2 3/4 vs 3 inch vs 3.5 inch Shotgun Shells

2 3/4 vs 3 inch vs 3.5 inch shotgun shells

2 3/4″, 3″, and 3.5″

When it comes to 12 gauge shotgun shells and the shotguns that fire them, there is a bit of variety out there in length of shell. 2 3/4″ shells have been a long standby and with lead shot, they’re very deadly at range. However, regulations prohibiting the use of lead when hunting migratory game birds has meant that most hunters are now using steel shot. Steel isn’t as dense and heavy as lead, so it doesn’t carry as much impact and energy. Usually, that means you need to use bigger pellets and the lack of room in the shotshell means you need to use fewer of those pellets. Fewer pellets give a pattern that’s less dense, so we need longer shotshells if we want to maintain pattern density. Enter the 3″ and 3.5″ shotgun shells.

In general, 3″ and 3.5″ shells add more payload weight, but don’t usually add to velocity. When shooting with steel:

  • 2 3/4 shells generally shoot 1 1/8, though there are 1 1/4 ounce loads. (1.125-1.25)
  • 3″ shells generally shoot 1 1/4 – 1 3/8 ounce loads. (1.25-1.375)
  • 3 1/2″ shells generally shoot 1 3/8 – 1 1/2 ounce loads (1.375-1.5)

So when you bump up from 2.75″ to 3.5″ shells, you’re gaining about 33% more pellets by weight. Kind of underwhelming, right? All that increase in recoil for a mere 33% more pellets and a bit denser pattern. Well, with more pellets, you can either leave the choke and maintain your pattern density at a further distance or you could go with a more open choke and gain in pattern size at close distance but still maintain density. In short, you gain in flexibility and forgiveness. Your shot placement is still important, but 3 1/2 shells will deliver more pellets in a wider pattern at close range or a maintaining density at longer distances.

Now, if you’ve got lots of money and appreciate shotguns with shorter receivers, or if you want to hunt with an older shotgun, you can always go to Bismuth or a Tungsten alloy or matrix of some kind. These heavier non toxic options give greater range for the same shot size, but they cost big bucks.

Shotgun Shell Overall Length (OAL)

I thought I’d make mention of this, because in Canada shotshell length has to be factored in when getting a magazine extension tube on a semi automatic shotgun. Keep in mind that stated lengths for shotgun shells are for their post-fired state. Pre-fired, they’re a bit different. ie: 2 3/4″ shells open to 2 3/4″ when fired, but before firing, their OAL is around 2.2-2.3″. Slugs that use a roll crimp can be a bit longer and variance between manufacturers is. . .generous.

Shotgun Shell OAL

2 3/4″ vs 3″ vs 3.5″ Shotgun Shells for Ducks and Geese

One of the key differences between duck hunting and goose hunting is the size of the game. With geese coming in at 5-14 lbs vs a ducks 1.5-3.5 lbs for a Mallard duck. With duck, you can get by with #2 or BB shot in steel, while you’ll want to go BB or BBB for geese. Now, as to the difference between 2 3/4 vs 3″ vs 3 1/2″:

  • If you’re shooting ducks with a longer shell, you can choose to go with a more open choke to help give a bigger pattern to snag a fast flying duck.
  • If you’re shooting geese with a longer shell, you can choose to hit them at slightly longer range than with a shorter shell because your shot pattern density will be better.

One thing you wouldn’t want to do is use a 3 1/2″ shell with a tight choke and then hammer a duck up close. That is, unless you like the idea of pre-shredded duck.

2 3/4 vs 3" shotgun slugs

2 3/4 a 3″ slug from various manufacturers

2 3/4″ vs 3″ vs 3.5″ Shotgun Slugs

Realistically, 2 3/4 and 3″ slugs are the only ones commonly available and there’s just a little bit of difference between them.

Between 2 3/4 and 3″ slugs in Winchester loading:

  • Sabot slugs (385 grns) in 2 3/4 clip along at 1725 fps, while the same slug in 3″ will do 1850
  • A full bore 1 oz slug in a 2 3/4 will go 1625 fps, while the 3″ version does 1700-1800

Not much of a difference? That’s because the max allowable SAAMI pressure between 2 3/4 and 3″ is the same. If you want to kick things up past the 11500 psi of the 2 3/4 and 3″ shells, you need to go to the 3 1/2’s 14000 psi. There is just one 3.5″ slug that I know of this time. Lightfield’s Commander IDS Plus uses a massive 1 3/8 ounce slug at 1800 fps. At just under 5000 ft-lbs at the muzzle, the power, and recoil  of 3 1/2″ slugs is fierce.

2 3/4 vs 3 inch shells for Clay Pigeons

2 3/4 inch shotshell

2 3/4 inch shotshell

When it comes to clay pigeons, it’s an easy decision to make: 2 3/4″ target shells are cheap, work in competition, and do the trick!

2 3/4″ vs 3″ vs 3 1/2″ Shotgun Shells for Turkey Hunting

Turkey hunting is an interesting sport. Rather than using a shotgun’s spread to hit a flying bird, people use them to take out a Turkey’s head and neck area. Sure, you could do that with a bolt action .223, but any head movement in the Turkey may result in a miss. A shotgun with a very tight turkey choke sends a dense pattern of shot downrange with the idea that it’s going for the head/neck. This leaves the vast majority of meat untouched: no spitting out pellets like you have to with ducks and geese.

When it comes to 2 3/4 vs 3″ vs 3.5″, you can get 30-50% more pellets into a 3 1/2″ compared to a 2 3/4. Really, it comes down to range. A short range turkey will go down dead from a 2 3/4″ shell even using smaller #6 shot with no requirement for a Turkey choke. A long range turkey may be better taken with an extra full choke, bigger pellets, and in a 3″ or 3.5″ shotgun. Personally, I think the time and money is better spent on practicing calls, camouflage, and scouting than it is on fancy shells but with most shotgun being offered in 3″, you might as well go with an extra full choked 3″ shell to give yourself a bit more room.

  • HC84

    Trying to determine how much I can legally extend the magazine on my VersaMax with the Nordic tube extensions, assuming I can have five 3.5″ (or 2.96″) in the tube, I’m thinking I can add either the 8.25″ or 10″ option without going over?

  • Hi HC84. I just finished writing an article to help address this : http://www.huntinggearguy.com/tips/maximum-shotshell-capacity-canada/

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