Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Training - Defensive Shotgun Rounds


What round for your defensive shotgun? This is another of those infinitely deep rabbit holes that has spawned hundreds of articles and videos to demonstrate that “this” is the right round to use. Frankly, it’s way too deep for me so I’m just going to sniff around the edges.

I believe there are three primary defensive rounds you can choose with many sub-categories under the three. There is standard “bird shot, there is buckshot and there is a slug. There are, of course, considerations that must be taken into account regardless of the round you choose.

Typical defensive purpose

The shotgun is typically seen as a home defense gun. That said, the need to reach out and touch someone will seldom be beyond 50 yards. It is much more likely that you would use your shotgun within the confines of your home. What surrounds your home is also of consequence. Close neighbors have little interest in a 1 oz. slug whipping through their home. Look at your home, look at your surroundings and make sure you take all of those factors into consideration.

Over Penetration

Simply put, whatever the projectile that comes out of the end of your shotgun be a 1.25 oz. of #5 lead shot, or 9 pellets of 00 buckshot or a 1 oz. slug – it is going to continue to go through things until its energy is consumed and the round stops. That is why it is critically important that you have a home defense plan, that everyone knows it, that you are clear as to your fields of fire and that you choose your ammunition appropriately.

Rounds on the threat

So how tight are the patterns of your defensive round? This quick post is BY NO MEANS MEANT to be definitive on this question, simply a glimpse of general patterning. The idea though is, as it is with a defensive handgun, to confine the round to the threat. So ideally, with the birdshot and buckshot you would like to be close enough so that the pellets stay within the confines of the threat. And, with the slug, you want to make sure you are accurate enough that you can quickly and easily hit the threat from 50 yards or less. The reality is that in a home defensive situation your likely shooting distance will be 30 feet or less – about half the length of a typical home.

So, armed with my newly updated 870 I took advantage of the warm temps to pay a quick trip to the range to test the birdshot and buckshot on the patterning board at our range and then the slug at both 50 and 25 yards. Pro tip . . . if your range’s patterning board is simply a sheet of 3/8” steel, and you put a standard LE SEB target on that steel . . . when you hit it with either birdshot our buckshot the target will simply explode. I will probably approach this particular topic again later, but for today, let’s make use of what I have in my hand – two shattered targets that still have things to share with us.

30 ft.  Winchester Super X heavy Field Load – 1.25 oz. #5 shot

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Obviously the center of the target was pretty well destroyed but I want you to take notice of the outer edge of the pattern. My POA was high center mass and I want you to notice that there were few if any pellets that hit outside the target outline. This is what you are looking for when you engage a threat with a shotgun round – the projectiles are contained within the threat and not continuing on past them.

We can certainly argue whether such a hit to a determined foe would be enough to convince them to stop their attack – but from 30 ft. and closer you can be reasonably assured that if you aim center mass the threat will take the brunt of the punishment from your birdshot round.

Winchester 9 pellet 00 Buckshot

Buckshot (Large)

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Again the result with a blown out target but in taping things back together notice that, as you would expect, the pattern was much tighter with virtually all pellets confined to high center mass. The buckshot did a better job of keeping the pellets on the threat. The other side of this is that you have fewer pellets, larger, heavier and you begin to run a higher risk of a pellet or more fully penetrating the threat. Again, no real hard and fast rules here, just something to keep in mind as you work through possible scenarios using your defensive shotgun.

Winchester Super X 1 oz. rifled slug hollow point

The slug round allows you to reach threats at a much greater distance than you could with bird shot or buckshot. Out to 50-100 yards it is, for all intense and purposes a rifle. That said, for you to take a shot at a threat at 100 yards, you may well have a hard time articulating why they were a threat you could not simply avoid. Reduce that distance to 50 yards or 25 yards and they become much more of an imminent threat to your well-being.

Rifled Slug (Large)

Slug Ballistics (Large)

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On my upgraded 870 I now have the new Trijicon front sight and simply align that down the barrel of the gun to form my sight picture – there is no rear sight per say. At 50 yards I hit 2 for 3 and then moved to solid hits once I moved forward to 25 yards. The biggest concern when moving to slugs is over penetration of the threat. That’s a pretty good size chunk of lead and depending on where you hit the threat and what they’re wearing – you could easily pass through the threat and into (or through) an adjoining wall. Again, be aware of your field of fire – you want to confine your damage to the threat . . . not family.

So how well can you “run the gun”?  Qualification shoots are one measure.  Here is a link to the ILEA Shotgun Qualification Drills.  It’s a “standard”, something you can shoot against and time to see how your skills with your defensive shotgun are developing.  Download it, take it to the range next time and shoot the drills, it will give you some idea of where you are in your skill set.

If a defensive shotgun in part of your home defense – take some time on the range to wring out your choice for a defensive round. There are any number of articles that have been written about this exact topic – do your research. Then, once you have made a choice, work your defensive shotgun into your range work. Having a shotgun in the corner of the room does little to protect you if you can’t “run the gun”!


  1. 12 ga. Winchester Super X slug is my round of choice for home defense scenarios, because nothing says "fuck you" quite like a 73 caliber chunk of lead expanding to the size of a silver dollar.

  2. Thanks for the post. People who are really concerned about their safety may simply join the Firearms safety training classes and get the guns of their own.

  3. Ran across this article this morning, there's some good info here so thought I'd pass it along.


  4. Patterning is critical. Period...

  5. Thanks for the post. These Firearms safety training classes can help people to get proper training , license and confidence to hold that safety device. The training should also include the moral values that must be taught to them while handling the guns.