View Full Version : Effective 12 Gauge Range

January 18, 2009, 01:46 AM
I am going to buy a new 12 gauge shotgun. It will be used for Turkeys, Predators, and some crows. I have decided on the 870 Express with the ambi. pistol grip design, and either the 21" or the 23" barrel. I am trying to decide whether I want the 3" model, or the 3-1/2" model??

I am a handicapped hunter, and I can only hunt off my Kawasaki Mule. So I need a shorter shotgun so I do not beat the shotgun to death on the roll cage. And the Expres wil do just fine, because I am pretty hard on firearms, and it will get knocked around a good bit.

What are the real effective ranges of the 2-3/4 VS. 3 VS 3-1/2" shells??

I have been studying a lot of old posts. And a lot of different mfrs. specs. on their shotgun shells. However I am a bit perplexed at the information. I have noticed the real difference in velocity to be between 1180----1300 fps. And I have noticed different load weights having different velocities. So what is the real low down?? Tom.

January 18, 2009, 04:44 AM
in my opinion the limited range difference is not worth the battering from the 3.5" shells.

just get a good selection of choke tubes. ive killed turkeys with a full choke and a 2 3/4" load of BB, at 30m, but i dont normally hunt them so i dont know.

45Marlin carbine
January 19, 2009, 03:14 PM
50 yards is strecthing a full choke pattern. depends some on shooter practice to get that far out and of course size of the target.

January 19, 2009, 03:58 PM
Just can`t see the need for 3 1/2" unless I were goose or duck hunting and I don`t hunt either of them and question the need then. Agree with Troy, the pounding of a magnum 3 1/2" turkeyload is just not worth the extra 10 yds. A 50 yd. shot,although a long one, can be done with the right load and choke set up using a 3". You just have to try different loads and pattern your shotgun. My longest with a 2 3/4" shell a friend of mine rolled for me using an old single shot Winchester with extra-full swedged barrel was right at 47yds. I don`t want to make a habit at that distance. Eyes aren`t what they used to be.

January 19, 2009, 04:34 PM
I would go with the 3.5 inch just to know that i have it if i ever need it.
The range of the 12 gauge shotgun is anywhere from 1 yd or < to 50 yds. Some stray shot pellets may reach to 80 or 90 yds depending on obstructions in the way of the pattern.

Shawn Dodson
January 19, 2009, 09:07 PM
What are the real effective ranges of the 2-3/4 VS. 3 VS 3-1/2" shells?? You'll have to pattern test them in your particular shotgun to determine this for yourself.

Each barrel patterns uniquely as do different load/manufacturer selections.

A heavier shot load may damage more pellets (more inertia) as the pellets are pressed against each other from propellant ignition acceleration forces. Damaged pellets are less aerodynamic and are likely to veer off. A heavier shot load also creates greater potential for a "pool ball" effect as pellets collide with one another as they exit the bore, causing pellets to veer off.

Wad construction also affects accuracy.

Bottom line - the load that consistently patterns tightest at longer ranges will determine the "real effective range" of your individual shotgun.


January 20, 2009, 11:17 AM
A gun chambered in 3" is plenty balistically to take care of whatever you need. These days you can buy as many varieties of loads for a 3" as you can effectively for a 3 1/2".

The effective range is a function of velocity and pellet size / 7 1/2's can have an effective range of 50 - 60 yards especially in 1 1/8 oz loads at 1300 fps ( Remington Nitro sporting clays load ). A load of 6's or 4's will hit a little harder at that range than 7 1/2's , for a given velocity, because of the size and weight of the shot. But you only need 1, maybe 2 pellets, of 7 1/2's to break a clay target at that range / so translating that to an effective kill range on a bird is very difficult - and beyond 40 yards, maybe its a shot you shouldn't take because it may not end with a clean kill.

January 20, 2009, 11:43 AM
no wonder some of the crows i have been shooting at fly off. most of the shots that i get around my house are 60 to 80 yards. quit hunting a long time ago because of walking problems but aint above taking a shot or 2 around the house.

January 20, 2009, 04:23 PM
get your self a long goose bbl in x-full choke, it will help reach out there and touch them.

January 20, 2009, 05:10 PM
You are on the verge of knowing something about shotshells.
There is no big difference in velocity as you have seen for your self.
Choice comes in shot size (turkey 4,5 and#6) and shot material (lead, copper coated lead, or heavy shot).
Turkey hunters take head shots. You want to break the neck or crack the skull.
The further out you want to shoot the smaller the size shot you need.
#5 heavy shot hits like #4 lead but has more pellets.
The larger pellet charges have less pellet count which means sparser patterns.
It is a give and take situation.
If you go with smaller pellets to increase the number of hits on turkey you may only wound the bird.
One pellet that kills is better than ten that wound.

