There is a lot of debate about which is the best type of shotgun ammo for home defense. We have a lot of articles dedicated to home defense shotguns, and plenty of other shotgun articles in general, but nothing dedicated to the ammo you’d use for home defense, specifically.
At least, not that I can remember in the several hundreds of articles we’ve got on this blog.
So, I thought it would be time to give you my thoughts on this. As you already likely know, we cover a lot of ammunition topics from ballistics on different calibers, cartridge comparisons, what certain calibers are capable of doing, etc.
And in fact, ammo choice is one of our main source of visitors. We practice what we preach here, and we’d never recommend something to you unless we’d do it ourselves.
Let’s get started.
Best shotgun ammo for home defense:
- Federal Flight Control #00 Buck
- Hornady Critical Defense #00 Buck
Beyond that, the following information is true —
The best shotgun ammo for self-defense is 00 Buck, 0 Buck, or #1 Buck in your chosen gauge. The reason why, is because it gives you the velocity needed with big enough projectiles that it should stop a threat more often than not.
Anything smaller than that begins to lose velocity and size, and because it does, it’s less persuasive to bad guys intent on harming you. That doesn’t mean that other types of shot shells won’t work, just that they aren’t the best.
Ultimately, you have to figure out what is best for your personal setup in your residence. For example, #3 Buck may be sufficient if your rooms are small and you’re worried about over penetration.
Types of shotgun ammo:
Truth be told, there are a lot of different types of shotgun ammunition types out there available for you to purchase.
Some of them, like the three main types of shotgun shells will be what you’re going to want to use here. You’ll want to stay away from things like dragon’s breath unless you want to burn your house down, as well as flechettes because that’ll probably hurt you in court.
It’s also a good idea to avoid loading your own shotgun ammo with custom loads like ball and chain, or anything like that because it’ll also hurt you in court. Stick to standard shot shell loads.
Let’s tackle each of the main types of shotgun slugs, one at a time, decide which is best for home defense, and finally give you some good options.
Birdshot for home defense:
First up on our list, we have what is known as birdshot.
The above picture was taken by me a few years back for a different blog post. The picture shows 7.5 shot, which is a type of bird shot commonly called “dove” shot. It’s generally used to hunt smaller animals.
What is birdshot?
Birdshot is a shotgun shell that is designed by using many smaller sized pellets that are designed to hunt birds and other small animals like squirrels.
Because the pellets are a lot smaller in size than some of the other options, they lose velocity, or slow down, a lot faster than their bigger counterparts. They lose the velocity quicker because there is less mass behind each pellet.
It’s sort of like a small car traveling downhill is much easier to stop than an 18 wheeler with a full load. Even if they started at the same speed, the car would stop much faster.
This is great when you’re hunting small animals because it destroys the meat or pelt a lot less than using something like buckshot.
Is birdshot good for home defense?
Birdshot can work for home defense if you don’t have any other type of ammo for your shotgun, but should be a last resort. The same thing that makes it great for hunting small animals, makes it less than ideal for home defense.
The pellets are small, lose velocity quickly, lose energy quickly, and are designed to not do a lot of damage to the one on the receiving end.
While that’s great for a pheasant, it might not do enough damage to an attacker to stop their attack–especially if high on a narcotic like meth.
If you think about it in terms of what the shot shell is supposed to do, you begin to understand that it’s less than ideal. It is meant to kill small animals without inflicting much damage to them so the pelt doesn’t get damaged.
A human attacker is going to be much bigger than a dove is. Imagine going on an elk hunt with bird shot. All you’re going to do is piss the elk off. It may run away. Then again, it may charge you.
If your attacker is on meth he may not even feel the shot.
Would I want to get shot with it? No, I wouldn’t want to get shot with anything. Then again, if I was forced to choose between birdshot or buckshot, I know my chances of not only surviving, but living a fully functional life, are much better with the birdshot.
That makes it a terrible choice for home defense because I have a very high pain tolerance and could keep fighting.
Shotgun slugs for home defense:
Next up we have shotgun slugs. In the above picture, the yellow shot shell in the middle is a 20 gauge Slugger Remington slug.
What is a shotgun slug?
