Home Defense Shotgun Ammo

By Randy Wakeman

Remington buckshot ammo box.
Express Buckshot. Illustration courtesy of Remington Arms Co., Inc.

If you are forced to use a shotgun for personal defense, you certainly need it to work and work well. There is a huge body of reliable information established by the F.B.I., Duncan MacPherson, and perhaps most notably of all—Dr. Martin Fackler. According to Fackler-IWBA, rapid incapacitation is a function of damaging or destroying tissues that are critical to an attacker’s immediate survival. To reliably accomplish this task, the bullet should be capable of penetrating deeply enough to reach and pass through vital structures in the body from any angular aspect. This capability is called adequate penetration.

Fackler-IWBA recommends a minimum of 12 inches of penetration. This 12 inch minimum penetration performance guideline is meant to ensure that the bullet has adequate penetration potential to reach and disrupt vital organs. The 12 inch standard is the prevailing barometer used by the F.B.I., Dr. Fackler, and other reputable sources. Anything less than 12 inches is insufficient and inadequate. Not understanding this has already cost too many people their lives. Bird shot is not an acceptable self-defense shotshell round. To believe that it is could get you killed, and that has been the sad outcome in too many incidents. The appropriate value for minimum penetration depth has generally been assumed to be 12 inches ever since the first FBI wound ballistics meeting in 1987.

We have effectiveness in eliminating life-threatening danger as the sole priority. No one wants to be forced to use a firearm to save lives, but if so forced it must work without fail. There is no substitution for proper training in home defense. It is serious business, one that commands study and practice as though your life and your family’s life depended on it—as that is the general idea.


Pellet Diameter

Average Pellet
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The Firearms Tactical Institute reports:

"Number 1 buck is the smallest diameter shot that reliably and consistently penetrates more than 12 inches of standard ordnance gelatin when fired at typical shotgun engagement distances. A standard 2 ¾-inch 12 gauge shotshell contains 16 pellets of #1 buck. The total combined cross sectional area of the 16 pellets is 1.13 square inches. Compared to the total combined cross sectional area of the nine pellets in a standard #00 (double-aught) buck shotshell (0.77 square inches), the # 1 buck shotshell has the capacity to produce over 30 percent more potentially effective wound trauma. In all shotshell loads, number 1 buckshot produces more potentially effective wound trauma than either #00 or #000 buck. In addition, number 1 buck is less likely to over-penetrate and exit an attacker's body."

Generally available candidates include:

  • Remington Express Buckshot 12B1 (1250 fps, 16 pellets #1 Buck).
  • Remington Express Buckshot 12B0 (1275 fps, 12 pellets #0 Buck).
  • Winchester Super-X XB121 (1250 fps, 16 pellets #1 Buck).

The 16 pellet #1 Buck loads yield a 640 grain payload while Remington’s 12 pellet #0 Buck load gives about a 580 (579.6) grain payload. Based on a 7 lb. shotgun, the Remington #0 Buck Loads generates 27.4 ft. lbs. of recoil, while the #1 Buck factory loads generate 31.8 ft. lbs of recoil. This roughly 15% reduction in recoil may sway you to the Remington #0 load on the basis of comfort and controllability. Most importantly, the penetration of this load is more than adequate to end a dire situation.

On the flip side, 3 inch 12 gauge 00 Buck Loads are available from both Remington and Winchester. The Remington 12HB00 load is 15 #00 Buck pellets @ 1225 fps, a payload of 807 grains developing about 47.6 ft. lbs of recoil, over 73% more recoil than the #0 Buck 2-3/4 in. Remington load 12B0 just mentioned. It is this type of all too common high recoil load most would find painful, hard to manage, and is not recommended for HD applications as a result. Despite the additional pain and muzzle flip, it actually has one less potentially lethal wound channel than a standard #1 Buckshot load.

Eugene J. Walberg, Senior Firearms Criminologist at the San Diego Crime Laboratory, reviewed 27 shootings, discussing the performance of the Winchester 147 grain sub-sonic JHP bullet and its correlation to ballistic gelatin data (Wound Ballistics Review, Winter 1991). At an average velocity of 950 fps, the penetration into 10% ballistic gelatin ranged from 12 – 14 inches with an average expansion ratio approximating 1.2. As Dr. Fackler has shown time and time again, expansion is a good thing—but never at the expense of adequate penetration. Also, at the expense of being too obvious—any excessively penetrating projectile can no longer disrupt tissue. On the “managed recoil” front, it is puzzling that major manufacturers have ignored the obvious approach—that being a 12 gauge, 12 pellet #1 Buckshot load at 1225 – 1275 fps. Federal does make this load (F164, 1225 fps) but only in 16 gauge.

Precise ratings of Buckshot loads against pistol loads are not possible, but rough approximations are. A 12 gauge #1 or #0 Buckshot load at close range is roughly similar to 12 –15 simultaneous hits from a .32 ACP to .380 ACP round, and that makes for impressive one-shot stoppage.

A good patterning #1 or #0 Buckshot load from a 12 gauge pump shotgun that you are well-trained and totally competent with is hard to beat. No one wants to be forced to use a weapon in self-defense, but if you are forced to it might as well be something that quickly eliminates the situation.

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Copyright 2009 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.