Things to look for would be bore size and choke.
get Screw-in chokes and you can try different contrictions.
Look for an overbored or back-bored barrel.
They should pattern better.
If I was getting a pump I would go 3.5''
If it was auto I would suggest maybe a 3"

Check out www.wildlifedepartment.com/turkey_loads.htm
Article by Craig Endicot "Turkey Loads"
also goggle "wild turkey zone"

January 23, 2009, 02:46 AM
The range of the 12 gauge shotgun is anywhere from 1 yd or < to 50 yds. Some stray shot pellets may reach to 80 or 90 yds depending on obstructions in the way of the pattern."

Yikes... If you believe shot shell pellets will go only 80 to 90 yards, perhaps you should hurry to a shooting safety course. As one who has laid-out shotgun range safety zones, and field verified the published data, let me assure you that typical target loads routinely exceed 90 yards.

Years ago, General Journee, a French ballistics expert, developed a formula to the effect that the maximum range in yards equals 2200 times the shot diameter in inches. When the gun is held at a horizontal position or only slightly elevated, this formula gives the maximum range of shot sizes as shown below.

# 2 - 330 yards
# 4 - 286 yards
# 6 - 242 yards
# 7 1/2 - 209 yards
# 8 - 198 yards
# 9 - 176 yards

If your gun is elevated, as in the shooting sports, the range is increased. Altitude also has an effect on how far shot will carry. Data published by the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers' Institute, for example, indicates the maximum range for # 7 1/2 shot is 780 feet at sea level but increases to 1,080 feet at high altitude (12,000 ft.).

January 23, 2009, 06:54 AM
That is correct Zippy. Years ago in an old American Rifleman magazine, there was an article which cited your reference. I recall the article may have been titled "That Shotgun May Shoot Further Than you Think" and it recorded how, in the late 19th century, a gentleman on horseback was shot at a range of approximately 200 yards. Certainly freak conditions as well as the softer lead then used [which increases the risk of pellets being clumped together] may have had a hand in this. But considering this was the blackpowder era, it was eyebrow raising. I believe firearms manufacturers use the following margin of safety as recommendations:
shotguns - 500 yards
rimfire rifles: 1.5 miles
centrefire rifles: 4 miles.

It goes without saying that with today's more powerful loads and more advanced shot materials [and sabot slugs etc] one can never be too safe.
while this may not be in keeping with the thread of the post, the bottom line is that you simply, and for the sake of safety, ought not to underestimate the capability of any firearm, especially the shotgun, since it fires multiple projectiles.

January 23, 2009, 07:39 AM
would probably skip the 12 and just get a 10 guage would also go with a longer barrel if at all possible while I do alot of turkey hunting with 3 inch 4 shot and pretty much limit my shots to 40 yards maybe a little further if there flying as they are easy to knock down. if I was handicap and had to hunt from a mule my first choice would probably be a rifle, but if I had to use shotgun it would be a 10 guage.
turkeys have great eyes and im not sure you will have much luck on calling one in that close without great camofluage.
im sure many people have been sprinkled with shot from someone shooting a shotgun in the air, so they can go 200-300 yards but at that point theyve really lost most all there energy and unless its buckshot or a slug I dont consider it a serious threat.

January 23, 2009, 01:40 PM
Zippy is right on the safety range - and we should always understand the angle of our gun and where that shot might land. Getting hit in a parking lot / a couple hundred yards away from falling shot when the wind shifts on a sporting clays course is not fun / and hard on windshields and paint. Depending on the size of shot falling - it can hurt.

But there is a difference between the safety fall zone vs the potential effective kill range on a bird or clay target / so I guess I'm not sure what you were asking about / but maybe you have both perspectives now.

Brad Clodfelter
January 23, 2009, 02:19 PM
There's no need for a 10GA when you can buy a Mossberg 835 instead. It will shoot just as good since it has the same size backbore .775 barrel. I too shoot 4 shot, but I can tell you turkeys aren't easily knocked down when they fly or at least not to the ground dead where they hit from my findings. My recommendations is not to shoot flying turkeys due that most will get crippled and die. I know that from personal experience.

