The Best Shot for Duck Hunting

The secret to a good duck hunt is using the right weapon and shell. Using the wrong shot can cause you to go home empty-handed or to have birds that are too shot up to turn into trophies or food. There are a few things you need to know before you grab your next box of shells. Get ready to learn all you need to know about the best shot for duck hunting.

How Do I Know What Shot I Need?

Before you purchase the shot you think you need, it’s important to understand what “shot” means. A shot is a shell that is filled with a bunch of small round pellets made out of a hard material like steel or lead. It’s important to do your research before going hunting to find out what type of shell you’ll need. Some places require you to use steel shot instead of lead, as lead can be dangerous for birds. You’ll also have to change the size of your shot based on the type of metal used to make the pellets.

The gauge will determine how many pellets the shell has. The smaller the gauge, the more pellets your shell will contain. Using a larger gun isn’t always the best option. We’ll talk in a bit about the size of gun you’ll want to use for hunting. 

The animal you’re hunting will determine the size of the pellets inside your shell. Buckshot shells have larger pellets and are meant for hunting larger animals like deer. For duck hunting, you’ll want to use birdshot, which will have smaller pellets.

You want to use the right size shell, the right size load, and the correct gauge for the species being hunted. 

Factors to Consider When Choosing Shot Size

When you’re contemplating what size shot you should use for duck hunting, there are a few factors you should consider. The type of duck you’re going after is going to play a big factor. Smaller ducks don’t need as heavy of a load as large ducks and geese.

The breed will also affect the duck’s flight pattern and speed. It’s important to know important information about the type of ducks you’ll be hunting for so you’ll be prepared with the best way to shoot. Smaller ducks will have a quicker speed than larger ducks. So you’ll want a shot that can fire from the gun quickly.

You’ll also want to consider how far away you’ll be shooting. The average distance to shoot ducks is around 40 yards. If you use a larger gun like a 12 gauge, you can stretch your distance a few extra yards but remember that the larger the gun, the more damage you’re risking to your bird.


Shots come in different gauges and in different lengths. The length of your shell will determine how fast your shot will leave your gun. It will also determine how wide your shot pattern spreads. The different lengths are:

  • 2 in
  • 3 in
  • 3 in

The Shot Options on the Market

Another important aspect you’ll want to know about your shell is the shot size. The larger the number, the smaller the shot. You want to stick with a smaller load when hunting smaller targets like ducks. Otherwise, you’re compromising your hunt.

You want to find good birdshot, with the appropriate shot size. The larger the number of shot, the more pellets the shot will contain. A larger load is better for when you’re shooting up close, like around your decoys than shooting as ducks are in flight. 

The more pellets you have, the wider your pattern will be. If you’re shooting around your decoys, you’re reducing the collateral damage by using a bigger shot. Go for the lower numbers if you’re wanting range. Your pattern shot is important for your accuracy.

For example, a number 2 birdshot, referred to as just a number 2 shot, would be better for shooting ducks overhead. A number 4 shot would be more suitable for shooting as the ducks are lighting in towards your decoys.

The Different Shot Options

  • No 10 – 848 lead pellets per oz
  • No 9 – 585 lead pellets per oz/892 steel pellets per oz
  • No 8.5  – 497 lead pellets per oz
  • No 8 – 410 lead pellets per oz/686 steel pellets per oz
  • No 7.5  – 350 lead pellets per oz/490 steel pellets per oz
  • No 7 – 291 lead pellets per oz/423 steel pellets per oz
  • No 6 – 225 lead pellets per oz/325 steel pellets per oz
  • No 5 – 170 lead pellets per oz/243 steel pellets per oz
  • No 4 – 135 lead pellets per oz/192 steel pellets per oz
  • No 3 – 108 lead pellets per oz/158 steel pellets per oz
  • No 2 – 87 lead pellets per oz/125 steel pellets per oz
  • No 1 – 72 lead pellets per oz/103 steel pellets per oz
  • BB – 50 lead pellets per oz/72 steel pellets per oz
  • BBB – 44 lead pellets per oz/62 steel pellets per oz
  • T-shot – 36 lead pellets per oz/53 steel pellets per oz

Which Shot Do I Need?

