Shotgun Ammo Trials

When I went shooting with Jay, the main focus was on shooting shotgun ammo.

You see, shotgun ammo behaves in unique ways. You need to check out how ammo performs in your particular gun. Winchester buckshot out of this Mossberg may not perform the same as the same ammo out of a Remington. Furthermore, Winchester buckshot out of this Mossberg 500 may not perform the same as the same ammo out of a different Mossberg 500. Truly, the ammo-gun combination can be unique, thus it’s imperative that any shotgun you wish to use, you must take the time and trouble to find the loads that work best in your shotgun.

And so, that’s what we did. 🙂

The Motivation

So why do this? What’s the point?

Well, it’s fun. 🙂

But beyond that, it’s about knowing how this shotgun will perform, ensuring I have equipment that will perform best, and if I don’t have that, to motivate me to get it.

Some months ago I had a situation that surprised me: I wanted the shotgun, not the AR. I’m still not 100% sure why my gut reaction was “get the shotgun”, but there you go. Since then I’ve been motivated to work with the shotgun more; in fact, I’ll be taking a shotgun-specific training course later this year. So with that on the horizon, I figure I should ensure I know how the gun runs. Yes… I admit, I’ve been negligent in determining this information; I know better, but life gets in the way. I’ve done some work with it, but nothing rigorous like this, until now.

So note: the intent here is self-defense. This isn’t about hunting, this is about home/office defensive purposes. I want to look for what ammo will work from my shotgun and work best for my needs in this context.

The Gun

The shotgun is a Mossberg 500, which is a pump-action shotgun. It’s a basic field model, with wood furniture (I think item #50120), 12 gauge. However, it doesn’t use the field barrel; instead, it uses one of Mossberg’s “security” barrels (item 90015), which is a plain barrel with a bead sight and is 18.5″ long with a cylinder bore (no ability to change the choke). Mossberg does sell a 20″ “security” barrel (item 90140) which has a vent rib, bead sight, and uses their accu-set choke system… but you know, a shotgun is long enough as it is, do I really need that extra 1.5″ merely to get a choke? No….

The only other changes are adding an elastic buttcuff to hold 5 more rounds of ammo, and a TacStar 6-round SideSaddle. So that means I can hold 5 in the magazine, and 11 more dangling off the gun. Why so much? I refer you to Greg Hamilton, Chief Instructor at InSights Training Center:

Chances are, if you’re ever going to be involved in a home defense situation with a shotgun, you’ll be in your birthday-suit.  So unless you’ve got ammunition Velcro’d to your ass, all the extra ammunition you’ll have will be on the gun.

(h/t to Joe Huffman)

So there you go. Most of the ammunition in the gun is buckshot, but a few slugs sit on the side if they might be needed.

I should note, the reason I use a Mossberg 500 is because it’s more ambidextrous-friendly than the Remington 870, and that’s relevant in my household.

The Setup

Jay (from the Firearms and More in Texas! blog) was kind enough to allow me to do these trials at his family’s property out in the country. Jay was also kind enough to help me in all of this, especially given his condition. He just started P90X and was pretty sore… so what better than to slam some high-recoil shotgun loads into your shoulder? 🙂

Went out to the property, set up some targets, measured off distances, and off we went.

Here’s what I wanted to test.

Slugs. I wanted to test slugs for accuracy and for felt-recoil. I know from KR Training’s Defensive Long Gun class that when it comes to distance, slugs are the only way to go. So, what will work out here?  Plus, Tom Givens recommended BrennekeTactical Home Defense” slugs; never heard of them before, so I figured it was worth seeing how they worked in my shotgun given I totally trust Tom’s recommendation.

