Shotgun Ammo for Home Defense

Before reading any further be sure to catch up on Part 1 of this series.


Buckshot in its many forms is the industry standard for self-defense. The devastating “saturation effect” of nine pellets of 00Buckshot which are close in size to nine, 9 mm pistol rounds, all discharged at once is hard to argue with. The modern buckshot load places 8-9 copper or nickel-plated lead or standard lead pellets into a plastic collar or cup. Some brands also include a ground-up plastic “buffer” which acts as padding between the individual pellets upon discharge. This combination of cup, buffer, and plated pellets helps keep the load together longer limiting the spread and reducing deformation of pellets. Deformation occurs when pellets contact bore walls or carom into one another resulting in one or more “flyers”. This is where the majority of pellets print on target in a group and one odd pellet strikes noticeably off from the group.


Originally designed for deer hunting there are a number of different sizes available. From the largest, triple-ought (000) with six .36 inch diameter pellets to the smallest, number four (#4) consisting of twenty-four to thirty-four .24 inch diameter pellets. The most commonly recommended is double ought (00) with eight to nine .33 inch diameter pellets. In general, the larger buckshot loads (000) usually mean fewer pellets and good penetration while smaller loads mean more pellets but less penetration ability (#4).

Shotgun Ammo for Home Defense : Part 2

Buckshot sizes, photo courtesy of google.

Take a few minutes and look over Shotgun Penetration With Various Rounds from The Truth About Guns blog to see how a variety of loads perform on gelatin testing.

Copper plated and lead 9 pellet 00Buckshot (left), lead 16 pellet #1 Buckshot (center), lead 27 pellet #4 Buckshot (right)

With most of these you will get close or tight groupings at room distances (five yards); not the street sweeper effect propagated by the media, entertainment world, or shotgun lore. Which you choose depends on several factors included in the home defense considerations section seen in Part 1. While 00Buck is the most recommended shotgun round for self-defense is it the right choice for home defense? Let’s look at a few common buckshot loads that may be utilized for home defense.

00 Buckshot

Federal Flitecontrol

Federals Premium “Flitecontrol” line of buckshot has consistently outperformed other brands in classes. This load prints an extremely tight pattern sometimes out to thirty yards depending upon the shotgun, how it is set up, and the ability of the end-user. The flite control wad differs from conventional wadding in that the pellets are held in the wad cup longer limiting shot dispersal and spread.


“The Flitecontrol buck is awesome when one is outdoors and may have to take a shot out to the 40-50 and doesn’t have the ability, for whatever reason, to go to a slug. At close range, the Flitecontrol acts like a slug and actually penetrates more than a Foster slug in gel and building materials. For inside my house, a more limited mission than patrol work, I prefer regular old school non plated buck between 1 and OO.”

-Chuck Haggard,  Agile Training 

This is interesting feedback from my friend and veteran law enforcement officer, Chuck Haggard. While the Flitecontrol load works great in classes, outdoors, that’s different from in the home. Again, something to seriously consider if you have neighbors close by or live in an apartment complex. The ever-present issue of over-penetration of one or more projectiles must be considered. Remember, you are legally, morally, and ethically responsible for every projectile shot from your home defense shotgun.

Hornady Critical Defense

A similar option is the Hornady Critical Defense 00Buckshot which also performs quite well at distance. This is an 8 Pellet 00Buck with Hornady’s own VersaTite(TM) wad technology. This load will also allow shots from a greater distance and more precision when combined with proper sight and trigger management. While this kind of performance is admirable the question remains, is it desirable for in-home use?

Pic below is Hornady Critical Defense, target was engaged at 3, 5 & 7 yards. Headshots are at 7 yards.

Shotgun Ammo for Home Defense: Part 2

Note the tight pattern of Hornady Critical Defense Load even out to 7 yards.

Low Recoil 00 Buckshot

Managed or reduced recoil buckshot usually has a reduced amount of faster burning powder which results in less recoil, decent patterning, and a little less penetration. Standard 00 buckshot loads average 1300+ feet per second (fps) while reduced recoil rounds travel at an average of 1150 fps. Remington Managed Recoil 8 pellet 00 Buck and Federals 9 Pellet Power-Shok Low Recoil Buckshot both perform well maintaining tight patterns out to 7 yards with noticeably reduced recoil. The Federal Power-Shok seems to stay together with a little better with less deformity of pellets.

