Throwback Thursday: 5 Good 12-Gauge Buckshot Loads

Man shooting shotgun

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.

Remington 12-gauge shotgun
The author used the Remington V3 Tactical in testing these loads. Super reliable, fast handling, and light kicking, this is a great all-around shotgun.

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 1,290 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.

Federal 12-gauge buckshot ammunition
Federal’s buckshot load offers a tight pattern courtesy of Flite Wad technology.

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 1,300 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 1,300 fps loading.

Fiocchi 12-gauge buckshot
That’s a potential cloud of #4 buckshot in the transparent Fiocchi shell.

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 1,200 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 1,300 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.

Hornady Critical Defense 12-gauge 00 buck
Hornady Critical Defense offers excellent performance.

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.

Winchester 12-gauge ammunition
Winchester offers a wide range of buckshot.

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 Comment section.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in July of 2020. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and clarity.

About the Author:

Wilburn Roberts

When Wilburn Roberts was a young peace officer, he adopted his present pen name at the suggestion of his chief, as some of the brass was leery of what he might write. This was also adopted out of respect for families of both victims and criminals. The pen name is the same and the man remains an outspoken proponent of using enough gun for the job.

He has been on the hit list of a well-known hate group, traveled in a dozen countries and written on many subjects, including investigating hate crimes and adopting the patrol carbine. He graduated second in his class with a degree in Police Science. It took him 20 years to work himself from Lieutenant to Sergeant and he calls it as he sees it.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (26)

  1. Great article. Great comments. Thanks. I’m a newbie using Winchester super x 00 buckshot in Mossberg 590. testing patterns with with winchester and Sar. Needs 20 feet or less

  2. When I was competing in Second Chance’s bowling pin matches back in the mid 80s I was getting hammered my factory 00 loads.
    I took my dove hunting load (18 grains of Red Dot) and hand loaded .30 round balls that I used in my flintlock squirrel gun.
    I set up a pepper popper so that my .45 could not knock it down with a center hit at pin range. The “dove load” would knock it down even with a low body hit.
    Now for 000 – without a doubt most consistent pattern I’ve ever used as there were little or no flyers and the patterns were super tight. If I said how tight there would be “experts” saying Bravo Sierra.
    I had my 1100 (10 shot) with a modified choke opened up until my gunsmith said that at some point the pattern would start to enlarge – it was somewhere between M and IC.
    I had a sleeve installed in my issued. 870 and removed the 000 logo from the shells as we could only carry 4B.

  3. After years of dealing with the factory loads, I made up own in 12 GA. I load a .58 cal lead round ball, topped with 4-6 OO buckshot pellets. Holds a good pattern up to 20 yards. Targets are impressively ventilated.




  5. The author needs to change/update the #1 rank to the federal tungsten 00 buck at 1600 fps it produces a muzzle energy equivalent per pellet to a .380 auto. Glen

  6. As was said, but not enough, PATTERN PATTERN PATTERN your shotgun. Do NOT doubt the effectiveness of #1, 000, or 0 Buckshot if your shotgun PATTERNs it well. My second longest shot on a Deer is 67 yards with 2 3/4, #1 Buck, out of a 28 inch Barrel, w/Full choke. One shot, dead where he was standing, several pellets in the Heart and Lungs. Different Shotgun, same Barrel set up, 000 Buck is awesome (00 Buck came out in a “V” pattern). Another Shotgun, 30 inch Full Choke, shoots 0s. My longest shot was 92 yards with my Muzzle Loader, with my 300 WSM…32 yds.

  7. I have a few favorite loads that I keep for different uses. When my 12ga pump is at home I keept it loaded with 6 Federal LE 9 pellet 00 buckshot with flight control as well as 3 more shells on the stock and 2 shells of Remington managed recoil slugs. In the 25 shell holder spots in my sling I keep 10 more of the Federal LE 9 pellet 00 with flight control. 10 more Remington or Federal Truball Low Recoil Deep Penetrators and 5 #4 Buckshot shells. That way all the shells are suitable suitable home defense but give me multiple options on what I can use to fight off whatever the problem is. Baddy jumps in his truck or car Boom Slugs coming hot. Other than that it’s 00 coming in hot. Now I spend alot of time in the wilderness and I land different when I head out into the wilderness. I mainly use 3in shells for woods carry. I keep 1 round of Hornady Heavy Magnum Coyote BB up first followed by 1 Federal Premium 3in copper plated 00 buckshot 15 pellet. Then I have 3 Bremneke Black Magic Magnum Bear Slugs loaded behind that. I keep the same rotation on my stock for a reload. On the sling I keep kind of the same pattern as my home defense setup. I keep 10 3in 15 pellet Federal Premium copper plated 00 buckshot. 10 Bear Slugs if I have them and if I don’t then its usually a Remington Magnum Slug or Federal Maximum or Magnum Slug. Then another 5 shells of either 3in #4 buckshot or the Hornady Heavy Magnum Coyote BB. The smaller loads for the woods carry that are loaded for the first shot are mainly for snakes and such. Something where I might need more scatter but still a hotter load to give me down range power. I do think the Winchester PDX1 Defenders with buck and slug would be an excellent woods carry load. Home Defense is iffy for me with that load due to the buckshot not always patterning the same. But out in the woods a flyer isn’t as bad.

