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Can You Hunt Deer with a Shotgun? | What You Need to Know

Hunting deer with a shotgun is something that has fallen out of fashion. Instead, people prefer to hunt with high-powered deer rifles that allow them to take shots at game over 300 yards away. So can you hunt deer with a shotgun?

Hunting deer with a shotgun could be illegal in your area, and restrictions could even prohibit specific types of ammo and different shotgun gauges. Going into the woods without knowing the laws could be disastrous for you and your hunting season. So read on and learn everything you need to know about hunting deer with a shotgun.

White-Tailed Deer Buck in a Field Looking Toward Camera

Hunting Deer with a Shotgun

Some of the most common ways people hunt for deer are with rifles or bows. These two weapons allow hunters to take down animals up close and over 300 yards away. However, hunting with a shotgun is a bit more intricate, and there are even rounds that will enable you to reach out and touch your target at 200 to 250 yards.

What is the Best Shotgun for Hunting Deer?


Choosing a shotgun for deer is critical. First, you must have a round that doesn’t maim the animal. The 12-gauge is the preferred shotgun for deer hunting. It has a round that will put the deer down but has a range of under 100 yards.

Some 12-gauges that can be used for deer hunting are as follows:

  • Semi-Automatic – A semi-automatic shotgun is one of your best chances to take down a deer cleanly. The feeding system allows the shooter to make several shots without having to pump or take their eye off the target. Semi-autos could be illegal for deer hunting in your state, and you should check with the game board before heading out.
  • Pump – One of the most used deer hunting shotguns is the old reliable pump shotgun. The pump is effective against deer out to 100 yards, and there is no chance of misfeeding or other feeding malfunctions.
  • Lever Action – These rare shotguns can easily take down large deer. They work like a rifle in that you must manually pull back the lever, which ejects the round. Then move the slide back forward, loading the next round.

12-gauge is the most commonly used shotgun for deer. Some folks might want to go out with a 20-gauge, which will be suitable, but anything larger than .410 should be able to take down the game humanely. Remember that your goal is to take the deer down and collect the carcass. If you use a smaller round, you could only harm the deer and make it suffer.

Should you Hunt Deer with a Shotgun?

If hunting deer in your area with a shotgun is legal, it is one of the best options for harvesting the game. However, there are some situations where using a rifle or bow could be a better option. Remember that the terrain in which you hunt will be a significant factor in how you hunt. Use the tools best suited for your situation for the best results.

Some things that could make hunting with a shotgun much harder on the hunter are:

  • Foliage – A shotgun might not get the job done if there are dense trees or vegetation between you and the deer. You must use large buckshot or slug when hunting for bigger game, and sticks or limbs could force your round to miss the target.
  • Range – Some specific shotgun rounds can hit targets at over 200 yards. Sabot rounds are covered with a plastic shell that allows the slug to rifle and reach longer distances. If you are using standard buckshot, you can only fire on animals within 100 yards at most. A good range is between 50 and 100 yards for a shotgun.

The area you hunt and the range you choose to engage your target are critical when hunting with a shotgun. By ignoring these factors, you could have a rough day in the woods or be forced to take multiple shots at an animal to get a clean kill. Too many attempts at the deer could mean precious meat is wasted or the deer gets away.

Is it Legal to Hunt Deer with a Shotgun?

Father teaching son to use a shotgun

The answer depends on where you are hunting. Some states encourage hunters to use shotguns as they have a better chance of taking the deer down in one shot. In addition, shotguns allow you to be much closer to the deer, which could mean everything when using slugs and buckshot.

Some ways to find out if deer hunting with a shotgun is legal in your state are:

  • Game Warden – If you want to know the laws of the woods, you should track down a Game Warden and pepper them with questions. They are trained in the hunting laws for your area and will have the insight you might not find with an internet search.
  • Internet Search – While not as dependable as a Game Warden, going to the internet to search for laws regarding deer hunting is a fantastic idea. The state will have the regulations posted on its website and could even have a list of restricted gauge types.

State laws vary from county to county as well. If you have any questions regarding the legality of hunting with your shotgun, you should visit the US Fish and Wildlife Service Office and talk with Game Wardens. If that isn’t an option, do a thorough search on the internet to find the information you need. Some laws will take weapons and vehicles from those who hunt outside the law.


Hunting deer with a shotgun is typical and is one of the best ways to take down your buck with a single shot. However, you must use a 12 gauge or larger round, or the round might not do enough damage to stop the animal and force you to fire multiple shots or miss the deer altogether.

If you have questions about the legality of hunting with your shotgun, you should speak with someone in Fish and Wildlife or your local Game Warden’s office. Breaking state hunting laws could make you forfeit your hunting license and lose precious guns and vehicles.

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