Saturday, November 22, 2008

Shotgun Ammo - Choices for Home Defense

Many people hear about using 00 and 000 buckshot for home defense purposes. Inside the home 00 and 000 buckshot has a bit more ability to penetrate walls than you may realize and much than you should be comfortable with if you have neighbors that live close or other persons in your household, such as children. Likewise, if you are not careful and use shot that is too small it may be too light to penetrate deep enough to stop an attacker. Understanding the proper ammo to use in your shotgun will help you avoid unnecessary problems.

My preference in shotgun ammo for home defense is #4 Buckshot. Here are some comparisons to help you make your own decision about which ammo you should use.

Comparison of Shotgun Ammo

000 Buckshot is .36" in diameter and weighs about 71 grains per pellet. In a 3" shell you have 9 to 10 pellets and in a 2 3/4" shell you usually have 8 pellets. Velocity is around 1325 fps (feet per second) for the 2 3/4" shells and a bit slower for the 3" shells.

00 Buckshot is .33" in diameter and weighs about 60.5 grains each. 3" shells hold approximately 15 pellets and 2 3/4" shells hold around 12 pellets. Velocity is approximately 1250 fps.

#1 Buckshot is .30" in diameter and weighs 40.5 grains each. There are approximately 24 pellets in the 3" shells, and the pellet count varies from 16 to 20 in the 2 3/4" shells. Velocity also varies from 1075 fps for the 3" shells to 1250 fps for the 2 3/4" shells.

#4 Buckshot is .24" in diameter and weighs just a little over 20 grains each. There are approximately 40 pellets in 3" shells and the pellet count varies from 27-34 in 2 3/4" shells. This depends on whether or not the shot is buffered. Velocity speed varies anywhere from 1250 fps to 1325 fps.

#4 Birdshot is .13" in diameter and weighs a mere 3.2 grains each. In a 2 3/4" shell with a 1 5/8 ounce shot charge, there are 221 pellets with a velocity of 1250 fps.


The velocity is not the most important variable in most cases. Pellet weight and pellet count are actually more important considerations. At 3.2 grains, the #4 birdshot does not weigh as much as a simple playing card. Even at 1250 fps, it lacks the mass necessary to stop an intruder. The sole advantage is in the pellet count. That many pellets will make a large, shallow, nasty wound but the intruder is still liable to survive.

In considering the other loads, you have only 8 or 10 of the 000 Buckshot pellets, but they weigh 71 grains each, that is the same weight as a .32 ACP's FMJ bullet, and it is moving faster than a .32 ACP throws its single bullet. With the combination of weight and velocity, 000 Buckshot will penetrate any drywall and any non-masonry exterior wall with relative ease, and thereby possibly endangering your neighbors. Being only 10 grains lighter, 00 buckshot shares many of the same drawbacks as 000 Buck (low pellet count and high penetration).

With the #1 and #4 Buckshot loads, we cover the range of .22 rimfire bullet weights. The #1 is the same weight as many .22 WMR bullets, and the #4 is just a little lighter than the lightest .22 LR bullets. Both of these buckshot loads are zipping along at speeds near .22 WMR velocities, but with a much bigger payload. That weight and velocity gives you enough penetration to stop intruders and minimizes the effects of wall penetration.

There is also the difference in recoil and your ability to control your shotgun. This can also be of importance to those persons of smaller stature who may be able to handle the recoil more efficiently and with fewer problems. Being able to maintain greater control of your shotgun due to less recoil may allow you to get off a second shot if you somehow miss with the first. Which is a distinct and real possibility in the middle of the night and you are still half asleep. The ability to perhaps get off a second shot can sometimes make a significant difference in the outcome between you and an intruder.

And don’t let anyone tell you that you don't have to aim a shotgun. At distances inside your home, you will probably have less than 30 feet as a maximum range. The shot spread will usually be less than 10" even with an open bore. It is quite easy to miss a man-sized target at that range when you only have 10 to 15 pellets in your pattern. Then you will still have to worry about who or what is on the other side of the wall that your pellets strike, such as children who may be sleeping in another room.

With the lighter weight and higher pellet count of the #1 and #4 Buckshot, you have a lot more pellets in that 10" pattern and more chances to strike a crippling if not fatal blow to an intruder while not having to worry as much about the after effects of over penetration.

Ultimately you will need to make your own choice and decide for yourself which load you prefer to use for home defense. Your skill and abilities with your shotgun, the number of persons in your household, and the proximity of neighbors should all be important factors in making a decision.

