3" vs. 3.5" Shotgun Shells
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Author:  black_cloud [ Thu Jul 24, 2008 1:17 am ]
Post subject:  3" vs. 3.5" Shotgun Shells

I know that this question has been asked several of times already in the past. I've read a lot of online articles and forums, and found out that people have different opinions, becomes confuse and starts to go off topic. Now lets get this straight. I'm a waterfowler and shoot a 12 GA. Lets talk about STEEL loads and leave out the lead, tungsten, bismuth, etc. This is to the folks who have a lot of experience in shotgun ballistics. How much of a difference in performance is there does the maximum load with the same shot size used for waterfowling in the 3" shells compare with the 3.5" shell? Does the different size shells contains more pellets, velocity, energy? I know for a fact that most of the time when people are shooting in public areas, they're not able to work their birds close enough for a ethical shot, because when they're working their birds, the other guys fires and most of the time, the game is over. In situations like this, most waterfowlers get mad and begin to skyscrape using 3.5" size shells to get a higher velocity and range shot at the birds. I understand that others use different shot materials for higher velocity, higher energy and longer range, but again we're talking STEEL. Again, talking about STEEL, is the 3.5" shells in its maximum load more capable in velocity, range and energy than the 3" shells that is also in its maximum load for long range waterfowl hunting? I'm new to this 3" and 3.5" thing that really gets on my nerves and even got me and my friend into a argument. I really want to know from the more experience guys, so lets get this straight for the waterfowlers.

Author:  kcub [ Thu Jul 24, 2008 5:39 am ]
Post subject:  re: 3" vs. 3.5" Shotgun Shells

It only matters with geese or extreme long range ducks. You shouldn't be shooting at ducks that far unless they are wounded and going to get away only to die anyway and go to waste.

I used to guide with a 10 guage and it absolutely outclassed the 3" 12 guage with steel. It was perfect for dropping wounded ducks at long range. The 3½" 12 is designed to approach that 10 guage range with steel. If used not to skybust but to reachout only to keep birds from going to waste it is very ethical. You're right, you should be decoying and calling them in so it doesn't matter.

Now if you are going to hunt wary snow geese a lot the heavy artillery will be the better tool for the job.

If you are hunting close enough to other people who are going to be shooting at the same birds before they are in range, I'd as soon not be there in the 1st place.

Author:  Bob_K [ Thu Jul 24, 2008 6:11 am ]
Post subject:  re: 3" vs. 3.5" Shotgun Shells

Limited to STEEL only, yes, the 3.5" outperforms the 3" 12 ga.

Author:  Bug Doc [ Thu Jul 24, 2008 7:41 am ]
Post subject:  re: 3" vs. 3.5" Shotgun Shells

When you're choosing a hunting load, you have two major concerns to address. First, you must strike the bird with enough pellets to ensure a vital area (head, neck, spine, heart, flight bone, etc...) is disrupted. This usually means 4+ hits. Second, any pellets that hit the bird must have sufficient penetration to ensure the vital organs can be reached, otherwise all you end up doing is crippling the bird. With these two items in mind, let's compare 3" to 3.5" shells.

The same size pellet launched at the same velocity will have the same ballistics, no matter what length of shell it is fired from. Therefore, if you compare 3" to 3.5" loads of equal velocity, you can get a very good idea of the potential advantage of a 3.5" shell.

Here's a good example. For long-range duck hunting, a load of steel #1's @ 1550fps is an excellent choice. It will hold enough velocity to achieve lethal penetration on mallards out to about 50 yards. In a 3" shell you get 1-1/8oz of shot at that velocity, while a 3-1/2" shell can deliver 1-3/8oz at that same velocity. That equates to 115 pellets vrs 140. Those extra 25 pellets give you a little extra margin of error in filling out the pattern. That's the only advantage of a 3.5" shell.

I like to see 100+ well distributed hits in a 30" circle in order to ensure that I can put the required 4+ hits on a mallard-sized target. The longer shell generally makes it easier to keep enough shot in the pattern, but that is not always the case. Some guns will pattern better with the shorter shell, so the only way to really tell if you are getting a benefit from the longer shell is to shoot some pattern tests. A shell that is performing well at the maximum range you intend to shoot at will throw a pattern that looks something like this:


Note that there are over 100 hits in this 30 inch circle, and that they are fairly well distributed. Any bird falling within this circle will almost certainly take 4+ hits. Now, here's an unacceptable pattern:


There are too many holes in this pattern. Although many birds would be killed with this one, too many would be crippled.

