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

ATK Federal Power Shok Buckshot

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.

ATK Federal Power Shok Buckshot
ATK Federal Power•Shok Buckshot

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 effect 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″ 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 (113)

  1. I mounted a tiny lazermax with a green laser and lime light to the side of my Mossberg 590 Shockwave loaded with nine rounds of minis…. buck slug buck slug etc. If they are wearing body armor, failure drill training will put the second round, a slug, where it counts. At 1200fps, the mini’s won’t tear up the house

  2. I keep a Rem 870 loaded, first with a couple rounds of birdshot, then a few rounds of buck, then with slugs. Eight round extended mag.

  3. I have my 12 gauge loaded with 3″ alternating rounds between 00 buck and slugs. Power power power you have no idea what they will be wearing, with body Armour getting cheaper they may have that on, I want to know that that 1st shot is going to kill, Mame, or severely put them in pain to where they aren’t going to as quickly keep coming at me.

    1. I completely agree. I’ve used 00 buck and slugs “in the heat of battle” to devastating effect. I’ve experimented with bird shot, and yes, it will blow a fist-sized hole in a heavy piece of plywood – at very close range – but didn’t think I will ever get attacked by a sheet of plywood. So, I reserve the use of bird shot for use in my Remington 1100 – for birds. Meanwhile, my Mossberg 500 and Remington 870 are ready with 3″ magnums of 00 buck and rifled slugs. And then there is my 20 gauge double-barrel side-by-side “coach gun” – just for fun.

  4. Why choose? I use a buckshot/birdshot combo. I have 11 rounds in an MKA1919XN and don’t have to worry about racking. I live in a very rural area, and no kids to worry about. If the first 11 don’t get them, I can send another 10 in a couple seconds more.

  5. I’d rather cut loose with a load of buckshot,and make some sheetrock fly,to scare off an intruder.The noise and mayhem should be enough.Hopefully.
    Remington 870
    2 3/4 ” 0Buck
    18 1/2″ open cylinder

  6. I have to agree with the author on one point. Buck shot is good stuff, in CQB. It creates multiple wounds resulting in more hemorrhaging that deprives the brain of O2 and then incapacitation. BUT, that can take time.
    The 45 ACP and even the 45 Colt have more energy than indicated in the article, and the .40 cal also (didn’t want to leave you out Mike). An entire buckshot load is devastating to the body. BUT, individual pellets do not have the bone shattering effect of .4 cal bullets at max velocity.
    Shoot what you have, the best gun and the best caliber is the one you have at that moment when you need it, even if it’s a .22 cal LR.
    Happy Trails…. May the good Lord take a liking to you. Szczinator

  7. 12 ga, # 4 Magnum 2 3/4″ Turkey Loads (2) followed by # 1 Buckshot! My 1300 pump holds a few extra rounds! Love that gun!!!

  8. Bedside – 230 gr .45 critical defense HP Glock 21 w/ lazer – 25 rd mag. Mossberg 590 9 rd 00bk in the corner. Sig p320 RX for C-carry – 22rd mags.
    For the Mossburg I use No, 4 Buck (Deer load) staggered with 00 buck for home defense Use 2 3/4 shells for ammo in my 3 inch chamber for more load capacity. One in chamber – 8 in mag. All cocked and locked at all times. I have dropped deer with the no, 4 buck many times but not with my home defense weps. For my home dimensions – works good for me.

  9. Great article, thank you. My only comment is that I think you should double check your energy figures. I always calculate M x V squared, then divided by the 450,400 constant.

    I’m having a hard time seeing how you get only 250 ft lbs for .45 ACP. The only way I can get close (256 ft lbs) is assuming a 180 grain bullet at a modest 800 FPS, which is both light and slow.

    A standard 230 grain hardball round at a typical 850-900 FPS gives 369 – 414 ft lbs, so I think there is some error in that particular calculation anyway.

    1. You put it quite politely. It’s inexcusable to let an error like this slip through in an article focusing on muzzle energy, with even the most cursory level of proofreading!

  10. The whole reason for bird shot or #4 buck in a house is the lack of over penetration. Like you said at short range the shot column acts like a pile driver and that works for any engagement range in my home. the 00’s and slugs in the side saddle will do if the “fun” continues outside. Highly unlikely unless it’s a terror type activity in the community. That’s when the safe get raided and the long arms come into play.

  11. Certainly agree that either bird shot or 00 buck is OK for any indoor threat. You mention 10 balls all traditional loads including military issue uses only 9 balls and load them in the 2.74 inch shell. Secondly, your energy numbers are goofy on the 45 acp. Military ball has always been a 23o grain at 870 fps for 370 foot pounds. Current plus P loads are all about 450 foot pounds with some up to 616 foot pounds of energy. Just click

    1. Same as I noticed, thanks. Not calling you wrong for 17 ft lbs, but a 230 grain at 870 FPS is 387 ft lbs., not 370.

  12. This is a several year old discussion, and one thing stands out starkly in the discussion. You need to maintain control and be able to hear both before and after a shot is fired.