The guy said he was handicapped, so he wants a gun that is lighter. I'm not big on a short barrel for a turkey gun. I have a Rem 870 Express 21" turkey gun, and the barrel is too short in my opinion. I prefer a 26" barrel at least and a 28" I like even more. My findings from shooting a short barrel gun vs a longer barrel one to a point is that the longer barrel ones will have a tendency to shoot a little better. Now that is not my opinion, but my findings from comparing different guns on cardboard shot at various distances and with different brands of factory turkey loads with various size loads and shot sizes and that is including choke tubes as well. I have done a lot of trurkey load testing over the years and can tell you what works and what doesn't. I'm not claiming to be an expert, but just sharing actual knowledge of testing I have done.

January 23, 2009, 02:26 PM
All this information about maximum range does not address the original question, "what is the effective range of a 12 ga shotgun".

Several folks have beat around the bush IMO. The maximum effective range of any weapon has to do with how far you can reliably hit a target of a given size. So it really depends a lot on what you are shooting. Deer? Maybe out to 70 yds with buckshot. Ducks? About 50 yds with #2 shot. Quail? About 30-40 yds with 7-1/2s. Turkeys? No experience here, but most turkey hunters are trying to pattern the bird's head, so to me that means unless you have a ultra-tight choke, probably 40-50 yds with 5s or 6s will be the limit. Could you sneak a pellet into one farther than that and drop it? Sure. Reliably? No.

As far as 2-3/4" vs 3" vs 3-1/2", I just shoot 2-3/4" any more. I have never seen an advantage in the 3" shells, and 3-1/2" shells will make you cry like a baby, not just because of the recoil but also because of $3-$4 a shot price tag.

Brad Clodfelter
January 23, 2009, 02:41 PM
Effective range for most good shooting 3" turkey guns that have a good turkey choke screwed in to the barrel that is capable of shooting at least 80% patterns in a 30" circle on carboard would be 40yds. A lot of guns with a good shooting choke tube of the correct constriction in relation to the backbore of the actual barrel will shoot patterns closer to the 90% range. If you have a turkey gun that will shoot close to 90% patterns at 40yds, then you should be able to consistently take turkeys at 45-50yds. Now those are based on #5 and #6 shot turkey loads of 2oz or 2 and 1/4oz. If you have a gun that will consistently shoot 90% patterns at 40yds with #4 shot(which by the way very few manufactured barrels with a .730 back bore will do that) from 2 and 1/4oz turkey loads then you can take turkeys consistently at 55yds. I have killed a gobbler at 53yds with my Mossberg 835 and a Undertaker .695 choke tube using Winchester Supreme 3.5" 2 and 1/4oz loads and another jake at 59yds. Both birds went straight to the ground. This combination I mentioned will consistently shoot 90% patterns at 40yds. 4 shot just effectively kills turkeys better than the other size shot at 50yds or farther from my findings. Past 50yds, you can forget about how many #6 shot you can hit in a certain size circle. The difference between killing a turkey consistently at this distance is night and day difference. 6 shot just simply put doesn't kill effectively at that distance or beyond from my experience.

Brad Clodfelter
January 23, 2009, 06:13 PM
I don't make it a habit to shoot turkey out past 50yds just so you know. But I am a firm believer in consistency and what actually works. In a perfect world you shouldn't ever have to shoot a gobbler at 50yds or farther, but we don't live in a perfect world. Why let a big, hung up gobbler walk at 50yds to see another day or possibly over the shoulder of another hunter when all a hunter would have to do is change guns and turkey loads and maybe shot size to what will kill that bird today? ;)

Brad Clodfelter
January 23, 2009, 09:49 PM
Also if you can't stand heavy recoil from a large turkey load, I don't recommend you to shoot the 2 and 1/4oz turkey loads then because the recoil is harder than a 458 Win Mag. Each shot hits the shooters shoulder with 72lbs of force. The 458 Win Mag has 60lbs of shoulder force in comparison.

It doesn't bother me in the slightest when I'm shooting a turkey with these heavy turkey loads. I know it's going to kick. ;)

January 23, 2009, 09:58 PM
brad I would have to agree with you. I own a 458 lott and i cannot shoot 5 shoots in 15 minutes. The only way i can tame the beast is with 150 lbs of lead shot.

January 23, 2009, 10:26 PM
Expensive ammo can substantially extend the range and effectiveness of a 12 ga. The pellets are made of material that is more dense than lead.



Brad Clodfelter
January 23, 2009, 10:32 PM
Thanks for the comment.

A lot of shooters or hunters don't truly know that heavy magnum turkey guns shooting these heavy turkey loads actually kick harder than any factory production big game cartridge shot from the rifles they are chambered for. The reason being is the heavy powder volume and the weight of the projectile makes for a heavier felt recoil to the shooters shoulder.

