Teaching Shotgun Gauge Size to Kids

One of the questions that we noticed was missed quite often had to do with shotgun gauge sizes.  The students naturally tend to think bigger numbers mean bigger guns.  As I pondered this, an idea came to mind for which I could use storytelling to take students on a guided discovery.

Usually without mentioning shotguns, ammunition, or anything else, I just begin my story like this:

–You walk into your house from school one day and smell cookies.  Yummm!!!

You find out that your mom and grandma baked that afternoon and that they each made ONE batch of the EXACT SAME cookie recipe.  Grandma rolled out her dough and ended up with 30 cookies laid out on the counter cooling.  When your mom rolled hers out, she got 40 cookies out of her dough.

You know that you can’t just take a handful without getting in trouble.  So, you yell from the kitchen, “MOM!!  Can I have some cookies?!?”

Your mom yells back from the other end of the house, “Dinner is going to be ready soon. You can have ONE cookie!”

You with me?  Got the picture?             [**Note** – everyone is usually nodding at this point.]

So, which batch do you choose from?    [they usually all say it together, “Grandma’s!!”]

Why?                                                   [“Because they are bigger!]

How do you know?                               [Grandma got less cookies from her dough!]

You sure about that, huh?                     [Chorus of “yesses” with nodding.]

Hmmm… ok.  I agree, I would pick Grandma’s too.

A long time ago, someone took one pound of lead and divided it into 12 equal pieces. They rolled the pieces into balls.  The diameter of those balls is how they determined bore diameter of a shotgun and called it a 12 gauge.

How many balls do you think they got when they decided how big a 20 gauge should be?            [20!!]

Yep.  What about a 10 gauge?   [10!!]

A 16 Gauge?     [16!]     (somewhere here I trail off when they have grasped the concept well enough)

So, which is bigger; a 10 Gauge or a 28 Gauge?               [ The 10!! ]

Ok, I think you got this.

There is an exception though.  Have you heard of a .410 shotgun?          [heads nod]

The number on the box has a decimal point 4-1-0.  That looks like what we talked about with rifle and handgun ammunition, doesn’t it??

[Someone will usually speak up and say, “Yeah, that’s a caliber!”]

You’re correct.  It is.  And it’s smaller isn’t it?      [Yes!]

Anyone know what we would call it if we used gauge size like we do for the other shotguns? (pause)

67-1/2 gauge!  How many balls would that be??             [Chorus of “67 and a half!]

Yep!  That’s not cookies. That’s cereal!               [Snickering & laughing, your results may vary]


Since using this, the question is rarely missed.  Students identify with the mental image and use their intuition to arrive at the “right answer.”  It’s easy for them to bridge over and understand shotguns.

I’ve refined it, from my original version, for brevity.  Typically, I can run through it in just a minute or two.  The corny cereal joke at the end is a way to humorously bring the concept full circle and tie it up in a neat package in their minds.  The kids seem to have it locked into their brains forever; students from past classes have mentioned it when I have seen them again.

You are welcome to steal the story outright or adapt the idea to your own version.