Can buckshot be traced to a specific weapon?

My boyfriend wants to know, for a screenplay he’s working on. Can buckshot, in a body or wherever, be forensically traced like a regular bullet can? We’re thinking no, but I guess I could always be surprised. What’s the most information you can get out of it? (By real forensics, not CSI, that is.)

The buckshot doesn’t ever come in direct contact with the gun as it’s surrounded by the wad. So I would say no.

I’m not sure if the wad could be traced back to a specific weapon. As I understand it, the rifling is what creates marks in a bullet that can be linked to a specific weapon. Since a shotgun is a smoothbore, I doubt any marks on the wad could be linked to a specific shotgun.

Depending on the size, pattern, and count of the shot, I guess that you could probably determine the gauge of the weapon (possible, and certain if you recover the wad) and maybe the choke (less likely). Some of that would also come from information from the scene of the shooting, such as distance from the gun to the target. Shotgun shell hulls recovered might be linked to the gun. The type of shot (lead, steel, some other non-toxic shot) might be linked to the recovered hulls, since the hulls are usually marked with the type of shot they contain.

But just going on the recovered shot? No.

Hey, this is for a screenplay, right?

Almost all modern shotshells use a plastic wad that completely isolates the shot from the barrell, so there is no way the shot itself could pick up identifying marks from the firearm.

If the wad were to be recovered it might carry some marks. They typically travel less than 50’ when fired upward at birds, so I guess they’d land within 20-30’ of the weapon if the barell were horizontal. Near the muzzle of the barrell is a sighting bead, which screws into a tapped hole and that might leave a distinctive mark. Side-by-side doubles, and ribbed barrells wouldn’t have a bead mounting hole in the barrell.

The wad sort of opens up like a tulip as it leaves the barrell, About half of them are natural coulored plastic, and the other half are brightly coulord, so are fairly easy to find if you have an idea what you are looking for.l

It is fairly likely that the shell manufacturer could be ID’d:

The shot alloys vary, with lead, antimony, and possibly a little tin thrown in, There is now pure bismuth and steel shot, and some shot is copper plated. There is also usually some plastic powder “buffering” material mixed into the shot charge to limit deformation, and that is probably unique to each shell manufacturer.

Thank your mate for asking. I HATE HATE HATE when writers screw up the details related to firearms. British detective writers seem to be the worst about this.

What Dag said. The ejected shell could be linked to a specific shotgun through analysis of the firing pin impression on the primer (maybe), but just the shot? No way.

In shotguns made to fire a single slug for deer hunting, the barrel in rifled (grooved to induce spin,) so a deer slug could be matched to its barrel. But no, buckshot cannot be matched, even if it was fired from a rifled barrel. Non-slugger shotgun barrels are smooth inside, and they leave no tracks at all.

The extractor may also leave distinctive marks that could be traced.

A point not made yet, and maybe because it is so obvious, which is critical - the cops have to have not only the projectile, but the firearm, in order to do perform this ballistic test. Like I said, this should be quite obvious, but I’ve read more than one story where the cops have tried to trace a projectile while not apparently in possession of the gun.

Hijack alarm:

Why use a shotgun with a slug in it instead of a rifle for hunting?

I use one because where I hunt the woods are so dense that I never have the opportunity to shoot at anything more than 100 yards away, so I don’t need the extra range provided by a rifle, and in fact, knowing that if I fire horizontally the bullet will not travel more than 200 yards is a good thing.

There’s also the fact that I can swap the barrel for an unrifled one for upland birds, saving the money for two weapons.


Slugs also have a type of wadding cup around them, called a sabot. They (the slugs) never touch the barrel, either.

The slugs themselves are grooved, and in conjunction with the sabot, induce the spin as they travel down the barrel.

Shotgun slugs are heavier than common hunting bullets, and are far more limited in range. It’s a safety issue…

Some states, Illinois for one, do not allow rifles for hunting deer. Shotguns only.


There are slugs (google ‘foster’ or ‘brenneke’ slugs) and then there are saboted slugs. The foster/brenneke style have wads, but they don’t fully surround the slug like the saboted ones do.

I understand that they do keep databases of bullet markings. So they might be able to link a particular bullet to, for instance, bullets recovered at another incident, thereby showing that the same (as yet unknown) gun was used in both incidents. Or, if for some reason the gun had been tested in relation to an another incident, it might be able to be linked to the bullet, even though the gun was not immediately in the possession of the current investigators.

I believe that laboratory tests have been able to prove that a specific bullet came from a specific box of ammunition (that was in the possession of the suspect), via detailed metallurigical analysis of the trace elements in the metal.

Would it be possible to do the same with specific pieces of shot from a shotgun shell, or are the individual shot all just lead or steel and too much alike for that?