Staying above the water line!



gott_cha said...

Have heard too many folks thru the years say "just point and shoot" nope!! it dont work that way.

Good post bro!

Shy Wolf said...

I find myself torn with the shotgun issue for home defense. Being a bird/duck/goose hunter, I have a fair supply of each for specific purposes. 6's and 4's for grouse and ducks, BB and 4-0 for geese. But the ranges for hitting either is from zip to 40 yeards.
Most homes are from zip to six yards per room. Zero to 18 feet. Using either round from a 12 gauge will go from room to room to room because the 'pattern' won't have time to open. COntrary to popular movies, by the time that 4-0 buck is opened, it's traveled 20 yards at least, from a cylinder bore. A modified or full choke barrel will make this distance even longer.
So, I still am in a quandry over using my 12 as 'home defense' when the Nine is more manueverable, will kill as readily, if not better, easier to maintain control of in CQB and a helluva lot faster loading than the 12 pump.
Still, valuable information for those wondering what their 12 will do. Better than nothing, for sure.

Anonymous said...

Very informative! Keep it coming and great work!

Anonymous said...

Shy wolf has an interesting point, though there is something to be said for a very large lump of lead or even just the very sight of that big hollow tube pointed in your direction.

Simple discouragement is a valuable property of a home defense weapon.

riverwalker said...

To: gott_cha

Why do they put sights on a gun? Because you have to aim it!


riverwalker said...

To: shy wolf

I'm just trying to get people to think about all the things that can go wrong if they don't put some thought into what they're doing. I'd hate to see someone do more harm than good.Thanks shy.


riverwalker said...

To: greenville road

A lot of people seem to be running out and buying guns without stopping to think that there is a very real possibility of doing more harm than good. Thanks.


riverwalker said...

To: survivaltopics

There is a lot to be said for the intimidation factor. The sight and sound of a 12 gauge can be very convincing. Click. Clack.
Thanks Ron.


Staying Alive said...

The shot comes out of hte barrel in the form of a cyiinder, not in a spread out mass. You gotta get out there some distance to get the spread effect. Ain't gonna happen in a house. Aim, pull trigger, jack the next round into the chamber if needed. Simple.


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Anonymous said...

As a very old friend used to say, "The bigger the glob, the better the job!"

John in Alaska

riverwalker said...

To: john in alaska

Thanks for the quote.


Anonymous said...

Nice comment on #4 shot. I came to the conclusion a few years ago that this is a good load for 'intra-home' encounters.

And just to add, loading a 20" barreled 20ga with #4, makes for a firearm that almost any family member can manage. I've found I can get just about anyone to fire a 20ga without a lot of convincing. It's interesting the number of people who are shy of a 12ga.

Wonderful posts ! :)

riverwalker said...

To: anonymous

A 12 gauge can be just as intimidating to some users as it is to an intruder. Being comfortable with sing a shotgun is a good thing if you have the nedd to use it. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

"A 12 gauge can be just as intimidating to some users as it is to an intruder. "

I can't imagine someone buying a shotgun that they are intimidated by. I suppose there are all kinds in this world but that would be pretty silly!
If people don't practice with their HD choice, then will certainly pay the price. I've never met a guy yet who is afraid of a 12 gauge shotgun . . .

James said...

Pretty well written article. I question the number of pellets your stating a bit however. (Not trying to be rude, just want to clarify). I always thought that 00 buck had 9 pellets in a 2 3/4" shell.

Additionally, would be curious what your thoughts are on the Pedersoli Howdah, in the 20 x 20 gauge configuration. It's essentially a 20 gauge short barrel sbs shotgun. I bought one and like it quite a bit, but have yet to pattern good with it. Id like to have a 1 foot pattern (give or take) at 10 yards (30 feet). Do-able?

Anyway, I was using 0 buckshot, as I have a .32 caliber muzzleloader and thats what I use in it... fits perfectly. But, patterns were no good in the howdah... so, I just picked up the #4 buckshot you mentioned in your blog entry. Havent had opportunity yet to see how it makes out, but I'm anxious to do so.

Using BP is obviously going to drop my velocity, as is the shorter barrel, but I still think it could do quite a number on someone. I don't however believe in Pedersolis anemic reccommended load for it (25 grains fff). I've read a fair amount on the piece, and it is for all purposes, the same as the Kodiak double barrel smoothbore that cabellas sells (only with a shorter barrel).

