Shotgun Shells for Target Practice: The Best of 2023
Shotguns are an absolute blast when it comes to target shooting, whether you’re just blowing away empty soda cans, running a 3Gun course, participating in your local turkey shoot, or demolishing clay pigeons.
Of course, no matter how good you and your shotgun are, sub-par ammo can hold you back no matter what kind of target shooting you’re doing.
To help with that, we set out to find the best shotgun shells for target practice, general plinking, and competition. I personally compete with shotguns in a variety of disciplines and was captain of my high-school shotgun team, so this is something near and dear to my heart as well.
After some testing, our top pick overall for general target shooting is good ole Winchester AA as it offers good shooting characteristics at a decent price, but we have a variety of recommendations below based on different types of shooting and types of target.
Here’s the list:
- Winchester AA 12 Gauge Amm0 #7 ½ Shot - Best Overall Shotgun Target Ammo
- Federal 12 Gauge Ammo - 5 Rounds of #4 Buck Ammunition - Best Target Buckshot
- Fiocchi Shooting Dynamics Target Load #7 ½ - Best Budget 12 Gauge Target Ammo
- Hornady American Gunner Reduced Recoil Slugs - Best 12 Gauge Target Slugs
- Remington Gun Club Target Ammo - Best Bulk 12 Gauge Shotshells
Let’s take a deep dive into each of these, starting with our top pick, and then we’ll cover some helpful info that should make it easier to choose the right 12 gauge ammo for your specific needs, and what kind of target shooting you’re doing.
The Best Shotgun Shells for Target Practice In 2023
Winchester AA 12 Gauge Ammo #7 ½ Shot
- Shot Type: #7½ shot
- Shot Weight: 1 1/8oz
- Muzzle Velocity: 1200fps
- Muzzle Energy: 1642 ft-lbs
- Casing Type: Low-Brass Polymer Case
- Low-felt recoil compared to similar birdshot
- Very tight and consistent patterning
- Cycles most semi-autos reliably
- Excellent hulls that reloaders will love
- More expensive than other similar birdshot
Why We Chose It
If you’re at all familiar with target shooting with a 12 gauge shotgun, this pick might not surprise you. I say that because Winchester AA is one of the most well-respected and well-loved lines of shotgun target ammo on the market (and has been for decades).
It patterns extremely well, and the specially-designed AA wad leads to some very dense shot placement on the target, whether you’re going after clays or just punching holes in paper. The powder charges for every shot combination in the line are carefully measured and calibrated to one another in order to provide maximum performance at target ranges.
The shot is concentric lead shot that is hardened with increased antimony in the alloy so that it keeps its shape more reliably and flies more consistently. It also means that the shot transfers more energy to its target, making this a good one for small game hunting or steel challenge-like events.
For a 2 ¾in low-brass shell, it cycles very reliably in semi-automatic guns, and we had no problems with a Beretta M2 or a Mossberg 930 running this stuff for several hundred rounds each.
On a personal note, this is my ammo of choice when it comes to most clay-based events, especially if I’m flying somewhere and I’m picking up ammo at my destination instead of going through the rigamarole of flying with large amounts of ammo in a checked bag.
Which is another upside of this ammo… it's available just about everywhere. This is a great off-the-shelf option to pick up almost anywhere ammo is sold. Accessibility is important if you’re going to be shooting the same ammo over and over at events.
Though, of course, your favorite online retailer will often have it for a good bit cheaper than your local big-box sporting goods store. Hint hint.
Fiocchi Game & Target is another great multi-purpose option that patterns well in a variety of different areas. This is a great choice if you’re looking for one do-it-all option.
Federal Premium 12 Gauge Ammo - 5 Rounds of #4 Buck Ammunition
- Shot Type: #4 Shot
- Shot Weight: 1oz
- Muzzle Velocity: 1325fps
- Casing Type: High-Brass Polymer Shotshell
- Very inexpensive compared to a lot of buckshot
- High Velocity
- Cycles incredibly reliably
- Patterns well out of common chokes
- Fairly high recoil, relatively speaking
- Hard to find #4 buckshot in bulk, but #00 is common
Why We Chose It
It's still not the best option for hunting in most cases, though, so if you’re looking to go after pigs, bears, or even softer-skinned game like whitetail deer, check out our breakdown of 12 gauge ammo for hunting instead.
