has its pros and cons. Here are the most relevant ones:

                            Pros                            Cons
More powerful than birdshotMore expensive
Can take down larger targetsCan penetrate multiple walls easily
Versatile, available in a variety of sizesNot great at hunting small game

12 Gauge vs. 20 Gauge Shells

When choosing shotgun ammo, you have two main options: the 12 gauge or the 20 one. But how can you decide which one is right for you?

The 12 gauge shell is the most popular choice, as it’s larger and more powerful than its 20 counterpart. It can take down bigger targets and has a longer range. However, it’s also more expensive and more challenging to handle.

This shell can be found in birdshot, buckshot, and slug varieties. The slug is a single projectile designed for larger targets like bears, while the birdshot and buckshot are designed for smaller game.

The 20 gauge shell is smaller and less powerful than the 12. However, it’s more affordable and easier to handle, making it a better choice for beginners or those who aren’t as experienced with shotguns.

This shell is available in birdshot and buckshot varieties, with the birdshot being ideal for hunting small game.

So, which one should you choose?

It really depends on your needs and what you plan to use your shotgun for. If you’re looking for a powerful shell that can take down big targets, then the 12 gauge is the right choice for you. However, if you’re looking for an affordable home defense round, the 20 gauge is the way to go.

No matter which one you choose, make sure to practice with your shotgun so that you’re familiar with its recoil and handling. This will help you be safer and much more accurate when you use it.

Related 6 Best Shotguns for Beginners.

Other Calibers of Shotgun Ammo

While the 12 gauge and 20 gauge shells are the most popular choices, other calibers of shotgun ammo are also available. Here are a few of the most common ones:

  • .410: This is a small caliber shotgun often used to hunt small game. It’s less powerful than the 12 and 20-gauge shells but is more affordable and easier to handle.
  • .357: This is a handgun cartridge that can also be used in a shotgun. It’s more powerful than the .410 but less powerful than the 12 gauge.
  • .45: This is a large caliber cartridge designed for hunting large game. It’s more powerful than the .357 but less powerful than the 12 gauge.
  •  .10: This is the largest caliber shotgun shell available and is more powerful than the 12 gauge. It is often used for hunting large game such as bears and deer.

What Is the Length of Shotgun Shells?

The length of shotgun shells can vary, but they are typically about 2.5 to 3 inches (63.5 to 76.2 mm) long. This length includes the shell casing and the projectile.

Shell length is a crucial factor to consider when choosing a shotgun for home defense. You want to make sure that the shell is long enough to fit comfortably inside your gun, while not getting stuck in the barrel.

It’s also important to consider the length of the projectile. The longer the projectile, the more extensive the distance it can travel. Therefore, if you’re looking for a shell with an extended range, you’ll want to choose one with a longer projectile.

Choose the shell that best suits your needs, and, as always, make sure to practice with it so that you’re familiar with its recoil and handling.

What Is a High or Low Brass Shell?

When looking for shotgun ammo, you’ll likely often see the terms “high brass” and “low brass” thrown around. But what do they mean?

The term “high brass” is used to describe shotgun shells made up of higher-quality brass. This type of brass is stronger than its lower-quality counterpart used in low brass shells. Low-quality shells are made from poor-quality brass. They’re of inferior quality but less expensive.

High brass shells are much more expensive, but they offer significantly more power and a longer range. They’re often used for hunting large game.

Low brass shells are typically used for target shooting and home defense. They offer less power than their counterpart, but are more affordable and easier to handle.

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Low Recoil Shotgun Loads

Father teaching son to use a shotgun

If you’re looking for a shotgun load that has less recoil, you’re in luck! In today’s market, there’s no shortage of highly efficient, easy-to-use rounds that cause little to no recoil. 

Low recoil rounds are designed to reduce the amount of pushback you feel when you shoot.

This quality makes them excellent for beginners looking to gain a bit of accuracy when they shoot. Additionally, they’re also great for more experienced, but smaller-bodied folks who are looking to handle their firearm with a bit more ease. 

Low recoil rounds are available in both birdshot and buckshot varieties; however, they’re not as powerful as regular rounds, so they aren’t the best choice for those looking to hunt larger game.

However, they’re very well-suited for target shooting or home defense. Therefore, if you’re looking for a load that will minimize pushback and makes it easier for you to shoot accurately, low recoil rounds are a smart choice.

Lead-Free Birdshot or Buckshot Shells

While it is not currently possible to get birdshot or buckshot shells that are 100% lead-free, some rounds come close.

Lead-free birdshot shells are available in steel rounds. These rounds are not as powerful as lead birdshot shells, but they’re still effective for hunting small game.

Lead-free buckshot shells are available in copper or steel shot. Although these rounds are not as powerful as lead buckshot shells, they’re still effective for hunting large game.

If you’re looking for a lead-free option that is still effective for hunting small and large game, then steel or copper birdshot or buckshot shells may be worth a try.

What Is the Best Shotgun for Home Defense?

Remington 870

The best shotgun gauge for home defense is usually short-range and lighter. For example, birdshot would be a better alternative than buckshot. However, the ideal choice for you will depend on your gun experience and your personal preferences. 

For those who are new to shotguns, a 20 gauge may be a better choice. It has less recoil than a 12 gauge, making it easier for you to shoot accurately.

On the other hand, if you’re experienced and prefer a more powerful round, then a 12 gauge may be a better choice.

I want to reiterate that regardless of your experience level or preferences, it’s crucial to practice with your chosen shotgun before relying on it for home defense. Doing so can help you be much better prepared if you ever need to use it in a real-world situation.

Parting Shot

The shotgun is a versatile weapon that many hunters, law enforcement agents, and even homeowners carry to protect themselves. However, the type of ammunition available for these shotguns can differ depending on what the user is looking for.

Birdshot pellets are smaller, and the shotgun is typically used for hunting small game such as birds. Buckshot has larger shells and is used for hunting larger game. Whatever you choose, make sure to be proficient in handling and shooting the ammo and firearm you select.

For more, check out The 9 Best Shotguns for SHTF.