Shotgun vs. Rifle for Deer Hunting

Shotgun vs. Rifle for Deer Hunting

Despite the fact that rifles dominate the deer woods across much of the country these days, you’ll still find that shotguns have their place when it comes to taking down big game. Countless deer hunters cut their teeth on smooth-bore slug guns back in the day when fancy deer rifles were beyond the grasp of the average hunter. But times have changed, and so have the guns we now haul to the deer woods. 

Why would anyone still hunt deer with a shotgun these days? Here’s a look at the pros and cons of deer hunting with a shotgun versus a rifle. 

The Short-Game Gun

There’s no denying that shotguns fail to hang with rifles when it comes to shooting distance. Rifles get the easy win when it comes to reaching out for long-distance shots. I remember the frustration I experienced on some of my early hunting attempts with a shotgun and the realization that I could see a lot more ground than my 20 gauge slug gun could ever possibly cover if a deer showed up. Shotguns are a short-game gun. In fact, you can pretty much count on 75-150 yards being your maximum range depending on whether you’re shooting a smooth-bore or rifled barrel shotgun. 

The Ultimate Brush Gun

Where shotguns shine for deer hunters is when it comes to shooting in brush, grass, or other vegetation and cover. Rifle bullets can be much more reactive to interference en route to the target compared to a shotgun slug that tends to stomp right on through whatever gets in its path. When you find yourself in a treestand in tight quarters surrounded by brush and sketchy shot opportunities, there’s no better gun to have in your hands than a shotgun with a hard-driving slug. 


Shotguns also tend to feature shorter barrels (18”-26”) when compared to rifles (26”-30”), making them a great option for swinging on moving targets. A lot of deer hunters have opted for the shotgun loaded with buckshot when in pursuit of fast-moving deer on deer drives over the years. 

They also make for easy handling when slipping through brush on a spot-n-stalk hunt in the timber, or when making adjustments in the tight confines of a trees and or hunting blind.


The options are wide open when it comes to adding a scope and rifled slug barrel to your shotgun. Doing so can extend your range out to 150 yards or more.

Packing the Punch

One of the cons that quickly comes up in hunting camp debates is the amount of punch the slug gun tends to pack. Don’t think for a second that the shotgun is a light-recoil alternative to a more “high powered” rifle. Shotguns loaded with slugs have bruised countless shoulders and cheekbones from hunters across the country. 

Sure, you can step down to a 20 gauge to lighten the load a bit, but the 20 still packs its fair share of punch. Don’t believe anyone that tells you shotgun hunters are weak. These guys and gals hunt with one of the toughest guns in the business. The slug guns pack plenty of punch on whatever it connects with, both on the sending and receiving end. 


Rifles get the majority of the playing time in the deer woods, but shotguns can still pack plenty of punch as well.


It’s been said that if you can only afford one gun, make it a 12 gauge shotgun. This one gun will allow you to shoot ducks, squirrels, rabbits, turkeys, quail, and of course, deer. It truly is the best bargain a hunter will ever buy. The gun can simply do it all!

When compared to a rifle, the shotgun tends to win the price tag battle as well. You can outfit a simple shotgun with a scope for considerably less than what you’ll spend on a naked rifle. 

Shotgun-Only Hunting

For deer hunters in some parts of the country, toting a shotgun to the woods is not a personal choice, rather an obligation to the law. That’s right! Some states, regions, public lands, refuges, and wildlife management areas are restricted to shotgun-only hunting. 

And while such restrictions place limitations on many hunters each hunting season, shotgun-only areas tend to see better quality buck populations and safer hunting conditions for public land hunters.  


Whether you choose to hunt with a shotgun or rifle, the options available to today’s deer hunters are more accurate than ever. Be sure to check out the extensive lineup of both shotguns and rifles built for deer hunters from Mossberg at There you’ll find options to outfit the whole family for deer season.  

About the Author

Brodie Swisher

Brodie Swisher is a world champion game caller, outdoor writer, and seminar speaker.
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