Buckshot: Overkill for the Home Defense Shotgun?

Buckshot: Overkill for the Home Defense Shotgun?

Is buckshot too much for a home defense shotgun?

Buckshot is the shotgun load people fear most. But is it appropriate for a home defense shotgun used in the interior of the home?

In interior (not mixed interior/exterior) home defense situations, buckshot and slugs are totally out of the question, unless perhaps you are using them in a .410 shotgun.

At seven yards, the Remington 8-pellet reduced recoil round puts an excellent, tight pattern on this bad guy target. Large hole in suspects hand is from the wad. Point of aim is about right for a shotgun-definitely “minute of felon.”
At seven yards, the Remington 8-pellet reduced recoil round puts an excellent, tight pattern on this bad guy target. Large hole in suspect's hand is from the wad. Point of aim is about right for a shotgun-definitely “minute of felon.”

In a shooting we had at my Sheriff’s Office several years ago, the offender, a man of average stature, was shot in the area of the navel square on with a Remington® 870 12-gauge pump loaded with Remington Reduced Recoil 8-pellet (yes, eight pellets – it eliminates the one stray pellet normally encountered in 00 buck shot patterns) 00 Buckshot load at a distance of about seven yards.

This load, by the way is excellent, one of the very best law enforcement loads, and one of the tightest patterning loads I have ever shot in any shotgun. It increases the safe usage of 12 gauge buckshot well out to 30 yards, and is great for headshots at seven to 10 yards, or a little further out in improved cylinder choke barrels.

Anyway all eight pellets blew through the suspect’s intestines and impacted in the dirt on the other side of him. He stopped his threatening actions but did not die. This means that if you hit an offender square on (facing you) with 00 buckshot, even with a lower velocity reduced recoil load, the pellets can and do punch right out the back, endangering others.

Remember, the load is called “buckshot” because it was originally used for killing large animals, like buck deer, and in places like India sometimes tiger. It is powerful stuff. Legendary in terms of its killing and stopping power, buckshot is the shotgun round that people fear the most.

LOADS LIKE the Remington Reduced Recoil 8-pellet round are more than capable of hostage rescue shots at seven yards and out.
LOADS LIKE the Remington Reduced Recoil 8-pellet round are more than capable of hostage rescue shots at seven yards and out.

Most criminals are too dense to realize that they face an equal amount of damage, maybe even more, due to shredding effect of all those little pellets from a close range load of AA Trap and Skeet as they do from the 00. However, don’t be misled. These loads can and will punch right through drywall at close range. Remember, they only spread one inch per yard, and at close range it is a lot like getting hit with a single, solid projectile.

If you have overpenetration concerns, you may want to closely examine whether a shotgun is the best weapon to choose. A lower powered handgun, which can still punch through a wall, but is only putting a single projectile at a time through it (assuming you are missing your intended target), may work out better for you, especially in an apartment where there are neighbors close at hand. Even then, you should limit your handgun ammo selection to pre-fragmented rounds like the Glaser Safety Slug or Magsafe.

For general home and property defense, where over-penetration is not a major concern, buckshot of various types and sizes is probably the best choice, not only for two-legged predators, but for large four-legged predators at close range as well. Those trap and skeet loads run out of steam pretty fast in terms of effectiveness over distance.

The law enforcement community dumped the use of #4 buckshot as a duty load and went back to 00 buck when we began finding out that #4 wasn’t giving the desired penetration. Rifled slugs are mostly to be avoided unless you need the longer range and penetration a rifled slug affords, or if you live soemwhere like Alaska, where your four legged predator problem involves large animals like bear, rather than the coyote of the Midwest.

Yep, for Alaskan defense, 3- to 3-1/2-inch magnum rifled slugs, and a six to nine round magazine capacity sounds like an ideal combination.

This article is an excerpt from Gun Digest Tactical Shotgun.