    A pair of electronic earmuffs with good batteries in them are a very, very valuable item for a possible home invasion scenario.

    First sound, first hint of a possible issue– earmuffs on, switch on, volume turned up, then grab the firearm. That is less than two seconds, and the sound of breaking glass might make you think one thing, but with the earmuffs what you hear might be a teenage daughter whispering “Don’t wake daddy,” and that puts a whole different spin on what you need to do.

    IF the breaking glass was a window shattering, ear muffs on, weapon at ready, call 911, establish that a home invasion is in progress. If you are forced to fire a shot or if the intruder touches off a round, you will still be able to hear, and you can tell where the intruder is and figure out what to do.

    If the intruder is down and the police arrive, without the earmuffs you have almost zero hearing after firing inside the first officer responding, not knowing who you are but seeing an armed individual will shout at you– but you will not hear him. That forces him to consider you a hostile individual.

    With the electronic earmuffs on you will hear him, you will respond, and when he is screaming “Drop the gun! Drop the gun!” you can do that, raise your hands, and identify yourself, let the officer enter and control the situation as other officers arrive.

    You don’t get shot by responding officers, and the 911 line should still be alive.

    Pick your defensive weapon, but make sure you can hear and respond properly when it happens.

    1. The electronic earmuffs are a good idea. If you have ever fired a firearm inside a room or from inside a car, or even used the hood or trunk of a car to steady your aim (the sound bounces off the hard surfaces of the metal and glass and goes straight to your ears), you know how important ear protection can be. Another consideration is having sturdy doors and locks, good locks on all windows, and an alarm system that covers all possible points on entry, and that includes a glass breakage alarm on all the windows. That way, when and if the alarm goes off, you will have plenty of time to grab your gun of choice (just in case) – plus the alarm company will have notified the police, and the sound of the alarm may send the intruder running. Problem solved without having to fire a shot. Just make sure you don’t have your firearm in your hand when the police show up (they may mistake you for the intruder).

      Question about the electronic earmuffs: Do they use lithium batteries? I periodically hear stories of lithium batteries causing a fire, which concerns me because the laser on one of my pistols also uses a lithium battery. All the preparations for a possible break-in may be meaningless if the house burns down because of a little battery. Does anyone know how safe these lithium batteries are?

    2. Most lithium batteries are really very safe, but since most electronic ear muffs use double A or triple A batteries (AA or AAA) you can put in whatever battery you prefer, and when the earmuffs are turned off they don’t consume power so it is a “check as used, replace when needed” issue.

    3. Primary lithium cells are not a problem. It’s the Lithium Ion / Lithium Polymer rechargeables that have a the bad reputation. Mostly though the problem with those are in multi-cell packs and are charged that way. So primary lithium cells like AA, AAA, CR2, CR123,and CR20XX cells (as examples) are very safe.

    4. Ear muffs in a self defense situation??????? training and fun shooting, certainly…. home invasion????

  13. I prefer 20 gauge for home defense. I havent tested various rounds but settled on #4 buckshot and 3 inch shells. I do have heavier turkey shot on hand as a compromise. My wife can handle the recoil of a 20. And I prefer that recoil profile as well. Remember a 20 gauge slug round delivers greater force than a .44 Magnum.

    1. 20 gauge is a great choice IMO, especially for a woman, putting out 75% the load of a 12 gauge, but only 50% of the recoil. Quick follow up shots as well. My ideal gun for a woman would be the load you chose mixed with buckshot in a softer shooting semi-auto.

  14. Fury II……a semi auto virtual wall of dove and quail headed downrange. EVERYTHING gets hit. Everything bleeds. No over penetration. Mission accomplished.

  15. These comments reflect any I might have said! Hell, further investigation reveals them to be mine! Still present excellent logic! Any of projectiles listed do cover distances as I never could; depending on my prior skeet experience to fill any lead gaps! Ain’t calling 911!

  16. being handicapped(weak mobility) and retired older adult; with little or no visitation, by design, from kids or grans(all adults) all that to say, due to facts at hand, a 40 cal. Glock at bedside, a Rem.870 clone within 4 feet,3″ OO magnum; 18.5″ bbl; all fully loaded as are the rest of firearms here! All others in Safe, or out of reach! Verbally warn any visitors; seldom any youngsters! also by design!
    This presently satisfies my venues! Mainly three 3″ OO buck to clean up, the 40 cal to get me to the 870!


  17. 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.


  18. 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.

  19. 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!!!

  20. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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

  21. 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.

  22. 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…

  23. 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.

  24. #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.

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

    2. 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.

    1. #3 buckshot. #4 would be better, but it doesn’t stack neatly in the case so it wastes a lot of space.