Buckshot. Let’s just see how buckshot patterns. But moreso, Federal Premium Ammunition makes this FLITECONTROL wad, and I’ve been curious about it. While “conventional wisdom” says that you want this massive spread of a cloud of pellets to stop your attacker, the fact of the matter is you don’t: you want a tight pattern. Naturally, any pellet-shot shot out of a shotgun is going to spread out, the longer you can keep that in tight the better. It gives you a greater effective range for the load. It’s important to get all the pellets on the target, not just for the “stopping-power”, but also liability issues. People keep talking about using birdshot in an attempt to avoid overpenetration issues (sorry, but birdshot goes through drywall just fine). The key point tho is liability if a shot doesn’t hit the target and instead hits something undesirable (property, innocent people). If you have shot that stays tight, it increases your ability for all pellets to hit the target; if the shot spreads out into a big cloud, chances are some pellets hit the target and some pellets hit those undesirable things. There’s no way that’s ideal or desired. So, if FLITECONTROL can help keep a tight pattern, all the better. Furthermore, let’s see about felt recoil, especially since Federal offers a reduced recoil version of their buckshot with the FLITECONTROL wad.

Birdshot. Nope. Not shooting it at all, because I’m not bird hunting. Birdshot is for birds, not for self-defense.

The Ammo

These are the slugs that we used:

  • Winchester Super X hollow point rifled slugs
  • Remington Slugger
  • Brenneke Tactical Home Defense

They’re all 12 gauge, 2.75″ shells.

This is the buckshot we used:

This is the buckshot we used:

  • Remington 9 pellet 00 buck
  • Winchester Supreme Double X Magnum  12 pellet 00 buck
  • Winchester Super X 9 pellet 00 buck
  • Federal Premium Vital-Shok FLITECONTROL 9 pellet 00 buck
  • Federal Premium Tactical FLITECONTROL 9 pellet 00 buck, reduced recoil

Again, all 12 gauge 2.75″ shells. All 9 pellets, save that one magnum load.

I wish I had a lot more ammo and time to do deeper testing. The testing went only so far because of time and resource constraints. But still, I’d like to believe this is a good set of data, and certainly begs deeper investigation into some specific areas.

The Shooting

Slugs

We started shooting with the slugs. Since accuracy was what I cared about, I figured we should set up at 25 yards and see how things fare.

That’s the Remington slugs. Hrm. See that dot at the bottom in the middle? That was the point of aim.  That seems like a lot of rise over run there. Plus it’s not very tightly grouped.

Those are the Winchester slugs. They HURT; lots of kick. Can you see the dot with the arrow pointing to it? That was the point of aim. You can see this too shot high and grouped a little better, but still… the spread of that group is really wide.

That’s the Brenneke slugs. It still shot high from the point of aim, but look at that grouping. The “flier” we think was a pulled shot — Jay was very sore from P90X and we were both a bit beat up from the prior shots (especially the hard kick of the Winchester).. there’s no question that here, and especially as we went on later in the trials, that we became victims of flinching due to all the recoil abuse. But still…. look at that grouping. That’s amazingly nice!

But then, check this out:

We used the same cardboard, drew a dot lower down for a point of aim. You can see it’s all still hitting high, but this time the spread is way out there. What gives? Why was the first box of slugs so tight and this box so spread???

Slug Conclusion

The Brenneke’s performed the best. They certainly were tight. Also, since they were reduced recoil, they were the most pleasant to shoot. They still had kick, but you could deal with it. The Winchester’s just hurt.

All slugs shot high, which leads me to believe that’s just the trajectory and the use of the bead sight and so on. Just how it is, best to know it. I think this calls for doing a LOT more shooting with the shotgun at various ranges to find where it zeros and then what the point-of-aim vs. point-of-impacts are for the gun. I can’t help but wonder if a better set of sights or even putting something like a red-dot scope could help here.

So my take home is: Brenneke’s. They fly better, they have less recoil, they do the job. There’s no downside to them, other than I can’t find anyone selling them locally so I have to order online.

Buckshot

Not only did we care about felt-recoil, but patterning. Let’s see how she patterns at various “self-defense” distances. So we’d set up at 3 yards, 7 yards, 15 yards, and 25 yards. Let’s see how things fare. Unfortunately due to time/ammo constraints we could only shoot one of each brand/type of shell at each yardage point, so take this data for whatever it’s worth.

3 Yards

Winchester buckshot at 3 yards. You can see it’s a pretty tight group, but even only travelling 3 yards there’s some spread. One thing we were curious about were the larger holes. Sure you expect to see one large hole from the wad, but why the other large holes? We noticed this consistently with Winchester buckshot so must be something with how Winchester puts their shells together?

Here’s Remington at 3 yards. Looks similar to the Winchester, save the extra large holes (just the one from the wad).