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  1. Why no mention of frangible slugs? At interior distances, shot patterns will be spread out minimal anyway. Frangible slugs supposedly don’t penetrate much of anything, and if they’ll blow a door lock out they’ll drop an invader, right? Even if that invader is wearing armor.

  2. Good article…

    In general, for personal and home defense, a semi-auto handgun you’ve trained with, in the largest caliber you can shoot well, loaded with reliably performing/expanding jacketed hollow point ammo such as Corbon, Hydra Shock or Golden Saber, should probably be first choice for most people…Don’t neglect low-light training with handheld light…

    However, IF a shotgun IS your first choice within the home…

    Make sure you’ve patterned your gun, and you have trained on movement in close quarters with it…

    Then, consider using 2 3/4″ #1 Buckshot…16 .30 cal pellets, maximum wound damage, with minimum over penetration risk…

    As shooters, we are responsible for following the rules of safe gun handling, and that includes knowing what’s downrange if we miss or over penetrate.

  3. As with anything use the right tool for the right job, right? If you don’t have to worry about 00 balls going through drywall and hitting a family member, by all means use 00. However, if you do have to worry about this use a different load inside your house. I personally use 12ga high brass #6’s, but again this would be at very, very close range as this is used inside my home. I don’t have a mansion, so we aren’t talking 100yd shots here. What I do have to be concerned about are other family members in my house not getting hit with projecticles due to overpenetration of the load (doesn’t take much to go through drywall). Again, this is my particular scenario. If I didn’t have to worry about overpenetration, a hard hitting load of 00 would be hard to beat.

  4. This is well written and informative. I did not know about the 8 shot load. Glaring in it’s omission is a recommended substitute.
    I have read that US Marshal’s standard load is
    #4 which at 7 to 10 yards should be devastating.
    Since due to a physical limitation I use a 20 ga I stepped up to #3 Buck. On paper though a 18.5 barrel it looks to be more than adequate.

  5. Having been a firearms expert in a fatal firearms incident where 00 buck shot was used in a 12 ga the residual damage to secondary personal would have been a major concern 8 of the 9 pellets exited the victim , leaving the wad in the body at 3 meters. The one big problem with the shotgun as a self defense weapon is the selection on ammunition needed at the exact moment required. Training in scenario actions may be the best approach in predetermining what may be needed as a situation evolves.


  7. Two years ago I defended myself against an armed intruder into my home. I used my Para Ordnance, P-14 (45 acp). I use Winchester 230 gr Black Talon ammo (the original stuff). 4 rounds center mass, 2 were through and through with enough power still in them to impact my safe door and leave some nasty dents.The intruder was a female, about 5’2″, 110-120 lbs.

    A friend of mine had to defend himself last year. He had his 870, 12 ga. loaded with Remington 2 3/4″, 4 buck rounds. Fired twice, no over penetration, no fighting back, no problems.

    If you are going to use a shotgun for home defense, think about the old “4 Buck” not used that much anymore, but a hell of a round. Same load is great for hogs at close quarters.

  8. Of course, most of these overpenetration concerns are moot if you live in a house with proper, solid, lath and plaster walls…

  9. I am surprised that any member of the NTOA or ILEETA would purport that birdshot is a better option than buckshot for home defense.

    Rapid exsanguination leading to a loss of blood to the brain is the most efficient way to stop an attacker short of a CNS hit. Birdshot creates massive *shallow* wounds that will not result in rapid exsanguination. Rather than “hitting like a solid mass”, terminal ballistics (indeed, all exterior ballistics) understands that it is the velocity and mass of each individual pellet that accounts for its performance after leaving the muzzle, as well as its penetration in the target.

    There is a wealth of information beyond anecdotes, including thirty years of FBI wound ballistics workshops for folks to peruse on the subject. All the scientific data points to one truth: For a reliable and effective cessation in bad guy’s activities, one needs to utilize ammunition that will penetrate a minimum of 12” in properly-calibrated ballistic gel. This correlates directly to the ability of a projectile to reach vital organs in a properly placed shot, regardless of the targets orientation (forward-facing or profile) toward the shooter.