The important part to remember is you must pattern your gun with your load and choke in order to know what it will do. Every gun is different. Test at the maximum range you generally shoot birds at. If you're unsure about the potential range limits of various steel loads, take a few minutes and read this article: ... ooting.php

It includes a table that lists the max range on mallard-sized targets for most commercial non-toxic loads. Hope you enjoy it.

Author:  Marcstar [ Thu Jul 24, 2008 8:26 am ]
Post subject:  re: 3" vs. 3.5" Shotgun Shells

I'm sure these guys explained it well...but the cliff notes. The bigger shells just allow you to have either more shot at the same speeds or the same amount of shot but at higher speeds. Sometimes they will be both bigger and faster.

But as far as range, yeah that just has to do with the speed. If you have a 2 3/4" 1oz load that is 1600fps vs a 3.5" 1 9/16oz load at 1350fps...assuming the same sized pellets the smaller shell's pellets are going to travel farther.

I will say this...thinking just because you are shooting a 3.5" load will give you more range can be a bad assumption. People that skybust will do it no matter what because they are set up wrong, call wrong, or just can't wait long enough to get better shots. I don't car what kind of shells you are shooting...they might have a killing range of 75 yards but it doesnt matter because it gets really hard to hit a moving bird after about 45 yards. So pretty much a miss is a miss.

Author:  Virginian [ Thu Jul 24, 2008 9:26 am ]
Post subject:  re: 3" vs. 3.5" Shotgun Shells

On swans, the 3.5" 12 was noticably better than a straight 3" 12 with steel. The 10 was quite a bit better still. Seems lots of times a 3" would take 3 shots to drop them, if it did, and then you had to chase a cripple. The 3-1/2" would drop them a lot more often, but still a lot of cripple chasing. The 10 killed them. All with steel 'T's, pass shooting (but they don't fly nearly as high or as far away as gooses :o ).

Author:  Worc [ Thu Jul 24, 2008 10:15 am ]
Post subject:  re: 3" vs. 3.5" Shotgun Shells

I think the others explained it pretty well. The way I look at it is the 3 1/2" has to potential to have more pellets or more pellet energy than the shorter shells. It's real advantage is it gives you a traditional load weight at a higher velocity which is more important for steel. If you look at factory steel loads, only the 3 1/2" shell has a velocity of 1,625fps. This would give that load more pellet energy or more range. The trend now is those traditional load weights of 1 1/4oz or 1 3/8oz at the higher velocities. The older 3 1/2" steel loads that had large steel payloads at slower speeds are harder to find as they are less effective. The longer shells are only around .12 cents than a similar 3" load or less if you find them on sale.

You need balance in terms of load weight and velocity and Bug Doc touched on it a little. It does no good to have a load that is going super fast but lacks in pattern density. The same would be true for a load that has a large and dense pattern but, lacks enough energy to penetrate. In both cases range would be limited.

In terms of the gun it's self. A 3 1/2" model is more versatile in the waterfowl blind as they can cycle any waterfowl load within gauge. They also can take more pressure than the shorter chamber models. This gives them an extra level of safety when using shorter shells. The 3 1/2" models will cost a little more than a similar 3'" model by $100.00 to $250.00. Weight wise they could be any where from a 1/10 of a pound to 3/4 pound more than their 3" brothers.

Author:  black_cloud [ Thu Jul 24, 2008 2:03 pm ]
Post subject:  re: 3" vs. 3.5" Shotgun Shells

I would like to thank all of you who responded to my questions. They were really great responses and helped me out a LOT. Thank you all for your time.

Author:  stockranger [ Wed Jan 20, 2010 1:02 am ]
Post subject:  Re: 3" vs. 3.5" Shotgun Shells

If you really do alot of long range waterfowl shooting why not just get a 10 gauge? Its the ultimate setup as far as I can tell. What the heck do I know I just read about this stuff all I own is a 20g and would never even consider owning a 3.5" 12g.

Bottom line is you have to pattern your gun no matter what it is you hunt and what load you use! Its just as important for a quail hunter with a 28g to pattern his lead loads in his gun as it is for a waterfowl guy to pattern his steal loads.

