There is a common misnomer about ammunition in the marketplace: that whatever an ammo is marketed as, is the only purpose it serves well. One of the cartridges that gets hit pretty hard by that generalization is the “target load” shotshell. You know the one: the ubiquitous red or blue shell that has a low brass/base and is filled with tiny shot like #7 or #8 or #9 shot. Most shooters use it for shooting at clay pigeons, but the clay pigeon after all was “modeled” after the pigeon.

So, what is a “target load” good for besides being relegated mostly to “range duty” all of the time?

Well, the answer is simple, it’s great for the smallest game animals, small birds and game you can get to within about 20 yards to use it on. If you pair it with an appropriate choke and some practice, you’ll easily be able to extend that range and take progressively bigger game, though it does sort of lose its efficacy with animals about the size of rabbits when you use the 20 yard range as a set variable.


Pheasant hunting

Some common game or birds that can be taken with miniscule shot sizes:


·         Dove

·         Grouse

·         Quail

·         Snipe

·         Chukar

·         Pheasant

·         Pigeon

Small ground game

·         Squirrel

·         Rabbit

·         Groundhog

·         Opossum

·         Racoon

·         Coyote

A further note: Some of these targets are not legal to hunt in some jurisdictions. Some of these targets are pushing the limits of the shot size and are only listed because they can be taken under very special circumstances or in shorter ranges.

Most of these loads that offer the small shot sizes are very economical to shoot and almost all of them are available widely in lead shot configurations.

Note: in watershed areas, lead is not an acceptable payload, generally speaking. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is good conservation theory and legalities. All hunting regulations should be adhered to at all times regardless of personal opinion and should not be altered except under extenuating circumstances live survival or emergency conditions.

Some other considerations:


Many shooters rely on 12 gauge ammunition or 20 gauge ammunition due to the popularity of the rounds and the cost basis. But it may make for more of a sporting effort to shoot a 16 gauge or a .410 shotgun for some of these game animals. The cost of the ammunition, guns and the rarity involved, however, make it more expensive and harder to do than using more mainstream offerings. Kids who are being introduced to shooting may find they enjoy the sport much more if they are shooting a more approachable gun like a 16 gauge or .410 shotgun.

The dram equivalent of a shotshell is a good relative indicator of the amount of recoil and muzzle rise one can expect to experience during shooting. The lower that number relative to other loads, the easier the recoil profile. Choosing an appropriate load for new shooters or for when you expect quick follow-up shots may lead to a more enjoyable experience.

It is always important to factor in the likelihood of a humane kill on a target. If you cannot reasonably dispatch an animal at a specific distance with a specific load that you are shooting, you should avoid taking the shot. Increasing the amount of “sport” in your hunting is a careful calculation of skills, not of luck.

Hunting ethics and smart decision making are very important parts of being a true hunter.




Shooting clays is fine, but if you can extend the usefulness of the #7, #7.5, #8, #8.5 or #9 shot you have on your shooting shelf, it just makes sense. These smaller shot sizes are more than adequate for certain game under certain conditions, and they should be utilized within reason. The increase in value for your dollar and the improvement in the sporting aspects of your shooting can be quite rewarding.

-Benjamin Worthen