Shotgun Ammo for Home Defense

Shotgun Ammunition for Home Defense

There are a variety of good home defense loads available today.

Context of Use

The circumstances in which a civilian may employ a shotgun are likely to be different from how a law enforcement officer or military operator uses that same gun. As a civilian, the most likely place I’ll have to use my shotgun is in my home. I don’t live in a state where driving around with a shotgun in the front seat or as my trunk gun, is acceptable. Even if it was, I’d personally prefer to avoid any situations or places where I might have to drive around with a shotgun. So, to be clear, this post is focused on civilian defensive usage, not law enforcement or the military.

While reading this series remember your study of Use of Force and elements such as Ability, Opportunity, Intent, and Preclusion. This has to be factored into your home defense decisions and considerations. If it isn’t, then this needs to be addressed before worrying about what ammo your shotgun needs.

Home Defense Considerations

What is the area in which you live? Farm, housing development, city apartment? Are you in a heavily urban area with close neighbors? Where will projectiles go if you miss an intended target?

  • What distances do you anticipate shooting out to? What is the greatest visible distance you may have to shoot inside your home?
  • How is your shotgun set up, is it modified in some way for better performance? Have you patterned your shotgun to get to know how each ammunition brand and type work with each specific shotgun you own?
  • Do you have zones of fire planned to take into account where family members most likely are inside your house?
  • Will it always be YOU using the shotgun or will other family members potentially have to use it? Can they use it? Are they trained properly?

These are all factors that should be considered and aid in selecting a home defense shotgun load.

Ammunition Types

For most civilians, the three most common shotgun ammunition types to choose from are:

  • Birdshot -numerous (100’s) of tiny lead or steel pellets ranging in size from .08-.22 inches in diameter.
  • Buckshot– 8-9 lead or copper or nickel-plated pellets ranging in size from .24-.36 inches in diameter.
  • Slugs – a single, .62-.72 inch in diameter (12-20 gauge/bore) lead projectile averaging 1oz in weight.

Let’s take a look at each in the context of home defense.


Shotgun Ammunition for Home Defense

Birdshot at distance and birdshot at close range.

My friend Greg Ellifritz, owner of Active Response Training has an excellent article discussing the effectiveness of birdshot here: Bird Shot for Self Defense and Some Stopping Power Statistics

I agree 100% with Greg’s conclusion at the end of his article. While birdshot may stop and potentially kill at close range, there are better loads.

Birdshot for home defense considerations:

Room Distances

Some testing and articles I see compare birdshot to buckshot at 10yards. Is that a common room distance? Ten yards gives the load time and distance to open up and expand. But, as seen in the pic above, at five yards the mass of those pellets stays together pretty well depending on the gun and brand of ammunition.

Shot Placement

Shot placement is a prominent part of defensive pistol and carbine shooting. However, it’s not discussed nearly as often regarding shotgun usage? Is this due to shotgun mythology such as it’s just a “point and shoot type gun”? At room distances, the sights should be utilized with any shotgun load. Point and shoot run the risk of one or more of the multiple projectiles fired missing the intended target (see above regarding expansion of pattern at close range).

Headshots are taught in pistol and carbine programs but are not emphasized as frequently in shotgun training. Is this due to poor training or a lack of effort to pattern the shotgun resulting in limited confidence? Maybe because of this, it’s just easier to send multiple projectiles at the chest or upper torso because it’s bigger and will probably catch most of them.

In the past birdshot was utilized to discourage rioters, this method has since been replaced due to the serious risk of permanent eye injury. The face is rarely covered by thick garments and the groin area is usually protected by one layer of pants and cotton undergarments. If birdshot will penetrate a layer of drywall at room distances are these viable targets? Just some food for thought.

Multiple Shots

Pistol and carbine doctrine is to shoot multiple shots until the threat is stopped. However, with shotguns, there seems to be an overreliance on “one-shot stops” due to the shotgun’s terminal ballistics. While one round of birdshot on a person wearing a coat at five yards may not penetrate the required depth to hit vital organs what will three rounds delivered in that same area do? Or perhaps one chest, one pelvis, once face? This may require some training on the end-users part, imagine that. Yes, I understand I can get more done quicker with one round of 00Buck, see below and part2.

Birdshot Summary

For the person(s) living in an apartment with walls so thin they can hear their neighbors talking or the family with multiple members,  ammo choice requires careful study, consideration, and training. I am NOT recommending birdshot for home defense. It’s not my position that birdshot cannot be lethal or cannot resolve shooting problems, just that there are better options. I’ll be discussing them in the posts to follow. 

If you choose to utilize birdshot in your shotgun for home defense understand its limitations.

  1. It is a limited range load
  2. Accurate shot placement will be required
  3. Multiple shots may be required


See also AR15 Optics: Considerations, Tips & TTPs

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