Does Small Shot Out-Penetrate Larger Shot?

posted on December 21, 2012
bs_2015_fs.jpg (29)

With turkey season on the horizon, studious turkey hunters will notice myriad new choices in turkey loads and begin thinking they should try one. Then, which shot to use? No. 4's? No. 6's? Which one patterns better in the gun? And which will penetrate better?

The Myth
It's commonly held that if all else is equal (range and velocity) smaller shot will penetrate better than larger shot because it has less surface area to impede penetration.

The Facts
To borrow straight from that all-knowing BullShooter's Bible, the NRA Fact Book:

The fallacy in [this idea] is obvious when it is carried to its logical conclusion, that a round cannonball would penetrate a much shorter distance than a small shot pellet.

The belief would be correctly founded if penetration by shot pellets took place as the result of an outside force applied t the pellets during penetration, pushing them through the target. This situation does not exist.

The only force carrying a projectile through its target arises from its own velocity and weight. Assuming like velocities, then the only factors making for different penetrations by non-deforming round shot will be weight and area. The weights of spheres of the same material will be to each as the cubes of their diameters.

Lets skip a bunch of mathematical formulas...

The Conclusion
... Penetration goes up strictly in accordance with the diameter of the shot.

Conclusion for Turkey Hunters
It's proven that a No. 6 shot pellet will penetrate the head of a turkey at 60 yards, so unless you plan to shoot further than that—in which case I'd suggest searching for a new call rather than a new load—pick the load that patterns best in your shotgun, and then go hunting.


Wicked Ridge Fury 410 De Cock Lead
Wicked Ridge Fury 410 De Cock Lead

New for 2022: Wicked Ridge Fury 410 De-Cock

Equipped with the revolutionary ACUdraw De-Cock for safe de-cocking, D-1 Trigger and a reverse-draw crossbow design, the compact Fury 410 De-Cock shoots 410 fps, is compact and delivers performance hunters will appreciate at its $1,000 price-point.

Benelli USA Adds Turkey Model to Nova Pump Shotgun Line

In keeping with the trend towards lighter, high-mobility shotguns for pursuing spring gobblers, Benelli USA has expanded the company’s Nova pump shotgun lineup with the release of the Nova Turkey.

New for 2022: Easton Sonic 6.0

The Sonic 6.0 is a 6mm high-performance hunting arrow engineered with high-performance speed and hunting accuracy in mind.

#SundayGunday: Savage Renegauge Prairie

Get a closer look at the Savage Renegauge in TrueTimber Prarie, the latest addition to our #SundayGunday series.

First Look: Mossberg 940 Pro Turkey

The 940 Pro family continues to grow, and just in time for turkey season.

New for 2022: Benelli SBE3 28-Gauge, 3-Inch

For 2022, Benelli raises the bar in the growing sub-gauge movement with the release of the 28-gauge Super Black Eagle 3, featuring a 3-inch chamber.


Get the best of American Hunter delivered to your inbox.