Shotguns can be divided by barrel configuration or by operating mechanism. There are single and double barrel shotguns with variations.
Considering an action (mechanism) type, today we have three main ones: the break action (single shot and double barrel), the pump or slide-action and the auto-loading (semi-automatic) action.
The Remington 870 is known for its versatility and reliability, as it gives you an edge in any goal you and your trusty Remmy are trying to accomplish. In this article, we'll be taking a look at some of the best ammo available.
Comparison Chart of the Best Ammo for Remington 870
FEDERAL - VITAL-SHOK AMMO 12 GAUGE 3" #00 SHOT
FEDERAL - VITAL-SHOK AMMO 12 GAUGE 3" #4 SHOT
REMINGTON - EXPRESS BUCKSHOT AMMO 12 GAUGE 2-3/4" #00 SHOT
REMINGTON - GUN CLUB LITE TARGET AMMO 12 GAUGE 2-3/4" 1-1/8 OZ #9 SHOT
Winchester - Super-X - Buckshot 12 Gauge #1 3"
Shotgun Ammo Aspects - Terminology Explained
The first step when shopping for shotgun ammo is to find the right gauge or firearm caliber.
Unlike other firearms that use caliber as a dimension, shotguns do not use the linear measurement, but the diameter of their bore is expressed as a gauge, which in fact is a weight.
Shotguns come in different size gauges, where for instance the most widespread is 12 gauge; although it actually refers to the 12 solid spherical balls made out of one pound of lead and with the same diameter as the inside of the barrel.
20 gauge is also one of the most popular, which means that 20 lead balls can be made from one pound of lead.
The Model 870 is available in 12, 16, 20 or 28-gauge and in .410 caliber shotgun chambers, whereas a .410, is an odd exception with a gauge being roughly equivalent to a 68 gauge.
As for the chamber length, the standard 12-gauge 870 shotgun comes in 2-¾ (70mm) and 3-inch (76mm), also known as 12 gauge Magnum, while the Model 870 Express Super Magnum is chambered for 3½” (89mm) shotshell (shotgun cartridge).
It should be said that the way you measure the length of a shell is by measuring the length of the spent hull (empty shotgun case) and that means that a Model 870, like any shotgun, can shoot shells shorter than its chamber but not longer.
Though the larger shell can physically fit within the gun, it can be hazardous to fire a larger shell since the weapon may not be able to handle the higher pressures, which can result in damage to the firearm or more importantly to you, or bystanders.
From the shooters standpoint, ammo with 2 ¾ inches shell lengths are cheaper and easier to find, providing less pressure and wear on your gun, as well as less recoil.
This means faster and more accurate shooting compared to the shotgun magnum loads, which are like +P loads in pistols.
High / Low Brass
Furthermore, shotgun shells are available in either high brass or low brass iterations. While in the early days, high-base (AKA high-brass) meant better protection of the paper shell, today high brass offers better function (with auto loading shotguns) and about 30% more expensive price than low-base loading.
The distinct thing about shotguns is that they sport a choke, a section at the end of the barrel, placed in the bore that slightly constricts the diameter of the muzzle.
These “choked” barrels are more or less used to tighten the shot pattern, compared to cylinder barrels, which have no bore reduction.
Classic break barrel shotguns usually have fixed choke barrels, but modern day shotguns use the interchangeable, screw-in choke tubes.
Some shotgun barrels are rifled for newer sabot slugs, metallic projectiles that when supported by a plastic sabot, give the shooter rifle-like accuracy beyond 200 yards.
What Are Types of Shotgun Ammo Best For?
Before we present some shotgun ammo aspects, there's one short note about the choice of pellets materials.
For centuries, the traditional shot has been made from lead, but with the development of environmental pollution, ammo manufacturers began producing shotgun pellets from alternative non-toxic lead-free materials, like steel, bismuth or tungsten.
Shotgun Ammunition Types
There are two main types of shotgun ammunitions: single solid lead, or steel bullets with grooves on the sides called 'slugs'.
The shot is divided in two categories, which depend on the size of pellets.
