Defensive Shotgun Loads: It's Tough to Beat Buckshot

Don't miss this advice from experts about shotgun loads for home defense.

Defensive Shotgun Loads: It's Tough to Beat Buckshot

Jim Clark makes a point to try out every new load and firearms that he sells in his store. It’s his No. 1 tip to sell more products as well as the right products to his customers in Lincoln, Nebraska. Of all the home-defense options and combinations he has access to, he chooses one: a pump shotgun with a flashlight and double-aught buck.

“It’s the best defense in close-quarter situations,” said Clark, owner of Big Shots Range and Gun Store. “They are effective at stopping an intruder, and there is less chance of missing the target. With a flashlight mounted on a rail, a shotgun with 00 Buck is indispensable.”

Double 00 Buckshot is a favorite load of military and law enforcement officers. Typically, manufacturers will load about nine buckshot into a 2¾-inch shell. The .33-inch-or-so-diameter ball has proven to have excellent stopping power and penetration. With nine balls, the patterns at close distance are more than acceptable — not too tight where you might easily miss in a time of crisis; not too loose that only one or two might strike the target.

Ronald Evans of Remington Ammo. said shotguns are so popular for home defense because they are easy to use, forgiving in accuracy and very effective in removing the threat.

“Law enforcement has been using shotguns and 00 buck for years,” said the shotshell expert. That’s because they can manage where the projectiles go, and because the load is lethal when it needs to be, he said.

“Double-aught buck is large enough to carry energy and dispatch the threat. Smaller shot is just not as effective,” said Evans.

There are other types of buckshot — from the smaller No. 4 to the 1/3-inch-diameter 000. When it comes to any ammo, it’s a good idea to advise customers to use a common product. It’s easy to find in stores all over, and users will know how they pattern.

As far as what specific loads to put into the magazine and chamber of that shotgun, there are many great options you can tell customers about. In the end, it comes down to personal preference and what shoots well from their gun. But they will never know the answer until they load it and fire.

Like any hunter who uses a shotgun or a rifle, they’ll need to know how the 00 Buck will perform on target. This is especially important now that there are so many barrel-length and choke options out there.

For example, retailers across the country, including Clark, said the new shorty guns are gaining in popularity. They are modern version of a coach gun: a short, maneuverable shotgun with a wide pattern for close targets. Mossberg’s 590 Shockwave and Remington’s TAC-13 are great examples. Each has an extremely short barrel — just over 14 inches for the Mossberg and 13 inches for the Remington. Yet some shells just won’t shoot well with these short barrels. You do not want to spray and pray. The first shot needs to be their best, because they might not get a second.     

It is essential to advise shoppers that they need to shoot and practice with the gun and loads at a gun range or the back 40. Hit paper targets at various distances, from more or less 10 to 30 feet away (of course, with eye and ear protection). This will help them simulate a real-world threat at the distance you would expect in the home. Plus, they can check the pattern that the combination of gun and load produce. Have them look for a pattern that hits center mass, yet isn’t golf-ball tight. A pattern of 10 inches or less is about right for shots out to about 30 feet. Also note if there are a number of flyers — that is, pellets that are well outside the center of the pattern. A shooter needs to account for every projectile that comes out of his or her gun in a real-life situation.     

This is good advice for you to pass along to the consumer, and it’s good advice for the shopkeeper as well. The more info you have about the products, the better you’ll be able to steer the consumer to the right one, and the more confidence the consumer will have in your advice.

However, we all know what shotgun shot can do to a range! Many ranges don’t allow any kind of shot, even 00 Buck, because it tears up range equipment like nothing else and sometimes goes places downrange that centerfires and slug guns don’t due to the variety of patterns people shoot. It’s good to advise customers of this before the sale, because many will expect to be able to try out or train with buckshot at local ranges.

Some of the most popular shells that use 00 Buckshot or have some combination of shot and other projectiles are Federal’s Force X2, Winchester’s Defender, Remington’s Ultimate Defense, Fiocchi’s Defense Dynamic and Hornaday’s Critical Defense Buckshot.

