Perhaps the most versatile and popular cartridge on the face of the earth is the 12 gauge shotshell.
The only cartridge that I can think of that might equal it in popularity is the .22 rimfire, if there is any ammo for them left. Judging from the availability of ammo for them around my neck of the woods, feeding that popularity with ammo might be difficult. But, I digress.
Practically every hunter owns at least one 12 bore shotgun. Sport shooters shooting trap, skeet or sporting clays for entertainment or competition, likewise own one or more scattergun so chambered, usually more.
Even among non-hunters and sport shooters, at least in my part of Kentucky during my growing up years, practically every farmhouse had a shotgun handy, usually a 12 bore. Among hunting families of that era, it was a right of passage to manhood for a young lad to graduate from the .410 or 20 bore single-shot scattergun that he started with, to a grown up 12 bore.
At some point in our history, some bright fellow figured out that it would be much easier to hit their intended target when unleashing numerous projectiles rather than just a single one. The 12-gauge gun could be used for single projectiles, originally round lead balls, graduating to the plethora of shaped shotgun slugs available on the market today, to an array of multiple projectile loads. From buckshot to birdshot, the scattergun uses had a large choice available to match the load to the intended target.
In addition to the ample choice of projectile loadings, the user also has a choice when it comes to the length of the 12-gauge shell. Ammunition for the 12 bore has been loaded with shell lengths of 2”, 2-1/2”, 2-5/8th”, 2-3/4 inch (most common), 3”, and 3-1/2 inch that I know of. It could be that a few others were loaded that I'm not aware of. Naturally, the longer the shell case, the more powder and shot it will hold, creating a more powerful round.
The military also learned early on that a short barreled, smooth bore scatter gun was just the ticket for military use at close quarters. The same thinking applied to civilian police and security guard use. There were a number of Winchester Model 97 “riot” guns in use in Vietnam. One scattergun was even used in the tussle at the OK Corral in Tombstone, wielded by none other than Doc Holliday. Practically every police cruiser has a tactical shotgun available, often carried in the trunk of the vehicle.
Quite a number of our states, usually located in densely populated areas, require a shotgun loaded with slugs for deer hunting. Wilhelm Brenneke invented the shotgun slug in 1898, which greatly improved shotgun performance for big game hunting over the round lead ball. The shotgun has evolved into quite a potent and accurate big game load.
Many shotguns designed specifically for big game hunting are equipped with rifled bore barrels and when loaded with slugs intended for use with rifled bore guns, are very accurate. They also greatly improve the effective ranges from around 40 yards or so for a hollow-base Foster type “punkin ball” slug to 100 yards and more for saboted slugs in rifled bore guns.
A pretty good argument could be made that an individual armed with a .22 RF and a good 12 bore shotgun, is pretty much ready for most anything requiring a firearm, from defending his pea patch, to keeping food on the table.
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