Author:  NMduckslayer [ Wed Jan 20, 2010 2:41 am ]
Post subject:  Re: 3" vs. 3.5" Shotgun Shells

I do a lot of pass shooting at waterfowl on the Rio Grande which where I'm at is a bad place to hunt waterfowl at best. I used an 870 supermag 12g synthetic with Kent #2s @ 1625 fps for ducks and a BPS 10g with Remington BBB for geese. I've taken to using the 10g with Remington #2s @ 1050 BAR for ducks because I feel that the shot tends to have a shorter string and reach the ducks all at one time and produces less wounded birds and more dead right there birds. When you're looking at a target with a pattern on it, keep in mind that you don't see when the pellets reached the target. Just where. A longer shot string produces holes for birds to fly through just like a thin pattern does.
I'm sure that over decoying birds that land in your lap a 12g 2.75" shell is ideal, but we don't live or hunt in an ideal world and hunting in less than ideal situations like yours and mine require more thought and sometimes more gun. I think that it is more responsible to use a fuller pattern for any sort of bird hunting and waterfowl aren't exactly clay pidgeons where a chip counts. Use what ever you think is best for your situation. No one else on this site is pulling the trigger for you and taking ethical responsibility for your hunting.

Author:  CLuttrell [ Wed Jan 20, 2010 8:17 am ]
Post subject:  Re: 3" vs. 3.5" Shotgun Shells

I owned and shot waterfowl with a 10 gauge SP10 for five years. I shot factory loads as well as handloads through it. It was a nice gun but I sold it to my hunting partner 10 years ago and bought a 3 1/2" 12. I have shot both factory as well as handloads through it and patterned both extensively. Frankly, I don't see the advantage of the 10 and apparently neither does my hunting partner because although he still owns the 10, he bought a 3 1/2" 12 last year and I haven't seen the 10 since. I guess each to their own!

Author:  Worc [ Wed Jan 20, 2010 11:23 am ]
Post subject:  Re: 3" vs. 3.5" Shotgun Shells

Looks like another old post dug up. The Advantage of the long 12 is that it's more versatile, lighter in weight, less expensive to shoot, more load offerings, and easier to find loads for.

The advantage of the ten is that they will usually recoil less due to the extra weight of the gun. This is especially true with auto loaders. In general the ten will pattern better than the long 12 with the same load. The advent of the overbored barrel one the long 12 has pretty much eroded that adavantage away between some models.

The long 12 is also rated at a much higher chamber pressue rating than the ten. The ten is loaded more conservatively because of older ten gauge models floating around. The long 12 does not have this issue as it's more modern. This gives the long 12 more potential.

Looking around you might be able to find speciality loads. They will be harder to come by and cost you more coin.

There are three Browning Gold 10's that now sit in the safe and have 3 1/2" chosen over them for the same reason CLuttrell stated.

Author:  lossking [ Wed Jan 20, 2010 1:21 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: 3" vs. 3.5" Shotgun Shells

HighcaliberDeath wrote:
i have seen 12 ga 3.5 1 1/2 oz @ 1500 fps and the 10 ga 3.5 1 1/2 oz @ 1600 fps .when buying quality or hand loaded ammo the 10 ga kills the 12 ga 3.5 .any one who says differ dont own a 10 ga . it does with #7 shot with wat a 12 ga does with #5 .i have talked to many who shoot nitro 10 ga 3.5 not the pansy load factory ammo and it blows the socks off any thing else . compare the 12 ga 3.5 to a 10 ga 2 7/8 seems more fair

We are talking steel waterfowl loads here, not hevi-shot turkey shells, and 10 gauge waterfowl loads do not "blow the socks off" the 3.5" 12. If they beat it at all, the margin is slight. And where can you buy a 10 gauge 1 1/2 oz. load @ 1600 fps?

Author:  astomb [ Wed Jan 20, 2010 2:30 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: 3" vs. 3.5" Shotgun Shells

Interesting discussion.

I have a Beretta 391 Xtrema 2, but since I hunt private lands mostly and do not have to shoot long shots, I use 3" shells 95% of the time. My experience on public lands is that most waterfowers cannot kill ducks consistently past 45 yards regardless what gun they are shooting.

When I hunt public lands I do it during the week and avoid the "popular" places.