The #4 shot is a great shot size for almost any kind of buckshot-related target shooting and is one of the most common buckshot rounds for target work. It's not going to do great against big game, especially compared to other shotgun ammunition, but for target work, it's perfect.
The shot is not the non-toxic tungsten or steel shot that you get with other types of ammunition intended for waterfowl, but for buckshot targets, this is a great option. It’s also a really good training option if you’re looking for something that will mimic defensive loads without costing an arm and a leg.
Overall, the #4 shot here will likely serve you well, but there are other shot sizes available within the same line so you can pick up different varieties based on what you’re doing. I personally like getting some practice in with the #00 buckshot that I hunt with, but a little practice with the same size of shot that I can get for a little cheaper is no bad thing either.
Winchester Super-X is a phenomenal option too, with many different sizes of buckshot available. It has great velocity, and patterns well.
Fiocchi Shooting Dynamics Target Load #7 ½ - Best Budget 12 Gauge Target Ammo
- Shot Type: # 7 ½ Shot
- Shot Weight: 1oz
- Muzzle Velocity: 1200fps
- Casing Type: Low-Brass Clear Polymer Case
- Very Affordable
- Available in bulk for additional savings
- Decent velocity
- Legal for most shotgun events (trap, 3Gun, etc)
- Lower velocity than most high-brass shells
- Doesn’t cycle as reliably in stiffer semi-autos
Why We Chose It
If you’re looking to shoot a lot without necessarily spending a lot, then as usual, Fiocchi has you covered, this time with their 12 gauge Target Load line. With bulk options hovering around $.45/round, and smaller packs coming in not much more than that, this is an extremely affordable option for high-volume shooters.
Velocity is good, despite the low-brass shell and the 1oz shot load means it is legal for almost all shotgun events. It also means it won’t beat your shoulder up too much if you’re shooting it all day, which is great for those of us running through boxes of shells at a time.
It patterned well with pretty much every choke we tested it with, and did well out of a variety of barrel lengths, making this a good option for everything from clay pigeons to 3Gun targets. You could even use it for small game birds like doves if you’re so inclined.
The standard #7 ½ keeps it in line with what most people generally think of as a “normal” target load for birdshot, making it a great training or competition choice if you’re trying to save a little bit of money.
You have a good spread for most birdshot distances to help you get those hits where you need it, but it's still tight enough that you can put the majority of the shot load where you need it to go.
Lastly, despite the low-brass shell and the 1oz of shot at a relatively low velocity, this stuff cycled very well for what it is. Semi-auto owners will know the struggle of lightly-powered birdshot not quite ejecting all the way, and stovepiping spent shells.
We experienced very little of that and actually had very few failures to eject, even when rapid firing a very dirty gun. That may not be everyone’s experience, but it was very encouraging (and even a little surprising) for us. If you’re running a semi-auto though, maybe try a box of 25 before you go all in on a 10-box case.
Federal Top Gun Sporting is a great option, this time with #8 shot. It cycles reliably, patterns well, and has a slightly higher velocity than our main pick, coming in at close to 1300fps in our testing.
Hornady American Gunner Reduced Recoil - Best 12 Gauge Target Slug
- Shot Type: Rifled Slug
- Shot Weight: 1oz
- Muzzle Velocity: 1300fps
- Muzzle Energy: 1642 ft-lbs
- Casing Type: High-Brass Shotshell
- Low-Recoil compared to other target slugs
- Accurate and consistent at range
- Works well in smooth-bore barrels
- Cycles well in most semi-autos
- Expensive compared to other target slugs
- Hard to find in bulk
Why We Chose It
If you’re looking for target slugs, our top choice is Hornady’s American Gunner Reduced Recoil 12 GA Slugs. These slugs perform incredibly well and are a great option to have on hand for those 3Gun stages where you know you have slug-designated targets to hit.
The nose-heavy rifled slug projectile provides excellent accuracy to 75 yards and beyond, though, of course, you will start to experience some pretty significant drop, even more so than with a typical slug because of the reduced power of these target loads.
Velocity is still pretty solid at 1300fps (more like ~1380 in my chrono testing with a 24” barrel), and it cycled well in our semi-automatic test guns, including an older and notoriously cantankerous Remington 1100.
They are a bit expensive even by 12 gauge slug standards, and there are certainly some more budget-friendly options out there, but for spotting hits and other situations where you really need to see your point of impact (or hit a quick follow-up shot), then the reduced recoil is definitely worth it.
You’re not likely to need a huge number of these if you are target shooting anyway, so for limited competition stages or what have you, then the extra expense isn’t a big deal. And you have the added benefit of not beating the hell out of your shoulder if you’re shooting a match or some other high-volume event.
Fiocchi Defense Dynamics Aero Slugsare a generally much cheaper option that also won’t beat your shoulder up too much. They also make for some very easy follow-up shots. These are definitely more focused on accuracy than power, so I wouldn’t necessarily go after a brown bear with them, but for putting a hole in the paper, they will serve you very, very well.
Remington Gun Club Target Load - Best Bulk 12 Gauge Target Ammo
- Shot Type: #8 shot
- Shot Weight: 1oz
- Muzzle Velocity: 1185fps
- Casing Type: 2 ¾” Low-Brass Polymer Case
- Very Affordable
- #8 shot is great for both clays, paper targets, and small game
- Low recoil
- Doesn’t cycle as reliably in some semi-autos
Why We Chose It
If you’re looking for a bulk option that can do a lot without breaking the bank, Remington’s Gun Club Target Load is a great option. It cycles fairly well, and the #8 shot gives you a lot of options. It works well for clays and doves, and it patterns nicely on paper targets.
This is a great training option or an option for those looking to stack a couple of cases away somewhere in case of shortage. “Buy it cheap, and stack it deep” is a motto many folks live by when it comes to ammo, and if that sounds like you, this is a great option.
You could do worse than a few hundred rounds of birdshot if, for some reason, a hunter-gatherer lifestyle becomes something you’re pursuing. Just saying.
For general shooting, though, this stuff is still really great for any kind of training, and I personally have half of a case still sitting in my gun safe that I will definitely shoot through within the next few months. And then I’ll pick up some more.
I can’t give it a much higher endorsement than that.
Winchester Super Target is another great bulk option that you can get relatively inexpensively. It also patterns well and has decent velocity.
Choosing the Right Ammo for Your Shotgun and Target
What Makes a Good Shotgun Target Load?
Target shooting has a number of different considerations that depend on what you’re doing. The type of target shooting (3-Gun, Skeet/Trap, etc) should dictate what you choose to prioritize. There’s no one end-all, be-all option for target shooting, or any other kind of shooting, really.
As a general rule, higher velocity is better, especially when it comes to flying targets. Having to lead your target less is a huge advantage you’ll have over shooters using slower shotshells. This is especially important for sporting clay shooters.
Beyond that, everything is going to be a tradeoff. At the end of the day, everything comes down to compromise and what you need to prioritize for the type of target shooting you’re doing.
For example, if you’re shooting clays or other moving targets, generally speaking, more shot is better. Birdshot is great for this, particularly in the #7 to #9 range, depending on what you’re doing.
That said, there are reasons you might want buckshot or a slug instead, which we’ll get to in a minute.
Finally, I’d caution you not to dismiss 20 gauge out of hand if you’re typically more of a 12 gauge person.
There are actually a lot of upsides to those little (usually) yellow shells, and I recommend checking out our breakdown of 12 gauge vs 20 gauge for more information if you’ve never tried it, or it's been a while because the ammo has actually come quite a long way. It's also a great option for beginners or those who are a little bit more recoil sensitive.
Types of Shotgun Loads Reviewed
Birdshot is typically what you’ll be using for target practice with a 12 gauge. It's the most common option for skeet/trap shooting, as well as hunting most upland game birds like pheasants and small waterfowl (as the name implies).