    1. Not a bad article… but not a great one either.

      The term “Bird Shot” covers a lot of ground. It can refer to anything from 9s to BB. Also, “Choke” is not mentioned at all. Open chokes like “cylinder” deliver more open patterns while “Extra Full Turkey” delivers extremely tight patterns. Then there is “Plated” shot vs “Non Plated” shot and even “Magnum” shot vs “Non Magnum” shot. “Plated” shot penetrates more deeply as it does not deform as much in flight or on impact. It is safe to say that not all “Bird Shot” loads are created equal.

      There is a lot to be said for the use of “Extra Heavy” loads of plated 4s through an Extra Full Turkey choke in a “Turkey Gun” for short range defense. These will be cheeper than “Buckshot” and come in boxes of 25 rather than 5.

      Notice that the author related only the Buckshot load to the pistol loads. Real world testing would have also related the energy of the “Birdshot.”

      Then there is the venerable “Cut Shell.” This is a shell preparation that can deliver a load of Plated 9s, through a “Cylinder” choke, that disperse on impact rather than in flight… Imagine that!

    2. Dave,

      Your ‘constructive review’ does not account for the fact that this is a blog post and not a novel. The level of testing you suggest would take far more into account than that which could ever be put into a single article. The prohibitively long length would also be more than 99+% would read, but I agree with you that if the data was available, it would make a helluva article. Note: I also prefaced the article by saying it was based on math (feel free to do any calculations on your own) and data from a previous test.

      As for cut shells, I know of them and to any who are interested, you can look it up for yourself. However, as a content provider and with the liability that would ensue from recommending someone modify with a pocket knife and then shoot a shotgun shell… well, let’s just say I would like to keep what little money I have without having to explain the irresponsibility of that type of content to a judge in a civil lawsuit.

      Great points otherwise and well thought out recommendations. I would be eager to hear any results from the tests from other readers. Perhaps, together we can amass quite a bit of data that I can combine into an article for the greater good. ~Dave Dolbee

  25. There is a reason that some troops in Vietnam liked the 12 gauge pumps we had, loaded with the only ammo we had available… 00 Buck.

  26. After initially reading this article I felt quite confidant in my choice of #4 buck as my choice for a home defense shotgun load. I felt that it was the best compromise between stopping power, pattern spread, and over-penetration potential. After reading all of the comments I have began to seriously question my choice.

    Many commenters’ have advocated some form of round stacking in anticipation of their need and usefulness in a HD incident. In my opinion this is sheer folly. You cannot possibly predict how the incident will unfold and progress. You may find yourself firing a less lethal round at the very moment you do not wish to do so.

    You are also making the assumption that the intruder or intruders are rational and thinking logically. They are not necessarily going to play along with your strategy and may not be intimidated by an armed homeowner firing less than lethal ammunition at them in the hopes that they will flee in terror of more lethal ammunition being fired at them.

    It is now my opinion that stopping the intruder(s) as quickly and decisively as possible with the minimum number of shots fired is of the utmost importance in this situation. Accordingly I have since upgraded to 000 buck and would not hesitate to use 00 buck if that was the only choice I had available.

  27. I have a Winchester 12 gauge, but I use Mossberg 500 20 gauge short
    barrel with pistol grip loaded with buckshot for home defense. light weight ez to move around for wife and myself,

  28. Kevin – good points. A couple I might disagree with depending on your floor plan. If possible, I would rather use my hallway as a funnel. It could be a bunch of people, but the hallway becomes a chokepoint that, once they are in, they have nowhere to go when you start firing.

    As for “confusing stories”, the less you say, the better. Cops (and I was one) are very good at their jobs. They will use many tactics to get the story out of you. In this case, they are NOT your buddy.

  29. I don’t agree. I live in one half of a small duplex with three other family members. My duplex neighbor are great friends that I care about. Honestly look at your home and imagine pulling the trigger and punching through several walls downrange. If you are like me you will have very few safe lanes of fire. Even bird shot can penetrate a wall with enough force to still be lethal. There is no place inside my home that I could take a shot greater than 25 feet. In most cases it would likely range from contact distance to 15 feet. For me, bird shot is a much more responsible choice. I have a separate shotgun loaded for protection outside of the home. That gun is loaded with buck.

    Instead of penetration test on 3/4 to 11/2 plywood, I would build a test wall from 2×4’s and sheet rock and test that. I think you will see the bird shot advantages there. Put your target simulator in front of the stud and sheet rock wall and then fire into it….that way you can examine the impact on the target as well as your loads capability to carry through the typical wall and into another target blocked by the wall….advantage, birdshot.

    1. Mark:
      You’re using physics again rather than tactics. It is at least as important how you use what you have as what you use. If you are worried about wall penetration, change your birdshot to #9 light target loads with an open choke. Also, practice shooting from a crouched position. You can assume a crouched position by the time you shoulder your weapon. By firing from a crouched position, any shot that isn’t stopped by the intruder will continue upward and strike high in the wall or in the celling, well above where someone would be sleeping on the same floor. Neighbors in an apartment above you would be protected by their wood floor.
      If you aren’t happy with this idea, maybe you can score some “bean bag” rounds from one of the local LEO’s. These are designed for non-lethal center mass shots and are effective when used properly.