To shoot birds and small animals, hunters typically use shotgun shells loaded with the smallest type of pellets called birdshot.
The other type of shotgun ammunition is named buckshot, similar to the birdshot shells, but loaded with large lead or steel balls.
Both types of pellets shells use gauge systems of measurement where large numbers indicate smaller pellets and vice versa. For instance #7 (.10"/2.5mm) shot birdshot is much smaller than birdshot #1 (.16"/4.0mm).
Shotgun Ammunition Application
According to unwritten rules, shotshells with small shot (birdshot #9 up to, say #4) are the best for small animals or clay targets. Believe it or not, there are advocates of birdshot in home defense scenarios, since the confined space of a house or apartment can be very lethal against soft targets.
For larger animals and self-defense, it's better to use buckshot, shotshells with somewhat larger BB’s than birdshot.
They range from BB size (.018″/ 4.5mm) to No.000 (.36″/9.14mm), but the most popular buckshot round is 00 buck (“double-aught buck”) which has 9 pellets, each with roughly .33″ (8.4mm) in diameter.
The 00 buckshot is a pretty standard defensive load for 12 gauge shotguns offering an average of 20″ penetration by FBI Testing procedures. Contrary to the prevailing opinion, they are neither “room brooms” nor a magical death machines, as buckshot requires pretty good aim since shot dispersion is not substantial at less than 30 yards.
Besides smaller sizes of buckshot and birdshot, there are also slugs - the largest round available in a shotgun shell.
The slug is a single big piece of metal (usually around 1 oz.) intended for large animals at ranges inside 100 yards.
Besides the solid lead slugs, there are many great specialized combat shotgun rounds, like armor-piercing, high explosive, lock/hinge busting and less lethal variations of slugs such as riot plastic shot and rubber bullets.
Shotguns do possess certain limitations, as any weapon, but when using the proper ammunition you can make the maximum use of the gun. Depending on your plans to use a shotgun for bird hunting, home defense or everything else in-between, you´ll need to choose from different loads.
Moreover, one of the recommended ways of finding the best ammo for Remington 870 is to read a shotgun ammo buyer's guide, like this one, which will lead you in the right direction.
Quick Table of our Shotgun Shell Choice
FEDERAL - VITAL-SHOK AMMO 12 GAUGE 3"
High stopping power
Medium game hunting and Home Defense if over-penetration is not a concern.
REMINGTON - EXPRESS BUCKSHOT AMMO 12 GAUGE 2-3/4" #00 SHOT
Hunting Medium game and Home Defense
REMINGTON - GUN CLUB LITE TARGET AMMO 12 GAUGE 2-3/4" 1-1/8 OZ
Target, shooting, training
FEDERAL - VITAL-SHOK AMMO 12 GAUGE 3"
Lowest acceptable power load for HD
For predator hunting and personal defense
Winchester - Super-X - Buckshot 12 Gauge 3"
Best for hunting, not HD
For predator hunting and Personal protection
Quick Take - The Best Remington 870 Ammo
These are our recommendations for the best ammo for the remington 870:
Our Top Selection for the Best Remington 870 Ammo
Now we’re going to take a look at some of our top picks for the best ammo for your Remington 870. We’ll be highlighting the main features of each type and some pros and cons. Let’s see which ones made our list and why.
The new Federal line of shotgun ammunition, Vital-Shok, brings to mind the old and worn-out sniper phrase: reach out and touch someone.
The Federal Ammo Vital-Shok cartridge is a 12-gauge, 3-inch shell, loaded with 15 pellets of #00 buckshot in the spiral stacking process.
This shell is also available in the version Flitecontrol, which has 12 pellets (P158 00) and a muzzle velocity of 1,325 feet per second. Besides magnum load, it is also produced in standard configuration with 2-3/4" shells and 9 (P154 00) or 12 (P156 00) pellets, depending on the buffer. They reach a muzzle velocity of 1,290 feet per second (fps) and 1,325 feet per second, respectively.
Vital-Shok Buckshot loads with a plastic shot cup and the buffer provides tight, uniform pattern designed to perform reliably at extended ranges.
