Slug Up! Shotgun Ammo Choices for Defense

By Bob Campbell published on in Ammunition

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.

Gray haired man in green shirt with red ear protection and safety glasses shoots a Raptor barrel facing the right, against a grassy background.

You must manage recoil with the shotgun. A self-loader, such as the Raptor, takes some of the sting out of recoil, but you must always use full-power loads.

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, but birdshot often fails to penetrate more than a few inches in gelatin or water testing. I do not wish to bet my life on a loading that may not penetrate a leather jacket.

Silver recovered Winchester .410 slug on the left with two red cartridges on the right on a gray mottled background.

The Winchester .410 slug is deadly effective on predators, such as coyote.

Manufacturers made birdshot for game birds that weigh only a few ounces. 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.

Illustration of the Hornady 12 gauge SST on a white background

The Hornady 12-gauge SST is among the most accurate slug loads, well suited to hunting.

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.

Seven different recovered shotgun slugs on a mottled white-to-gray background.

The author recovered these slugs from testing. Impressive!

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.
Silver recovered Winchester .410 slug on a gray mottled background.

This is a recovered Winchester slug—and it is just a .410!

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 silver Speed Feed stock of the RIA shotgun with a Wolf cartridge.

The Speed Feed stock of the RIA shotgun is a good tactical accessory.

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.

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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 Shooter’s 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.

View all articles by Bob Campbell


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Comments (31)

  • Rob


    I practice using Winchester 1 ounce slugs advertised at 1600 FPS. Gun use is a Mossberg Persuader 18″ barrel with AR type stock and pistol grip. Usually shot five rounds in a fist size group at 50 yards using just the small bead front sight. Wore a Past shoulder pad after the first time.
    I changed stocks using a smaller size but sticker rubber Hogue and groups grew to a foot at 25 yards. Immediately switched back.
    Now have a laser on the rear rail sighted in at 25 yards but haven’t been to the range yet to test.


  • Damion


    I load my 590a1 with 5 buck, and 4 slug in that order. Slugs are for the getaway car


  • Rem870


    One of the best articles about shotgun ammunition and use of shotgun for home defense. I am shooter with almost 10 years of experience but found a lot of interesting and useful information.


  • JJM


    Where is a Blunder Buss when you want one? I find the following from Wikipedia regarding ‘shot spread’ hard to believe “The muzzle (and often the bore) was flared with the intent not only to increase the spread of the shot, but also to funnel powder and shot into the weapon, making it easier to reload on horseback or on a moving carriage; however, modern experiments have shown that the flared muzzle has no noticeable effect on shot spread.”


  • Ian


    Everyone seems to want a small dense pattern. If that’s your goal, get a full choke shotgun. Personally, I’d like to have a 12-18″ pattern of #4 buck at house ranges, 5-10 yards, to minimize aiming errors. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen. The best I’ve been able to achieve with handloads and spreader wads is about 8″ at 7yds.


  • Daniel Wisehart


    That is one of the fun parts of 3-gun competition: you get to shoot your shotgun every month and sometimes the tasks require a combination of slugs and birdshot.

    When it is solely slugs I put on the rifled barrel on my 1100 and shoot sabot slugs, which is good practice for hunting with “limited range weapons”, even though the Hornady 300 gr slug comes out of the barrel at 2,000 fps. Let’s you bag antelope comfortably at 150-200 yds.

    As for home defense? Whatever I have in the gun at the time. Hopefully just pointing a shotgun at someone is going to make them run for the hills. Some part of them knows it might be the last choice they ever make. A shotgun is mean weapon to face, peering into the enormous, dark, business end.


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