Yesterday I posted how birdshot is for birds. The general maxim is, if you’re using a shotgun for self/home-defense, buckshot (generally 00) is the way to go.
I have heard some people recommend #1 buckshot as being better. For instance, arfcom, Chuck Hawks, the firearmstactical.com brief. There’s also some talk that #4 is better, like here and even Massad Ayoob.
Well, as luck would have it, just today on the InSights mailing list someone posed such a question about shotgun self-defense ammo and one of the instructors, Keven Kerkam, responded with the following:
The “standard” loadout for a self-defense shotgun is 00-buck in the tube and slugs on the side-saddle.
Use 00 or 000 buck. We have observed a direct correlation between shot size (or number of pellets) and pattern size. Unlike what many people (uneducated people) say, you want *tight* pattern. You own each pellet that goes down range, so you want everything to hit the bad guy. We have found that the new(ish) Federal LE 132 00 load produces exceptionally tight patterns in nearly all guns. There is an older LE 132 load — this ok but not great — so look for LE 132 00 with the “flight-control wad” mentioned. Ammoman.com has it, btw.
I notice that there is now a LE 133 00 load that is an 8-pellet load as opposed to the 9-pellet 132 load. That *might* (no idea till we play with it) be even tighter than the already amazingly good LE 132 00 load. For now I am only recommending the LE 132 00 though.
For slugs, I recommend a reduced-recoil variety. The Foster-style works as good as any (most common type of slug on the market). The other common type is the Brenneke, but that one is usually marked “Brenneke” and mostly comes in “max” (i.e. high-power) loads. If it just says “slug” you’re getting the Foster type. Brand doesn’t matter, just make sure it is marked reduced/low-recoil or, sometimes, they’re called “tactical” which makes it even cooler because you’re not shooting a wimpy load that way.
Between my yesterday blog posting and the #1 buck being on my mind, I thought I’d ask for their input on the matter. John Holschen wrote:
For defensive shotgun use we need:
a. No stray pellets (each one is a liability, without any positive effect.)
b. Sufficient depth of penetration of each pellet to reach vital organs.
a. I would ideally like all pellets in the “A” zone at 25 yds. More realistic is all pellets on target at 25 yds. More pellets does not enhance performance in this criteria.
b. OO buck is the lightest pellet that will reliably reach vital human organs through clothing at a distance.
Keven’s previous recommendations take into account both of these criteria.
Besides, it’s tough finding “smaller buckshot” at retail stores and even online retailers. Most of the time you’ll only find 00 buckshot, maybe 000 if you’re lucky.
Some important things that come from this as well:
- Use tight(er) chokes.
- Test your patterns
- Before you go test, figure out the ranges at which you’ll be shooting. For instance, if it’s a home-defense shotgun, figure out the maximum distance you can shoot within your house.
- Practice, and know the capabilities of your tool and yourself.
Updated: The original instructor, Keven Kerkam, added some additional information:
Yeah. A good number of years ago I did some pattern testing with all the different buckshot loads & sizes I could find (4, 1, 0, 00, 000) from Remington, Federal, and Winchester and found that the smaller the shot, the larger the pattern. Now with some of the more expensive rounds, you would get tighter patterns with 00 than 000, but if you kept things to the same type of construction/quality, 000 would shoot tighter than 00.
Granted, this was only with one gun, but I’d be willing to bet that 90% of the guns out there would show the same overall behavior, just different scale.
Other than a tight pattern for liability reasons, you want a tight pattern for wounding. When a pattern goes beyond a certain critical size, its effectiveness will drop off dramatically. Since #1 will spread faster than 00 which spreads faster than a good “tactical” 00 like the Federal LE 132 00, your effective range with #1 is significantly less than with a load like LE 132 00.
The typical argument for the #1 loads revolves around its reduced penetration through interior structures. This has some merit and is something that each individual has to work out for themselves and their unique circumstances: whether they want something with more wounding potential or less penetration through interior structures.
Some will argue that you have 16 pellets vs. 9, but if you hit a guy in the chest with a pattern that is, say 8″ (i.e. about 7-8 yards away — shot tends to spread around 1″ per yard give or take – more for lighter/more pellets less for larger/fewer), the majority of the pellets are going into the lungs and periphery (read: not immediately fight-stopping) and you get a few into the heart. But with pellets that are only .30/40.3gr, you may not do significant (read: fight-stopping) damage to the heart. And depending on the angle, positioning of other body parts, etc. you might not even get enough penetration to reach the heart at all. I mean, you’re still going to upset him but, you might be a bit disappointed in the immediate results.
But, if say, you hit him with a tight-shooting load like the LE 132 00, where we’ve seen patterns at 4″ or even <2″ (!!!) inches at 7-ish yards, virtually all of the load will hit the heart (assuming a well-placed shot of course) and the BG will have to be a lot more motivated to continue and physics will dictate that he’s only going for a max of 10-15 seconds more because his pump is no longer running.
Also, lighter shot will not penetrate heavy clothing as effectively. A good number of years ago, a Bellevue police officer used a 12ga shotgun to defend himself against bad guy who was seated in a car and drawing a handgun. The BG was wearing a leather jacket. I don’t remember if he was using #4, #1 or #0, but it was not 00. Where the leather jacket covered the BGs hand/arm that was hit, there was little damage. Only the uncovered portions were severely damaged. The loose leather jacket sucked most of the energy out of the shot.
IMHO, pretty compelling argument to stick with 00 buckshot. And if you can, to get some of the LEO-specific 00 buckshot.