  30. The Author is wrong: the answer is not simple and is certainly not physics.

    He is however on the correct path. Start with a pump shotgun with extended mag. Load so that the first round is high velocity plated birdshot. use this round first because you get better penetration and a tighter pattern than just birdshot. The next few rounds should be larger shot, maybe 2, 4 or 00 buck and finish up with slugs if you have room in the mag. This weapon now has the capability of stopping up to and including a Buick.
    Keep in mind that the person or people likely to invade your home are not the smartest people on the planet. The are there for your TV, Jewelry, and whatever they can grab. If they had any idea that you were going to defend your home with a shotgun, they would just pick another house. With that in mind, the first shot will likely be the most important and probably be the only shot fired even if there are multiple intruders. Any additional shots would likely land on the backside of the Perp…….if he doesn’t manage to outrun it.
    Very important, know your state laws. also remember: once you pull the trigger, you can’t get it back.

    1. PS: I take full responsibility for my comments if your home intruder is wearing plywood.

    2. Just any fyi, what you’re referring to with your staggered or mixed load was made illegal in WA state a few years ago for handguns and shotguns, they claimed the only reason you would load like that would be to kill someone. If they figure out you stacked rounds like that, they charge you with murder. I do agree that it’s the best way to load and I will state that if someone breaks into my home I do intend to kill them if need be but definitely know your states laws!

    3. I live in WA state and recently took a “use of force” class at the Cabela’s near my home. The instructor is a current law enforcement officer and a former homicide detective. He never mentioned anything about stacked rounds, and now I wish it had been brought up in class.

      My take away was that you can use lethal force to protect human life (yours and those near you), but you better be ready to make a convincing case that you had good reason to perceive a real threat. That could mean the assailant was much bigger/stronger, or had a weapon, or there were multiple attackers, or it really seemed like he/she had a weapon and was about to use it, etc.

      Each incident is a different case with many factors. Best not to shoot if it’s an unarmed burglar that starts running away the moment he/she sees you. Pretty hard to convince a judge or jury that shooting someone in the back was self defense. It doesn’t matter if they are running away with your personal property. It is illegal to use lethal force to protect property in WA state (only human life).

      I use 00 buckshot in my Winchester 12 gauge pump 18″ barrel with a mounted flashlight. My backup is a Glock .45 ACP with a laser and handheld flashlight. My AR’s stay in the safe and are more for fun than for self-defense in a home invasion (or for a SHTF scenario). My setup is always subject to change as I learn more (and eventually spend more).

      I use buckshot instead of birdshot, because I don’t plan on shooting unless my life (or that of a loved one) depends on it. A two-legged attacker is a lot more like a buck that a bird, thus I use the more appropriate load for the larger threat.

    4. To Dr101:
      The longest open space in my home is less than 40′, that would be my longest first shot. If you doubt that birdshot will not stop an intruder at that range, pattern your gun. I think you will find that even your short barrel gun will still cluster enough shot to bring down a large animal.
      Besides, the story you tell Police is that you weren’t trying to really hurt anyone, that’s the same ammo I hunt birds with.

    5. I would not shoot unless trying to stop a threat to human life and safety. In that case, I am by definition trying to hurt the aggressor in order to eliminate the threat. That is a legal use of lethal force. I would not shoot an intruder in my home unless they presented a threat.

      This is what I was taught: have a phone, firearm, and flashlight accessible. If there’s an intruder you dial 911 and put it on speakerphone. Don’t seek a confrontation. State loudly and clearly that the police are on their way. Hunker down with your family and wait. If an intruder approaches you after all that, you audibly warn them to stay back (recording from 911 call on still on speakerphone will back up your account of events). If they continue to approach, then that is an act of aggression, which means it’s a legitimate threat to your safety. At that point the use of lethal force is legal. In that scenario, I would not lie about my intentions. I would shoot the perp center mass as many times as it takes to eliminate the threat. I would stick to the truth. You don’t want the police to catch you saying anything less than the truth.

      I agree that at such very close range, birdshot is very lethal. I still choose to use buckshot. This debate about what is best in a hypothetical self-defense scenario is really a philosophical one. I don’t believe there really is an absolute best, as there are so many variables that differ in each incident.


  31. My primary HD weapon is a Mossberg 500 20″ barrel 12 gauge loaded with #1 buckshot in a. 2-3/4″ shell. More pellets (16) than 00 buck, with an optimum level of penetration, more mass, and more frontal area.

    Too bad it’s so hard to find #1 buck, and it’s not available in the discount brands. I back up the 8 rounds in the gun with 6 more on the sidesaddle, and 5 slugs on a buttstock carrier. I have a 200 lumen flashlight mounted on the mag tube.

    I back up the shotgun with a Glock 19 9mm, loaded with 18 rounds of 124 grain +P Federal HST hollowpoints. it also has a flashlight mounted, as well as night sights.

  32. I live alone. And there are plenty of ammo types which lessen the over penetration of my firearms. Even if I didn’t live alone, after 20+ years, I know the layout of my home and can find my way around in the dark without banging into walls or furnishings.

