How Many Shells Can a Shotgun Hold?

How Many Shells Can a Shotgun Hold
Alfred Mendoza

Shotguns have been an all-time favorite home defense weapon for the past hundreds of years. It is best for short-distance shooting and fires multiple projectiles every time a shooter pulls the trigger. 

But, how many shells can a shotgun hold? Let’s find out.

The maximum shotgun shell capacity is typically three shells. Whether the shotgun is a semi, box magazine-fed, or high capacity pump, there should only be three shells loaded at any one time. In most cases, hunting shotguns hold between two and five shells. 

However, the U.S. regulations for migratory bird hunting prescribes using three shells at most.

However, some shotguns, like the riot shotguns, typically feature longer magazine tubes, which are as long as the barrel.

Its magazine tube allows six to ten shells to be loaded depending on the barrel length, model, and shell types loaded into it. Learn the correct way to load shotguns here


Are There Legal Limits?

Yes, there are legal limits when it comes to how many shells a shotgun can hold. However, these limits vary from state to state. It may also depend on the species with which a shooter uses his shotgun. 

Furthermore, it is safe to keep in mind that federal laws protect migratory birds. Your shotgun must not be able to load more than three shells for these types of species. Also, this rule may not apply for competitions as you will most likely follow the allowed shell capacity the competition allows.

Also Read: How Much Does A Shotgun Cost?

Understanding Shotgun Ammunition



The birdshot is a shotgun shell filled with a large number of small shots and is most commonly used for hunting or shooting birds. It is somewhat smaller than 3mm but tends to have hundreds of pellets inside. 

It provides many projectiles that let you shoot even and widespread shots, making it easier to shoot small and even moving targets. Since this ammo is lightweight, its projectiles will cause less damage to smaller targets while still being lethal.


Buckshot is a heavier form of shotgun ammunition. It fires from six to ten ammo with larger diameter ball bearings but doesn’t go beyond 9.1mm. Its shotgun shells use large metal pellets that scatter outward just like the birdshot. 

This shotgun ammo also carries more energy than the birdshot, so it causes more damage to the target than the birdshot. This ammo type is typically used for large games like deer hunting. 


The slug ammunition is the most powerful type of shotgun ammo that a shooter could purchase. Unlike the other two types, this ammunition is either filled with lead or made of lead covered in copper. This type of ammo is best used when hunting deer with one shot. 

Some slugs even use plastic tips, which may inflict additional damage and cuts into your target, making it more lethal. However, if you wish to make it less lethal, you can replace the lead material inside the shotgun shell with a rubber material.

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Shotgun Capacity Per Type

Shotgun Capacity Per Type

Pump Action

In the pump-action shotgun, you chamber the next ammo by working the for-end slide back and forth, so it ejects the used shells and chambers a new shell from the magazine tube. Most pump-action shotguns can hold 4+1 shells, meaning they can hold at least four shotgun shells in their magazine while the other is kept in the chamber. 

Read: FMJ Bullets vs Hollow Point

Break Action

The break-action shotgun only allows two shotgun shells to be loaded at a time. Break action shotguns have various types, such as the breechloading break action shotgun, which is the most common type. There are also double-barreled variants believed to be the most commonly seen in modern days. There are also side-by-side shotguns, combination guns, and many more. 


A semi-automatic shotgun is called a semi-automatic because you have to pull the trigger each time to fire it instead of just holding the trigger back on a fully automatic firearm. [1] It can hold three to nine shotgun shells but may hold more if it uses a magazine extender. Learn the lifespan of different ammo here

So, How Many Shotgun Shells Can Your Weapon Hold?

Some hunters and shooters may wonder why it is important to know how many shells can a shotgun hold. Well, it is always a rule of the thumb for hunters to know the rules and regulations their states prescribe when using firearms such as shotguns. 

This could save them from being charged with unlawful acts or even endanger the lives of both humans and animals. Always keep in mind that various shotguns can hold shotgun shells differently. The state or federal laws and the type of shotguns used can all become a huge factor.



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