A Closer Look at Federal’s New Short Shells

Federal Shells - fired and unfired

The most formidable of home defense weapons is the 12-gauge shotgun. Powerful and fast handling, the shotgun gives a trained shooter every advantage. A problem, however, is recoil. Another consideration is magazine capacity.

Federal Cartridge Company has introduced a new loading that neatly solves most of these problems related to recoil, capacity and even over-penetration. Shorty shells are 1¾ inches long, rather than the traditional 2¾-inch shells.

They offer less power and velocity, but a level of power that is deemed adequate for personal defense. Let’s look at the shells and their performance.

Federal Shells
These loads exhibit typical Federal Cartridge Company quality.

Federal Short Shells: The Cons

First, the downside. These shells will not function in most semi-autos. Perhaps fiddling with the gas system may convince them to run, perhaps not. The shells are at their best in a break-open shotgun, double barrel or a modern pump-action shotgun.

The majority of testing for me was done in a Remington 870 shotgun.

Federal Short Shell
The shorty shell compared to a standard 2¾-inch shell.

Federal Short Shells: The Pros

When loading the proven 870 (a custom version with Adaptive Tactical stock and forend and XS night sights), the first advantage came to light. The tubular magazine normally holds four 2¾-inch shells. With the 1¾-inch loading, the Remington accommodates seven shells.

Shotguns with a magazine extension will hold even more. Be careful when using these shells, as pump-action shotguns will sometimes short-cycle. I short-cycled the first shells when loading the chamber.

Be certain to give the shotgun a strong pump-action or you may end up with two short shells in the carrier. But, then again, improper handling will cause a shotgun to short-cycle with any loading.

After the initial familiarization, I found the shotgun reliable with these loadings. I ran a full magazine through the shotgun as quickly as possible. Control is excellent.

TruBall Slug
The slug load recovered from wet newsprint. Note the polymer ball loaded in all TruBall slugs. This is part of the secret of the slug’s accuracy.

Performance Testing

Setting a man-sized silhouette up at seven yards, I tested the shorty shells for pattern and velocity. The #4 buckshot load clocked 1161 fps in my Remington’s 18-inch barrel. The load is 16 balls, less than the full-size loading, but still a formidable payload.

The pattern was a consistent 5×4 inches at 21 feet. This makes for the kind of effect on an adversary that is desirable in a home-defense situation. Moving to 15 yards, I fired several shots. The pattern stayed in the primary outline of the target.

This load would be useful against predators (such as coyote) to about 50 feet, perhaps a bit longer range in a shotgun with a longer barrel or a tighter choke. Next, I moved to the shorty slug. This is a one-ounce slug that broke from the Remington shotgun’s muzzle at 1120 fps.

While this is slower than a standard 2¾-inch loading, the slug averages 1393 ft-pounds of energy, far superior to the .45 ACP’s average of 400 ft-lbs, for example. I put the slugs into a single ragged hole at seven yards and had no problem making headshots at 15 yards.

Federal Shorty Buckshot
This is a gun load fired with Federal Shorty Buckshot.


Shorty #4 buckshot
This is a single shot with Shorty #4 buckshot at seven yards.


five slugs in one hole at seven yards
This is five slugs in one hole at seven yards – thanks to the XS front sight!


These slugs from Federal are a powerful defensive tool and, in this case, both accurate and powerful. I think Federal really has something with these loads. The occasional shooter will find a load that doesn’t beat them up at all, but which offers true shotgun effect at close range.

The slug load, in particular, is an impressive choice for defense use. These loads are affordable and offer one of the best options for personal defense currently available.

Federal Shotgun Shells
Shotguns are formidable defensive weapons!

What’s your go-to shotgun load for personal defense? Let us know in the comments below.

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 (21)

  1. With the reading I have found it appears that Mossberg pumps (all) are the way to go if using the short shells, and are acceptable for SD. Looks like 7.5 or 8 shot would be good to use. My concern is for over penetration.

  2. In the last 2 years I’ve shot 800+ of these in my Maverick 88 20inch with opsol adapter without a single hitch including putting down 4 deer. 12+1 capacity and recoil that allows even the smallest shooter in my group to handle the 12G with enough power for anything you require a 12G to do I won’t be bothering with full sized shells any time soon.

  3. Being 73 years old I recently loaded my DP12 with 24 Federal Shorty #4 buck (two chambered and no room to spare in the tubes). At the range I emptied all 24 in about 30 seconds with no FTF. I’m convinced they are reliable enough for my home defense. 5/2020

  4. Next month I’ll be 70 and I will have been shooting for 61 years. At nothing with a pulse, just paper, tin cans, clays and, in the bad old days, beer bottles.
    I don’t know why it took me so long but maybe I’m a slow learner. It wasn’t until the late ’80s that I realized that when reliability is sacrificed, risk is increased. I did my own work on 1.5″ to 2.0″ 12G shotshells and had a fair degree of success eventually, but FTF (short-cycling) was the killer. I never achieved a 100% successful feed rate consistently (and that’s with batches varying from 8 rounds to enduros of up to 50 rounds one after the other). In an 870.
    So for the last 30 years, 2 3/4″ shotshells have been my staple. And if I do get the occasional FTF I know it’s probably the operator.
    So what’s my risk? A missed clay or points down. Work out what yours is and, if it could involve your health, stick with reliability.
    Capacity is much easier to deal with. A well-made 1911 with a couple of Wilson mags should do the trick.

  5. I don’t see magazine capacity as a big issue for shotguns. Mine holds seven, and I’ve never heard about or read about any civilian using that many 12-gauge rounds in a fight. Maybe some SWAT guy has, but I don’t plan to go bothering drug dealers in their homes. Can’t complain about reduced recoil, though.

  6. I tried these in a Rem 870 and a Ithica 37. They jammed badly. Not reliable enough to consider using them for other than plinking.

    I hear they feed well in some models of pump guns. Bot not mine.

    Try them before relying on them.

  7. The best shotguns to use with short shells are the Mossberg 500 series (also the Maverick 88) equipped with an Opsol adapter. The feed mechanism in the Mossbergs works better than the 870 for these shells. The Opsol adapters are very reasonable…less than $20.

  8. OpSol out of TX makes a MUST have adapter plug for these rounds! For a Mossberg 500 or an 870. It stops the rounds from flipping. An excellent product you can count on! DO NOT USE these rounds for self defense without one!!!

  9. No problems cycling the shorty Federal rounds through the 870? That’s not what I’ve heard regarding similar ammo from other manufacturers, generally Aguila. Not a problem with the ammo, just a problem that even the pump guns are not designed to work with shorter than 2 3/4″ shells. There are adapters you can put on the gun that help, but I’ve never heard anyone before claim that their pump gun worked flawlessly with short shells.

  10. In terms of home defense, what is the penetration of the short shells against sheetrock, 2×4’s and other typical home construction materials???

  11. With that 870, pretty much everybody has problems with these shorty shells. They tumble before they are loaded into the chamber.
    For Mossbergs, there’s an adapter to prevent this. They won’t work on a Remington.
    How did you get around this?

  12. My go-to is the 8-shot Mossberg 500 combat shotgun with ghost ring sites, heat shield and composite stock. Shoots like a dream and patterns very nicely…..I’m going to give the “shorties” a try – especially the slug version, and see how they function. Looks like a winner as a home protection load.

  13. I know people have issues I have them getting older but it has gotten stupid with the low recoil shells. It is hard to find good ammo now, mostly because people have become wimps, weak shadows of what people use to be. Every thing lighter easier. They do realize that a lightweight gun makes any round kick harder. Shotguns kick that is that they are not uncontrollable. They are not for everyone.It is beyond stupid that now everything must be made for everyone. I cannot dunk a basketball. So what am I going to cry and insist that goals be made lower. No that would be crazy.

  14. Why doesn’t someone just come up with the same loadings as tested here, but in a 2 3/4″ shell for reliable feeding? Pleasant to shoot, and reliable feeding. Seems like a no brainer to me.

  15. Thanks for informative article!! Thing is, if I can’t use these in my 8-shot Winchester Defender, as one short cycle and I could be DED dead, Federal should cook up something between 1 3/4″ and 2 3/4″ that makes pumps cycle properly every time. Maybe 2 1/8″ might be the charm….imagine that…..a 10-shot Winchester Defender……NICE!!!!!!

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