When choosing a shotgun load for home defense, defense against animals, or area defense, choosing a buckshot load is important. Barrel lengths affect velocity and patterns. It is vital for the shooter to pattern their shotgun and load at typical engagement ranges. For homeowners, seven yards would be a long shot. For institutional users, a load should be effective to more than 20 yards, which is another problem.
If you hunt deer with buckshot, then a long-barrel shotgun with a tighter choke is a different consideration. The bottom line — test several shotgun loads, pattern them on target, and understand how the shotgun patterns.
Sometimes a lighter shot, such as #1 and #4, will throw a few pellets into a tight center and create a widespread with the rest. Be certain not to fall for the poor recommendation of using some type of light shot for home defense. Birdshot — shot between #6 and #9 — isn’t suitable for use against human or large-animal targets. Small shot throws a large cloud of pellets. The shot connects to flying or scampering animals and a few pellets quickly bring down the animal. This shot will penetrate perhaps five to six inches of water or gelatin. An adversary wearing heavy clothing will be little affected by light shot. Buckshot, on the other hand, has proven very effective.
While there are unsubstantiated claims of great effect by birdshot even on large animals, I fail to see how light shot that penetrates but a few inches in water or gelatin at very close range could possibly produce a severe wound, much less drop anything over a few pounds.
Be certain to know if the shot strikes high, low, or to one side with your shotgun and point of aim. At a typical personal-defense range, a shotgun must be aimed as carefully as a rifle. If your adversary is behind cover, with only an arm or foot exposed, you should understand where the load will strike in regard to your point of aim.
At close range, buckshot will produce a ragged rathole. As the range increases and the shot spreads, the advantage of buckshot on moving targets comes into play. As an example, a running coyote is a common problem around farms that raise animals. With the proper load and choke, buckshot is viable to 40 yards. Deer hunting is also a legitimate chore for buckshot. The pattern must be carefully measured and it is important to remember that buckshot generally travels and hits in pairs.
These are just a few of the many loads that are useful with the 12-gauge shotgun. There are other choices. Here are some general-use loads that offer good effect at typical shotgun ranges.
1. Federal 12-Gauge 2¾ Inch 12-Pellet Load
A standard 00 buckshot load is nine pellets. This short, magnum load carries 12 pellets, significantly increasing the payload. At 1290 fps, this is an impressive loading from Federal. I think this loading is best suited for self-loading shotguns that will mitigate the effects of recoil to an extent. Just the same, this is a powerhouse. For area defense, or for defense against feral dogs or the big cats, this is a viable loading.
2. Fiocchi 12-Gauge 2¾ Inch #4 27-Pellet Load
Fiocchi offers several choices, including reduced-recoil buckshot. The full-power, nine-pellet load breaks 1300 fps in most shotguns. It hits hard. I have also tested the #4 buckshot 27-pellet load. This is an economical loading, especially when you order 80 shells in a Plano container.
A friend who owns a zoo loves his animals but keeps his Browning shotgun loaded with these loads in case one of the big cats escapes and presents a danger to the public. Several of my friends like the lighter #4 shot. The total weight is good and the center of the cloud of shot is tight with shot radiating out. They feel that #4 offers great hit probability. The Fiocchi load is a viable option for home defense. Recoil is less than 00 buck with this 1300 fps loading.
3. Remington 12-Gauge Eight-Pellet Managed Recoil
Remington introduced this load as an answer to the recoil of the standard nine-pellet buckshot loading. With eight pellets at a reduced velocity of 1200 fps, this loading answers a lot of problems with recoil. The shot pattern is consistently tight and produces a cohesive pattern at longer shotgun ranges. This is a top load for use in lightweight shotguns that may exhibit excess recoil. It should be in the top five buckshot loads, and it is!
4. Hornady Critical Defense 12 Gauge
This is an eight-pellet loading that reaches 1300 fps. Intended for home defense and institutional use, the Critical Defense throws a tight pattern at longer shotgun range. The Critical Defense is offered in 10-round boxes. This is a modern load with good performance. When Hornady entered the shotgun-shell market, they did so in a big way with plenty of research and engineering.
5. Winchester #1 Buckshot 16-Pellet Load
Some users favor lighter buckshot for home defense. This is understandable. A cloud of 16 pellets is certainly formidable, even if the pellets are smaller than 00 buckshot. Winchester offers several buckshot loads including 00 and #4. The #1 buckshot load is a counterpoint to the larger and smaller size, and some feel it is just right for home defense.
A pen pal keeps his Remington 870 loaded with these shells on the trawler. He occasionally has to kill a thrashing shark brought up with the catch. #1 buck, he says, kills the sharks with a shot or two and doesn’t tear his deck up badly.
When researching this report, I ran across a video of a crocodile in Borneo being executed for attacking a local woman. The effect was good. A single blast to the head finished the beast off.
Shotguns are very effective and can be lifesavers. Use the proper 12-gauge load, practice, and the shotgun will serve well.
What is your favorite 12-gauge load for personal defense? Why? Let us know in the comments below.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in July of 2020. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and clarity.