  33. The Author of this article says “the answer is simple —- physics”.
    This is not true, the answer is “tactics”.
    Buckshot or birdshot? The answer to that is “yes”, unless you are using a single shot shotgun.
    The best option for home defense, not withstanding a well trained Doberman or German shepherd, is a pump shotgun loaded with 5, 6, or 71/2 for the first shot. Anything from 2 buck, 4 buck or 00 buck for the next 2 to 4 shots and winding up with slugs if you have any room left in the mag.
    My 870 with extended mag is loaded with one 71/2 high velocity round with coated shot. The coated shot holds a pattern better and has some penetration advantage. The remaining rounds are loaded as above. Also, bird shot has a larger pattern which means that you are more likely to hit a moving target in the dark. The first shot will likely be the most important and will probably be the only shot fired even if there are multiple intruders.
    Keep in mind that the people that are most likely to break into your home are not the brightest people on the planet and are not likely to be wearing plywood. They are there for your TV, jewelry and anything they can carry and if they had any idea that your were willing to defend your property with a shotgun, they would just go to the next house rather than risk their life. So, one shot will likely rid your home of all intruders.
    If not, rack and continue to fire until the threat or threats no longer exist. Your last few shots, if well placed, can disable a vehicle if necessary.
    You should know your state laws (very important), also very important is that when the Police arrive, they hear only one story. They could become confused if there is more that one survivor. NO! I am not suggesting that you do anything that is not lawful….just saying that your story, unchallenged is less confusing and makes the job a lot easier for the Police.
    Good Hunting

  34. My “bump-in-the-night” gun is a Mossberg 500 w/18.5 inch barrel (improved cylinder), filled with 1-1/4 oz. #4 shot. Backup is a Glock 23 w/laser. I also have within easy reach of my bed, a blinding (but small) flashlight. I figure if they’re too far away for the #4 shot to do the job, a few .40 S&W Federal Hydrashocks from the Glock will solve the problem.

  35. Judge.
    3 rounds “defense” .410, 2 rounds “defense” 45 colt.
    Branding could be useful in a “home defense” scenario.

    Training and practice, cheap buckshot and cowboy action ammo, but in it’s standby state—-always loaded with defense branded ammunition.

  36. Personally, I live within a mile of a medium size city of about 250-300,000 people. Incredibly, I was able to find a five acre wooded site for my compound a while back. Due to the fact that my home is rather isolated and that I have physical limitations due to a horrific motor vehicle accident, choosing the optimum line of defense was a serious concern for me.
    I first picked up a Beretta 92 9mm with a 30 round magazine. Knowing my limitations, I felt that this pistol alone could leave me vulnerable if I was encountered by multiple intruders. There are quite a bit of shootings and home invasions in the area in general that have been victimized by 2-3 gunmen. It took almost two years with delays caused by obama’s interference in the firearm industry for me to acquire my first line of defense should the above scenario occur. I purchased a Saiga 12 with modifications that a Navy Seal, who offered me more than double what I had in the firearm, once commented “it is an amazingly well designed “machine”. It has an 8″ barrel, folding stock, just for starters. I can unload a 20 round drum in 12 seconds without difficulty. I keep over 3,000 rounds of 00 that we eat up 2-300 rounds just for fun in less than 30 minutes. Now, I feel that this is my best means for defense with the 9mm back-up. Everyone’s situation is different, what works for me may not be the case for other people. A person has to choose the best method that they can afford, are competent at shooting whatever they are comfortable with and take it from there. Best to everyone.

  37. Has anyone else considered something between bird shot and 00 buckshot. how about a turkey or goose load? 3′ magnum 4 shot seems a good compromise. If assailant is more than 10 yds away, you should still be able to perform an attitude adjustment.

  38. A 12 GA shotgun has been and will always be the best home defense weapon. Especially if you want to avoid over penetration and still take down an aggressor. If you don’t have a 12 a 20 will do. Handguns and ARs while great self protection weapons tend to over penetrate and if you love your family or like your neighbors that’s a bad thing.

  39. Mossberg 930 12 ga. firing 00 standard velocity, 9-pellet 2-3/4″ unplated buckshot, in addition to hyper-velocity plated buckshot (1600fps) and slugs (1825fps) on the side-saddle at-the-ready just in case. And a Glock 21SF.45ACP firing Speer Gold Dot 230gr JHPs as backup. I also have an AR-platform 5.56mm, main battle rifle; however a rifle would definitely not be my go-to weapon at close-quarters home defense distances. However, whatever one is comfortable and confident with and is trained to be proficient with is all right in my book. I just happen to prefer the shotgun/handgun combo, and if I should live to be 120 years old, I would probably at least still have a .410 shotgun primary and a .22 pistol backup at the ready. ; )

  40. This question is a no-brainer: NEVER use birdshot for self-defense. It doesn’t reliably penetrate deeply enough in tissue to stop a threat, especially if your attacker is wearing heavy clothing or is just very big.