There have been many excellent posts here. I hate to say this but we waterfowlers need to practice restraint on long shots and we need to teach more hunters how to judge distances and how to shoot and how to hunt and get birds close.

Author:  lossking [ Wed Jan 20, 2010 3:07 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: 3" vs. 3.5" Shotgun Shells

HighcaliberDeath wrote: i was talking cheapo steel to . read this ... 235K1.html

Those are custom waterfowl loads. With factory steel shotshells, the margin between the 3.5" 12 and the 3.5" 10 is pretty narrow. That said, I'm not knocking the 10 gauge. I think it's great and that it is probably the ultimate waterfowl gun for someone who chooses to shoot one. I also believe that the 3.5" 12 gauge is nearly it's equal.

Author:  Worc [ Wed Jan 20, 2010 3:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: 3" vs. 3.5" Shotgun Shells

HighcaliberDeath wrote:
where are all these "older model 10 gauge i keep hearing about ? there are way more "older model 12 gauge the should be more concern

Plenty of older 10's out there. The 12 we are talking about is the 3 1/2" and all of their chamber ratings are the same. The 3 1/2" 12 gauge is an infant compared to the others so, why would ammo manufactures worry about it?

Author:  Joe Hunter [ Wed Jan 20, 2010 7:00 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: 3" vs. 3.5" Shotgun Shells

You've gotten some good info here and I would give Bug Doc a 1+ on his comments. The only thing I would add to his comments on the necessity for sufficient pattern density and ample pellet energy is the hunter's ability to place the pattern on the front end of the bird! If the hunter can't do that then little else (size of shell or load) matters!

And, the 3 1/2" load has the "potential" for increased performance over the 3" shell due to increased hull capacity BUT unless you pattern at the max distance you shoot to confirm performance you're just taking it on blind faith. Firepower is not a substitute for shooting skills!

Good luck.

Author:  424SilverHawk [ Wed Jan 20, 2010 9:06 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: 3" vs. 3.5" Shotgun Shells

Well I guess I'll throw in my 2 cents, I have shot both but it only matters what YOUR shotgun patterns well. I have tried 3" versions of #2 and #4 in the Rem Steel, Black Cloud and Winchester, my Xtrema2 patterns at its best with 3 1/2 Estate #1. My SBE2 prefers Remington Steel 3" #2, which is great considering how cheap it is. My only problem with the 3 1/2 #1 is that at close range it tends to destroy what I'm shooting at. However it's hell on geese and late season high-flyers.

Author:  Worc [ Wed Jan 20, 2010 10:08 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: 3" vs. 3.5" Shotgun Shells

HighcaliberDeath wrote:
they say they wouldnt bump the 10 ga up to 14,500 psi because the "fear of it blowing older guns but lets face you have a better chance or someone blowing up a older 12 ga gun by stuffing a 3.5" in it ..why you ask? because their a few 10 gauge guns .....plenty of 12 ga 2.5",2 5/8" chambers etc so that whole thing the ammo makers use about they wouldn't load hotter loads for the 10 ga because of the older guns " is irrelevant since it isnt even a problem with older gun that most people actually own(most older guns are short chamber 12 and 16 and 20 ga not to many 10 ga compared to them

Can't stop anyone from doing dumb things. I guess the ammo industry is far less concerned about a 12 gauge 3 1/2" shell being shoved into a 2 1/2" chamber than the ten gauge issue. The chamber pressure differences gives more potential to the long 12. The chamber length is usually on the barrel of the gun and shell length is on the box and on most hulls. How often do you see the SAAMI rating on the gun or shells? Which one would be easier for the end user to be confused about and accidently use to wrong load?

Does not sound like you have actually fired a 10 gauge and a 3 1/2" 12 gauge along side of each other let alone done any pattern work or even have any time in the field taking any game. Maybe you should try it before you give out recommendations.

You can change your user name from Needinga8 to what ever you want. It takes more than that to be able to offer sound advice. That's something that needs to learned with time in the field or at the range. When you get banned as a user and then try to be reincarnated as new one, it's usually a short term affair.

Author:  cookoff013 [ Thu Jan 21, 2010 6:46 am ]
Post subject:  Re: 3" vs. 3.5" Shotgun Shells

steel is the only reason for the 3.5" .
which is better 3.5" or the 3" ? 3.5" for steel !

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