This is the Federal FLITECONTROL full load. I reckon the pellets didn’t even leave the wad. 🙂

The Winchester magnum at 3 yards. Remember, 12 pellets.

Poor Jay. He shot this one and given his immediate reaction after the shot went off? I guess it hurt. 🙂  Yeah… this kicked harder than anything else (imagine that). I think the Winchester slugs actually had a bit sharper recoil, but it’s nit-picking… they were both brutal.

The Federal reduced recoil. Again, I reckon the pellets hadn’t left the wad.

This was a consistent theme: the Federal full and reduced tended to perform essentially the same in terms of accuracy and patterning.

After this we had a good enough feel on recoil. Of course, the magnum was painful. I think Jay said he wouldn’t be interested in shooting more than a couple of these. I figure in a hunting situation that’d be fine, but in a home-defense where you’d have to shoot a lot? Or heck, how about practicing with them? Forget it. Naturally, the reduced recoil load was the easiest to manage. The others were about the same, but if I remember correctly the Remington did have a bit of a sharper punch.

7 Yards

Move back to 7 yards and shoot them all again.

And the shot pattern opens up further. Again with the multiple large holes. If you know how Winchester puts their buckshot together that would make these holes, please comment and let us know.

The Remington seems to pattern a little tighter and uniform tha the Winchester. Shame it hurts more to shoot it.

Federal full power. Looks like the shot was starting to leave the wad, but still just one big-ass hole. Anyone know if there are any pictures or write-ups of gel-tests with this ammo? I’d like to see what those look like. Updated: gel tests found.

That Winchester magnum buckshot is really opening up wide. It’d be curious to see how this buckshot would perform if choked down and shot out of a longer barrel. That is, using it for hunting. Consider… 7 yards, big pattern, punishing recoil… it’s flat out not ideal for defensive use.

And here’s the Federal reduced recoil. Nice. Tight. Didn’t hurt much to shoot.

So at 7 yards the FLITECONTROL stuff is still holding very tight. Remington and Winchester are opening up, becoming difficult to keep within the A-Zone of an IPSC target but still there. And the magnum… well, we stopped using it. 🙂  It’s evident already that it’s not acceptable for defensive use… why continue to punish our shoulders.

15 Yards

The Winchester buckshot. Wow, that’s pretty big… bigger than I expected the pattern spread to be.

Shooting the Federal (full power) at 15 yards, we now have proof it’s actually shooting multiple pellets and not just one monolithic payload. 🙂

The Remington is still grouping better than the Winchester, but that’s still pretty big.

The Federal reduced is really performing well. I recall being able to cover that group with my iPhone and have some room to spare.

At 15 yards I’m losing confidence in the Winchester and Remington to pattern acceptably. I think they are probably only of acceptable patterning/grouping out to maybe 10 yards at most… 15 is pushing it. But the Federal loads? Man… they are grouping at 15 yards better than the Winchester and Remington did at 3 yards. I’d feel confident in using the Federal loads out to 15 yards no problem.

25 Yards

Seeing how poorly the Remington and Winchester were grouping at 15 yards, we knew it’d be terrible at longer distances so we didn’t really bother (didn’t feel like setting up new cardboard for each shot since we knew it’d be a new one for each round at this distance). I just set up one new cardboard and shot at the middle of the cardboard with a Remington and then a Winchester and oh, it was really bad. Totally unacceptable, like 18″+ diameter groups. I think with one of them we couldn’t account for all the pellets.

The above is the Federal full-power. So here at 25 yards it starts to get on the cusp of unacceptable. Jay and discussed it and we felt that maybe 20 yards might be the extent, 25 would push it but could be passable in a pressure situation.

I don’t have a picture of the reduced recoil Federal. When we shot it, it shot over the top of the target. Not sure why. Was it the same issue as with the slugs, the trajectory? Were we so sore that we were flinching (I know I did a few times and watched that front sight dip)? Hard to say, but we did this twice with the reduced load.

Speed

This is something I thought about why driving down to meet Jay. I wish testing it occurred to me sooner because I would have brought more ammo to test it.

One good reason for using reduced recoil loads isn’t just that it beats you up less, but that you’re back on target and peeling off a follow-up shot a lot sooner. So let’s try that… one actually get back on it faster? I had my PACT timer in my bag, so we could easily get split times. A little testing to find the distance needed to keep the timer from picking up the racking of the shotgun, and off we went.

Jay tried it with a couple of the remaining magnums, the Winchester and Remington, and the reduced recoil Federal. Oddly, Jay was slightly faster with the magnums than the Remington. I even noticed it when he shot and asked him about it. He just took longer to get the gun back down, on target, and find the sight again. Interesting.

I was going to leave it at that but saw what ammo was left and decided to roll through it. I mean, by this point I was pretty sure of the conclusion and direction I wanted to go so, any other ammo was just going to take up shelf space… might as well blow it in the name of science. 🙂

I did 5 Winchesters and had a very good rhythm of about 0.52 second splits

5 Remington were slower, about 0.60. And it hurt.

5 of the Federal full power came in with 0.48 second splits.

I only had 3 of the Federal reduced recoil left, but had 0.43 splits with it.

When I was working the reduced recoil loads, my brain was saying “WHOA! I’M FLYING!” I distinctly remember while shooting being amazed at how fast I was going, compared to the other loads. It felt much faster. I didn’t feel like there was a lot of muzzle rise, back on the trigger and target sooner… as fast as I could rack the gun, I was back on it. I bet if I had more practice in this under my belt it could be even faster.

The Take-Home

So what comes out of all of this?

You hear a lot of “conventional wisdom” saying you should use birdshot, that you want a big spread cloud of death. There’s talk of being concerned with “unacceptable hits“, but if you really think that “conventional wisdom” through, it really just promotes problems rather than solve them.

What do you want? You want buckshot, and you better make sure some slugs are easily accessible (e.g. ammo carrier on the gun). You need to find a buckshot that patterns best out of your shotgun. What’s a good pattern? As tight as possible, for as far as possible. How far is far? what is your situation? If you measure off distances within your home or office, what’s the furthest you measure? That’s likely your working scenario. And to me, if it’s more than 25 yards, get a rifle.

How can you get a tight pattern? Chokes. If your shotgun has changeable chokes, then be sure when you go to pattern your shotgun and ammo that you take the chokes with you and see how different chokes change the behavior. Or, consider an ammo-based solution like the FLITECONTROL wad.

Reduced recoil is where it’s at. It’s going to have more than enough oomph to get the job done at the ranges we’re dealing with. You’ll get beat up less, you can get off follow-up shots a lot faster. Of course, if you’re using a semi-auto shotgun, you better make sure it’s got enough oomph to cycle the gun reliably.

For me?

I was really shocked at the slug performance. I’m not sure what caused that and I’m not going to draw conclusions at this point: more research needed. But, I will likely generally stick with those Brenneke’s because while they still kick it’s FAR better than normal slugs.

When it comes to buckshot, it’s Federal Tactical all the way. The 9 pellet 00 buck, reduced recoil, and the FLITECONTROL wad are where it’s at. I appreciate how tight the grouping is. I have greater range than with conventional buckshot. I can get off follow-up shots much faster. My gun seems to like it. What’s not to like?

Do I want to consider something like a sighting system for my shotgun? I don’t know. Conventional sights (front and rear), maybe a 4 MOA red dot. Not sure, but I wonder if it might help, especially with slugs.

I’m also torn about the length of pull. I certainly smacked my right hand into my face a few times. I’m not sure if shaving an inch off the stock would be right. Sure, it’ll help make it more maneuverable, but getting hit in the face is no fun either.

I’d like a better recoil pad, but unfortunately most better recoil pads are “sticky” and thus drag as you mount them. I don’t want anything that can snag. Maybe there’s a product out there I haven’t yet tried. But for the purpose, the factory pad works well enough.

I think what I’m most happy about is seeing how the Federal performed. Oh, Jay said they shot a bunch of that during his police academy training and testing, and results there and here were consistent. So, I’m really positive about this, and that it doesn’t cost any difference than the full-power hey… what’s not to like? Stock up!

All in all, a good day. Had fun, learned a lot.

Must give thanx to Jay and his family for helping me with this, allowing me to use their land, and for the laughs and fun.

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