For personal defense, many of us rely on a shotgun as a house or truck gun. Many see the shotgun as the ultimate problem solver. While the shotgun is easily the most effective of the three firearms we are likely to use—the rifle, handgun and shotgun—that is only true if you have practiced and loaded the shotgun with the proper shells.
As an example, birdshot is often recognized as a good choice for home defense. The theory goes that light shot is effective at conversational range although not likely to penetrate interior walls. There is some truth to that, and birdshot often fails to penetrate more than a few inches in gelatin or water testing. But I do not wish to bet my life on a loading that may not penetrate a leather jacket.
Manufacturers made birdshot for game birds that weigh only a few ounces each. Heavier shot, and particularly the various reduced-recoil buckshot loads, is a better choice. Another, even more effective choice, I believe, is the shotgun slug. My opinions on buckshot may be controversial, so I will leave it at this—buckshot in the typical open-choke, home-defense shotgun is a good 15-yard option. Past that range, we should use slugs.
At close range, you must aim the shotgun as carefully as a rifle. It is true that the feel and fit of a shotgun make fast aiming and firing quickly easier. That is why I am not overly fond of adding an AR-15-type rifle stock or rifle sights to a home-defense shotgun. A simple bead-front sight works just fine in dim light. If you use the piece as an all-around predator and pest popper at long range, then an aperture sight or the Bushnell First Strike red dot scope is a good idea.
However, for traditional home defense, the pump shotgun with a bead-front sight is an excellent choice. And a slug load is something worth considering. The typical slug load jolts a 487-grain slug to about 1300 fps, which gives off energy.
If you need penetration, the 1-ounce slug has it. This is not the load to use if you may send it through a wall into the neighbors’ home or for apartment dwellers. If you are in a rural setting or have brick walls at the end of the likely cone of fire, the slug is a decisive choice. I like slugs because they are effective and I know where the slug is going.
The Hornady 12-gauge Critical Defense is one example of buckshot that is very dense at close range. The pattern of the Hornady load is the densest I have yet tested in conventional buckshot. Even so, it is a pattern, not a single projectile. Recoil is there with buckshot, while a reduced-recoil slug is quite controllable at about 1150 fps.
When considering whether to go with reduced-recoil loads, the question is easily answered for buckshot; those loads give less recoil and a denser pattern, and low-recoil buckshot is the way to go. When it comes to reduced-recoil slugs, the same is true for home defense in most situations.
On the other hand, the full-power slug has proven to stay in the body often. When hunting deer, full-power slugs are decisive. They often expand and usually shed a fragment or two that trails behind the main payload. Reduced-recoil slugs actually penetrate further and seldom expand; they make a huge hole without expanding.
If you are firing at longer range—a good rifle-sighted shotgun is accurate to 100 yards with a proper slug and slug barrel—then the reduced recoil load is more difficult to hit. It simply loses velocity and drops more than a full-power slug, so you need to carefully consider all of those factors.
If the likely engagement range is more than 25 yards, perhaps you should consider using the full-power slug. Animal defense is an unfortunate reality.
- If the likely threat is a feral dog or a pack, buckshot is a great choice.
- If the threat is a bear around the campsite, the full-power Fiocchi Aero Slug works better.
I have a respect for the .410 that many experienced shooters share, especially since it is light, fast handling and more effective than many realize. The .410 bore Winchester slug is effective on coyote, bobcat and the like, although it does not have the range and penetration of a rifle. This is also an accurate combination, striking near the point of aim in my personal shotgun.
Too many shotgunners keep a slug or two on hand just in case and have no idea of the slug’s characteristics. You cannot rely on skills you cannot demonstrate. You really need to understand the point of impact and point of aim relationship.
The slug may impact high or low. As an example, in the case of my personal RIA M5 shotgun, slugs impact about an inch high at 15 yards. When firing over the front bead, you easily can account for that difference. The Rock Island Armory (RIA) shotgun is a bargain and a good work-a-day value. I usually keep it loaded with buckshot.
The RIA M5 features a Speed Feed stock that holds two shells ready for instant use. I loaded this stock with slugs, just in case. The combination fits my needs well, although as time goes on and I collect more shooting histories, I tend to lean toward slugs over buckshot in almost every situation.
For those who practice, the shotgun slug is the best problem solver available.
Have you practiced with buckshot and slugs? What were your results? Share in the comments section.
Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooters Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.