Pic below is Remington Managed Recoil 8 Pellet, the target was engaged at 3, 5 & 7 yards. Headshots are at 7 yards.

Rem 8 Pellet 00

A bit more spread of this Remington 8 Pellet 00 Buck as compared to the Hornady Critical Defense 00 Buck.

#1 Buckshot

Number 1 buckshot is the smallest diameter shot that consistently penetrates the required twelve inches for effective man-stopping results. Composed of 15, 0.28 diameter pellets it is less likely to over-penetrate than 00Buckshot. For the last couple of years, I’ve been shooting a lot of Federal #1 Flight Control Buckshot. This particular load from Federal is kind of the best of both worlds; a low recoil round delivering 15 pellets with good penetration but not too much penetration. The Winchester Super-X Buffered #1 Buckshot is another readily available option however this is not a reduced recoil load (see above regarding the benefits of reduced recoil loads as a home defense option).

#4 Buckshot

Number four buckshot is the minimum size shotgun load we recommend for home defense. Composed of twenty-four to thirty-four .24 inch diameter pellets (depending on the brand), it is the smallest of the buckshot loads. To put this in a different perspective this load is like twenty-seven .22 rounds hitting the target altogether. Number four buckshot is a compromise between a higher number of pellets and penetrative power. More pellets mean greater wounding potential, especially at close range. Federal Premium Personal Defense Reduced Recoil #4 Buckshot 34 Pellets offers a greater number of copper-plated pellets as compared to other brands and is advertised as a reduced recoil load however that is debatable. Regardless of what brand you go with #4 should be considered by those concerned with over-penetration or whose home places them in close proximity to neighbors.

Buckshot for the 20Gauge

The 20 gauge shotgun is an excellent choice for those of smaller stature. A little smaller, a little lighter means they are a bit easier to manage than the standard 12 gauge shotgun. While there is a wide variety of 12 gauge buckshot loads available, finding buckshot for the 20 may be difficult. The bore of the 20 gauge is approximately sixty calibers compared to the approximate 70 calibers 12 gauge bore (more on bore sizes here).

Because of this 00Buckshot for the 20 gauge is limited to specialty manufacturers such as Wolf Hill Ammo.  I don’t have any personal experience with this ammunition but plan on getting some to test out soon. These days #2, #3, and #4 buck can be found for the 20 gauge including Federal Power-Shok 3″ Buffered #2 Buckshot or Federal Premium Personal Defense Ammunition #4 Buck, which I have seen perform well in classes.

Specialized & Custom Buckshot

A feature that attracts many to the shotgun as a defensive tool is its versatility. The shotgun, unlike other firearms, can accommodate a variety of different loads. Hence, this series of posts. While this places the shotgun strongly in the positive attributes margin, it can also be a negative.

An example is some of the gimmicky loads often said to be effective for home defense such as a rock salt load. Follow that link and you will see the guys at The Box O’Truth did a good job testing it and in my opinion debunking that load. Another example is Rubber Buckshot. Some say it’s the perfect non-lethal home defense solution. Here’s the thing, at room distances these rounds may be lethal. They are intended for animals and some law enforcement applications. Don’t trust your life or the life of a loved one to shotgun lore, gimmicky loads, or less-lethal loads. Lethal force may be warranted,  pick a common, easy-to-find lethal force round and practice with it.

Buckshot Summary

If you choose to utilize buckshot in your shotgun for home defense:

  • Non-plated, low recoil, lead 00 or #1 buckshot for 12 gauge is what we use
  • Make your decision based upon the context of home defense, not chasing bad guys
  • Federal tends to be our favorite in terms of defensive loads
  • #2 Buckshot for the 20 gauge
  • #4 Buckshot is the minimum size shotgun load we recommend for home defense
  • One of the attributes of the shotgun is its versatility, study the various buckshot loads to find which works best for your particular needs
  • Avoid gimmicky or less-lethal loads due to price, availability, and lack of significant testing
  • Pattern whatever load you do choose with your shotgun out to the longest visible distance in your home
  • Train and practice


See also Reinforce Exterior Doors

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