We like ammo that doesn’t have much ‘kick’, or recoil. The recoil caused by a shell is determined by 2 factors- how much shot is in the shell (has nothing to do with the pellet size, which we will cover later) and the speed that the shot leaves the barrel. We like to shoot a smaller amount of shot, at slow speeds, so we have less kick!
The first thing we have to cover, is that sometimes we need different ammunition for a ‘break open gun’, like an over and under or side by side, than for a semi-auto. A break open gun doesn’t care how light a load we fire thru it, but sometimes a semi-auto needs a bit heavier load for the gun to function correctly. First, let’s talk about the break open guns…..
For a O/U or SxS, we can shoot very light recoiling ammo, without worrying about how the gun will ‘cycle’. Look for a ‘low velocity load’.... 1200 feet per second(FPS) or less. In the old days this was described by calling out a ‘dram equivalent’ to refer to how fast the pellets left the gun, but that system was tough to understand, so most companies now simply list the speed in FPS. For a 12 ga, we like 1 oz (in metric thats 28 grams) of shot, or if we can find them, 7/8th oz( 24 grams). In 20 ga, we like 7/8th oz.
For a semi-auto, sometimes the mechanism that loads the shell for you will need a bit of pressure, provided by the firing of the shell, to reliably cycle the action. Most 12 ga semi’s will reliably run on 1 oz/1200 fps ammo. For 20 ga, the baseline is generally ⅞ oz/1200 fps. You can experiment with lighter ammo, but this is a good place to start.
Regarding shot size, the smaller the number, the bigger the pellets (crazy, right?). Sporting clay ranges limit the shot size to 7 ½’s as the biggest pellets. Also common are number 8’s. There are a few more pellets in the #8’s, and while either will work, if you have a choice, we suggest 8’s. The size of the pellets have nothing to do with recoil, it’s the weight of the shot charge, combined with the speed. So for 12 ga, look for slow- 1200 fps or less- 1 oz or less. In 20 ga, look for ⅞ oz around 1200 fps, and you will be happy with your ammo!
One last thing….what ‘brand’ to look for? We that can be confusing. Some ammo cost more than others, and to add to the choices many brands have multiple ‘lines’ of shells. For a new or recreational shooter, the best grade of shell is simply not needed. Most of the ‘brand names’ will have a secondary line of ammo, at a substantially reduced price compared to their premium target shells. As an example, Fiocchi Ammunition, has a top line competition group of ammunition called the “Exacta Line”. They also have the second level of shell titled the “Shooting Dynamics”, at a considerable savings. The Shooting Dynamics line is targeted, pardon the pun, at the recreational shooting market, and offers exactly they types of shells we have talked about above.
This all is meant to just give the new sporting shooter a basic guideline to get started with your ammunition purchasing. There are many other factors that can come into play as you gain experience, but this will get you started in the right direction!
Fennell Shooting School