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Birdshot: Everything You Need to Know!

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For anyone new to hunting, or maybe just bird hunting, the world of ammunition often comes off as a bit overwhelming. In particular, one term that always came off as a bit confusing to me was birdshot.

A favored choice among bird hunters, birdshot is an ammunition specifically designed to increase your hit probability on quick, elusive targets. As most birds tend to be.

If you’re looking to learn about birdshot, or get a little re-brief on what you need to know, keep on reading – I got you covered!

Understanding What Birdshot To Go With

Birdshot consists of a bunch of small pellets made out of steel or lead (boo, lead bad), which then spread out upon firing.

Since the spread, or “pattern” as we call it, covers so much of an area you significantly increase the chances of hitting a fast-moving, small game.

Sorry to say, but size matters

Birdshot sizes are somewhat inversely numbered. The smaller the number, the bigger the bird.

Larger birdshot pellets like #2 or 4 are meant for big birds, while smaller ones like #7½, #8, or #9 are particularly tailored for smaller targets such as doves or quails.

When deciding on your ammo, consider the size of your bird and go from there.

Duck#2, #3, #4
Goose#1, #2
Turkey#3, #4 (but feel free to go heavier)
Pheasant#4, #5, #6
Quail#7½, #8
Dove#7½, #8
Grouse#7½, #8
Woodcock#7½, #8

For most, it usually comes down to preference and what you’re comfortable with, but if you’re interested I’ve listed my personal preferences below! All of the recommendations below are steel only.

If you have any more questions on the specifics of what I like to use for each type of bird, and why that is so, feel free to reach out! I’m always happy to talk hunting!

Man with rifle hunting in woods with dog

The Lead Controversy

It’s pretty straightforward: lead is toxic to the environment and its wildlife.

The most important part of hunting is nature conservation so that we can keep hunting.

I only use steel, bismuth, or tungsten when looking for ammo!

Some states, like Minnesota, New York, Maine, Washington, and Oregon have fully or partially prohibited the use of lead. It’s always a clever idea to check your local government pages to see if there are any extra regulations regarding ammo.

… you never know these days.

Choke Points

A commonly overlooked but crucial part of bird-hunting is selecting the right choke for your shotgun. The choke essentially decides how large or small the spread of the birdshot is, and it’s therefore vital to pick the right one for your specific hunting needs, skills, and scenario.

I’ve already written a more in-depth guide on the best shotgun chokes to use for small, fast birds right here – but here’s a quick overview:

Up close you’re gonna want to go with a cylinder or improved cylinder. I only use these forms of chokes if I’m chasing upland birds in denser woods (I hunt in Norway a lot).

Something flexible would be the modified choke. It’s like a jack-of-all-trades versatile kinda choke that allows you to hit targets at a medium range but also lets you get pretty close without damaging the bird. I’ve hit targets over 60 yards away with a modified too!

Yes, I’m allowed to brag, this is my post.

For longer ranges where the game is playing hard-to-get or you’re struggling to get up close, I’d go with a full choke. It offers a tight and neat pattern that hits far but does require a bit more accuracy. I usually reserve this for turkey hunting or in environments with tundras and clearings.

Shotgun with cartridges on a wooden background

Kill your damn bird

Regardless of what choke or birdshot you end up going with, make sure you retrieve your game swiftly! This is a new pet peeve of mine I have spotted a lot this season so I want to just address it real quick:

It’s not just about the shot.

You can think that you landed a perfect hit on the bird, but you still gotta retrieve it quickly and put it out of its misery.

I got my trusty pointer Luna who will run over and retrieve the birdie immediately, and she tends to do the hard work for me, but always double-check to see if your birdie is breathing and put an end to it.

Several times now I have hunted with guys who shot the bird and then stood there and cheered while their game bled out in panic.

Not only is this cruel towards the bird, but panic can fester in the meat and make it taste bad.



And real quick: clean out your gun

Fun fact: birdshot tend to leave residue in the firearm, even if you can’t see it.

To ensure that your shotgun stays useful and safe for a long time, make sure you clean it after every use.

Get in there to make sure you get all the stuff outta there.

Then, of course, store it safe and unloaded and all that.

Final Thoughts

Birdshot is the number one essential aspect of bird hunting, and understanding the various sizes and uses will not only increase your chances of success of actually killing the animal – but help preserve both meat and ethics for you.

As I hope this guide indicated, it isn’t that complicated:

  1. Know which bird you’re hunting
  2. Decide on a birdshot
  3. Decide on a choke
  4. Enjoy

It’s that easy.

The backbone of any successful hunt will always be knowledge, and that’s what we’re here for!

If you’re looking for any other hunting-related content, check out our library of articles right here.

Happy hunting!

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