William Powell Country

Which Shotgun Cartridge ?


Article written by 05 January 2016

Suggested Shotgun Cartridges for Driven Game Shooting in the UK 

Cartridges choice is one of the most frequently discussed topics in shooting. There are no hard and fast rules within certain parameters, but the following are our suggestions based on 20 years’ experience of letting game shooting throughout the UK.

Before going any further our first point to stress is that all cartridges used for game shooting should incorporate a Fibre Wad. This is for environmental/wildlife/farm stock reasons. We recognise that plastic wads are more efficient than fibre but they are unsightly left scattered across the countryside and more importantly can be the cause of injuries to livestock by ingesting them.

For Grouse Shooting 

In August and September we believe nothing larger than a 30 grams of 6 shot is necessary to cleanly kill a grouse out to 40 yards. Our own 29 gram 6 ½ shot produces an excellent pattern and is a good compromise between shot size and weight.

Later on there is an argument for using a heavier load with perhaps No. 5 shot as the birds get stronger and faster and are harder to kill, particularly going away. Serious consideration must, however be given to the distance that the larger shot will travel from these heavier cartridges, in relation to shoot staff specifically flankers during a grouse drive. Certainly nothing bigger than 32 grams of 5 shot should ever be used on a moor and we recommend something a little lighter such as the Blue Lightning 31 gram 5 ½ shot cartridge.

Blue Lightning

For Partridge and Pheasant Shooting 

Early season (September/October) partridges need little more than the 28 grams or possibly 30 grams of No. 6 shot. The only exception being those high bird partridges found in hilly areas which usually benefit from going up one shot size to a No. 5.

As the season’s progresses and Pheasants appear as the main quarry species, then No. 5 shot is the preferred shot size either in 30 gram or later into January with 32 grams. The Blue Lightning 31 gram 5 ½ shot is an excellent cartridge for this stage of the season.

On Higher bird shoots typically found in the West Country, Wales, North Yorkshire, the Scottish Borders and elsewhere 32 grams either in 5 shot or even 4 shot is recommended. For most English game guns, 30 gram of No. 4 shot is a good compromise of weight of cartridge in a lighter gun. For even the highest birds on the limit of a shotgun’s range, we would not recommend going beyond 34 grams of 4 shot – not least because it is very hard to find a cartridge larger than this without plastic wad. In addition such cartridges tend to be far less forgiving for the user in terms of “kick”, particularly with any volume of shooting.

Smaller Calibres 

We are seeing more and more 20 gauge shotguns being used in the field these days as well as 16 and 28 gauge.

The choice of cartridge for these calibres is far less than for a 12 bore, but we would suggest that 25 grams of 6 shot for early season and 28 grams of 6 shot or more often 5 shot, should cover most eventualities for the 20 gauge user.

For 16 gauge either 26.5 gram of 6 shot earlier on and then 28 gram of 5 shot should again be the most popular choices in a fibre wad. The 16 gauge is intrinsically a lighter gun than the 12 bore and side by sides particularly do not seem to respond well to heavier loads.

28 gauge users seem to suffer from arguably the finest cartridge in this calibre being made in the US (Federal and Winchesters) and so being prohibitively expensive and only available with a plastic wad. However Gamebore in particular make a very good range in their Pure Gold series with a fibre wad from 16 grams of 6 shot for the younger shooter through to 25 grams of 5 shot which we recommend for higher birds.

Non-Toxic Cartridges for Wildfowl 

The debate over steel versus Bismuth (tungsten matrix now being extremely expensive) rages but assuming you have a gun which could use either (steel is not recommended for older English guns or for barrels with fixed choke tighter than ½ (0.02 inches of constriction) we always recommend at least one shot size if not two shot sizes larger than the equivalent lead cartridges as well as a heavier load. For instance, where we used to use 30 gram of 6 shot for duck with lead shot, 32 grams of 4 shot of steel or Bismuth should be considered.

Ducks (and geese) have much denser, downy feathers for the shot to penetrate and they require much greater hitting power found in the kinetic energy of the larger shot.

For the record I would never use anything less than No. 2 shot for wild geese or American BB’s when flighting them on the foreshore.

Grouse cartridges


For more cartridge advice please call our team on 01295 701 701 or visit www.williampowellcartridges.com


James Chapel MRICS

James Chapel is a qualified Chartered Surveyor who had several years working for a national practice before joining JM Osborne & Co. James also heads up the William Powell Sporting Agency organising and hosting over 200 days shooting .. Read more.

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