  8. Wow, almost a year later….John Gonyea, I respectfully disagree. A shotgun is a wonderful in home weapon. Maybe not great if you want to go room to room in the dark looking for the bad guy, but absolutely fantastic if you set up in one place, and let him come to you. Such as the end of a hallway, or top of a stairway.

    The number of bullets is less important than where you place them. The winner is decided by the first person to score an incapacitating hit on his opponent. Shotgun works pretty damn well in that dept.

  9. Shotguns are lousy in home weapons. Coming through a doorway turning into a hallway with a shotgun aimed toward the threat is almost impossible and certainly clumsy. A pistol is the only sensible weapon for navigating the tight spaces of a home…. not to mention the fact that the winner of any gun fight is inevitably the fighter with the most bullets.

  10. Found 00 Buck did not pattern well at 25-30 yards in my Ithaca 37 12ga.-only 1 or 2 pellets in 2ft square box.No longer have the Ithaca,but in rem 870/1100 and Mossberg 590/500 I load #4 Buck

  11. #1 or 4 for in the house. 00 has too much penetration. I’ve read stories out of Vietnam that #4 was effective.

  12. The China Lake study documented the effectiveness of 4 O buckshot. I agree that it is an excellent option. OO is the law enforcement standard, but when off duty I load with 4 O. I have fired this brand and do see it as a great value. Take a Remington 1100 with rib, trim to 18″, chock right and load well and you have great protection.

  13. Beware of Sellier & Bellot or other brands of buckshot that use a rolled crimp instead of a folded crimp. The rolled crimp makes each shell longer, so you can’t fit as many in a magazine. Something that could be very important for home defense.

  14. Have you ever done a review on 20 gauge shot shells? Because of my age I like 20 gauge over 12 because of felt recoil.

  15. I have a Mossburg pump, 20 inch barrel with 8 rounds of sellier and bellot 12 ga. 2 3/4 inch 12 pellet 00 buckshot, and a Mossburg 930 semi auto 18 1/2 inch barrel with 8 rounds of sellier and bellot 12 ga. 2 3/4 inch 12 pellet no. 1 buckshot next to my bed within arms distance. Depends on where the threat is, inside or outside which one I grab first. Both work really well, and the sellier and bellot loads pattern really good in these guns

  16. For large game or when devastating power is needed, consider Herter’s Double Round Ball. These are 12-gauge shells each containing two 0.65″ round balls that are totally overwhelming. The recoil is a bit harsh, but the destructive power of these shells is really something. Currently out of stock at my last check. Has anyone else here tested these shells?

  17. I have a 20 gauge shotgun that calls for 3” magnum shells – I am not finding shells that have 00 or 000 buck for it. What shells do you recommend for a 20 gauge for home defense?
    Thank you, in advance ~

  18. #1 buck is only .03″ smaller in diameter than 00, hardly see how that is noticeable, and you get more pellets. I decided on Winchester 3″ shells with its 24 pellet count for home defense. My primary threat zones on my property are at 20 and 30 feet and these shells have dispersal patterns of 7″ and 10″ respectively.

  19. Grumpy,

    You will have to test patterns in your personal shotgun. So many variables, different chokes, etc.
    I will say that in the home for defense not much difference.

    If you need a 30 yard pattern then you need a 28 to 32 inch shotgun. Medium choke usually
    best, buckshot is a different rule.
    000 Buck is a hell of a hard hitter. At close range it is a great choice. The problem it is hasnt seen as much development as 00 buck so the pattern at longer range isnt that great.
    Inside of ten yards it hits hard.

  20. Would like to see buckshot patterns at 7 – 10 yards, with different chokes. What works at 10 yards is not always what works at 30 yards, or visa versa. Same with sheetrock damage or gel penetration.

    I happen to like the new .410 pistol rounds for those in-house/5 yard shots. Wish that testing with older shooters could also be done. At my age. guns I could easily handle in my 40’s and even 50’s are now a problem.

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