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What Shell Size For Waterfowl Hunting

When it comes to the most popular sizes of shot for waterfowl hunting, there are three main choices: BB, #2, and #4. You might occasionally run into a BBB for goose hunting and even a #6 for teal hunting, but the first three are the most popular. The species you’re hunting is going to point you in the right direction of what size shot to choose for waterfowl hunting. Since the BB are the largest of the three, this shot size will typically be for goose hunting. In a hunt where both ducks and geese are a possibility, #2 shot would be a good choice. Being a little smaller size shot gives you more pellets if faster flying ducks present an opportunity, but they still have enough size to take down a decoying goose. If you’re strictly duck hunting, 4 shot is tough to beat, especially in a field or small water scenario.

Kinetic Energy

The kinetic energy of shot is determined by the weight/size of the shot and the speed it is traveling. Since most manufacturers have a standard feet per second for their shells regardless of shot size, the kinetic energy increases as shot size gets larger. Spanning from a BB down to #4 shot, the kinetic energy will drop approximately 50%. You might be saying to yourself, then I’ll just shoot BB since it hits harder, but there’s a catch. Since the shot size is larger, fewer pellets can be fit into the shell itself. With more energy comes less pellets down range. A 3.5 inch BB load will have around 130 pellets in it while a 3.5 inch #2 will have over 200 pellets. A way to compensate for the decrease in energy is to use pellets that are heavier than traditional steel pellets. Hevi-Metal incorporates these pellets into their loads. A portion (16-17%) of the shot in the shell are Hevi-Shot. Each of these pellets is heavier than their corresponding steel shot size. A #2 steel shot pellet carries 9.7 foot pounds of energy on target at 40 yards. A #2 Hevi-Shot pellet carries 10.6 FPE. Same size, but hits harder. You get an increase energy, but don’t have to sacrifice on the number of pellets in the shell by going up in shot size.


When selecting your shot size for the hunt, take into consideration the setting you’ll be in. On big water public land, a larger shot size may be warranted due to the need for longer shots. In a close quarter setting such as flooded timber a small size might be best because you know the only shots you’ll have will be inside of 30 yards. For smaller, fast flying ducks such as teal a #4 or even a #6 is the way to go. They’ll give you plenty of energy for small fast flying ducks, but also provide you with a larger number of pellets downrange to maximize the size and density of your pattern.

Personal Preference

Much of this is all personal preference. If you’re a seasoned shooter, you won’t be worried about the size of your pattern. Much of what has been written has aimed the use of BB at geese. Will they take down ducks? Absolutely! You’re pattern will be smaller because of fewer pellets, but if you’re a solid shot, by all means make that choice. One thing to keep in mind though is the amount of usable meat that will hit the grill after the hunt. You don’t want the bulk of a load of BB pellets going through a half dollar sized teal breast.

As always, be able and willing to make an adjustment. Don’t tie yourself to a particular size of shot during a hunt. Take a couple different sizes to the field or blind with you. The birds might decide to not cooperate that day and won’t budge past 35 yards. A change from #4 to #2 might be needed because of the longer shots. As long as you’re prepared, you can make that quick change.

For more on shot size selection and choke tubes for waterfowl hunting, check out our tip video for Realtree’s The X.

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