I'm using 60 grains fffg in the thing... may drop it slightly, but I wouldnt go below 40 for home defense. I'm also not macho enough (dumb enough?) to go and fire the thing one handed, instead I use a modified shotgun grip, one hand under the barrel and the other gripping the stock.

Feel free to drop me a note:

Anonymous said...

i have a sign that i hang in clear view. it says............

" this house is protected by the lord and a shotgun.... make yourself unwelcome and you may just see them both "

Anonymous said...

While #4buck is better for avoiding overpenetration, it will not reliably penetrate an intruder's torso deep enough to reach vital organs like 00 buck will.

Anonymous said...

I also am of the opinion that #4 buck is the best choice for home defense overall, but I am lucky to live in a place where other people are not much of a concern, so I'm opting for 00 and slugs at the present. I'm also of the firm belief that the 12 guage 3 inch with buckshot will basically outgun anything likely to come through your door, but only if you do your part. Like any gun, it needs to be used skillfully and decisively to be effective, and for a lot of people a handgun may be a better choice, though a shotgun is generally considered easier to learn to shoot than a handgun. And you DO need to aim a shotgun well, just like any gun, do not be decieved by ANYONE telling you differently. The advantage of a shotgun in home defense is sheer power, it's not a cure for bad marksmanship or the lack of will. If you've never shot a long gun before and you are very experienced with a 9mm, the smart choice really would be the 9mm.

Anonymous said...

To James with the Howdah: I applaud you considering that gun for defense as it will definitely throw a lot of lead and you are obviously experienced with black powder guns. My worry with anything using black powder (or any bp substitute) in a gun for self defense is the maintenance. It just is not practical to leave a muzzleloading gun or a percussion revolver loaded for long periods of time and expect it to fire reliably when needed. And the only sure way that I know of to remove any obstructions and moisture from inside the nipple and chamber is to fire several purcussion caps before the gun is actually loaded. This is not practical for home defense unless you live in a rural area, and the gun really should be reloaded every day anyway to be sure it will fire reliably. Just my thoughts on the matter, and I suspect you probably have a backup plan (a cartridge gun) if you are really serious about home defense. Thanks for your time.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the great information! I am a young single woman who lives alone and have had some questions on this. I have a few different guns and am a fairly experienced shooter as I was on a trapshooting team and I am an avid hunter too. I carry my Walther 22 on me anywhere I go and I'm very comfortable with it but I'd honestly rather use my 20 ga. remington 870 express mag in my home, agreeing that the "click clack" may cause the intruder just the hesitation you need to properly think through your shot to fire safely and accurately. My house has been broken into twice and my neighbors once, lots of bad stuff going on around the area farms - cattle and equipment theft too! I appreciate all the input and info and as I feel comfortable and steady with my little shootin piece I think I'll go for the 3" #4 buckshot :)

God bless!

Anonymous said...

This has enlightened me as many who claimed 00 buck was best defense round. I even went a step further believing that 000 buck packs a greater punch than 00, not that there is much difference. I am surprised no one advocates 000 or that it is around the same as 00.

If one was very trajectory conscience so as to avoid hitting neighbors or occupants, isn't a 00 or 000 buck just as lethal with fewer pellets. Do twice as many make that much difference as gelatine is devastated by any buckshot load.

Wouldn't 15 pellet 000 buck 3" magnums have enough pellets to stop anything much better with that wallop than the lower buckshot I question if recoil and trajectory were not an issue?

handyrandy said...

I prefer my old Remington model 11 loaded with #1 buckshot for home defense.I don't have a dog to bark to alert me if someone is messing around my place.But I do have a home alarm system that I bought online at Walmart.It cost $75.00 and is made by a company called Mace.It plugs into your the wall jack of the home phone.Many people today still have home phones.It can be be programmed to dial up to 5 numbers and also has a panic button to dial whoever you choose.If you are away it can be turned off from a remote location.I have it dial my number first in the event it gets triggered accidentily.The police are the last to be called to give me the extra 30-40 seconds to turn it off.It can be set to be very,very audible or set to silent mode.Once you purchase it there are no more fees to be paid as opposed to Brinks,ADT,etc.It is one of the best products on the market today and highly effective.It comes with a motion detector and a door switch.Additional switches can be purchased for about $9.00 a switch.I say all this because I really do not want a confrontation with a bad boy but it gives me the edge to know they are there and I have more reaction time.It foiled someone breaking into my garage a couple of years ago.For $75.00 it has more than paid for itself in insurance deductibles plus I receive an insurance discount from State Farm by having an alarm.Today we need all the help we can get to protect ourselves.Any edge of 30-40 seconds could prove crucial in self-defense.There are drug addicted persons in this world that think absolutely nothing of harming us for a for bucks to catch that elusive high.There are mentally ill folks that for whatever reason did'nt take their medicine that helps them maintain some degree of sanity.There are outright lowdown,dirty and mean.Then there are law abiding citizens that work each day to provide for themselves and family.I do not live in fear.I refuse to live in fear.If someone has set off my alarm I know something is going down they will be shot inside my home and the police will be there shortly after.My alarm states on the recording when it calls the police-"INTRUDER-INTRUDER-then gives my address and cell phone number.Take advantage of everything we have to protect ourselves.And shoot to kill if deadly force is the last resort.Good night.

