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I only shoot trap (22-23's on a good day, 17-18's on a bad day) but agree with most of the others that a well fitting 12ga would be the best choice with a 20ga being 2nd choice mostly due to the versatility of shell loads available and the cost of shells (28's aren't exactly cheap when you can find them!).
The proper fit combined with a good recoil pad and target loads does wonders for felt recoil.

Unless your son is a "born natural" at shooting, the small bore guns with their light payloads and small shot counts will mean a lot of misses which could discourage him. On occasion I'll bring one of my small bore single shots just to change things up and watch my scores drop from the low 20's to low-mid teens or less (sometimes a LOT less) depending on gauge I'm shooting.
 

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I am new to the technological aspects of a shotgun. I have fired one a dozen times or so. I have done some research on ammunition in terms of number of pellets but I do not understand much beyond that. What is a shot string? Payload? What size, load is best for what type of defense/hunting/skeet?
Ha....I'm a rifleman, not much of a shotgunner. I can see the shot string but I can't describe it. Payload is the weight of the shot charge. I am of the opinion that there is no best anything when it comes to any firearm. Conditions always dictate. Trap and skeet might be exceptions but I've never fired a round of either in my life so I'm going to plead ignorance. Hunting? Hunting what? Doves don't take near the killin' a goose or turkey does. Defense? Where? Defense from what? Bear, man?
 

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I am new to the technological aspects of a shotgun. I have fired one a dozen times or so. I have done some research on ammunition in terms of number of pellets but I do not understand much beyond that. What is a shot string? Payload? What size, load is best for what type of defense/hunting/skeet?
Lets see if I can answer that in less than 20 pages. :)
Shot string? picture a funnel of shot, small end closest to the muzzle. The length of that funnel is the "string", the shorter the string, the more pellets in the pattern at the same time. Hang with me here, lots of physics involved, and sleeping at a Motel 6 hasn't helped.
Shot string can vary with other factors. "Stacked shot", 12ga 2.5" vs 3.5" as an example. 2.5" is less stacked than the 3.5". Shorter shot string, but less payload (pellets) on the target. This works with bore and choke too. Long forcing cone, and back bored barrels will have less string. Browning figured that out when they went from Invector choke barrels. to Invector Plus.
Defense/hunting/skeet?
Defense, for what and where? In a WWI trench, or jungles of Nam, buckshot. In your house, how many walls will that buckshot penetrate with your family and/or neighbors on the other side?
Hunting, load and shot size depends on what you're hunting, I wouldn't advise 7.5 dove loads for black bear.
Skeet, shots are close and quick, you want an open pattern, and lots of pellets. Smaller the pellets, the more are flying. Too small, they don't break the clay as easy, and breaking them is the name of the game.
If you have a local Trap/Skeet range, they majority of shooters there, are always happy to advise and coach.
 

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I am new to the technological aspects of a shotgun. I have fired one a dozen times or so. I have done some research on ammunition in terms of number of pellets but I do not understand much beyond that. What is a shot string? Payload? What size, load is best for what type of defense/hunting/skeet?
Try to find a copy of Bob Brister's book, "Shotgunning, The Art and the Science" 1976

I posted a link for it but Admin took it down. I guess we can't reference that site where you can bid or buy it now on almost anything. They had a used copy for under $6. Sorry, need to freshen up on the forum rules. I didn't know that one was not allowed, only the other gun one.

Product Information
Anyone who has ever shot and missed with a shotgun-or who hits his target but not with the consistency he desires-will profit from reading this book. Even experts will find what Bob Brister has to say both fascinating and helpful. In this authoritative yet fast-paced book, Brister examines virtually every shooting problem a shotgunner is likely to face. Using photographs taken literally over the gun barrel, he shows and tells the reader how to mount, point, and swing through the target with proper forward allowance. Required leads, obtained with computers and tested on a moving target, are translated into "bird lengths" for easier shooting recognition. Selection of guns, loads, and chokes for various ranges is discussed along with velocity and penetration, effects of recoil upon the shooter, and wind and temperature effects upon shotshells. Brister's unique 16-foot moving target adds an entirely new dimension in determining effectiveness of guns and loads by revealing how shot pellets string out and impact at various speeds and distances. His findings on both lead and steel shot loads, and chapters on gun fit, balance, and competition should interest skeet and trap shooters as well as hunters. In essence, Shotgunning: the Art and the Science forms a veritable encyclopedia of shotgunning for the modern reader and outdoorsman. Book jacket.
 
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