Throwback Thursday: Buckshot or Birdshot for Home Defense? Let’s Ask Science.

By Dave Dolbee published on in Ammunition

There is one distinctive sound no gun enthusiast would ever mistake—the sound of a pump-action shotgun be racked. Fortunately, a lot of other people who are not shooting sporting purists understand the implications of a pump shotgun being racked as well. While the sound is a great deterrent, you may not always be in a position to let an intruder or adversary know that you are armed or wish to give an auditory indication of your location and in the process give a foe a tactical advantage.

While you may not be willing to give up a tactical advantage, shotguns are the top choice for home defense. Picking a gauge and the shotgun for home defense is easy enough, but the choice of round to load is quite another debate. Several years ago, I was privy to shotgun ammunition testing where several loads were compared against one another. Three-quarter-inch thick pieces of plywood were used as the target. At short range, (under five yards) birdshot had no problem poking holes big enough so your fist would just about pass through a sheet of plywood. This was also true when you doubled the plywood for a total thickness of 1.5 inches.

However, when the range was increased, the birdshot pattern starts to open. As the small shot pattern opened, it lost the potential to poke holes through the plywood. Modern loads, shot cups, forcing cones etc. and other technologies all effect the distance at which birdshot has the ability to poke a hole through the plywood and potentially serve as a potentially lethal home defense round. If this is your choice, do your own testing, and understand the capability of the round you select, but not before reading the rest of this article!

The conclusion of the testing I observed was simple. Birdshot will do the job at shorter ranges, but the shooter must understand the limitations and accept the reduced effectiveness as range increases—even anticipated ranges within the house. The single upside of the limited penetration was a reduced chance of over penetration through a wall.

Shotgun laying across a target with Winchester PDX shells in posed position

Winchester’s PDX shotgun shells have proven reliable in any number of shotguns, and the ballistic effective is impressive.

The solution is, as it has always been, buckshot. A payload of seven to 10 .33-caliber pellets blows holes in plywood at short ranges and still has the penetration and energy potential at longer ranges to end the opponent’s ability to continue the fight. As with any firearm, know your target and what is behind it. Practice, practice, practice… both at the range and dry fire scenarios in the home. Understand where to find your hard cover and the “no-fire angles” where you could harm an innocent in an over-penetration scenario.

 

Why a shotgun over a pistol round?

The answer is simple—physics. Harken back to days of math class and you’ll recognize the kinetic energy equation KE=1/2mv2 (m=mass, v=velocity). When applied to common pistol calibers we come up with the following at the muzzle:

.380 ACP – 203 ft./lbs.
9mm Luger – 340 ft./lbs.
.45 ACP – 250 ft./lbs.
.223 Rem. – 1310 ft./lbs.
12 gauge, 00 buckshot (1.107 oz. load) – 1547 ft./lbs.

Black Mossberg 500 Shotgun, pointed to the right on a white background

The Mossberg 500 with an 18.5-inch cylinder bore barrel is one of the most popular shotguns for home defense.

The powder type, amount and grain weight of the bullet all could be factored in to influence the numbers in the chart, but you get the idea. Use the numbers as a guide, not hard fact. Using these numbers,  a full payload of 00-buck delivers about six times energy potential of the .45 ACP. Let’s say in the heat of the moment—heart racing and shorts soiled—you only clipped the bad guy with one pellet. You would still be delivering 175 foot-ponds of energy or a little less than 90 percent of the power of a .380 ACP. Two pellets and you have eclipsed the 9mm or .45 ACP.

The AR-15 is certainly a viable choice for home defense. You can hang any furniture you feel necessary; it is small, light, maneuverable and features a high capacity. The .223/5.56 round is available in several viable practice and self-defense offerings, and most of all it has been proven. A potential downside would be its ability to over penetrate several layers of drywall and heaven forbid a stray round makes it out a window and travels a mile or so.

As for group size, in truth and at standard defensive distances inside the home, a shotgun pattern will not open significantly, but it will open. The larger pattern size increases the odds of winging an intruder as well as clipping a vital organ versus a significant wound. In a home defense situation, it is all about ending the fight as quickly as possible and removing the adversary’s ability to continue the fight. Advantage buckshot.

What type of firearm do you keep for home defense? Why did you choose it? What round do you load?

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Comments (112)

  • mkv31457

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    Shoot for that critical center mass shot. At close range bird sot has a very small pattern. Go pattern your shotgun and see how close your weapon spreads shot. A slight miscalculation at close range and your going to miss. Consider 70% of the time in combat rounds miss the target.

    My ex-firearms instructor for the Yakima sheriffs department says when training people to shoot defensively “most people” tend to shoot low. First round out seems to go to low belly of a crotch shot.

    PRACTICE CQB!

    Reply

  • Joe

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    Remember 00 buck shot will penetrate through and through, killing anyone on the other side. #8 Bird shot on the other hand will make so may bleeders they can’t patch them all.

    I agree 00 buck is great, however that through and through part is pretty scary if you don’t live alone and out in the woods, with no neighbors.