Let’s look at each one does best.



What’s different about this load is that the nine 00 Buckshot pellets are actually made to split into two equal-size pieces. While that reduces the weight and penetration of each projective upon impact, it also creates double the wound channels. Another benefit of less penetration and momentum is that there is less of a chance that any shot will go through walls into other rooms in the house or business where family or other innocent people may be. That’s an importance consideration with any ammo option. Federal uses lead shot that is plated in copper, which helps the shot stay round when the explosion sends them bumping and bashing down the barrel at intense speeds. Lead by itself will deform and create erratic patterns. Federal also says it made the load to have less recoil than most others, which helps the shooter stay on target for a second shot if needed.

These nine pellets fly at about 1,250 feet per second. There are 12-gauge and 20-gauge options in various size shot.




Winchester Ammunition gives consumers a lot to consider when picking buckshot-pellet combo shells. You can get the straight-forward nine 00 Buckshot in the shell, or a shot-and-segmenting-slug option, among others. The idea behind the shot-slug combo is that the slug has mighty stopping power, and the buckshot helps make sure something will hit the target if the slug misses. The shot is also copper-plated. Winchester says they designed a special wad that further ensures there is less deformity in the shot and that the pattern is more consistent. They also make a .410 option that works fine with a .410 long gun or a shotshell-shooting handgun like a Taurus Judge or S&W Governor.




Some people are concerned about recoil, especially if they are shooting a shorter Shockwave or TAC-13 or a light shotgun that won’t absorb as much recoil as a heavier one. Remington offers a reduced-recoil load in its Ultimate Defense line. This option will run you about $10 a box of five.




Fiocchi makes one of the fastest loads we looked at and clocks at 1,300 feet per second, a sizzling 900 mph. Speed equals increased kinetic energy, which translates into stopping power and penetration. Fiocchi uses eight 00 Buck pellets, and it’s all lead, so you may not get top patterns from your shotgun. Then again, you never know what ammo your gun will like until you shoot it. 




Hornady also loads eight pellets into its Critical Defense 00 Buckshot shotshells. Like the Fiocchi, that means they can get a fast delivery with less weight. In this case, the propellant pushes the shot at 1,600 fps, or more than 1,000 mph. The company also says that the wads, called VersaTite, which cup the shot at and during the firing, will keep those pellets tight as they barrel toward their target. This is a full-power load and will have more recoil. For the folks who want a reduced-recoil round, you can look into their American Gunner line. Keep in mind that a full-power load will cycle semi-auto shells with authority and rarely jam or stovepipe. The shot is slower in the 1,100-fps range, but still effective, and it makes aiming the second shot easier.  


Self-Defense Q&A

Kirk Evans is president U.S. Law Shield, a membership-based company that provides education and legal support. 


Q: What is something important that people who would defend themselves with a firearm should know?

A: If you use a firearm in self defense and hit someone, no matter how clear-cut the defense of your person was, you will be thoroughly investigated by police and a grand jury. Training is essential because you need to know how to safely operate the firearm and make sure you know the law.


Q: I’ve heard that we need to be responsible for every projectile that comes from our firearm. In light of that, is 00 Buckshot a good option?

A: Particularly with shotguns, that is very good advice. Whether you are defending yourself in an apartment complex, home or public area, you don’t want a slug or bullet to pass through walls. That’s why we need to be “responsible for every projectile.” To keep people elsewhere safe, we tend to recommend 00 Buckshot. Missing or overpenetrating are the obstacles. You need to determine what’s best for your environment and your circumstance.”


Q. I’ve heard people say that the sound of a pump-action shotgun racking a shell will make anyone run without firing a shot. Your thoughts?

A: Maybe that could work occasionally. It might scare off someone, but if that person is trying to harm you, the sound would tell them where you are and what you are using. It would give them a tactical advantage. It’s important to train with your shotgun so you are ready to use it properly for its purpose if needed.


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