The Different Types of Sporting Shotguns

Shotguns are one of the most versatile weapons out there. They are a favorite choice of hunters, and with the right choice of ammunition, can be used to hunt everything from upland birds to big whitetail bucks. Shotguns can also be used as home defense weapons. But with so many uses, a lot of people are not aware that there are actually many different types of shotguns. 

Article Sponsored by Sage & Braker Fine Gun-Cleaning Products

Fred Bohm, owner of Sage & Braker, is a strong proponent of women in the shotgun sports. He wrote this article as a primer for women who are thinking of taking up wing and clays shooting. 

The Different Types of Sporting Shotguns

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Shotguns are one of the most versatile weapons out there. They are a favorite choice of hunters, and with the right choice of ammunition, can be used to hunt everything from upland birds to big whitetail bucks. Shotguns can also be used as home defense weapons. But with so many uses, a lot of people are not aware that there are actually many different types of shotguns. 

But what is a shotgun exactly? Shotguns are defined as long guns capable of firing multiple projectiles at once, each loaded with pellets that spread out after leaving the barrel. Unlike rifles that use spiral grooves, or rifling, inside of the barrel, most shotguns have a smooth bore. This makes them not as accurate as rifles when shooting a single projectile, but the larger number and spreading of these projectiles increases your chances of hitting your intended target. This makes them ideal choices for fast moving targets and close-range situations. 

So what are all of these shotguns, and how do they work? Which one might be the best choice for you? Let’s take a look at some of the most popular types of shotguns, as well as some of their advantages and disadvantages.

Semi-Automatic Shotguns

First on our list are semi-auto shotguns. Each time the trigger is pulled on one of these shotguns, a single shot is fired, the shell is ejected, and a new shell is chambered. These shotguns use the recoil of the shot in order to automatically eject the empty shell and cycle the next round. Because of this, these guns have a much higher speed of shooting when compared to double-barreled shotguns, which have a maximum two-shell capacity.

Semi autoA semi-automatic shotgun.

Using a gas-operated or recoil-based cycling system, semi-auto shotguns will also produce noticeably less recoil than other shotguns. Couple this with a higher ammunition capacity, and a shooter can really send a lot of rounds downrange quickly and efficiently. For someone who is looking for a shotgun with the least amount of felt recoil, look no further than a semi-automatic shotgun. Of course, semi-autos do have their downsides. 

For example, since you have only one barrel you can only use one choke at a time, which does not give you as much versatility or options. Their design is also much more complex than other types of shotguns, making them much more prone to jamming failures. This design can be much more difficult to understand and work with. 

That being said many duck hunters as well as upland hunters make a semi-automatic shotgun their go-to weapon in the field. It’s hard to beat the gun’s speed of fire and shell capacity.

Double-Barrel Shotguns

Double-barrel shotguns (side by sides as well as over/unders) are a favorite of hunters and sport shooters, and are one of the most simple designs of all the shotguns. One major advantage they have is the overall shorter length while still having the same barrel length when compared to other types of shotguns. You will also get two different barrels to shoot from, allowing you to choose which barrel to shoot. This gives you two different chokes to choose from depending on the situation. They are also very popular by upland hunters because they can be light and snappy, making them an excellent choice for carrying on long hunts in the uplands.

SxSThis side by side is an example of a double-barreled shotgun. The other is an over/under, which also has two barrels but in a stacked configuration.

Like any other type of shotgun, double barrel shotguns have their drawbacks as well. First, they have a much lower shell capacity. After only two shots, you must reload. This reloading process is also a little slower than with other types of shotguns as well. Because of their simple design, they also tend to have the most felt recoil out of all of the different types of shotguns. Finally, double barrel shotguns are usually more expensive than semi-autos.

Pump-Action Shotguns

Pump-action shotguns are one of the most popular types of shotguns, and can hold multiple rounds. They have a great round capacity that will allow you to spend more time shooting and not reloading, and they generally come in at a great price point. These guns function by manually sliding or “pumping” the action in order to eject a spent shell and chamber a new round. As long as the shooter pumps it back completely, these shotguns are extremely reliable and do not jam very often. This makes them popular choices for hunting, home defense, and even law enforcement applications.

pumpA classic pump-action shotgun.

One of the biggest downsides of pump action shotguns is that they can only fire as fast as the shooter can work the action. This can make follow up shots a little slower than other types of shotguns, but with an experienced shooter running the gun, it can still be shot extremely fast. And just like the semi-automatic shotguns, you only have one barrel and can only use one choke at a time.

Other Types of Shotguns


While semi-autos, pump-action and double-barrel shotguns are the most popular types, there are others out there as well. These include shotguns like bolt actions, lever actions, and single shot shotguns. While not as popular as the other types of shotguns, they all can still be used in the same applications. 

Bolt action shotguns function similarly to bolt action rifles, in that a bolt is worked in order to eject and reload a fresh round into the gun. Lever action shotguns are similar to lever action rifles, and use a lever on the underside of the gun to eject and reload it. Single shot guns are generally break action shotguns and are similar to double barrels, with the exception of having a single barrel to shoot from.

Shotgun Gauges

Not only is there the above variety of shotguns, but there are different gauges to choose from as well. It’s very similar to how a rifle or handgun will have varying calibers. The “gauge” of a shotgun refers to the size of the bore.

There are some obscure gauges, but here is a list of the most common ones, starting from the largest diameter bore going down to the smallest.

Why does this matter you might ask? Go big or go home? Not necessarily, as with most things in life there is a tradeoff. It is true that a bigger gauge (actually smaller in number, 10 gauge being the biggest) will have will have more powder and a greater number of pellets in the shell compared to a smaller gauge of the same shell length (we will keep shot size out of this equation for simplicity). 

The trade-off will be more felt recoil in the larger gauge. A second thing to consider is you may not want a wall of pellets destroying that quail you just flushed up under your feet. So, a smaller gauge shotgun might be more appropriate.

Here is a common use of each of the gauges, but by no means is this a rule. Personal preference plays a huge factor here. There are people who hunt pheasant with a .410 gauge, but this should give a beginner a quick idea when starting the buying process.

Common Shotgun Gauges and Use

We’ll start with the largest gauge and work our way down to the smallest.

  • 10 Gauge – Not common, but sometimes still used for waterfowl hunting.
  • 12 Gauge – The most versatile and popular shotgun gauge for clays shooting, waterfowl and larger upland birds such as pheasant and turkeys. 
  • 16 Gauge – Mid-sized upland birds such as grouse.
  • 20 Gauge – Mid to small-sized upland game, including rabbits, grouse, quail, chukar.
  • 28 Gauge – Smaller upland birds such as quail and dove.
  • .410 Gauge – Often used to introduce a youth and women to shotgun hunting because of its low recoil.
gaugeThis diagram shows the comparative diameters of shotgun gauges.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are many different types of shotguns that can be used for a wide variety of different applications. Each type has its own unique design that gives it both advantages and disadvantages. Depending on your skill level and intended use, you are sure to find the perfect type of shotgun to suit your needs from these types of shotguns.

We would be remiss of our duties as a “gun cleaning company” if we didn’t mention that these investments need to be taken care of just like anything else you want to keep around for a long time. Shotguns can last a long time, for many generations in most cases if they are properly maintained. We’ve put an article together for you that will go over all the necessary shotgun cleaning supplies you will need to do just that.

Fred Bohm is the owner of Sage & Braker fine gun cleaning products. Visit Sage & Braker at



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