Shotgun Shot Size for Small Game
Kevin Felts 12.14.16
When using a shotgun for small game, there is a debate on whether to use #4 or #6 shot. Both camps have a loyal following that will argue for their side until the cows come home. Let’s see if we can lay this matter to rest.
I was raised in southeast Texas. Every fall, my dad would take my brother and I squirrel hunting. We would hunt an area of old growth pine and oak trees. Native trees around here include loblolly and long leaf pines, along with pen and red oaks. This old growth timber can reach heights of 100 feet.
For the sake of discussion, let’s only use steel shot. Lead is toxic and has been banned for duck hunting. Small game hunters should follow suit and abandon lead in favor of steel.
Foot Pounds of Energy
When using a shotgun in old growth timber, it is not just a matter of hitting the squirrel. The shot has to have enough energy to knock the animal off the tree limb.
#4 shot is .130″ in diameter, 192 pellets per ounce.
#6 shot is .110″ in diameter, 315 pellets per ounce.
According to the Remington website, at 30 yards:
- #4 shot, steel, has 3.5 foot pounds of energy per pellet.
- #6 shot, steel, has 1.8 foot pounds of energy per pellet.
Between the two, which is the more humane to use? The #4 shot is the more humane as it retains more of its energy.
#4 shot is .020″ larger and carries almost twice the foot pounds of energy as #6 shot. With that in mind, is there any reason to use #6 shot on small game?
Several years ago a buddy of mine and I were hunting some squirrels and rabbits to make a stew. We landed a few squirrels and were walking through a hay field to get some rabbits.
A nice sized cotton tail took off running right in front of us. My buddy was shooting #6 shot out of his 12 gauge, while I was shooting #4 shot. My buddy shot first and hit the rabbit. It rolled over, jumped up and took off running again. I fired off a round, which hit the rabbit. This time it stopped in its tracks.
Upon skinning the rabbit, we found the #6 shot had been stopped by the rib cage and the long bones. The #6 shot did not have enough energy to humanly kill the rabbit.
On the other hand, the #4 broke the ribs and dealt the deadly blow.
I have seen this example repeated in squirrels, where #6 shot was unable to break the ribs and enter the chest cavity.
Humanly Taking Small Game
As hunters, we have a responsibility to make sure the animal does not go to waste. This means using enough gun to dispatch game animals in a humane manner.