The shotgun cartridge, tips and tricks.

A Marksman Training Systems' post

The shotgun cartridge, tips and tricks.
July 31, 2023 Marksman

Will my cartridge’s choice influence my hit?

Yes! Your hit is a direct consequence of your cartridge’s choice. It is therefore important to choose your cartridge with full knowledge of the facts, depending on the type of game you are hunting, the distance at which you are used to shooting it and your shotgun’s caliber. In partnership with ballistics experts from BASC (British Association for Hunting & Conservation), Marksman ST-2 shooting simulator helps you choose your cartridge.


3-5 pellets | Energy  | Penetration

The effectiveness of a shotgun shot whose goal is to kill its game net depends on the following two factors:

  • The number of pellets affecting the bird: between 3 and 5 pellets minimum to be effective;
  • The speed of the pellets on impact: a partridge being more fragile than a duck, the speed of the pellets necessary to penetrate (the projectile must pass through the skin, the flesh and be able to break the bones) and kill the partridge (the projectile must have a shock power such that it will cause paralysis of the nervous system and annihilate any reaction) is therefore less than that necessary speed to kill a duck.

Cartridge’s specs

Pellet type | Pellet size  | Pellet charge  | Caliber

The image below shows the anatomy of a shotgun cartridge. The shotgun’s strikers strike the primer, which has the effect of igniting the powder and propelling the pellets at more than 400 m/s at the exit of the barrel.

Cartridge anatomy


The choice of cartridge is very important and will have a real influence on your shot. The main criteria to be taken into account will be:

  • Pellet type: lead, steel or bismuth;
  • Pellet size: from 1 (4mm) to 9 (2mm);
  • Pellet charge: 24 grams – 36 grams.

How will each of these criteria influence your shot?

Pellet type

The most commonly used pellet is lead. It is used for all types of game. The only time when lead is not used is when prohibited. In certain countries, it is forbidden in wet areas (30m from a water area), when pulling towards the water area. In this case we will lean towards steel or bismuth.

Wet zone - Lead forbidden

Wet area – Lead forbidden

Pellet size

The pellet number is dependent on the pellet diameter: the smaller the number, the larger the pellet diameter. Thus a 6 cartridge has larger pellets than a 9 cartridge.

Pellet sizes by Marksman Training Systems

Likewise, the larger the number, the more pellets will be in the cartridge. Here is an example of the number of pellets for a cartridge loaded in 32 grams:

Number of pellets per cartridge size

Pellet charge  | Caliber

The charge of the shot is also an important element in the choice of shotgun cartridge. It is often considered to be related to shotgun’s caliber. Thus, with a 12 gauge shotgun, the charge will often be 32 or 36 grams; for a 16 gauge, the charge will be 30 grams, for a 20 gauge, it will be 28 grams and for a 28 gauge, it will be 24 grams. Pellet charge has no impact on pellet speed, but only on the number of pellets present in the cartridge. Here is an example for a #6 cartridge:

Number of pellets per shot charge

It is interesting to note that by comparing the two tables above, we see that pellet charge (caliber) has less influence on the number of pellets than the pellet size. It is therefore important to choose the right cartridge.

Which one is faster?

Heavier = faster | Different pellet charge = same speed

Lead is heavier than steel, so it goes faster due to its greater inertia and therefore allows you to have a better killing range. Likewise, bismuth has a weight situated between lead and steel, and therefore slows down less quickly than steel in air; it is however much more expensive.

Pellet type speed by Marksman Training Systems


Here is an example for a #6 cartridge:

Pellet speed and distance by Marksman Training Systems

What is minimum pellet speed by game type?

We have therefore seen that pellet speed only depends on pellet size, with constant pellet type and barrel length. It does not depend on pellet charge. To succeed in defining what is the ideal pellet size for each type of game, it is necessary to know what is the minimum speed to kill it. Thus, the more fragile an animal, the lower the minimum necessary speed to kill it.

SMALL-GAME-Pellet-speed by Marksman Training Systems

Which pellet size for which game?

The 6 most versatile  | Always favor the same pellet size

This is what really interests us! Which pellet size should I use to get a killing shot between 35 and 40 meters?

SMALL-GAME-Pellet-size by Marksman Training Systems

We note that the most versatile pellet is lead 6 , which allows the shooting of ducks, pheasants, rabbits and pigeons. It can also be used for hare and partridge shooting, although it is not the most suitable.


This article will give you an idea of ​​which cartridges to use depending on your hunted game. However, other parameters are taken into account, such as the length of your barrel (the longer it is, the further you can shoot) or the size of your chokes (the tighter they are, the greater the power of the shock will be at long distance). Likewise, the advance you will need to put on your game will depend on its direction and distance, your swing being your best ally.

To conclude, we advise you to keep the same pellet number and the same cartridges for driven hunts, in order to get used to keeping the same lead over game. And don’t forget, start your movement well behind the game, bring it up at constant speed, pass it, pull and continue your movement! Come and try our hunting simulator to correct your imperfections and see the influence of the choice of your cartridge on your shot.