Choosing the best shot size for your quarry

Shotgun cartridges

There is a confusing array of numbers on the side of cartridge boxes; take Mark's advice and choose wisely! - Credit: Archant

Mark Ripley advises on how to choose the best shot size for your quarry, whether that's game, pigeons, rabbits, wildfowl, or even fox! 

Choosing the right cartridge for your chosen quarry is very much a subject of personal choice, and we all have our own chosen cartridges, usually based on previous successes.

When it comes to brands, there’s often not a lot of difference between them, apart from perhaps the box and the price! That said, a brand you trust to serve you well inspires confidence, and this is often the key to its success!

In reality, the most important factor is going to be the combination of shot size and charge weight. A heavier charge will add more pellets to the pattern and increase the potential effectiveness of the chosen cartridge, but will come at the price of additional felt recoil. If using a semi-auto, this may be an advantage in the form of more reliable cycling, However, in a light side-by-side game gun, this could make shooting uncomfortable for some and therefore have a detrimental effect on one’s shooting.

No. 6
By and large, many of us will favour No.6 shot size with a charge weight of around 30g or 32g as a good all-rounder. This is a popular load for pigeons, pheasants, rabbits and general game and for a good reason – it’s a very effective combination of a good size shot and a good spread.

No.5
Sometimes though, on slightly tougher game such as crows or high pheasants, going for a slightly larger shot size, such as No.5, gives us a little extra punch. 

Crows in particular can be tough little numbers, and I know I’ve shot plenty in the past that have taken both barrels of No.6s and hardly flinched before seeing them stagger in flight and dropping in the distance.

For larger game such as duck, I would also favour No.5s and for geese I would step up to anything from No.3s to BBs. I would go for a heavier charge weight too, especially if they were likely to be particularly high.

BBs
When it comes to foxing with a shotgun, I will always go with around 50g of BBs and through a tight choke to ensure clean kills. Foxes are extremely tough creatures and I will generally use a semi-auto. Even if I bowl one over with the first shot, I will fire a quick second shot if I see there is still any slight movement.

No.7 or No.8
As a rule, there’s not much call for a shot size smaller than No.6 for game, with perhaps the exception of snipe. These are small fast-moving birds that don’t need a large pellet to ensure a clean kill. It’s better to use a size No.7 or No.8 with these birds to give a better pattern and higher probability of connecting with these quick and evasive little birds.