    Any firearm cartridge potent enough to have a good chance of stopping a human aggressor is also going to be potent enough to penetrate most residential walls. Go with #1 or 00 buck. An AR-15 with good JHP or SP rounds would be even better: low recoil, easier handling, more ammo on tap, soft armor penetration, etc.

    1. As for birdshot- #6 bird, out to about 3ft, it will penetrate a bull’s skull making one hole like a slug. Down a 20 ft hallway, with a standard 28″ modified choke 12 ga., your pattern will be aprox 8 inches round. and yes it will penetrate winter clothing and the human body. Tho it wont defeat body armour, a full pattern will knock you down hard! That would allow plenty of time for a well aimmed headshot if needed. That, without the worry of over penetration.

  41. Mr. Dolbee, I’m aghast! So I guess you’d rather be center-massed with a measly little .45 than a 9mm? Not too many bad guys get up after getting hit with 200 grains of PD ammo moving about 900 fps. Frankly I agree that a shotgun is very effective but I wouldn’t poo-poo a .45, 9mm or even a .380 with todays excellent ammunition. The pistol is much easier and quicker to handle in close quarters. Low-flash power is a plus as well. As for an AR, you apparently haven’t heard of frangible bullets. There are some great varmint bullets that literally disintegrate but leave terrible wounds and dump all that 1200 lb/ft of energy in very short order. Ever seen a prairie dog literally vaporized by a 50 gr Varmint Grenade or a 60 grain V-max? At 20 feet a 3000 fps varmint bullet probably wouldn’t exit a human and if it did, it would most probably be dust. The right choice of bullets for the task at hand is important. No need to leave too big a mess to clean up and no need to kill you neighbor in the process. What’s in your nightstand? A 12 ga, pump with a 28 inch barrel?

  42. I am surprised no one has posted of the potential legal implications. In these times that suck people can go on trial for defending themselves and it will be in your favor to use a shotgun compared to an “evil black gun”. When your sitting staring at your jury that knows 2 things about firearms which is jack and sh$% you will want them to see your shotgun and say Oh my grandpa has one on his wall, it’s not as dangerous as the guns in movies.

  43. I almost always have my Glock 33 on my person with night sights

    My next would be my 7.5 inch AR pistol with a suppressor mounted. 30 rounds of 77g. hollow point a flashlight and eotech red dot.

    There is also my keltec bullpup shotty 6 loads of 00 and 6 shots of slug with back up irons and a flashlight.

    I’m in the country and there is no house close enough to worry about over penetration.

    Best of luck out there:)

  44. A Tactical 870 by the Nightstand loaded with #6,#4,BB #2 Buckshot, 00 Buckshot then Slugs in that order with a 50 round Bandolier holding more of the same and a Glock 21sf on the stand. Both have very bright “Candles” attached. A Glock 23 in my Magazine Rack by my “Easy Chair” as well as a Glock 27 in my reloading room. But from my experience a Handgun is only good enough to get you to your long gun. Practice is Key as Shot Placement is most important.

  45. This piece is full of misinformation and urban myth. First, the sound of a pump shotgun being racked is not even recognizable by all, let alone a guarantee of tactical advantage. Second, many seniors and smaller folks choose semi-autos for personal defense. Third, 00 Buck as indicated by ’10 .33 caliber pellets’ has proven to provide over penetration dangerous to innocents in almost all cases. Most experts and trainers recommend #4 Buck shot or another choice safer for residential use. Fourth, Even a low brass 00 Buck load is difficult to control for many folks. Fifth, many personal trainers advise the use of a smaller caliber in personal defense shotgun such as a 20 gauge or even .410 with appropriate loads. Sixth, the lb. Ft. figures mentioned aren’t representative of the average home defense load today. I know of no .45 ACP load in common use for self defense that produces only 250 lb. Ft. of energy at the muzzle. Even my reduced target loads exceed that figure.

    Dave Dolbee may be an expert but I don’t think this article gives realistic and useful guidance in several areas for those making the decisions he is addressing.

    1. BRASS provides the intelligence that Dave Dolbee is surely missing in his article. Dolbee should find a different job, or start studying brass…

  46. If someone is in my home I consider that a close distance. What difference does it make to fire buck or bird at such a close range. Even if I tag them with a bunch of bird shot the perp is going down. If they are outside then of course buck would be the shot to use but then I’d be illegally shooting a “intruder”. Buck or bird all the same to me. Heck the sound will probably paralyze them.

    1. I keep a 45 in my recliner pouch. I have a 12 Gauge Pump with 00 Buckshot on the rack behind my head. In my office I have a 45/70 with Bear Shot. In my bedroom is the gun cabinet with everything from an M1 Carbine to a Lever action 30-30 and the list is then somewhat endless if the cabinet door is opened.

  47. If you can’t shoot them with the shotgun it still makes one hell of a club. If you know any martial arts using a Bo, Jo or Shinai, you can even allow the perp to grab the gun and use his death grip to plant him on the ground……head first. One of the reasons I prefer a butt stock btw.

  48. Anybody have any specs on 16ga shot and buck?
    I have a 1897 Winchester with extended tube but 16ga is hard to find
    All I have to do is pull the trigger, blam, then keep the trigger down and every time I rack the pump it goes off when the shell chambers.
    I can put 6 rounds in an intruder as fast as a semi auto

  49. I own all of the weapons mentioned (except I have a 40 rather than a 45) and comfortably use them all as HD weapons. However, my preference is yet another platform that wasn’t mentioned, that being the pistol caliber carbine. It’s advantages over the others are less noise and muzzle flash than a 5.56, plus far less recoil than a shotgun. With a red dot sight, it is also more accurate and quicker with follow up shots than a same caliber handgun, especially if you don’t practice all the time. I don’t, btw.

  50. I’m surprised the foh-five crowd hasn’t attacked yet. Implying it’s closer to 380 than 9mm.. must be a typo but I eagerly anticipate the train wreck.

  51. I keep a Mossberg 500 w/ 18″ riot barrel loaded with Remington 3″ magnum BB loads. That is 80+ steel BB’s coming out of the tube at 1,450 FPS. If they will knock a 20 pound goose out of the sky at 75-100 yards through a 28″ barrel… they darn sure will down a 200+ man at 30 feet or less inside my home. A 1 gallon plastic milk jug of water will disappear when shot at 15 feet.

    At 20 feet, they make a circle about 5-6″ in diameter in a target. Like hitting someone in the chest with a steel baseball traveling at over 1,400 FPS. Even if they are wearing a heavy winter coat… it will cause catastrophic organ / tissue damage & break bones.

  52. i will just keep my judge

    If someone breaks in my home

    it is not time to shake hands

    Worry about the law after saving your loved ones.

    1. I know a former Green Beret with 3 Silver Star awards. Of all the weapons he owns, he keeps a Judge by his bed, loaded with Winchester PDX rounds.

      Good enough recommendation for me.

      And my Remington 870 is next to it.

    2. Better to be judged by 12 than to be carried by 6.

      Sadly, in today’s antagonistic climate (pro v anti) you had better know your legal position.

      It used to be said that, in California where I live, if you shoot someone trying to break into your home, drag them inside before you call the cops. Unfortunately, forensics will know what you did, and you’ll be in deep trouble.

      Even if someone is in your home and stealing your television, you are not protected unless that make an over attempt to inflict harm to you or someone else. So make darn sure you don’t shoot them in the back; a case which would be darn difficult to prove they were attempting to harm you.

      Yes, save everyone first, but KNOW what the law allows, and how to deal with it.

  53. Supposing the ‘perp’ has taken your child/wife/husband/friend hostage and all you have is a shotty- probably a short barreled shotty. What do you do then?
    I’d much rather be trusting my accuracy with a single projectile in not causing harm to anyone being used as cover. If birdshot opens at less than seven yards- OMG! 21 feet!- and buckshot isn’t much better, are you going to call the cops and wait for them to arrive when they feel like it?
    As for “the sound that makes every perp poop his panties”… you’ve just alerted the perp to your presence and reduced your magazine capacity by one- in a few round weapon.
    No, thanks. Even considering blow-through walls, I’d rather not use a shotgun.. But then, that’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it.

    1. On the job, I’ve had many classes teaching just the scenario you describe. A shotgun is very effective even in a hostage situation where the bad guy has a family member or fellow officer held around their throat in the bend of their elbow. You aim for the bad guy’s ear that is farthest away from your loved one or partner’s head. At distances under 30 feet.. you will remove about 1/4 of the side of the bad guy’s face. At that range, the shot cup hasn’t fully opened and you will only make about a 5-6″ diameter pattern at the most. Smaller if you are closer. If you are aiming at the outside edge of the ear, you’ll take the ear and eye socket & check bone area. After that, the bad guy isn’t gonna be to interested in your loved one or your partner.

    2. I totally agree and switched from a .45 1917 S&W to a judge with 3″ shot shells, backed up by the .45 Colt loads!
      I don’t want a shot to go thru the wall and hit somebody in the next room!
      Even a short-barreled shotgun is too long to swing in a house fight!

      Shouldering a long gun may not be feasible, depending on the room and an offhand shot is no guarantee of connecting where you want to place the shot!

    3. While going through the Sheriffs Academy, we were trained how to disarm someone who had the drop on you based on the concept that you can act faster than they can react. Of course, you end up removing the subjects trigger finger at the same time.

      In the military, we were tasked with protecting highly critical components of our nations nuclear deterrence delivery systems. One of the many scenarios was how your family/partner/friend was being used as a hostage by terrorists bent on reaching what you were protecting. Training said that if nothing else, you put a bullet through your person in hope that they can be saved and you stopped the baddie. The reason being that your friend was no longer of any use to the bad guys once they reach their objectives. In fact, they become a problem best done away with. At least if you had to shoot that friend, you would likely do so with the intent to save them. Of course, our hope was that someone else on the protective team would be the one taking the shot. Naturally, the military also made sure we knew that, no matter what, that special person was expendable in order to protect the resource.

