Rifles and Shotguns: 5 Frequently Asked Questions

Pellpax is a company well known for a reliable, face-to-face delivery service. Each weekend, our own drivers cover the whole of England and Wales, delivering firearms to the doors of our customers. We’re able to do this because Pellpax is a Registered Firearms Dealer.

The UK has the strictest firearms regulations in the world. Fortunately, shooting sports are surviving Britain’s legislative measures to prevent gun crime. If you’ve ever bought a gun from Pellpax, you’ll be familiar with the procedure.

As a registered firearms dealer, Pellpax carries a huge responsibility. We don’t take this responsibility lightly. In fact, we consider our licence to sell firearms a privilege.

Customers ask a lot of questions about airguns and firearms and their ammunition. Today we’re going to have a go at answering five of the most common questions that people ask about live-fire guns.

1.    Do I need to have a Firearms Certificate (FAC)?

For a start, you’ll need a firearms licence if you own a live-fire weapon.

Firearms Act 1968 Section 1 (1)

It is an offence for a person

  • to have in his possession, or to purchase or acquire, a firearm to which this section applies without holding a firearm certificate in force at the time, or otherwise than as authorised by such a certificate.
  • to have in his possession, or to purchase or acquire, any ammunition to which this section applies without holding a firearm certificate in force at the time, or otherwise than as authorised by such a certificate, or in quantities in excess of those so authorised.

Firearms Act 1968 Section 2 (1)

Subject to any exemption under this Act, it is an offence for a person to have in his possession, or to purchase or acquire, a shot gun without holding a certificate under this Act authorising him to possess shot guns.

That covers all rimfire and centrefire guns and their ammunition. For possession of both a shotgun and a live-fire rifle, you’ll need an FAC (firearm certificate) for each. The licence will specify the calibre and action of your gun, and there’ll also be a restriction on the amount of ammunition you’re permitted to possess at one time.

Firearms Act 1968 Section 57 (1), defines a firearm as

a lethal barrelled weapon of any description from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged.

Clear as a bell – apart from the word lethal, which is a matter of interpretation. For the purpose of this law, a lethal weapon has the potential to discharge a missile with 12 ft/lb or more of muzzle energy. This definition, of course, includes some air rifles.

There’s no central issuing authority for firearms licences. Each regional police force deals with application, issue, and renewal of FACs. Although the Firearms Act 1968 presents clear guidelines, much of its execution is down to interpretation by experienced police officers who have in-depth knowledge of firearms and a clear understanding of firearms law.   

The Firearms Act 1968 Section 27 (1) says

A firearm certificate shall be granted where the chief officer of police is satisfied

  • that the applicant is fit to be entrusted with a firearm … and is not a person prohibited by this Act from possessing such a firearm
  • that he has a good reason for having in his possession, or for purchasing or acquiring, the firearm or ammunition in respect of which the application is made
  • that in all the circumstances the applicant can be permitted to have the firearm or ammunition in his possession without danger to the public safety or to the peace.

Basically, you must have a legitimate reason for owning a gun, and the licencing officer needs to be satisfied that you’ll abide by the law and not put anyone at risk … and you have to be a ‘he’. Just kidding.

2.    How does a shotgun shell work?

A shotgun shell – or cartridge – is made up of the following components:


The plastic casing (or shell) of the cartridge holds everything together and forms a seal within the barrel, allowing the pressure of expanding gasses to build. At the base of the casing, a protruding metal (usually brass) rim acts as an anchor. The crimped top forms a lid to keep the contents secure, and when the gun is fired, the leaves form a sort of funnel for the shot.


A small amount of primer is contained within a central recess of the cartridge’s flat base. The firing pin crushes the primer, and the impact causes a chemical reaction that ignites the primer, creating enough heat to ignite the propellant. 


The propellant is the exploding black powder or smokeless powder (a term used chiefly in the US). When black powder burns, the product is approximately half gaseous and half solid. When smokeless powder (‘propellant’ in the UK) combusts, the product is mostly gaseous, and therefore a lot less smoky than traditional gunpowder.


The wad, which is made up of three plastic (or fibrous) components, serves multiple purposes.

Wadding separates the explosive from the shot and creates a seal to prevent the propellant gas from passing through the shot and thus losing power. The centre piece of the wad is the cushion, which acts as a shock absorber by compressing under pressure; this helps to prevent deformation of the shot. Another part of the wadding cups the shot, keeping it together as it’s propelled down the barrel.


