Shotgun ammo is a constant challenge for those that like to shoot them, not only because they have such a traditionally low ammo capacity but because that ammo is also so bulky to transport and carry. Just about anyone has the nooks and crannies in pouches or pockets for a couple of dozen 9mm rounds, or a solid handful or two of .22LR, but shotgun shells? Who has that kind of real estate?
Even if shotgun shells were lighter, they would still be long, fat shells that take up significant space in a loadout. This space can be best economized by leveraging shotgun ammo carriers like side-saddle shell holders, ammo pouches, and even slings or bandoliers. These will let you add extra storage area to your kit and additional ammo capacity as a result, but there is a lot of trash out there, so here are the best options for each main style.
Best Shotgun Ammo Carriers
- 5.11 5-Shot Bandolier
- Kosibate HOT 25-Round Shotshell Reload Holder
- TacStar Side Saddle
- Wilderness Tactical Heavy-Duty Shell Belt
5.11 5-Shot Bandolier
A 5-shot bandolier that can be mounted to just about any MOLLE platform vest or bag and are robust enough for repeated field use. The shot loops are nice and tight, and won’t loosen, rip, or fray. The same product line has a 12-round option as well, for those that like the style but need more capacity.
- Stiff MOLLE bands can be used with most webbing
- With the 5.11 Plate Carrier, bandoliers can be mounted in any direction
- Super-fast shell access
Kosibate HOT 25-Round Shotshell Reload Holder
For a compact way to store a massive 25-shell backup stash, the Kosibate HOT has you covered. The MOLLE pouch has 4 UTX snaps and a front pull-tab. The hardened sides help protect your shells if you happen to put bodyweight on it, and it holds 6 rows of 4 shells each, with a bonus loop for that lucky shot.
- Velcro closure and hardened sides
- 3×2 MOLLE straps on the back
- Unfolds to 17” long
TacStar Side Saddle
For tactical shotguns, the side saddle ammo carriers are some of the most efficient carriers available. It allows the shooter to boost their maximum ammo capacity during a time when they may be defending themselves while in nothing more than their sleeping attire. Capacity is limited, but it can help the shooter be much more effective with each shot.
- More affordable than other side saddles
- Available for many popular shotguns
Wilderness Tactical Heavy-Duty Shell Belt
For a shell belt, the Wilderness Tactical Heavy-Duty keeps your weapon fed without costing as much as the shotgun itself. It will help you carry another 20 to 25 shells for the job at hand and is thick enough to stand up to regular use. At only about fifty bucks, the Wilderness Tactical Heavy-Duty Shell Belt is one of the most accessible belts out there.
- Adds up to 25 more shots
- Won’t twist, fray, or break
- Easy on the budget
There are many reasons that American shooters have a love affair with the shotgun, and it all starts with the shotguns and similar “trench guns” that were used in the first World War. They have been refined over the years to become some of the most feared and respected firearms available to private citizens, and are now some of the most versatile hunting guns and reliable defense weapons.
While most people may think that a rifle or pistol would have the advantage in a home or personal defense situation, shotguns will still have marked benefits over the other two firearms. Handguns tend to be much more difficult for beginners or occasional shooters to be able to shoot effectively, and while rifles like the .223 Rem or the 5.56 NATO have stopping power the shotgun arguably has more.
A relatively standard buckshot shell will be approaching the target with approximately 1,500 foot-pounds of kinetic energy, which dwarfs even the most popular .45ACP or .357 Mag rounds’ modest 650 foot-pounds of energy. Since pistol and rifle rounds also have an increased penetration factor, it can also be argued that in a situation where the round creates an exit wound and leaves the target, a portion of that energy is lost.
Since the shotgun’s buckshot round will have up to 10 quarter-inch or larger shot pellets, and those pellets have a much lower potential for penetration than other rounds, the shotgun is much more effective at putting that kinetic energy into the target. This results in more hydrostatic shock, tissue damage, and overall stopping power to man-sized targets or threats.
One of the most significant advantages of a shotgun is the ease with which it can be operated by someone unfamiliar with firearms in general. This extends not only to the operation of the gun itself but to the aiming and successful hit of a target. Shotguns are also much easier to maintain than many other more complex guns, owing in part to the reduced number of critical moving parts.
Shotguns are easy for beginners to use because they are simple to operate, and they only rely on human power to work, in a pump-action shotgun of course. This means that the charging action is performed by the user, and results in a very low rate of failure during operation. The resulting shot is easy to execute and relatively easy to land on target.
The pellet spread of a shotgun means that most shooters in a defensive shooting situation can aim their shotgun close to the position of the target and due to the spread pattern of the pellets, they have a solid chance of the shot connecting with the target even if not aimed perfectly.
Maintenance on a shotgun is much easier than on a gun in the AR platform, for example, which will have many pieces that all need proper cleaning and care to remove lead fouling and other buildup. Failing to remove this fouling and buildup can result in the diminished effectiveness of the gun, but with a shotgun, there are far fewer moving parts and pieces for fouling to accumulate on. This makes maintenance not only easier but quicker and needed less often.
The primary benefits of a shotgun ammo carrier will be the increased capacity and convenience of carrying the extra ammo. Shotgun ammo is heavy, large, and awkward to carry large amounts of since they are not generally loaded into magazines like a pistol or rifle rounds (unless they’re magazine fed).
Shotgun ammo carriers will make carrying greater numbers of shotshells much easier, and in most cases, more organized as well. They will help you keep your ammo easily accessible and while they won’t reduce the weight of the ammo you do bring, they are indispensable pieces of kit nonetheless.
Most will already attach to a piece of gear that you have, and the good ones will not require you to bring an extra piece of equipment. They will attach to the stock of the shotgun, to the MOLLE attachments on the shooter’s vest or elsewhere, or will attach to or act as their belt.
If you are in the market for more shotgun ammo capacity, there are some pretty important things you should consider before pulling the trigger on an ammo carrier. Be sure you pay attention to the raw ammo capacity you are taking on, as well as what type is going to fit your style, and in the end, how easy or useful it will be for you to use.
When you think about how much extra shotgun ammo you want to tote around, first think about what your application or use case is going to be. If you are only looking to hold an extra 5 to 10 shells for competition use or extra hunting shots, then you probably won’t want an entire chest piece kitted out for another 30-40 shells. While more ammo is always more ammo, it’s also significantly more weight that you’re lugging around.
This is where your personal preferences and shooting style are going to start playing a greater role in your eventual choice of ammo carrier. There are three main types of ammo carriers that you can get for shotgun ammo and some variations on each.
There are side saddle carriers that will attach to the stock of the shotgun and will keep an extra 4-8 shells at hand for quick reloads right from the gun. There are pouches, which can range from small 5-round MOLLE carriers to 30-40 round vest kits that have you filled to the brim with shotshells. Finally, there are bandoliers, belts, and slings, which all operate about the same and consist of a long and often padded stretch of robust material that has shell loops on it, and can generally hold 12-24 additional rounds for your shotty.
This is something that’s going to be a little different for everyone. Vests and slings have the biggest capacities, but you have to lower your weapon and grab a shell from a new spot every time you need one. Side-saddle carriers are super-convenient and allow you to reload without taking your eyes or your gun very far off the target, but they only offer a limited number of shells at your disposal.
In the end, it’s going to be largely how you want to reach for ammo and where you want to reach for it when you need it the most. You may find that you don’t mind the extra reach since you can carry more, or you may not need as much extra and might want it located on the gun that it’s going to feed.
Shotgun Ammo Carriers
No matter what style you prefer or how much extra ammo you think you’re going to need, there is going to be a shotgun ammo carrier for you. Whether you want buckets of ammo, or just a few extra shots to keep from slowing down, think about how much you really need, and what type of carrier would be most convenient for your style.