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The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Shot Size for Ducks

Welcome to the world of duck hunting! Here, the choice of shot size is key to your success. In this article, we'll dive into why selecting the right shot size matters for different types of ducks. We'll consider factors like range, choke, and personal preference. 

Some people wonder what type of shotgun pellets are allowed for waterfowl, whereas others want to know what are the best duck hunting shells or simply find the best all-around shot size for ducks and geese.

Whether you're aiming for small teal or big geese, understanding shot sizes and their impact is crucial for a successful and ethical hunt. So, let's explore our guide to make informed choices and level up your duck hunting experience!

Choosing the Best Shot Size: The Basics

Shot size refers to the size of the individual pellets or BBs inside a shotgun shell. These pellets act as projectiles when you fire a shotgun. When it comes to waterfowl hunting, picking the right shot size is super important for ethical and effective hunting.

Choosing the best duck hunting shells is key for a few reasons. First, it's all about ethical hunting. Using the correct shot size ensures a humane harvest. If you use a smaller shot, it might not have enough power to cleanly kill a duck, which means they could suffer.

Therefore, it’s not just about looking at the price of 20-gauge duck loads and getting them. You need to know what you’re buying, how to use it to your favor, and more!

Second, it's about getting an effective harvest. Ducks are tough birds, and their feathers give them some natural protection. Using the right shot size increases your chances of hitting vital organs and bringing down the bird quickly.

Third, we want to minimize wounding losses. Picking the proper shot size helps reduce the chances of birds getting injured and flying off without retrieval. This is all about responsible and sustainable hunting.

So, when you're choosing the best shotgun shells for duck hunting, there are a few things to consider. First, think about the specific duck species you're hunting. Different species vary in size and behavior, so do your research and choose shot size accordingly.

Next, think about the distance. How far can your shotgun reach, and what are the typical shooting distances in your hunting area? Smaller shot sizes might work for closer shots, while larger shot is needed for longer distances.

Of course, always make sure you're following local hunting regulations. They might specify the minimum shot size allowed for waterfowl hunting.

Lastly, consider the choke of your shotgun. The choke affects how wide the shot spreads. When you're choosing shot size, think about the choke to achieve the pattern density you want.

To sum it up, shot size is a big deal in waterfowl hunting. It affects both the ethical and effective sides of the hunt. So take the time to think about the factors we mentioned and choose the right shot size for the specific ducks and hunting conditions you come across. Happy hunting!

Types of Shot Size

Did you know that shot sizes for shotgun shells are numbered inversely? It's a bit counterintuitive, but smaller numbers actually indicate larger pellets. Let's break it down:

  • #6 Shot: This one is on the smaller side and is great for smaller ducks like teal or wood ducks. It provides good pattern density at close to moderate ranges, but might not have enough oomph for larger or more robust ducks.

  • #5 Shot: Slightly bigger than #6, #5 shot offers improved penetration while still maintaining a respectable pattern density. It's a solid choice for a variety of duck species at medium ranges.

  • #4 Shot: Now we're getting versatile! #4 shot strikes a balance between penetration and pattern density. It's effective for medium to large ducks and works well in different hunting scenarios.

  • #3 Shot: This one is larger and provides better penetration, making it suitable for larger ducks and longer shooting distances.

  • #2 Shot: Looking for something even larger? #2 shot is often chosen for hunting bigger ducks like mallards and pintails. It offers good penetration and pattern density at moderate ranges.

  • #1 Shot: #1 shot is on the larger side and is effective for ducks at longer distances. It's a solid choice for open-water hunting when shots tend to be farther away.

  • BBB Shot: Now we're talking big! BBB shot is typically used for larger waterfowl or geese. It provides excellent penetration, but keep in mind that the pattern might be sparser due to fewer pellets in the shell.

  • BB Shot: BB shot is also suitable for larger ducks and geese, striking a balance between penetration and pattern density.

When it comes to choosing the right shot size, it depends on the duck species you're targeting, the typical shooting distances, and your shotgun's choke. Smaller shot sizes work well for smaller ducks and closer shots, while larger shot sizes are better for bigger ducks and longer shots.

Understanding the behavior and size of the ducks you're hunting will help you select the most appropriate shot size for a humane and successful harvest. Oh, and don't forget to check local hunting regulations for any shot size limitations when it comes to waterfowl hunting.

Factors to consider when choosing shot size

When it comes to choosing the right shot size for duck hunting, there are a few things to keep in mind to make sure your hunt is effective and ethical:

  1. Range of the Shot: Think about how far away the duck is when you take your shot. If it's close, go for smaller shot sizes. For longer distances, larger shot sizes are better. Just consider the typical shooting distances in your hunting area.

  2. Size of the Duck: Ducks come in different sizes, so it makes sense to match the shot size to the bird. Smaller ducks like teal or wood ducks might need smaller shot sizes, while bigger species like mallards or geese might require larger shot sizes to really get the job done.

  3. Type of Choke: The choke of your shotgun affects the spread of the shot pattern. If you want a wider pattern, go for a more open choke-like cylinder or an improved cylinder. If you want a denser pattern, choose a tighter choke like modified or full. Just think about the distance you'll be shooting and the shot size you're using.

  4. Type of Shotgun: Different shotguns have different features that can affect how specific shot sizes perform. Pay attention to things like barrel length, action type, and bore diameter. It's all about finding the right match for your firearm.

  5. Personal Preference: Don't forget that personal experience and preference play a part in choosing shot size. Some hunters just have better luck with certain shot sizes based on their shooting style and history. So feel free to experiment and find what works best for you.

At the end of the day, the goal is to find a balance between good penetration and a dense shot pattern. Smaller shot sizes might give you more pellets in the pattern, but they might not penetrate as well. On the other hand, larger shot sizes offer better penetration but might result in a sparser pattern.

Knowing the behavior of the duck species you're targeting and understanding the conditions of your hunting area will help you make an informed decision. And don't forget to check local hunting regulations for any specific shot size requirements for waterfowl hunting in your area.

Recommendations for shot size

Choosing the right shot size is crucial for successful duck hunting. There are some recommendations you can follow to make sure you make the most out of your hunting experience.

For smaller duck species, like mallards and teal, shot sizes around #4 or #5 are usually a good fit. These shot sizes strike a balance between pattern density and penetration, making them effective for birds of this size.

On the other hand, when hunting larger ducks, such as geese, go for larger shot sizes like #2 or #1. These bigger pellets provide the necessary punch to take down larger waterfowl.

For longer shots, you'll need to use a larger shot size, even if you're aiming for smaller ducks. This compensates for the increased distance and ensures the pellets have enough power to hit the target effectively.

Lastly, your shotgun's choke constriction affects the spread of your shot pattern. If you're using a tight choke (e.g., full choke), you can use a smaller shot size since the tighter pattern concentrates the pellets. On the other hand, if you're using a wide choke (e.g., cylinder), you'll need to use a larger shot size to achieve a good pattern density.

Remember, these recommendations are general guidelines. Factors like the specific duck species, hunting conditions, and your shooting skills can influence shot size selection. 

It's valuable to experiment and practice to find the ideal combination of shot size and choke for your hunting needs. And always make sure to follow local hunting regulations and use shot sizes that comply with legal requirements for waterfowl hunting in your area.


In the end, choosing the right shot size for single or guided duck hunts is a personal decision. It really depends on factors like the size of the ducks, the choke of your shotgun, the shooting range, and your own preferences. 

To improve your hunting success, try out different shot sizes and take into account the specific conditions of each trip. There's no one-size-fits-all answer, but by considering these factors, you can fine-tune your selection and boost your effectiveness in the field.

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