It means that copper-plated 15 pellets fired from Remington 870 express reach muzzle velocity of 1,100 feet per second.
Unlike Federal Flitecontrol type, this buckshot can be used without problems through any choke, as buffering prevents pellet deformation and ensures dense and uniform patterns.
- Designed with patented spiral stacking process
- Long range buckshot
- Copper plated shot
- For a medium game with thin skin
- 5 inches group at 25 yards
- Muzzle Velocity 1,100 fps
- Kicks pretty hard
- A maybe too tight pattern for home defense use
While you would expect heavy recoil from any Magnum loads, Federal is deadly for any small to medium game, from zero to 50-55 yards. Thanks to the tight pattern, Federal Vital-Shok buckshot reduces stray shot from hitting an unintended target in the area.
The Federal Cartridge Company has been manufacturing all kinds of ammunition since 1922, and it's Vital-Shok line features a spiral shot stacking process designed to deliver the terminal performance required for hunting applications.
Tried-and-true load, the 3-inch, 12 gauge, #4 Buck is the best lead shotshell for predator hunting.
But, Federal Vital-Shok with copper plated shot resulting in deeper 14.5″ penetration will be sufficient for medium game hunts, and even for Home Defense.
Sold under manufacturer's code P158 4B, the Vital-Shok Magnum shell measures 3" in length and carries a 41 lead pellet payload of #4 (.24in) buckshot.
While you can expect to see around 1,100 fps at the muzzle with these cartridges, Federal is also offering 2 ¾” versions of these shells filled with one row less than 3" shell (34 pellets) at 1,250 fps of muzzle velocity.
Federal Premium Vital-Shok Buckshot shells, with plastic shot cup and buffering, produce dense patterns appropriate for coyote hunting out of 50 yards.
- 41 Pellets in the spiral stacking order
- Copper plated shot for deeper penetration
- For predator hunting and personal defense
- Muzzle Velocity 1,100 fps
- Affordable from the higher cost competitor shells
- The minimum acceptable load for a defensive role
- More recoil compared to 34 Pellet load
- The 3" Federal shell is shorter than others 3" shells
This Vital-Shok 3" #4 Buck round works just as well at close range, making it a perfect shell for hunting, sports shooting, and home defense. Although it does recoil a little more than standard Vital-Shok 2.75-inch load, it is worth the extra velocity.
Another buckshot bullet style that comes from Remington is the Remington Express #00 Buckshot, 2 ¾ shells as the perfect solution to hunting whitetail deer.
This great lineup of ammunition from Remington Express consists of plastic shell, 2¾ inches, which contain 9 lead pellets inside. With this, the muzzle velocity is about 1,325 feet per second.
Unlike buckshot from other manufacturers, Remington buckshot presents very good and stable results.
As with most Remington ammunition, you will get a tight and predictable pattern. These even patterns are due to the shot columns, which feature a heavy cushioning wad, as well as the granulated polymer buffering.
However, this Remington hard-hitting buckshot load offers pretty tight pattern with a little less than the 1" of spread for every yard traveled.
Since the pattern is tighter than you might expect for about 12+ yards, and it doesn't spread enough at the ranges of average rooms, the Remington 00 Buckshot is not the best choice for home defense.
- #00 has 9 pellets; each .33 caliber pellet has the energy of a handgun bullet
- The shot is supported by heavy cushioning wad and granulated polymer buffering
- Application: Hunting medium game
- Muzzle Velocity 1,325fps
- Tight patterns that are even with each shot
- Affordable enough as a practice load
- Hulls are difficult to reload because crimp is melted at the center
- Tight pattern and penetration is not suitable for confined spaces in your home
If you are allowed to use buckshot for hunting in your area, the Remington Express buckshot is a very good and reliable option.
As you would expect, the recoil is not soft, but it's still controllable and comfortable. Combining this with a consistent performance at a reasonable price, makes this load a perfect cartridge for your Remington 870 pump-action shotgun.
As the name says, this Remington budget-priced ammunition is intended for high-volume and economical shooting, making it an excellent round for beginners and target practicing.
