Rifle Bullets And Shotgun Pellets: The Differences

When you first look at a rifle and a shotgun, you can be forgiven for thinking that they look quite similar. While there are multiple versions of rifles and shotguns, most types are quite larger, especially compared to handguns.

Rifle Bullets And Shotgun Pellets The Differences

Yes, rifles and shotguns may look similar in some ways, but they differ in many other aspects. These include their usage, structure, and the ammunition they fire.

One key difference is that a shotgun has a smooth bore, whereas a rifle boasts spiral bores. This is also referred to as ‘rifling.’

Then, there is the ammunition fired from these firearms. Rifles tend to shoot just one lead at once, while a shotgun can fire dozens and dozens of small pellets made from lead or steel. When fired, this is referred to as a ‘shot.’

Today, we are going to look at rifles and shotguns in greater detail and discover the differences between rifle bullets and shotgun pellets. Are there really that many differences? Read on to find out more.

Rifles Vs Shotguns: The Differences

When most people talk about rifles or handguns, they describe them as ‘shooting bullets,’ But, when discussing shotguns, you will likely hear someone use the term ‘pellets’ or ‘shells’ when describing what they shoot. 

For rifles and handguns, you can use many terms for their bullets, such as cartridges and rounds. For shotguns, the terms slugs and shot are often used.

But, whatever term you use, there will always be differences between rifle cartridges and shotgun pellets.

Let’s take a look at the main differences below.

The Composition 

The material and composition of rifle bullets and shotgun shells are very different. Take a regular cartridge for a handgun or rifle, for example.

These are made with a brass casing on the outside that contains powder inside and a small primer on the casing’s end. This ignites the powder for the round to be fired as it is pressed into the casing’s opening. 

Although shotgun pellets follow this same principle, with primer and powder inside and a projectile to be shot out of the firearm, there is one key distinction. Shotgun shells have a shot cup, also known as a wad.

A shot cup, or wad, is a small cup that contains the forthcoming shot.

Because shotgun shells are loaded with pellets, known as shot, this needs to be kept in place until the trigger is pulled, and it is ready to fire out of the barrel. This is exactly what the shot cup does.

The casing completely covers the shot cup, whereas the bullet in a rifle is completely exposed. Therefore, rifle bullets and shotgun pellets look entirely different from one another.

This also means they operate differently.

The shell casing in shotguns is crimped at the ends. This then opens up through expansion as the gasses explode when being fired.

This happens as the shot cup pushes out the pellets. Another noticeable disparity between the two firearm’s ammo is that shotgun shell casings are typically constructed from plastic, while rifle cartridges consist of brass. 

Bullets Vs Shot

When you examine a shotgun, you will find that its shells do not have bullets. The shells in shotguns have a specific number of pellets.

Think of a BB gun, and it’s similar to its BBs. The pellets in a shotgun are called ‘shot.’ And, that’s where the name ‘shotgun’ comes from.

In other types of firearms, the cartridge will fire out a single round. This follows through the rifling of the barrel and spins for a more accurate delivery.

This also helps the bullet travel greater distances. In a shotgun, however, the initial explosion sends a unit of pellets down its bore before they spread out whilst traveling toward their target.

As you can tell, the final result from the shot is very different as a shotgun’s pellets will disperse and cover a wider area, whereas a rifle’s bullet will pierce one specific surface. 

A bullet is more precise. When using a rifle, or a handgun, the goal is to aim it at a specific target and fire, hoping to hit that target in one specific point.

Rifle Bullets And Shotgun Pellets The Differences (1)

But, when firing a shotgun, you can aim it at an area but, once it is fired, the ammo will cover that whole area. 

Here’s a simple analogy for you:

  • A rifle bullet is like a knife, going into one specific area for more precision. 
  • A shotgun shell and its pellets is more like a hammer, aiming for blunt trauma.

When it comes to a shotgun shot, there are different types of these, too.

Some have round, large pellets known as buckshot. Others contain smaller pellets known as birdshot.

Buckshot is generally used for shooting larger game, such as a buck, hence the name. These can also be used as a form of self-defense, as well.

Birdshot, as you can probably guess from its name, is intended for birds and smaller animals such as rodents.

Cartridges Vs Shells: Differences

When shooting a shotgun, a ‘shell’ is fired out. Compared to rifles, and any other type of gun, this term is unique to a shotgun. But, all in all, its function and reference is similar to that of a cartridge in other firearms.

Cartridges contain a primer casing, gunpowder, and a projectile. But, in a shotgun, this is referred to as a shell casing or shells.

Rifle bullets generate a huge chamber pressure when fired, whereas shotguns do not produce such force. This is down to the different designs.

Shotgun barrels boast a larger bore than rifles, meaning there is less pressure inside. This is because the gasses need to cover a wider area.

Rifles tend to have small areas inside, so the pressure is greater. Therefore, the increased pressure results in the cartridge casing needing to be made from stronger material than that of shotgun cartridges.

In Summary

Rifle bullets and shotgun pellets differ in their construction, size, and usability. Rifles are used for more precise shots, while a shotgun is best for blunt trauma and hitting a wider target area.

But, one thing remains, both can be deadly.

Matthew Osborn

Matt is an entrepreneur who has created and successfully exited multiple companies and brands. Now, he dedicates his time to Legionary, where he produces content on guns, family, and freedom.

Recent Posts