I shot 10 rounds one day of these loads from a bench mind you which makes the recoil harsher than shooting the gun standing up and it was about all I wanted. My shoulder couldn't take any more. I was doing some pattern and choke tube testing.

Brad Clodfelter
January 23, 2009, 10:50 PM

I have played around with the Hevi-Shot loads from Remington. Why these loads shoot as good as they do is beyond me. The shot is all irregular in shape and size, but they shoot devsatating patterns. My Browning Gold 3.5" auto shooting a 3" 1 and 3/4oz #6 Hevi-Shot load with a Comp-n-Choke(I believe .680 constriction) shot a 98% pattern at 40yds in a 30" circle. That to this day is the best pattern I have ever obtained at 40yds. But they cost about $2 a pop. I can shoot a Win Supreme 2 and 1/4oz load of 4 shot for about a $1 and still kill a turkey probably as far due to the larger shot size and consistent 90% patterns from my 835 and Undertaker choke. I never tested the 4 shot Hevi-Shot loads. I have tested the 5 shot 1 and 7/8oz Hevi-Shot loads and they shot pretty good, too. But the 6 shot 1 and 3/4oz loads shot way better.

January 24, 2009, 03:25 AM
Ammunition selection has a great deal to do with 'effective range' for a 12-gauge.

Heavy-Shot will add to it considerably, I'm sure.

Now.....there are those who will relate that '...in VietNam they had flechettes which would make one-shot kills at 100 meters...' Personally, I'd take that with just a tiny grain of salt. I've experimented with flechettes and found the 'effective range' to be more like 10 yards not 100. It's ultra-fancy design is no match for it's ultra-light weight and you're shooting Very ineffective bird shot with a spectacularly widening pattern (like 6 foot in diameter at 15 yards :eek:)

If it worked, our government which can spend money faster than Niagara Falls can spend water, would use it. They don't. Stick with large diameter, heavy projectiles and you'll benefit from it.

Brad Clodfelter
January 24, 2009, 06:23 PM
I have said this before on here about why 4 shot just simply kills better at 50yds or beyond. I will go through it again to what my findings are from shooting a few birds at that distance and from the results I achieved. Before I continue, the farthest bird I have ever taken with #6 copper plated shot has been 47yds. Now I know that you can kill a turkey just a little farther with #6 copper plated or lead shot, but 50yds is pushing it for this pellet size projectile due to the loss of energy it quickly loses at that distance. Even if you have a gun that can shoot a super dense tight pattern at 40yds with this size shot from a good shooting turkey load, the thing is that when you get to 50yds which is a lot farther believe me when it comes to pattern density and how the same gun and load will shoot, bigger variables come into play such as will the pellets penetrate the skull or vertebrae of a turkey at that distance, and the bigger question comes into my eyes as to will you be lucky enough to actually be able to even hit the tiny skull or vertebrae in the first place at that yardage.

A lot of folks don't know it that a #4 shot pellet is almost twice the size in diameter and in weight which means that a #4 pellet will retain better pellet energy at longer distances. Also, the #4 shot pellet will have almost twice as much ft/lbs of energy at that distance as well. Also I can tell you through experience that if you don't hit skull or vertebrae of a turkey at 50yds with a #6 copper plated or lead shot turkey load, you are not going to kill that bird. It's that simple. The reason I rely on #4 shot turkey loads is that simply put they kill better at longer yardages. Even if you don't hit the skull or vertebrae of a turkey, there is a lot of turkey body which is a lot bigger target to begin with. Now don't get me wrong, I still aim for the base of the neck right where the feathers join, but 4 shot has the power to penetrate a turkeys breast and hit the heart, or break leg bones, wing bones, etc, etc. Probably without question that a bird facing you at 50yds or a tad farther is your best killing shot due to the fact that any #4 shot that hits the breast of the bird will actually penetrate better due to the fact that a side shot will have the actual wing to protect the turkeys body. But you do give up a little of the skull area on a frontal shot.

Now quite a few barrels on the market on these turkey guns won't shoot the larger size 4 shot heavy turkey loads as well as they will 5's or 6's. The simple reason to this is that manufacturers like Remington use about a .730 or close to it diameter on the back of their barrels. Remington will also tell you that a larger backbore barrel shotgun isn't needed. Well that is bull if you want to shoot larger shot like 4 shot. And I will tell you why. Remington is right when shooting normal size shot like 5's or 6's. And I will agree with them that there isn't much of a difference from my findings comparing larger backbored barrels shooting shot sizes of 5's and 6's with Remington barrels. But the reason I believe that heavy 4 shot loads won't shoot as good through Remington barrels is due to the tighter backend barrel. For one, the shot from these #4 turkey loads aren't as small or if I can use the word dense as 5 shot or 6 shot. The smaller 5 shot or 6 shot can easily take the smaller constriction of a smaller .730 bore when being pushed through the barrel and keep their roundness and not deform or actually peen each other. The 4 shot can't simply put do this as well in that tight of a bore. But in a bigger backbored barrel like the .775 Mossberg 835 barrel, they can be shot through the bore with less pressure and not constricted near as tight. That is why the 835 barrels will simply put shoot the larger #4 shot better. My findings are you won't believe how much better a 835 barrel will shoot these heavy 2oz or larger #4 turkey loads vs a Remington barrel until you actually compare them on cardboard side by side. I'm telling you that it is night and day difference when doing so at 40yds.

I have seen my other buddies shoot 4 shot loads on their Mossberg 835 and they get the same kind of results. Both use #4 turkey loads. One of them told me they shot a gobbler at 65yds, and it went straight to the ground. Now I don't recommend that distance for shooting any turkey regardless of the shotgun used, but it does illustrate the lethal killing power of using the larger #4 turkey loads. The other buddy is the one that turned me on to the 835 and how they will shoot the heavy #4 turkey loads better than the Remington, Winchester, or other turkey guns on the market that refuse to open up the backend of their barrels to a bigger dimension.

Brad Clodfelter
January 24, 2009, 06:57 PM
I'll also pass this info along about 2 brands of choke tubes to use that will simply put save you a lot of money of buying the more expensive choke tubes that are out there. H.S.(Hunters Specialties) Undertaker choke tubes are simply one of the best choke tubes I have yet to try. http://www.hunterspec.com/Updateable/update_display.cfm?pageID=425&categoryID=33 You can get them at Wally World for $20 not counting tax. They will give you about 90% patterns at 40yds using 5 or 6 shot in most guns. I use this choke tube(.695 constriction) as I stated earlier on my Mossberg 835 barrel. It is one of my favorite choke tubes. The other brand is Carlson's choke tubes. They make some very good ones as well. http://www.choketube.com/

Don't be misled by choke tubes offering slots that supposedly stop the wad for denser patterns. That is simply put not true. I will say that the Comp-n-Choke brand slotted choke tube does shoot very well. But again the Undertaker choke shoots just as good and maybe better. The thing I have also learned that even the exact same brand choke tube say if you buy 3 of each is that one will shoot just a little better than the others. I have seen this to be true through my testing. A good choke tube constriction for most barrels on the market for 12GA shotguns shooting heavy #5 or #6 turkey loads is .665 constriction from my findings or say .005 up or down from it. For #4's in most shotguns I would say .680 to .690 would be the best. On Mossberg 835 barrels, .675 to .680 is about perfect for #5's and #6's, and .695 to .705 seems to be about right.

Also I can share with you guys that you can play with choke tubes such has I have and experiment with buying say .005 tighter or bigger or .010 tighter or bigger size chokes, but .010 to .015 choke constriction in these turkey chokes isn't going to be much of a difference that you will even notice. That has been my findings. Save your money and stick with some of the choke tube brands I mentioned and those particular constrictions.

Hope that helps some who would like to know.

January 24, 2009, 07:09 PM
1+ on the bore comparision.
Also a good choice is the New England Firearms 10 gauge single shot.
I use a 12 gauge chamber reducer and get great patterns.
It allows you to shoot 10 gauge or 12 gauge turkey loads.

Brad Clodfelter
January 25, 2009, 11:33 AM
Here's a good chart for most makes of shotguns that should help you in picking a choke tube constriction size depending on your shotgun.


April 11, 2011, 09:48 PM
Mr. Brad Clodfelter, this post is for you and I also have a question. I saw the post that you use an Undertaker .695 choke tube on your Mossberg 835 and shoot Winchester Supreme 3 1/2" 2 1/4oz loads. I have an 835 myself and recently tried the Winchester Supreme 3 1/2" 2 1/4oz loads in #5 shot with a trueglow choke and wasn't very impressed at the pattern at 40 yards. How do you like the Undertaker .695 choke tube when shooting Winchester Supreme 3 1/2" 2 1/4oz loads? and also do you use the #5 shot also?

April 11, 2011, 10:18 PM
I have fired exactly 3 rounds of 3-1/2" 12 guage magnum Turkey loads. I remember each one very well cuz they hurt like hell!. IMHO no need for bigger than 3".