Remington Gun Club Lite Target Loads consists of proven Power Piston wad, Gun Club Grade Shot and reliable Premier STS Primers. These high-quality components with low-base provide consistent shot after shot without misfeeds or problems whatsoever.
During the manufacturing process, the lead shot is cooled in a pool of chilled water to ensure uniform patterns.
Remington Gun Club Lite shotshells are loaded with 1 1/8 ounces (32g) of lead shot, which provides a lighter recoil than standard loads allowing for less shooter fatigue.
The # 9 shot is loaded in 2-3/4 shells and driven by specially blended powder to reach a muzzle velocity of 1,145 feet per second.
- Application: Target and practicing
- Shot Weight: 1 1/8 oz., light summer load
- Muzzle Velocity (feet per second): 1,145
- Chilled shot for uniform size and patterns
- Excellent economical target load
- The GC shot is softer than the most expensive target counterparts
- Pattern pellet density is 10 to 18% lower than the Premier loads
As a bonus, Remington Gun Club line is made from the one-piece compression-formed plastic hulls which can be reloaded about 5 or 6 times. While the Remington Gun Club shells are as reliable as STS, they are considerably cheaper, making your decision to handload these shotshells a bit questionable.
Another shotshell with Buckshot bullet style originated from Winchester Super-X ammo, a line that has been around for almost 100 years.
This time, we will introduce you with Winchester Super-X shotgun ammunition made with high brass and quality 3" hulls, housing 24 unplated pellets of .30 (7.62mm) caliber.
Using proven Winchester 209 primers and clean burning powders, it launches lead buckshot at 1,040 fps, making this an excellent payload for coyote, fox, and bobcat or even for two-legged predators.
Although the marketing craze for 00 (.33 cal.) and #4 (.24 cal.) buckshot has taken the gun industry by storm, you should not forget the Winchester #1 buckshot.
This buckshot still manages to keep 19 pellets in the thoracic area (kill zone) of a man-sized target at 15 yards and it can make a typical group with 8 out of 24 pellets in a 12" circle at 50 yards.
The Super-X Buckshot is packed in a poly-buffering compound with a one-piece hinged wad to minimize deformation for consistent and tight patterns.
Winchester Super-X Buckshot line is available in several different loads, but #1 can be found yet in 2 ¾ in shells with 16 pellets and reduced felt-recoil for easier follow-up shots.
- Application: Predators Hunting, Personal Protection
- 24 lead pellets of .30 Caliber gives more chances to strike a vital area
- Buffered Shot ensures tighter patterns
- Muzzle velocity 1040 feet per second
- Recoil is more substantial than a normal 2 ¾ in shell
- Pattern pellet density is not for long-range
Although the Super-X buckshot in 3" Magnum variant will definitely let you know it's there, this hard-hitting load provides proven stopping power for both varmint hunters and personal protection.
However, one important item to point out is: as a true Sportsman you would not use a #1 buckshot for deer hunting because of unnecessary animal suffering.
Overall, a shotgun shell in shot configuration has been discussed in the context of projectiles in scatterguns. As you probably know, there is one type of ammunition consisting of single large pellets called 'slug' that makes the shotgun act a bit like a rifle.
Shotguns loaded with birdshot or buckshot require minimal skill to aim and shoot. The scatterguns use a shot pattern spread as a major element of their efficiency, choosing chokes and shot patterns as a decisive factor for a successful job.
Regarding personal and home protection, the rule of thumb is to use No. 4 buckshot for close-in self-defense; under 20 yards and No. 1 or No. 0 buckshot for ranges under 40 yards as they might be more effective than 00 buckshot.
Much of the common sense regarding the use of shotguns is based on thinking that a larger number of slightly smaller pellets hitting a target is more effective than fewer large pellets. However, smaller shots provide maximum damage and minimal wall penetration.
We hope this review has been helpful in outline some of the best ammo for your Remington 870. If you have any personal feedback regarding some of the ammo we've discussed, be sure to drop a comment below and let us know. We love hearing from readers and look forward to what you have to say!