    Rather than overpenetration, projectiles that will transect the average human torso when full-frontal exposure is presented are just beyond the minimum recommended for adequate terminal ballistics. The FBI learned this lesson the hard way during the 1981 Miami shootout, and agents paid for that information with their lives.

    That these same rounds will penetrate drywall is a given. ANY projectile that will penetrate badguy deep enough to reach vitals will penetrate through several layers of drywall. The risks associated with a miss tend to be mitigated by tighter patterning loads, as badguys make better bullet traps than the walls around them… and that is the reason for hardened/plated shot. Hardened/plated shot deforms less during the violent process of being shot from a shotgun barrel. Less deformation of the shot results in tighter patterning loads.

    For scholarly information on the subject, I would highly recommend an internet search of Firearms Tactical Institute’s “Tactical Briefs #10”, published October of 1998. While some of the information is dated, the basic premises hold true today just as they did 13 years ago.

    • I still stick by the points that I made in the book and the article. Considering the numbers of hunters over the years killed by close range birdshot, not to name people killed by these loads speaks to their lethality. Yes, I am aware they can penetrate drywall, but certainly not to the extent that any buckshot does. Case in point referred to in my book-we had a close range shooting of a suspect at my sheriff’s office using the Remington Reduced Recoil 8 pellet load all 8 pellets blew through the guys intestines front to back, and impacted in dirt behind him. Good thing no one was standing behind him. I stand by my assertion (which is also the assertion of many others) that birdshot will be just fine at close range, with a mass of 1 oz of lead held tightly together. So much for bad guys making great bullet traps.

      • Congratulations on your book. Many rounds may be lethal. In all of our varied experiences we have all seen or experienced oddities, for example a few years ago a co-worker of mine was shot point blank in the face with a .45, he suffered a concussion and was treated and released from the hospital with six stitches. I’ve also seen a getaway driver shot and killed by a single pellet of birdshot fired from an 870 at about 15 meeters after it passed throught a fullsized van. I think the important thing is the diffrence between trained and untrained, and the need to acurately aim a weapon, those of us who are trained could probably be deadly with a .22 if necessary. However, the average armed citizen would greatly benefit, in a life or death situation, from the added lethality and point-shot capability offered by a shotgun, sporting 00.

  10. After 36 years of hunting, I can tell you that buckshot is a very finicky thing. Although I have had great success with buckshot of all sizes, I have also seen and had to many failures. The majority of them is under-penetration for some reason that I cannot explain. The one that always comes to mind is the first deer my then young wife shot. 3″ mag #1 buck at 20ish yards. She did recover the deer about 30 yds away, but when I skinned it, all but one pellet (the one that did it’s job) were just under the hide with no penetration into the body cavity. I’ve seen this on several occasions. On another occasion, a fellow I know on a local police dept. was chased by a bad guy trying to run him and another officer over with a car. He shot through the back window catching the culprit in the back and head with a load of 00. The culprit was treated and released. They have since switched to slugs only. That said, although I still use the stuff for some hunting situations, I prefer a load of #5’s or 6’s for home defense as I know it won’t go through walls and kill my neighbors. That’s my 2 cents.

    • A point well taken #6 will definitely take someone down in a home defense situation without penetrating walls. God forbid that given our current political scene we end up being lethal in the process of defense.

  11. Never modify any round used for defensive purposes, and never use hand loads. Never use ammo branded with any “macho” or aggressive name. Only use off the shelf name brand rounds advertised for self defense that have stood the test of time in court. Glaser Safety Slugs are perfect defense ammo for this reason.

    If you use modified ammo in a real defense situation, or any of the other types I mentioned, you will probably spend the rest of your life in courts, and probably some time in jail. Liability lawyers will target you as being the aggressor and you’ll pay for it the rest of your life. Just ask any of the cops from the Burbank bank shootout what that’s like.

