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Best Shot Size and Shells for Duck Hunting: A Comprehensive Guide

Duck hunting is a sport that has been cherished for centuries, going back to the time of ancient civilizations. Today, it remains an exciting and rewarding outdoor activity enjoyed by hunters around the world. One key factor in duck hunting success is choosing the right shot size and shells.

This guide will explain the importance of selecting the best shot size for ducks and shells for duck hunting, as well as provide an overview of the different types of shells available on the market, for successful duck and goose hunting.

The Importance of Shot Size and Shells in Duck Hunting

Choosing the right shot size and shells is one of the most important aspects of successful waterfowl hunting. The size and type of shot will determine how effective your shooting is.

To ensure a successful hunt, it’s important to choose the correct shot size and shells for the job at hand. This means taking into account factors such as range, environment, game birds, and other elements that could impact your success rate.

Understanding Shot Size for Duck Hunting

Shot size refers to the diameter of the pellets contained in a shotgun shell. Shotguns are usually loaded with lead or steel shot, which comes in various sizes ranging from tiny birdshot up to large buckshot. Each type of shot has its unique characteristics and uses, so it’s important to know exactly what type of shot you need and duck hunting gear before heading out on a duck hunt.

Birdshot is the smallest size and is best used for close-range shooting at small game birds such as ducks or doves. Medium-sized shots such as BBs or No. 4s are best for longer-range shots at larger game birds like geese or turkeys. Heavier loads such as buckshot or slugs can be used for long-range shooting at large animals, but should only be used with extreme caution during waterfowl hunting since they tend to cause excessive damage to feathers and meat.

Selecting the Best Shells for Duck Hunting

Once you’ve determined the correct shot size, it’s time to select the best shells for your duck hunting needs. There are several different types of shotgun shells available on the market, so it’s important to do some research before making a purchase.

The most common types of shells are lead, steel shot, and non-toxic. Lead shot is the cheapest option but tends to cause more damage to waterfowl due to its soft nature and is toxic for the meat. Steel shot is more expensive but offers reduced recoil and improved accuracy at longer ranges. Non-toxic shells are made from various materials such as bismuth or tungsten, which are safer for the environment and reduce pellets’ toxic effects on duck meat.

When selecting the best shells for your hunt, it’s also important to consider factors such as range, budget, hunting environment, and target game birds. Taking all of these elements into account will help you find the shotgun shells that best suit your needs.

Comparing Different Gauge Shells for Duck Hunting

The gauge of a shotgun shell is another factor to consider when selecting the best shells for hunting ducks. Gauge refers to the diameter of the shell’s bore, with smaller numbers indicating larger bores and vice versa. The most common gauges are 12, 16, and 20, but there are also other sizes available as well.

A comparison between 20-gauge and 12-gauge shells can help illustrate their differences. A 12-gauge shell has a larger bore than a 20-gauge shell, which means it can hold more pellets per shot. This makes it better suited for long-range shooting at large game birds such as geese. In contrast, a 20-gauge shell has a smaller bore and is better suited for close-range shooting at small game birds such as ducks.

When it comes to recoil, 20-gauge shells tend to produce less of a kick than 12-gauge shells due to their lighter payloads. This makes them easier on the shoulder and more enjoyable for novice hunters. However, they may not be powerful enough for long-range shots or heavier game birds such as geese.

For most duck hunting scenarios, a 20-gauge shell is usually the best choice since it offers reduced recoil while still providing plenty of power for short and medium-range shots. However, if you’re looking to hunt larger game birds such as snow geese, then a 12-gauge shell may be the better option.

Best Shot Size and Shells for Different Types of Ducks

The best shot size and shells for hunting different types of ducks will depend on the type of game bird you’re targeting. For example, mallards are large game birds with thick feathers and tough skin so they require larger shot sizes such as BB or No. 2 to penetrate their outer layers. On the other hand, wood ducks have thinner feathers and softer skin which means smaller shot sizes like No. 8 or No. 9 can be used.

Tips for Using the Best Shot Size and Shells for Duck Hunting

When using the best shot size and shells for duck hunting, it’s important to follow some basic safety tips to ensure a successful hunt. First, always make sure your gun is properly maintained and loaded before heading out on the water. This means checking that the barrel is clean and free of obstructions and making sure your ammunition is in good condition.

Next, familiarize yourself with the shooting techniques for different shot sizes and shell types. For example, lead shells require a slightly looser spread than steel shells since they tend to come apart quickly when fired. It’s also important to practice proper sighting techniques so you can accurately aim at your target at various distances.

Finally, develop strategies for different types of ducks. For instance, mallards tend to stay in large flocks so you may want to plan on taking multiple shots at once. Wood ducks are more solitary and can be more easily hunted by stalking them from the shoreline or in a boat. Teal also travel in large groups but their smaller size makes them difficult targets for hunters, so patience is key when hunting these birds.

Popular Brands and Products for Duck Hunting Shells

When it comes to choosing the right brand and product for duck hunting shells, there are several popular brands to consider. Remington and Winchester are some of the most well-known companies in the industry. Each company offers a wide range of products that vary in price and performance.

Safety Precautions for Duck Hunting

Safety should always be a top priority when duck hunting. Make sure to wear the proper safety gear such as ear plugs, eye protection, and a life jacket whenever you’re on or near water. Don’t forget to check local regulations before heading out so you can make sure your hunt is legal and compliant with all laws.

When shooting, always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction and never shoot at objects that are too far away or at live birds. Be aware of other hunters in the area and follow proper etiquette by not stepping into another hunter's line of fire or crowding their spot. Lastly, use common sense when handling firearms and remember to treat every gun as if it were loaded.

A guided duck hunt will ensure you are working with professional guides who can help you maintain safety during the hunt.


Whether you’re just getting started with duck hunting or looking to upgrade your gear, selecting the right shot size and shell type is essential for a successful hunt. Choosing the right brand and product can be tricky, but by doing some research and comparing different options, you can find the perfect ammunition for your needs.

Finally, always remember to follow safety precautions when handling firearms to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. With these tips in mind, you’ll be ready to hit the water and have an amazing time chasing ducks.

If you are looking for a guided duck-hunting experience, we at Thunderbird be sure to check out our website for more information. We offer guided hunting trips in Saskatchewan Canada and have experienced guides who will ensure you a safe and successful hunt!

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