The range of 12 gauge ammunition can be bewildering for a new hunter. We’ll cover the basics here but suggest you discuss any queries with an experienced hunter or your hunting retailer, or contact your regional Fish & Game office.

A shotgun fires a large number of small pellets that spread out in a circular pattern. The appropriate pellet size depends on the material the pellets are made from and the quarry hunted. Generally, use larger pellets for larger birds; smaller pellets for smaller birds. The combined weight of the pellets is the ‘load’, and the two common load weights are; 1⅛ oz (32 gram) and 1¼ oz (36gram) loads.

Inside shotgun ammunition:

inside ammunitionCartridges come in two common lengths; 2 ¾ inch (70mm) and 3inch (76mm). Some older guns are chambered for 2 ¾ inch shells, and using 3 inch shells in these guns should on no account be attempted. Both shell lengths can be used safely in guns chambered for 3inch shells. 3 ½ inch shells are also available in magnum loads.

inside ammunition2Left: 2 ½ inch shell Right: 3 inch shell

Traditionally, all pellets were made of lead which has been shown to have toxic effects on waterfowl where spent shot is consumed by dabbling species. Today, non-toxic shot is mandatory for all hunters hunting waterfowl within 200metres of a water body. Note that lead may be used for upland game in any situation, and for waterfowl if you’re more than 200metre away from a water body. For details on the regulations regarding non-toxic shot, carefully read the season’s Gamebird Hunting Guide.

Steel’s for real, and steel shot is the common alternative to lead. After a number of seasons’ use many hunters now prefer the advantages provided by steel (especially its higher velocity).

NOTE: Many older guns are not ‘steel proof’ and use of steel shot in these guns is extremely dangerous.

Some guns are ‘choke limited’ for steel, where the use of steel shot and tight chokes will cause damage to the gun.

Check with your retailer, an experienced hunter or Fish & Game if you are not sure.



 Shot Size

Canada Goose

BB/1 - steel

Black Swan

BB/1 - steel

Paradise Shelduck

2 - steel

Mallard, grey, shoveler duck

2, 3 - steel


6 - lead


7, 8, 9 - lead