This began as a single post, but quickly became too long for one post. So let’s make it a series.

Yesterday’s post talked about stopping power and how it is a myth. Today I want to tackle the topic of what you should be using for self defense. Remember that a bullet is simply a means of transferring energy from gunpowder to target.

Lets start with shotguns.

Shotguns are a great self defense weapon for short to medium range, say 10 to 50 feet. They aren’t the cone of doom that many people think they are-the rule for shotgun patterning is that you usually get about 1 inch of spread for every yard from the target. So at 50 feet, you get a 16 inch pattern. In the distances involved inside of an average house, say 21 feet, you are looking at a pattern that is only about 7 inches.

In shotguns, the most effective self defense loads are not birdshot, as many people claim. The problem with lighter shot is that it frequently doesn’t penetrate. To me, the lightest shot that is suitable for self defense work is number four shot. So let’s take a look:

  • Number 4 buck has 20 grain pellets that are 0.24″ in diameter travelling at ~1300 feet per second.
  • #0 shot has 49 grain pellets that are 0.32″ in diameter and travelling at ~1200 feet per second.
  • #00 shot has 70 grain pellets that are 0.36″ in diameter and travelling at ~1100 feet per second.

My opinion, #0 buck is the best for home defense, especially when being fired from a 12ga with a 3″ chamber. Why?

Remember that our goal is to cause one of three things: a hit to the CNS, massive and rapid blood loss, or disabling shots. #0 buck offers enough penetration to reach vital organs, and 15 of them means having a high enough pellet count to punch lots of holes in the vascular system.

If you are going to consider slugs, I think that a rifle or a pistol caliber carbine is a better choice. We will talk about this in a later post.

The main disadvantages to shotguns are that they are long and difficult to work in tight spaces, and are not precise in the event that you need to shoot at targets that are located in close proximity to non-threats unless you are using slugs.

I prefer pump actions, but I can easily imagine the pure shock and awe of firing a semi-auto magazine fed 12 gauge. I will admit that I don’t own a mag fed semi-auto shotgun, but I have thought about it from time to time. Still, for home defense, a shotgun is a great choice for home defense, but I would not use a break open in that role. I would go with either a pump action or a semi-auto.

Categories: Firearms


Not me! · November 13, 2022 at 6:29 am

Considering recoil and multiple attackers (both in TX and OK), the common denominator for defensive firearm in those situations were something with detachable magazine. The Houston incident saw an AK-47 semiautomatic version used and both OK incidents saw an AR version involved. All resulted in homeowners surviving and multiple assailants dead.

But who needs a 30-round magazine (per our Marxists and politicians, but I repeat myself)??

dave in pa · November 13, 2022 at 7:25 am

well, I picked up a semi auto just for that. already have 2 pumps
one 870 and a 590. saw a guy using a CZ 712 semi at the range and he let me try it out. I picked one up the next week.
added a extension mag tube to it so it hold 8 rounds.
it is fast too, I can empty it in just over a minute and shred a target at 25 yards. not bad with slugs either, put 5 in a 12 inch paper plate at 100 yard. it is the go to gun now. but I still keep the other two for backup.

E M Johnson · November 13, 2022 at 9:23 am

I went through a shotgun phase but came to the same conclusions and I think it’s not very efficient. Now I always carry a Glock w spare mags to get me to the AR for home defense. I need to get off my ass and get a means to secure the carbine in the truck when I’m in town. I want to start taking it especially when med appts require going over to the Houston metro. Good God it sucks worse now than when I grew up

Ben C · November 13, 2022 at 9:33 am

A couple disadvantages to shotguns are recoil and handling. Someone who does not have experience with a shotgun, especially with serious social loadings, will likely be much better served with a pistol caliber carbine instead.

Reloading quickly or under stress isn’t so easy either. I have a pump and a semi auto. After the first 6 or 8 shots, they both become a fiddly single shot. Worse still if the gun is stored unloaded. I can store a PCC or AR empty and slap a mag in very fast.

All that said, you’re right about the downrange performance. Not much else packs the same kind of punch as a load of buckshot to the brisket.

    Divemedic · November 13, 2022 at 9:54 am

    This isn’t intended to be a caliber war or a discussion of what will be the “best” firearm. Instead, it’s intended to be a discussion of the merits of each type and caliber.

    Anonymous · November 13, 2022 at 10:33 am

    A shotgun is pretty effective for defense. But like anything, if you don’t train with it, YOU won’t be effective.

    They can be unwieldy and capacity is limited (4-8 rnds typical). This is where training comes in. Learn to reload quickly (plenty of videos out there showing different techniques) and keep the gun in the fight. There are some melee techniques you can learn with the shotgun as a last resort.

    Don’t fret too much over which number shot to use. Anything from 4 on down to 00 is going to pack a good punch. Whatever load you have, be sure to pattern it out the ranges you plan to use it. Remember you are responsible for every projectile that comes out of that gun, and now you have multiple projectiles with each trigger pull.

    A note on semi auto shotguns-the main advantage is you can put A LOT of lead on target in a very short time. 9 pellet 00 buck x 6 shells is like 54 9mm projectiles in a matter of a few seconds.

      Jonesy · November 13, 2022 at 10:33 am

      This was me

Bill P · November 13, 2022 at 10:24 am

I think you mean #4 Buck as a minimum defense load. #4 shot has a diameter of 0.13 in.

    Divemedic · November 14, 2022 at 12:30 pm

    Yep. My bad.

Ratus · November 13, 2022 at 9:15 pm

” I can easily imagine the pure shock and awe of firing a semi-auto magazine fed 12 gauge. I will admit that I don’t own a mag fed semi-auto shotgun, but I have thought about it from time to time.”

You can try one at the next blogshoot.

Hopefully it’s going to happen sometime in January.

Ratus · November 13, 2022 at 9:31 pm

Always pattern your shotgun.

Each one is a special snowflake, a load that great in one maybe dog shit in a nearly identical model.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen #0 a load, even in the before times when you could get almost whatever you wanted for relatively cheap.(I should have just gotten that case of the Federal Flitecontrol #00 when I could.)

00# is the most common available load and you will likely be able to find at least a couple of types to try out to see what your gun likes. Stay away from longer than 2 3/4 or magnum loads. You really don’t get anything but more recoil and slower follow up shots.

But, even with that said, Flitecontrol is kinda magic even from a open cylinder bore. It’s almost like a Vang Comp barrel in a box.

Dick Tickles · November 14, 2022 at 12:31 am

000 is .36″, 00 is .33″. Regardless of what is most effective the cost and availability of anything not #4, 00, or 000 makes whatever advantage it has unworthy of consideration. If a shotgun is used, #4 will penetrate walls and furniture the least in the event of pellets missing.

Shotguns, especially pump actions, hold major disadvantages for the low skilled due to recoil and working the action of the pump. I find them to be the worse choice for anyone but an expert.

There are recoil reducing mini shells that increase tubular capacity, but at the cost of less shot and velocity. These may be an option, but my belief is a 12ga is overkill for home defense, 20ga or .410 do just fine.

A semi auto rifle or PCC is sufficient, easier for the low skilled, less recoil, holds many more rounds, and has a greater effective range.

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