Tom said...

That "Nine" is nowhere near as effective as a shotgun for home defense, there is absolutely no argument about that. A shotgun is infinitely superior in terms of stopping the bad guy right then and there with one shot. Now, as for over penetration..what do you think is going to happen when you miss your target with a handgun? A 9mm will easily go through a wall. You can buy low recoil NO.4 buckshot and a few companies even make frangible buckshot to help with over penetration. People get so worried about shooting through walls with buckshot that they end up choosing a round that is actually too light for self defense such as birdshot. When police departments enter an apartment complex with thin walls do they load up with birdshot or switch to 9mm? Nope. They'll carry a shotgun with 00 buck. Granted I prefer NO.4 for my needs. If you have access to a shotgun but you grab a 9mm instead to defend your home and loved ones in the middle of the night then I feel sorry for them. Practice goes a long way and if you hit your target center mass with a load of buckshot (which is much easier to do than using a 9mm pistol at night) over penetration won't be a concern and there is a much greater chance the crazed meth head is going to drop in his tracks.

Tom 2.0 said...

I just had to leave another reply here because so much of shywolfs info is just dead wrong. Where on earth you ever got the idea that a 9mm will kill as readily or better than a shotgun is beyond me and just sounds like a load of good ol fashioned biased bullshit. Yes, if you shoot someone in the vitals like the head or heart they'll most likely drop with either firearm..but it's MUCH easier to miss those vitals with a single projectile. If you just point and shoot center mass (which is most likely what would happen in an HD scenario) that "nine" is going to send a single small piece of led into their chest assuming you don't miss, vs a shotgun with number 4 buck which will send 27 pellets that are larger than a .22 into their chest. Even if the shot doesn't fully open its going to create a MUCH larger wound channel. Slugs are a different topic all together but they are capeable of stopping any animal on the planet with the right load. To say a 9mm is equal to or greater than a shotgun in terms of stopping power is just laughable. You seriously need to spend some time researching ballistics before you open your trap and confuse a new gun owner who's seeking information. A home invader isn't going to be concerned with over penetration. What are going to do if the bad guy brings a shotgun to the fight and you run in to save the day with your nine? You'll most likely get cut in half and leave your family to fend for themselves. A shotgun isn't the best option for everyone but as a general rule it has the advantage over just about anything for close quarter defense and trying to promote the 9mm as being superior may just be one of the dumbest statements regarding firearms that I've run across in a long time.

Tom said...

Wrong. Number 4 buckshot is the minimum reccomended FBI load. They won't carry a round unless it passes their penetration test which means it has to consistently penetrate 12 inches of ballistics gel. Number 4 buck is the smallest size shot that will do this and many law enforcement officers carry it. So in summary, BOTH 00 and number 4 will consistently reach the vitals so pick the one you feel the most comfortable with

TL said...

Also shywolf, your thinking on shotgun patterns is way way off. Just because the pattern doesn't fully open does not mean it will penetrate more walls than usual. Even from a few inches away the pellets aren't touching eachother when they leave the barrel so they all hit the target individually. A tighter pattern is just that..a tighter pattern. Nothing more, nothing less. Having the shot closer together does not magically turn it into a more powerful round capable of more penetration. For someone who claims to be a bird hunter you're knowledge of firearms seems to be pretty limited and I for one would not want to be hunting in the same woods as you. Unless your shotgun defies the laws of physics I'd say your argument has pretty much been ripped apart and destroyed. I'd reccomend taking an NRA certified firearms class in your local area to maybe brush up on some things before the up coming hunting seasons get underway.

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