Shot cartridge projectiles come in various forms – from a single slug, to a dozen buckshot pellets, to hundreds of tiny birdshot. Shot pellets are usually made of lead, but can also be of other metals, such as tin, zinc, bismuth, or steel.

3.    How does a rifle cartridge work?

A rifle cartridge is made up of the following components:


A rifle cartridge case is made of metal – usually brass. The case contains the primer, propellant, and projectile.


The primer is a shock-sensitive substance that combusts when hit by the firing pin. Its purpose is to ignite the propellant.


The propellant is an explosive substance that quickly produces hot, expanding gas as it burns. The pressure of this explosion propels the bullet in the direction of least resistance – i.e. down the barrel.  Traditionally, the propellant was gunpowder (also known as black powder), and it’s still used today. However, it’s now more usual for the propellant to be smokeless powder (in the UK, known simply as ‘propellant’).


The projectile in a rifle cartridge is a bullet, which is usually a single flat-bottomed dome, made of lead or lead alloy, weighing between 15 grains and around 750 grains. Some are long and narrow, and others are squat. Some bullets have pointed tips, and others have tapered bottoms.

4.    What’s the difference between rimfire and centrefire?

The difference between a rimfire and a centrefire cartridge is down solely to the way in which the firing pin strikes the primer.

Centrefire cartridge

In a centrefire cartridge, the primer is contained in a metal cup within the centre of the base. The primer is all in one place, so when it’s struck by the firing pin, the resulting combustion is consistent and predictable. A centrefire cartridge is more expensive than a rimfire cartridge, but it’s safer to transport, store, and handle, because of a thick metal casing and protective position of the primer.

All shotguns are centrefire.

Rimfire cartridge

With its thin-walled case, a rimfire cartridge is easier and cheaper to manufacture, and therefore cheaper to buy. The rimfire cartridge, though, is not as reliable as its centrefire equivalent. With the primer spread around the rim of the cartridge and struck by the firing pin at just one point, the level of chemical reaction is inconsistent.

5.    What do the numbers on a shotgun shell mean?


The gauge, or calibre, of the shell case is a measurement of its diameter, which is represented in this way:

Imagine a pure lead sphere that fits perfectly into the barrel of a specific gun. The weight of this imaginary sphere is expressed as a fraction of a pound – e.g. 1/12 or 1/20.

A 12-gauge cartridge is the right size for a barrel that would, in theory, be a perfect fit for a lead sphere that weighs 1/12 of a pound. A 20-gauge cartridge fits a barrel that would hold a lead ball that weighs 1/20 of a pound. So, the 20-gauge cartridge is smaller than the 12-gauge cartridge.


Pellet size is expressed as a code. Below are a couple of examples.

Shot Pellet Size Pellet Diameter Pellet Weight Count per 28g
7 Shot 2.5mm 0.08g 340
6 Shot 2.6mm 0.1g 270

In a Hull Cartridge Imperial Game 6 shot cartridge, with a 26g load, there’ll be approximately 250 (270/28 x 26) to 260 (26/0.1) pellets.

A Hull Cartridge ProSteel 7 shot cartridge, with a load of 19g, will contain approximately 230 (340/28 x 26) to 237 (19/0.08) pellets.


The load is the combined weight of the shot.

A birdshot cartridge containing approximately 460 pellets might have a total weight of 492 grains (32g); each pellet weighs 1.07 grains (0.07g). Nine 60-grain (3.9g) pellets in a buckshot cartridge will have a combined weight of 540 grains (35g). And a single slug weighing 383 grains (24.8 grams) carries the shell’s total weight in one unit.


The measurement given is the length of the cartridge with crimps open – its length after being fired.

Using a shell that’s too long for the chamber can cause serious bodily injury and considerable damage to a gun A shorter shell, though, is fine.

There’s usually a manufacturer’s warning on the cartridge box – e.g. Use only in guns with a minimum chamber length of 76mm or These cartridges are suitable for use in guns with a chamber of 2 ½” (65mm) or longer.   

Contact us

These are just a handful of the questions that people ask about live-fire guns. For more information about firearms or any of the products we sell, just give us a call on 01263 731 585 or email [email protected].

Author: Hazel Randall

I'm a freelance content writer and copy editor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *