Slug Up! Shotgun Ammo Choices for Defense

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

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.

Have you practiced with buckshot and slugs? What were your results? Share in the comments section.



About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
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 (31)

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.”

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. The .69 ball loads I talked about are not very accurate from a 18″cylinder bore.28″ mod was better. A rifled barrel with good sights might be best. Stick with a good slug for anything important . For fun we “lobbed” them at a high berm at 250 yards.The “pattern” was about 15 feet when it finely got there! They are cheep fun for less than new target loads. 1 oz junk lead, clay buster wads,used hulls and a target load of red dot.

  7. I would suggest to one and all that they look into a company called “D Duplex” these guys make shotgun munitions that shame any other. For either hunting or tactical use you need to take a look at their products. Look at their speciality munitions for home defense and amor penetrator offerings. Their hunting munitions are superior to anything else in the market place. No, I don’t work for them but I do rely on their products.

  8. I am a firm believer in Remington Express, 12 Ga., 2 3/4 in. 01 Buck. 01 Buck delivers the right amount of penetration and is less prone to over penetration than 000 or 00 buckshot. Spread is highly controlled at the distance most homeowners would have to consider.

  9. Thanks for the feed back. I suspect that the pattern From the nobelsport buck and ball was big because the buck is forced up under the round ball with no shot card or buffer between them.This might cause the buck to spread early.In the PDX round the buck leads the slug. I will try this again .Will check the distance and use a fresh cardboard.

  10. BB’s at 15 feet from a Mossberg with 18 1/2 inch barrel only open up to about a 7 inch pattern. Number 4 shot only opens the pattern up to about an 8 inch pattern at 15 feet. You need to be pretty much on target in the dark to hit anything..

  11. I assumed a 12 ga. Was surprised about the 10″ spread at such a short range, with the increased power and # projectiles a 12 ga offers.

    1. JJM=You were right.I got to re shoot the NS buck and ball. I used a tape to check the distance instead of guessing. Used clean card board. Patterns were 4 to 6 inches. The wad ripped a massive hole about 3 inches farther out. I apologize for the bad info .Back to slugs. I have been loading Lee .69 round ball loads . They look promising Just over 1 oz. Will post about them after I fire a bunch more.

  12. I like the 10″ pattern. Slightly tighter than what I remember (didn’t record) on a 3″ Judge with 3″ #4 shells (12″ to 16″ pattern??).

    1. Sorry I should have been clear. The 10” pattern was from a 12 gauge 870 not a judge. I have more ideas on defense rounds but for now the grand kids have fried my brain.Will post them later. The ideas not the kids.

  13. As far as home protection is concerned, anyone who walks through that door or enters through that window will feel a whole lot of hurt. Birdshot hurts I know been shot with it, and when your hit you know it. It may be small and not tightly grouped but it does go through skin and as well it will break bones. Due to having a kid and the thought of a stray round impacting him while he slept is more than i care to bear. I found that I trust 870 single bead home defense model loaded with 2 rounds of bird and if need be I got 3 more full of 00 buck. And if the threat is still their afterwards after expending all my rounds than that’s when I call for an artillery strike. Now as far as the effectiveness of slugs I have taken many of big game animals down using remington’s coppersolids. the problem with homedefense is they pack a punch and will devastate anything they hit. I was always taught as well as knowing whats behind your target before you ever shoot, but m sorry in a defense situation in your house after being woken up and finding an intruder that kind of goes out the window. That is another reason I use the bird over buck and slugs, hate to have a bullet travel out the front door down the street and go 5 houses down and still have the energy to kill someone. So for me its up close and personal and anything else is overkill. Happy shooting be safe and be happy.

  14. My home defense weapon is an 870 tactical with 16″ IC barrel. The first two rounds are 00 buck for point or offhand shooting. The remainder in the extended mag are slugs for when I have time to aim. In my opinion, personal defense isn’t limited to inside the home. I can understand the problem in apartment dwelling but I have a single family with a large lot.

  15. I have been playing around with Nobelsport Italias Multidefence round{buck&ball}. It is way too hot for apartment use but might bridge the gap between close and longer range targets.I reviewed it in two spots at CTD, The ball is .65 and 393gn. The buck is 6 #1 and 212gn for a total of 605gn moving 1300fps. From a 18″cylinder bore it gave a 10″ pattern at 25′. At 90′ the buck was all over the place but the ball made a 4″ pattern of 5 shots. I was not trying very hard but that seems ok for a undersize ball in a short smooth bore. Most self defense shots will not be at long range. In a live or die spot I don’t want to fish around for the right round. Winchesters PDX slug and buck may do the same job, a pattern in close with a knock down ball at distance. A doped up intruder may not be stopped by a light round. Remember the army went from .38 to .45acp because the .38 did not stop a motivated attack.You need to asses your gun needs with a SOBER mind not your testosterone.

  16. Got a mossy 930 loaded with buffered double O, a browning high power loaded with frangibles and an AR loaded with green tip. I don’t fire unless I see a weapon. If I see a weapon, I’ll be adding it to my collection.

  17. DEFINTIVE TEST RESULTS PROVE AGAIN & AGAIN, including those from the FBI:

    > NO – the ‘SOLID’ effect at close range everyone thinks true is ‘NOT’ the same as a slug on Humans. SLUGS r SLUGS, BIRDSHOT for BIRDS – PERIOD!

    BIRDSHOT will put a nasty wound several inches deep thru clothing -but will NOT STOP ANYTHING (except Birds). Thats the FBI’s conclusion – not mine!

    DONT RISK UR LIFE on MYTH!! Use what the FBI endorses for its own: 00 (r 000) BUCK for close range. Its the ONLY ‘GUARANTEED’ manstopper.

  18. I keep the 12 guage staggered with #4 (game), buckshot, slug.
    The Judge is staggered #4 (game), Critical Defense, Long Colt, Critical Defense, Long Colt.
    Thinking that if startled, my first shot might be off target & the least deadly load if I make a mistake.

  19. Disregard my last post…my comment just came out of moderation after t looked like it was removed and I look like a jacka$$ now. Oh well, at least you guys know I’m looking out for your best interest. Cheers and happy shooting all!

  20. What’s wrong CTD and Bob? Can’t handle critisism of your negligent remarks? You’re cowards for censoring my remarks and not letting your own statements stand for themselves. Not only that, you’re completely negligent in your recommendations. When one of your customers writes you back telling you that the accidentally killed a loved one or a neighbor because of over penetration…the blood will be on your hands. Hope you sleep well at night.

    PS – You should learn to support the 1st amendment as much as you support the 2nd.

  21. I hate to say it but I feel that advocating anything but birdshot as a primary home defense load is irresponsible and dangerous. I’ve got my 930 loaded with #7 1/2 bird shot and carry some Winchester PDX in the side saddle in case I need more power. I’ve seen what birdshot can do to an apartment wall. Let’s just say my neighbor had an incident involving birdshot, surfboards, a giant whole in the exterior apartment wall, AND …no damage to my truck on the other side of that wall. For the average person who’s neighbor is right next door, buckshot, slug, and steel shot (think ricochets) are irresponsible choices that will likely lead to collateral damage. Birdshot at 25 yards will still cover the torso of a man sized target and pack plenty of a punch without over penetration. In reality, home defense situations are usdually 10-15 feet not 25 yards. Leather jacket or not, you’re at least incompasitated with some broken ribs on the first shot if not dead. Someone hit by birdshot and still in the fight would be an easy follow up shot. Unless you live in Alaska and 4 leggers and no neighbors is your living situation… responsible and use birdshot that’s not heavier than a #4 or #5 shot unless you hate your family and neighbors. I’m disappointed in CTD and Bob for advocating this kind of ammo selection. Go watch the episode of shooting galley where they evaluate shotgun ballistics if you think birdshot isn’t effective for home defense.

    1. When I trained during my law enforcement days 20 years ago I felt that buckshot was too uncontrolled. An aim with a slug was preferable to me. Now in my home in the country I’m using 00 buck for home protection. I still believe a shotgun must be aimed not just pointed.

  22. The newer shotguns with their modern ammunition are both home defense or a hunting weapon for game and varmits up close and personal.
    Taking the shotgun into the out of house to a behind the seat “Don’t mess with me” or my animals truck gun
    While older shot guns were powefull to 100 yards accuracy sucked but today we have rifled brls and sabot or specialized slug rounds that are good for 3-4″ @150 yards easy.
    Hard to believe but cattle theft is a growing problem cor lRge ranches and the need for ranchouse to barn is a perfect cause to use Pete from Alaskas special slugs.
    Only problem with them is that by time you realy get to understand their plus or minus you may have to sell a o sell a few head of cattle to pay for that knowledge.