A shotgun slug is a single projectile that is usually the diameter of the bore. Because it is a single projectile, instead of many, the weight is put into that one piece. All of the velocity and energy is in that one projectile, and it is big.
It makes a big hole when it hits something, and because all of the energy and velocity is in that one piece it tends to move faster for a longer amount of time.
A shotgun slug effectively helps the average shotgun turn into a longer range weapon, and I have personally been able to hit a man-size target out to 100 yards with ease by utilizing a shotgun red dot and slugs.
Are shotgun slugs good for home defense?
In terms of devastation to an attacker who may be high on a narcotic, a slug is a great choice. However, if you’re in a house with average sized rooms and hallways, a slug may be too much.
And while they work, it wouldn’t be my first choice.
At least part of the problem with slugs, is that the shotgun is generally a close quarters firearm and slugs aren’t necessarily meant for close quarters shooting. Remember above I said I’ve personally hit a man-sized target at 100 yards with a 12 gauge while shooting slugs.
The average home won’t need a slug because of how they’re designed. At a hallway’s length, a slug is not needed. Then again, if it’s what you have it will perform just as long as you hit your target.
If you’re in a really big house with really big rooms, having a slug may be beneficial. Then again, if the attacker is that far away, is he really an attacker at that point?
Your life needs to be in immediate threat of serious bodily injury, death, kidnapping, or rape for you to be able to claim self defense in a court of law, more often than not. (Please consult your attorney.)
Personally, if I was going to use a shotgun slug for home defense, I’d rather just pick up my AR-15 and use it instead because I have more rounds, can engage multiple bad guys if necessary, have faster follow up shots, etc.
Buckshot for home defense:
We generally recommend any 00 Buck for home defense. Specifically, we’ve tested Federal Flight Control, pictured above, with excellent results.
Another solid option is Hornady Critical Defense 00 Buck, but most in this category will do very well for your purposes.
And in fact, this is what I usually recommend for home defenders because it is tried and true, is designed to work well at close quarters combat, and is utterly devastating to an attacker.
What is buckshot?
Buckshot are large pellets that have excellent velocity and energy levels that work great at shorter distances, like out to 30 or 35 yards or less. Buckshot is designed for hunting deer, and because it is, it is an excellent tool for attackers.
Buckshot generally comes in a few different sizes. It is counterintuitive to some, but the lower the number, or the more zeroes it has, the bigger the projectiles it has.
Is buckshot good for home defense?
Yes, buckshot is what we recommend to anyone who wants to defend their home. It is the shot shell that is designed to work well within close quarters and still damage the target.
Think back to the deer. You wouldn’t go hunt a deer with birdshot because it is ineffective. Much in the same way, an angry man is much bigger than a bird, and is much more capable at harming you than a deer or a bird is.
If you wouldn’t use birdshot on a deer, why would you use it on a human meaning to hurt you?
Because of this, we recommend you use #00 Buck. That being said, #00 may be overkill for some, and if you have a small room there is nothing wrong with #3 or #4 buck. Just know that they lose velocity faster and can be less effective depending on many circumstances.
Why you should pattern your home defense shotgun:
There is a lot going on here that many people rarely ever think of. They think that they can just buy a shotgun, throw some shells into it and they’re going to hit their target because the shot spreads out.
I talk more about this in my shotgun myth article.
While it’s true that shot does spread out, it may not be as much as you think. The below picture shows Federal Flight Control at 15 yards, an 18.5 inch barrel, and a cylinder bore choke.
In other words, at 15 yards it spread out to about the size of an adult fist. That’s not a lot. So, you do have to aim (no matter what you’ve been told), and it pays to know how it will perform.
Read next: How to pattern a shotgun.
Steel VS lead shot:
It isn’t common knowledge, but steel shot is generally lighter in weight than lead shot is. So, when you’re patterning your shotgun, you really shouldn’t use the data from lead shot and apply it to steel shot.
They will pattern differently and even impact the target differently at varying distances. We go much more in depth on steel vs lead shot in that article.
A shotgun is a devastating home defense weapon. Choosing the right ammunition for your shotgun is key. And of course, you should shoot your setup and know how it performs before putting your trust in it.