    In Seattle we had a guy who shot through his exterior wall, the shot passed through three walls in the neighbors house. THAT is the kind of stuff that arms anti-gun nuts…. Like Hillary Clinton.

    Reply

    • Head Shot

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      Regardless of shot #, a blast to the head will spoil your whole day!!

      Reply

  • Lilliwaup Joe

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    The BEST SELF DEFENCE WEAPON? The one in your hand at the time…

    I have two A5 Browning, one in my computer room and one in the living room. I have a $125.00 Italian break action single shot hidden in plain sight in my garage. No wall three take a step or two to get to… I keep a S&W Governor with 435 grain flat nose non-jacketed lead rounds and my Ruger Silverhawk at my recliner in instant reach.

    Having been assaulted at midnight May 5, 2013 by my neighbors, only to stop them with a 44 blackhawk cocked and trigger in movement, with about 2 lbs on it before they backed off….

    Well we almost lost two neighbors that night. The sheriff said he was pleased that I did not kill these cowards, but in all honesty “I was within my rights to shoot them, after I was hit with a shovel handle.” Verified by a judge and my attorney as well as the sheriff’s who responded to my call that night.

    The BEST SELF DEFENCE WEAPON? The one in your hand at the time… AND a clear mind!!!

    Reply

  • DaveW

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    Danial J. Kleczka – Thank you for your service.

    I am 100% disabled due to Agent Orange. I have my 12 gauge, but it is my .45 that sleeps by my bed. I do, however, agree that racking a 12 gauge is an attention getter. Yet, racking a .45 in pitch dark is also an attention getter. The bad guys’ realization that their presence is known and they are about to be met with deadly force is a great reason not to stick around any longer than it takes to reach the exit.

    Reply

    • Eric

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      I am a retired Policeman, and have been in several shootings. This after 3 Vietnam tours. Your racking in a 12 gauge shotgun may be “frightening”, but if you do not want to tell an intruder who is probably armed, exactly where you are, keep a round in the chamber with the safety on. You shoot only when your life or familys lives are in danger. It is better to know where the intruder(s) are, not advertising your position. Push the safety off, keep your finger OFF the trigger until you are ready to shoot. Trust me, you do not want to kill someone unless absolutely necessary.

      Reply

    • DaveW

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      Eric
      It only took me one tour in Vietnam to learn that I did not like watching a face in my scope explode. And that was the enemy in war. I consider an intruder my enemy as well, but probably a fellow citizen. I, too have been to a number of shootings during my 21+ year career in law enforcement. I learned all about cover and concealment, of having the tactical advantage. My comment was more anecdotal. Back in the day when we had two man patrols, a simple traffic stop saw the leader approaching the subject while the rider stood in the darkness with a shotgun. (This was not long after the infamous Newhall Incident.) If the leader gave the signal to the rider, the rider racked a round. That got the attention of the violator who usually became quite cooperative. As I am sure you know, at night, in the darkness, when all is silent, sound stands out and carries. You could rack a .22 and it would grab the attention of an intruder. Just like how an intruder might feel if the first sound they heard in the darkness was the low sound of a pitbull’s growl and then the panic of trying to pinpoint where the growl originated from. Hopefully, thinks the intruder, it’s not coming from the intruders throat, leg, butt, or any other body part. LOL

      Reply

  • Danial J. Kleczka

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    I have my 12 gauge Charter Arms Rifle sights loaded with 00Buckshot for my personal Home Defense as I am also Disabled Service connected from Vietnam. It gives you that confident feeling and as you say there is no sound as the racking of a Pump 12 gauge shotgun.

    Reply

  • RCline7

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    I have a Remington 3″ magnum, 18″ ribbed barrel with fiber-optic front sight, 4 + 1 capacity, Wolf ’00’buck. Paid $200 for everything, plus 500 rounds of Wolf ’00’buck, in a steel can, no less.

    It’s some bad medicine. Hell on armadillos…

    Reply

  • Kyle

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    3 shotguns, variable loads

    Reply

  • DaveW

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    My response is, ‘No problem.’

    I wouldn’t want to see anyone financially hurt providing information, which is why I research as much as I can before bringing things up.

    Being totally disabled by Agent Orange, I am restricted in what I am able to do these days. So I do a LOT of researching different subjects. Some for my own edification and some for others who lack time or lack research skills. I’m fortunate that I can still shoot.

    Reply

  • Bobby G

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    #1 buck. It is one size smaller than 00 buck. It is the only size buckshot for 20ga that I have seen for sale. There may be others but that is what I would use in a 20ga.

    Reply

    • James

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      Number 3 is also commonly available for 20 gauge. Best bang for your buck in number of pellets while still having required penetration.

      Reply

    • Bobby G

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      Thank you James. Since posting this comment I have shopped around for 20ga buckshot and have found that #3 is the most commonly available size.

      Reply

  • RON

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    what is the best shot for home defense 20 gauge shotgun

    Reply

    • James

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      #3 buckshot. #4 would be better, but it doesn’t stack neatly in the case so it wastes a lot of space.

      Reply

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