  23. Hey Bob, great blog! A deserving subject and your expected wealth of subject knowlage!
    Here’s even some information and product you might find of interest.
    My “go to” defense weapon is my tactical 20″ 870 12ga with extended magazine that lives in a Bullpup ( stock. As I am mainly concerned with four legged intruders here in Alaska than the two legged type, my loading is somewhat different than just a home defense weapon might be. I precive this subject as follows.
    I use Monolit32 in the 1st & 2nd round positions then Hexolit32 in positions 3 &4 followed by 2ea #1 buck for clean up. I also use the defense loads that are made up of 6ea #1 buck with a single flattened lozenge shaped slug per shell. This gives me an excellent mid range to close range spectrum for protection on those occasions where moments count and your second shot depends on what your first shot accomplished. This same load out would be effective in any situation indoors as out I would think. Over penateation with “slug” type rounds being the only concern indoors. In addition I would suggest that anyone who relies on a shotgun as a defensive . . . or offensive platform should look into a Munition manufacture called DDupleks Defense ( look at their products section and under the “tactical” tab. There you will find four offerings. The AP-20, Monolit 32, Hexolit 32, and the Kaviar 26L. One of theses rounds or a combination of them will serve the purpose that is the foundation of this blog.
    A snapshot is . . . AP-20 — will defeat a Diesel Engine Block in one side an out the other, side to side. Front to back maybe 3/4 of the way. What do you think a vest with plate chances are? Monolit32 — is their “slug” with attitude. Hexolit32 — is a modified slug with all of a slugs flight attributes but that acts like buckshot on impact of target, imparting 100% of its energy into it. The Kaviar26L — is a purpose designed CQC, breaching, EOD, providing minimal collateral damage round consisting of #6 or #8 birdshot in a hard plastic matrix that preforms like a “slug” in flight but fragments on contact with soft target imparting 100% of its energy but with low penetration.
    No . . . I am not an employee or rep for theses guys!! I simply believe in the the very best product I have found, for the requirements that I have, that I can find in today’s market. Period.
    For most a one time buy, say $50 bucks worth, of one box of each type (5 per box) is a normal lifetimes worth of security!
    Well, information becomes knowlage and knowlage is power and power thru knowlage give you options. Thanks Bob, your info here provided me with new knowlage I didn’t have before!

  24. My 12 gauge shotgun self defense round of choice is the Winchester 3″ Hi-Velocity Steel Shot 1 1/8 oz BB shot @ 1,550fps velocity, fired from a 18″ riot barrel. That is 80 steel BB’s in a tight wad traveling at 1,550 FPS.

    Up close it is just as good as a slug because the shot hasn’t spread and is still inside the plastic cup– not much different than a Glaser safety bullet… as on impact the steel BB’s will disperse in 80 different directions, and at 30 feet [about the farthest you might shoot inside your home] you will get a approx. 10″ spread. It would be about like hitting a bad guy in the chest with a bowling ball traveling 1,500 fps. Even if he / she is wearing body armor, you are gonna crush their ribs and cause massive internal injuries. Without armor, you are gonna turn their insides to a gooey jelly. Just like ole Humpty Dumpty in the children’s story… the doctors won’t be able to put him / her back together again… and you shouldn’t have the over penetration issues that Buckshot might have.

  25. A guy I used to shoot with told me the best FIRST round in your shotgun was #6 Birdshot and then Buckshot after that. I asked why and he replied. You hear something in your house…Its dark and your hearts pounding. Your nervous because you don’t kill people for a living.. you see movement and you shoot and miss with buckshot and you just killed your kid sleeping in the next room. With Birdshot first if your even pointing close to the direction of the guy some of the shot will hit him and he’ll freeze giving you time to put the next shot center mass.
    Besides if your talking a long shot with a shotgun then your no longer standing your ground, your probably trying to murder someone in the eyes of the law.

    1. That is horrible advice. No one gets shot at and stands still waiting for the second shot. If that moron was a lawyer he could defend an innocent man all the way to death row.

    2. Try some time at a range. Birdshot and buckshot at 10-15 yards spread the same. In most cases, you’ll be under 10 yards; at such ranges, there’s little difference between a shotgun and a rifle as far as spread goes. There will be a single (though large) hole in the target.
      I use #4 buck, and practice with it. Two rounds at 10 yards, and the paper target is pretty much useless; just a large hole in the center. (Royal Buck Rio; 21 pellets)
      For what it’s worth.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.

Discover more from The Shooter's Log

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading