A shotgun also known as a scattergun or peppergun, or historically as a fowling piece, it is a firearm that is usually designed to be fired from the shoulder, which uses the energy of a fixed shell to fire a number of small spherical pellets called shot, or a solid projectile called a slug. Shotguns come in a wide variety of sizes, ranging from 5.5 mm (.22 inch) bore up to 5 cm (2.0 in) bore, and in a range of firearm operating mechanisms, including breech loading, single-barreled, double or combination gun, pump-action, bolt-, and lever-action, semi-automatic, and even fully automatic variants.
A shotgun is generally a smoothbore firearm, which means that the inside of the barrel is not rifled. Preceding smoothbore firearms, such as the musket, were widely used by armies in the 18th century. The direct ancestor to the shotgun, the blunderbuss, was also used in a similar variety of roles from self defense to riot control. It was often used by cavalry troops due to its generally shorter length and ease of use, as well as by coachmen for its substantial power.
However, in the 19th century, these weapons were largely replaced on the battlefield with breech loading rifled firearms, which were more accurate over longer ranges. The military value of shotguns was rediscovered in the First World War, when American forces used 12-gauge pump action shotguns in close-quarters trench fighting to great effect. Since then, it has been used in a variety of roles in civilian, law enforcement, and military applications.
The shot pellets from a shotgun spread upon leaving the barrel, and the power of the burning charge is divided among the pellets, which means that the energy of any one ball of shot is fairly low. In a hunting context, this makes shotguns useful primarily for hunting birds and other small game. However, in a military or law enforcement context, the large number of projectiles makes the shotgun useful as a close quarter’s combat weapon or a defensive weapon. Militants or insurgents may use shotguns in asymmetric engagements, as shotguns are commonly-owned civilian weapons in many countries. Shotguns are also used for target shooting sports such as skeet, trap, and sporting clays. These involve shooting clay disks, known as clay pigeons, thrown in various ways and speeds.
The typical use of a shotgun is against small and fast moving targets, often while in the air. The spreading of the shot allows the user to point the shotgun close to the target, rather than having to aim precisely as in the case of a single projectile. The disadvantages of shot are limited range and limited penetration of the shot, which is why shotguns are used at short ranges, and typically against smaller targets. Larger shot sizes, up to the extreme case of the single projectile slug load, result in increased penetration, but at the expense of fewer projectiles and lower probability of hitting the target.
Aside from the most common use against small, fast moving targets, the shotgun has several advantages when used against still targets. First, it has enormous stopping power at short range, more than nearly all handguns and many rifles. Though many believe the shotgun is a great firearm for inexperienced shooters, the truth is, at close range, the spread of shot is not very large at all, and competency in aiming is still required. It’s a myth that you do not need to aim with the shotgun, point and shoot is all that is required. If you don’t shoulder the shotgun correctly, not only will you miss your target but you will feel the recoil.
A typical self-defense load of buckshot contains 8-27 large lead pellets, resulting in many wound tracks in the target. Also, unlike a fully jacketed rifle bullet, each pellet of shot is less likely to penetrate walls and hit bystanders. It is favored by law enforcement for its low penetration and high stopping power.
On the other hand, the hit potential of a defensive shotgun is often overstated. The typical defensive shot is taken at very close ranges, at which the shot charge expands no more than a few centimeters. This means the shotgun must still be aimed at the target with some care. Balancing this is the fact that shot spreads further upon entering the target, and the multiple wound channels of a defensive load are far more likely to produce a disabling wound than a rifle or handgun.
Some of the information on this page was sourced from Wikipedia