A shotshell is one of the most vital pieces of equipment in a hunter’s supply. But what’s the history behind them, how do they work and what makes them ideal for waterfowl hunting?

A shotgun can be used to hunt every wild game in Arkansas.

“The shotgun is probably the most versatile gun that is used for hunting,” said Ronald Evans, product line manager of shotshells at firearms maker Remington.

Previously, the lead shotshell was the standard in the waterfowling world. Starting in 1986, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service phased out the use of lead shot for waterfowl hunting, and by the 1991-92 season, the ban had taken full effect.

Lead shot has a density of around 11 grams per cc, allowing it to have enough energy to travel a fair distance when shooting. It was banned for fear of waterfowl lead poisoning.

Nowadays, shot comes in several different materials.

“When you get into duck hunting, there are three, distinct types of shot. You have steel, which is around 8.6 grams per cc density. Steel, for the price, is what most everybody shoots in waterfowl because those other, higher-density shot materials are more expensive,” Evans said. “Then you have bismuth, which is a little more expensive than steel, and then you get up into the TSS material which is mainly in your turkey load.”


Common Gauges



.410, 20, 12



20, 12



28. 20, 12

3,2,1 (large); 3,4,5,6 (small)


20, 12

Buck shot or slug


20 or larger*

Only rifled slugs*

*Required by Arkansas law

The density of the shot pellets determines not only how far the shot will travel but how much knock-down power the projectile has.

Depending on where you hunt duck — rice fields or flooded timber — determines the type of shot needed.

“We have a lot of rice fields, but we’re known for green timber, flooded timber. That’s what people come to Arkansas for, to hunt flooded green timber. When you’re in that, you can use a smaller shot,” Evans said. “But when you get into timber, depending on if it’s a smaller hole or green timber, you’re closer and you can go up in shot size with a more open choke and not tear up a bird so bad. It actually makes your shot accuracy go up because you’ve got a more open choke shot pattern with a lot more shot in because it’s smaller.”

For rice fields, a modified tube might be the better option, as it’s more constrictive. By moving to a modified choke, the range is extended because of a tighter pattern.

As for full choke, Evans said that it’s important to make sure the tube has been rated for a steel load.

“Steel inherently patterns tighter than lead, but because it’s harder to push steel through a tighter, constricted choke tube, you can push that choke tube out,” he said.

Bismuth and TSS, however, are more malleable and manage just fine when paired with a full choke.

Despite changes in materials, the 12 gauge has remained king in the duck hunting world. But these days, the 28 gauge has gained popularity.

“A 12 gauge is bigger. The diameter of the bore of the gun is bigger. So, therefore, the shotshell has the potential of having more pellets in it when you go with a bigger shell,” said Joel Strickland, creator of the web series Surviving Duck Season. “So when you go with a 28 gauge, it’s like your pinky finger size-wise, and you can’t get nearly as many pellets in that. So in order to make that work, you really need to go with a smaller size shot.”