    The best thing an ammo company could do is come out with a kick-butt home defense ammo and give it a name like “Safety ammo” with a pink flowery box, and write all over it “designed for safety in a home defense situation”. Then they need to provide the scientific data to back it up.

  12. One thing that is not commercially available that is very effective is to modify your self-defensive rounds. Start with number 6 bird-shot; cut off the top 1/32 inch of shell; pour the shot into a disposable pan; add wax and heat to melt the wax; while hot, spoon the shot back into the shell until full; let cool. Now your shot will hit like a slug but not pass through; full energy transfer; maximum internal damage.

    • JJ….where to start? First of all, don’t EVER again instruct someone how to ‘modify’ their ammunition. You are a perfect example of why gun owners are criticised so heavily. Not only do you not have ANY qualifications or experience to be instructing anyone about anything firearm related, you WILL get someone killed if you don’t knock that crap off. I strongly urge you to remove any shells you may have ‘modified’ in this manner, as well as any other ammunition you have altered in a similar fashion. Say you do use one of those “Bubba rounds” in self defense. Your candy *ss will be hauled straight to jail, trial won’t even be necessary. “Your Honor….As you can see, this man was making this ammunition in his home to cause the most possible damage he could to any man he could get his hands on. He is reckless and needs to be locked up…..*Cell doors closing*”

      Secondly….Who in their right mind would ever want to shoot wax down the barrel of their firearms? As if the propulsion of load won’t melt that wax. That’s EXACTLY why no one makes it…..because it’s freakin’ stupid. WAX? Really? Not to mention the fact that your reasoning for doing this is to mimic the effects of a slug. Well….ummmm….maybe you could use….ummm…..A SLUG! I don’t sharpen the points of my .45acp FMJ’s to get “yawing effects similar to rifle ammo” out of my handgun ammunition.

      This, JJ, is why you are dangerous, ignorant, and most importantly, not a manufacturer of ballistic ammunition. I know this thread is about whether 00 buck is appropriate for home defense but I had to address your statement. Seriously man, keep ideas like that to yourself. No need to give another knuckle head the idea and have them go kill themselves because they decided to pump a bunch of melted wax rounds down their barrel, followed by a slug which subsequently blew up the barrel in their face.

      Moderators….sorry to go off topic.

  13. In my opinion a large part of the problem is trying to extend the useful range of buckshot. Many if not all of the “tactical” and “reduced recoil” buckshot loads use plated pellets. Those projectiles in conjunction with improved wads and buffer materials help keep patterns tight over extended ranges. Unfortunately those plated pellets fail to distort in any way as they pass through an assailant. They are the equivalent of FMJ handgun bullets, a well known over penetrator. Contrast this performance with less high-tech loads using old fashioned soft lead pellets. This kind of shot readily distorts when it hits flesh and bone. I’ve seen photos of such pellets from autopsies and they are often nearly flat. As a result they penetrate less. Risk of assailant perforation is significantly reduced compared to plated loads.

    In short, old school buckshot is probably best for the shotgun armed home defender.

  14. My home defense plan is to continue using 00 buckshot, but based on this article, ensure that I aim high enough to impact the rib cage and have two opportunities to connect with ribs – once on the way in and if that does not do it, again in the way out. And ideally center mass in the sternum should solve several problems – eh?

    If I were an apartment dweller, or in a multi-family unit I might have to rethink this, but luckily I am not.

    • I agree with Tom, If I lived in a multi-family building
      I might have to rethink it,but in my 100+ year old home I use an old rule of thumb.First round is bird shot,next 3 are double 00,last one is a slug.
      It’s a hard choice to worry about possibly injurying your nieghbors or saving your loved ones.

    • check my reply above. 00 buckshot is a VERY powerful load, and in close quarters, 3 yards or so, will only have spread 3 inches or so. While it may be contained in a very large muscular person, with heavy bones, the average criminal is 5-8 to 5-10, no more than 150lbs or so and there is likely to be through and through penetration. Thanks for your thoughts.


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