Pumpkin Balls

I can’t ever recall hearing the term “pumpkin balls” before to describe a type of shotgun load, despite being a big fan of the TV drama The Wire. James discusses the concept over at Hell In A Handbasket …

The inspiration is supplied by the character of Omar Little, a vastly feared stick-up artist who makes a living robbing drug gangs of their money and product. Although adapt when handling any firearm, Mr. Little favors a shotgun loaded with “pumpkin balls”.

When discussing shotguns, pumpkin balls are nothing but lead balls that will barely fit into the barrel. Load as many as will fit into a shotgun shell, and you have a pumpkin load.

The concept is popular with .410 ammunition manufacturers. 000 “triple-ought” sized balls are small enough to fit snugly inside a shot-cup inside a .410 barrel. Winchester packs three 000-sized discs, backed by smaller shot, inside their Supreme Elite PDX1 .410 round. It seems to work well.

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • We played around with those about a year ago out of a Judge. Interesting little round. If I had to have a Judge, I guess that would be the load I’d put into it.

  • Witt Sullivan

    The term pumpkin ball is used when you’re shooting a roundball in a larger bore blackpowder shotgun. 20 gauge shotguns use a .60″ ball and a 12 gauges use a .69″ ball. They’re called pumpkin balls because they’re as big as a pumpkin.

    I’ve read that during the Depression, they would open up a shell and dump out the birdshot and replace it with a lead roundball to use as a slug for deer.

  • 1911guy

    I’ve heard the term pumpkin balls used when hunting deer with a shotgun in up state NY around the area woodlands well west of Rochester. Not sure why but the locals seems to call any 12 slug regardless of the manufacturer a pumpkin ball. Not saying this is the only explanation just one local usage I’ve experienced while hunting.

  • newbie


    I think Dixie Slugs sells such loads under the name Tri-Ball. because only three balls fit in the shell.

  • Laftrick

    While his description sounds cool, it’s wrong from a ballistics point of view. The bore or gauge system is based on how many bore diameter round balls make up a pound. A 12 gauge means 12 balls of that diameter equals a pound. Now simple math will tell you one twelfth of a pound is just about 1 3/8’s ounces. Now it’s generally consider that an” ounce an three” is about the top load for a 12 gauge so claiming that this guy was shooting two or more bore diameter balls is sheer nonsense. A two and three quarter ounce load would become seriously overpressure.

  • Detman

    It’s also pretty common here in Michigan to call any rifled shotgun slug a “pumpkin ball”

  • Tim Ellwood

    This word was common, years ago amongst ( Damn) Yankees. A soft lead round ball to deer hunt with ( as has been said). They probably looked more like a pumpkin when removed from the deer, misshapen from impact. My Father ( no means a “gun guy”) used this term for any shotgun slug.

  • Greg

    I remember reading about a rifled slug for a .12 gauge that was drilled out to make it a hollowpoint. The person referred to that as a ‘pumpkin ball’. I’d sure hate to be hit by one.

  • Komrad

    @Witt Sulliivan
    YMan ( who has articles here sometimes) does just that. He lives in Nigeria, so all that is legal is shotguns with birdshot. He didn’t feel that offered enough range or punch, so he melts and casts the birdshot into slugs or round balls and uses those.
    Look him up, the stuff he makes is really quite cool.

  • I remember that term being used to refer to rifled slugs here in Pennsylvania when I was a kid.

  • FormerFlyer

    Pumpkin Ball slug was also a common term in the Pacific Northwest, and refers to any full bore slug. We commonly used them hunting deer on the west side of the Cascades in alfalfa and strawberry fields, many of which were in Shotgun Hunting Only areas (no rifles or pistols allowed).

    We’d usually divide slugs into broad categories: sabot, hollow point, Brenneke and pumpkin ball.

    FWIW. YMMV. Void Where Prohibited.


  • howlingcoyote

    I think these TV show writers (and also movies) don’t know much if anything about any type of firearm or ammunition, so they just make up terms, trying to look “cool” or something.
    And don’t you just love it when on TV the bad guy is shooting at the good guy and all he has to do is just duck his head to avoid being shot!

  • Thanks for the link, Steve!

  • Grew up in NJ, and Pumpkin Balls was generically used to describe slugs there as well, at least by my dad!

  • Beaumont

    Here in the former State of Franklin, “punkin” (rather than “pumpkin”) ball loads generally referred to single round-ball loads in 12 or 16 gauges. Some old-timers used double-ball loads; no doubt the recoil was nasty, but the short-range terminal effects were something to behold.

  • j

    i heard the velocity was only 700 fps for that pdx1
    but it will still tear you up

  • Tam

    “Pumpkin ball” (or “punkin ball”) is merely the vernacular for a Foster-type slug, no matter what complicated mythical origins somebody cares to conjure for the term.