The size shot you’ll need will depend on the size of the duck you’re hunting. The gauge and the choke will also need to be considered if you want to have the perfect hunt. Below is rough guidance on how to choose a shot for the species you are going after.

Small Ducks

When you’re hunting small ducks like teal, who are fast and have an unpredictable flight pattern, the optimal range you want to attempt is between 15 and 40 yards, using a 20 gauge gun. If you’re hunting with a 12 gauge, you can stretch the distance a bit further than with a 20, but there are other factors that can affect your accuracy.

You’ll also want to consider the type of choke you’re using. Skeet and improved cylinder chokes are both good options for small ducks. You’ll want to stick to the smallest shots, numbers 4, 5, and 6 for the lead shot, and numbers 2, 3, or 4 for the steel shot. Anything larger can cause damage to your trophy.

Medium Ducks

Medium-sized ducks are breeds like Gadwalls, wood ducks, wigeon, and scaup. You’ll want to use a 3-inch shell, with a 1  ounce number 3 shot with a 20 or 12 gauge. This will give you a good pattern spread so you’ll have maximum efficiency – great for close shots.

duck landing on a water

Large Ducks

For large ducks like mallards, canvasbacks and small sea ducks, you should aim for a range of 10 to 40 yards, using a 10, 12, or 20 gauge. Modified chokes are a good choice here, as are improved modified chokes. 

You’ll need more power to take down larger targets, so for larger ducks, look for a larger shot like  No. 4, 3, 2 for lead or numbers 2, 1, or BB for steel shot. A 3-inch cropped shell will allow you to have the appropriate velocity to be more accurate.

One and Done

When you’re out duck hunting, the last thing you want to do is swap guns and chokes and shots every few minutes. You want to have the best option for your purposes. 

So for small ducks, go with number 6 shot. A number 4 shot is great for medium ducks, but it’s also the best shot overall for duck hunting in general. And a number 2 shot is optimal for larger size ducks. 

What Shotgun Do You Duck Hunt With?

When you’re duck hunting, you can use a few different gauge guns. The size of the duck species will decide which gauge would be best. Overall, most waterfowl hunters prefer to use the 20 gauge, which has less recoil. 

A number 4 shot in a 20 gauge can actually have more power than a number 2 shot load in a 12 gauge. A 12 gauge does have more accuracy than 40 yards but if you plan to keep your shots short, a 20 gauge will work just fine. 

All you need is enough power for the birdshot to spread out enough to hit the duck multiple times and be able to go through the body and pierce vital organs. But on windy days, a large shot is better than a small shot, when using a tighter choke.

A Few Choices to Try

Most ammunition companies make shotgun shells designed specifically for duck hunting. Winchester is one of our favorites because it provides a superior product for a reasonable price. They have three different waterfowl shots that we recommend.

  • Blind Side – This shell has a hex shot and a diamond-cut wad, which allows the shell to contain more ammunition. What we like is that these pellets hold a tight pattern on impact. You can get magnum waterfowl load or high-velocity load.
  • Drylock – What we love about this shell is that it’s water-resistant and has a super steel wad. You can trust this product to work no matter how damp you get walking to your blind. This type of shell is available in a magnum or high velocity for 10, 12, and 20 gauge. They’re available in shots from number 4 down to a T shot.
  • Super-X Xpert – These shells have quick speed and high accuracy, with a tight shot pattern. You get a high-velocity steel shot made in the USA with great performance and long-range capabilities.

In Conclusion

Hopefully, we’ve answered most of your questions about what would be the best shot for duck hunting. As we’ve stated, we recommend a number four-shot, with a 2-inch length. And a 20 gauge is the best weapon you can pick for hunting waterfowl.

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