Birdshot has the largest number of pellets, and though they are very small, all together, they give you the best chance of hitting your target. In situations like hitting a clay pigeon or trying to get close to the center of a paper target (basically anything where energy and penetration don't matter), birdshot is king.
For most target shooting or for hunting smaller birds, #7.5 birdshot is the preferred choice as it gives a good mix of pellet size and overall shot volume.
1 1/8oz of shot is the typical load as this is what you'll be limited to for something like trap shooting, but other events may not have such a limit.
Velocity is also important here, and in general, most shooters gravitate towards the highest velocity shotshells they can find. The difference between 1050 fps from a low brass shell and 1400+ fps out of a higher-velocity high brass shell is very noticeable when you're trying to hit a moving target or knock over a plate.
In general, faster is better, though it will come at the cost of more energy and, therefore, more recoil. Ask yourself if you need that extra speed, and if not, then maybe opt for a low-recoil option that will allow for faster follow-up shots and lower split times.
Of course, if you're going that route, make sure that the shells you choose have enough power to cycle a semi-auto if that's what you're shooting. A lot of low-recoil shells are designed more for pump-action or break-barrel guns and won't cycle correctly in a semi-auto.
Buckshot is rarely used for target shooting and is typically relegated to the hunting and personal defense realms because it is so expensive and has commensurately high recoil in most cases.
The exception would be something like 3Gun, where certain targets are designated as buckshot targets, or in certain events where you need to knock over a small steel target, and you aren’t allowed to use a slug.
For most buckshot-related target shooting, you’ll want a #4 shot to give you the maximum chance of getting a scoring shot where you need it. This will also give you a good balance of manageable recoil, but still, enough power to knock over a target plate if needed.
The other thing to keep in mind would be if you’re practicing for a hunt, in which case you’ll want to get something that’s the same weight as your hunting load and the same size shot. A lot of game loads will have copper-plated
Shotgun slugs are the most precise option for target shooting with a shotgun, and are generally chosen when you need to hit a target that is outside of the reliable range of buckshot or birdshot, or when you need a single hit very close to the bullseye.
Modern target slugs come in two varieties, rifled slugs designed to be used with traditional smoothbore shotgun barrels, and sabot slugs, which utilize a special type of encasement (called a sabot) that helps impart stability to the slug when fired from a rifled barrel.
For most shooters, a rifled slug is going to be the better choice as it won’t require a barrel swap to shoot buckshot or birdshot as needed. Sabot slugs are more suited for hunting when you won’t be swapping back and forth, and you’re more likely to have a shotgun that is specifically set up for slugs, with the appropriate choke, barrel, and optic installed.
Frequently Asked Question
What Does Gauge In Shotgun Mean?
The gauge measurement system is a mostly antiquated system referring to the number of solid lead balls of a certain size that would equal 1 pound. So a “12-gauge” bore is a bore the size of a spherical lead ball that would weigh 1/12th of a pound.
What Does Shot Mean in Shotgun Ammo?
The “shot” in shotgun and shotshell refers to the pellets inside the individual shells. These pellets come in different sizes, indicated by a number. The larger the number, the smaller the shot, so #4 shot will be larger than #00 shot.
Is Birdshot Shotgun Ammo Good for Home Defense?
While it’s certainly better than nothing, birdshot is very sub-optimal option for home defense, even at close range. Stick to buckshot for defensive use if at all possible, ideally something that is optimized for self-defense against a human attacker. If that’s not an option, perhaps look at a handgun instead.
Choosing the best shotgun shells for target practice can have a huge impact on how your day at the range goes. Whether you’re there to just blast some soda cans, are running a 3Gun match, or demolishing some sporting clays, good ammo can make all the difference.
If you’re just looking for a general-purpose choice, our overall pick is Winchester AA #7 ½ birdshot because of its reliability, affordability, and great patterning. That said, there are quite a few other great options out there depending on your needs, so be sure to check out all the options we’ve gone over today to find what works best in your gun.
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