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There is controversy floating out in the world about what is or isn’t an appropriate shotgun load for home self-defense. Some argue it’s best to have 00 buckshot for maximum penetration and stopping power. Others argue that a smaller shot, such as birdshot used for small birds would a better choice as it might not be as lethal, but still enough to wound to stop an intruder.

A well worn topic of debate among firearms enthusiasts is the effectiveness of birdshot for close range personal defense applications. One side will assert that birdshot is for little birds while the other counters that at close range birdshot will create a grievous wound without buckshot’s potential for over-penetration. Curiously, I have found that most of these debates focus the comparison between 00 buckshot loads and light birdshot loads commonly used for hunting dove and quail.

There are many of sizes of birdshot between #9 and BBB and some manufacturers even market shotguns loads stuffed with mid-sized shot for personal defense. (For the purpose of this article, I consider “mid-sized shot” to be any size larger than #2 birdshot and smaller than size 4 buckshot.)  I obtained a sample of such ammo and put it to the test both in terms of terminal performance (gelatin blocks) and pattern.

All rounds were fired into gel blocks at a distance of 15 feet. The close distance was required to make sure as many pellets as possible struck the blocks. In all cases the first block consisted of 12 percent gel and was eight inches in length while the second block consisted of 20 percent gelatin. Patterning was conducted a distance of 30 feet…

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While this test may not be definitive, it does provide some room for thought before loading a shotgun for home defense. One thing to consider is that although a smaller shot may not be as lethal, a wounded intruder or attacker can still shoot back or continue to attack, which is why most law enforcement training academies train to kill, not wound.



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