      I’d rather use a single round I have a good idea where it will go, than a multi-projectile which only requires a bump with another projectile to put a hole where you didn’t want it.

      The majority of people do not keep a loaded 12 gauge on the nightstand. They want something they can snatch up quickly and quietly.

      By the way, in law enforcement, I saw drunks go totally cooperative at the sound of a 12 gauge being racked in the dark. Sound travels so much better at night.

  54. I currently don’t own a shotgun or any long guns. Used to but not just now. We carried them in the cruiser but seldom had to break it out.
    It occurred to me that in the old days (or maybe even today), many farmers would use a shotgun to chase off thieves who were raiding their crops. They weren’t interested in killing anyone as often these miscreants were usually just kids looking to steal some ears of corn watermelons.They loaded their shot shells with rock salt.
    I’ve even spoken to someone who was the recipient of such a blast. Not lethal but very painful.
    If you consider all the factors involved in a home invasion/burglary there is a lot of adrenalin flowing on both sides of the equation. Factor in that pump shotgun being racked; the blast and flash of the gun going off; and then being hit with “something” in the dark, and you may have all the deterrent you need to defend your home without having to actually take a life.
    And of course, if that doesn’t work, you can assume that the perp is more serious and might want to have a 00 Buck load for your second shot.
    Just a thought.

  55. 00 buckshot with 8 or 9 pellets per shell. At the distances you will be shooting inside a dwelling, the pattern should be contained within the center body mass.

    I have a UTS15 12 ga pump loaded with 7 00 buck shells in the selected magazine and 7 slug rounds in the other.

    1. 20 ga #3buck is recommended as ia 3″#4 bird — do not forget to put on electronic muffs.

  56. Sadly, the lawyers for the families of the perps might argue in a civil suit that you intentionally wanted to harm the perp (well….yeah!) if slugs or #1, 2 or 00 shot were used, and that you should have known that the perp might have been merely wounded, paralyzed, etc., by a poorly-placed shot. Same thing if a prosecutor decided to fry the shotgun owner. It sounds stupid, but juries are not known to always come with a smart verdict.

    I am looking at it from the perspective of what would happen to a California homeowner who merely wanted to defend him/herself from an attack by home invaders. If the perp was wounded, defending oneself might involve thousands of dollars to hire a defense lawyer, even though the home owner was justified in using a shotgun for defense. Lawyers know how to twist the minds of juries, and just because the homeowner saved his own life and the lives of loved ones, and was justified in using a firearm, a good lawyer for the state (in a criminal proceeding) or for the plaintiff (in a civil suit) might just know how to make self-defense look like murder, and the home owner look like Charlie Manson.

    Of course I live in California, and the scenario might be not as much of a concern in some other states. But…’s something to consider. Maybe one of you attorneys or firearms instructors can elucidate.

  57. Personally i use frangible buckshot in the home if a shotgun were the route i went Devastating on flesh – does not penetrate walls in any way ,However a crotch shot or face shot full of no 5 shot from a 3 inch mag turkey load would stop any HUMAN threats in the ranges firing inside my house would ever be at . Full power buckshot loads will go through dry wall and wood ,birdshot will never .JMHO rubber buckshot will do just as well without killing the bad guy but he will think he is done by the time i have put a load of rubber buckshot into him at 10 ft or less in my home.and have round number 2 in the tube if he does not comply.FULL power buckshot is not good for in your home for self defense at all in my opinion.

  58. I have never had a failure of any kind with 00 or 000 buck. Never. It works. It doesn’t require a surgically precise aim and it impresses the hell out of any additional bad guys in the area. As long as the backstop is safe, there’s no downside. Period. (And I love a 1911 .45 ACP, but it just can’t compare.)

  59. I live in a Townhouse/Condo so penetration is a big issue. I keep two Mossberg 500’s ready with #5 shot. If that doesn’t work the side bar is ready with OO.

  60. Well since birdshot was intended to take down flying birds with minimal excessive damage to their flesh combined with maximum shot dispersion to his a small agile target, I would presume automatically it isn’t ideal against a human target unless the idea is to scare them.

  61. i enjoy shooting my mossberg 500 i maintained about 20 of them and ahout 14 remington 870 while serving in the navy both very reliable shotguns

    1. @Michael

      The 12 ga. slug is devastating if you get a COM or head hit first time every time.

      But #1 Buck will actually deliver more mass (~640 grains vs 383 for the slug), more kinetic energy, more cross sectional area of entry wound (1.13 sqin vs 0.4 for the slug) and a greater probability of hitting a vital organ.

      The typical #1 Buck load in a 2.75″ shell is 16 .30 cal pellets, each with 12″ or more of penetration, each carrying kinetic energy somewhere between a hot .32 ACP and a standard .380 Auto — all hitting at the same time..

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