Best size of buckshot for personal defense?


December 9, 2004, 11:34 PM
For personal defense there seems only to be two sizes of buckshot in widespread use. By far the most popular is double ought buck and then there is number 4 buck. We seem to leave out all of the rest. Below are the five different sizes of buckshot that are available for the 12 gauge.

OOO = 36 cal 68 grain X 8 = 0.81 Sq Inches 544 grains total
00 = 33 cal 53.8 grain X 9 = 0.77 in2 484.2 gr
0 = 32 cal 48.3 grain X 12 = 0.96 in2 579.6 gr
1 = 30 cal 40 grain X 16 = 1.13 in2 640 gr
4 = 24 cal 20.6 grain X 27 = 1.22 in2 556.2 gr

Based on the above numbers as well as a Canadian Gov. Gel Penetration Test resulting in 16 inches of penetration, plus the pattern behavior in my particular shotgun; I use 12 pellet single ought buck as my defense round.

If you use buckshot as a defense round what size and pellet count have you chose to use and what are your thoughts behind it?

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Joe Mamma
December 10, 2004, 12:06 AM
I'm using 12 pellet OO buck (2 3/4" shells) from Remington. I don't hear about 12 pellet OO buck much at all but, the local Bass Pro shops carries it.

Joe Mamma

December 10, 2004, 12:41 AM

Allow me to compliment you on your interests, research , testing and pics of shotgun and buckshot. Thank You for sharing.

AEB my postings I too have tested and formed some opinions. Like a broken record, ( round black vinyl thingie with hole in the center that played music for you whippersnappers), here is my synopsis.

-Matters not what a bbl or choke is marked.
-Matters not what a magazine, thread on a forum reads.
-Matters not what another person says, prefers, uses or does. Includes using the exact make and model of shotgun [ any firearm for that matter].

What matters is :

-What will work for each individual in each individual's task, enviroment, and skill level.
-What will the individual's gun and ammo actually do at the range , in the enviroment , for that individual's needs , expected needs and unexpected needs.

Applicable to shotgun, rifle and handgun.

I have taken many a time, 2, 3,and 4 exact make and models of shotguns, using the exact same ammo and rec'd different results.

I have taken a known load , bought a different lot # and rec'd different results. Heck I even changed the primer only on reloading target loads and rec'd different patterns.

I first read many findings from old authors. I also read the report from Nilo farms ( Olin spelled backwards , like in Winchester powders). I have read many since. Hunting critters and taking care of an immediate threat bears a LOT of similarites - no matter the platform. I tend to do better with concrete versus abstract when it comes to learning some stuff.

I take the studies, read the reports, hear the sharing, and such and take note of it. That I use for a baseline - a starting point if you will to speed things up for me. Then I test(ed) each load, each firearm, each fixed bl or as the times changed - each fixed choke. Note I have used the same factory choke,say a IC one, take 5 IC and rec'd 5 different patterns. The most consistent patterns are Win Factory Chokes . I have also used Nuline chokes, say take someone else's .720 ( actually 4 folk's) and all patterened the same as my .720 in my gun and mine in theirs. Just a handy tidbit to remember.

Personal Conclusions:

-Firearm must be reliable with ammo, hence a 200 min firing of each type of ammo for serious situations.

-Shot placement is next. POA/ POI is noted and gun fit and adjustments for ME to shoot MY gun best.

-Practice/ training.

-Each firearm has a particular way it likes to be taken care and lubed. So I learn that weapon's druthers and inspect and maintain accordingly.

This is with any firearm, shotgun, rifle or handgun - no exceptions, no excuses- a MUST with me.

So If I grab a box of say Fed loads, it is because , IME and testing that loading works from a "group" of loads I have tested extensivley and have had the desired results. If all they have is Win...I know once again what "differences" may exist as far as patterns ,or groups.

I may seem cocky ,smug or flippant, I'm not. I HAVE put time and effort for my criteria, so I though I appear to " grab and go" - I know that gun, and what it prefers for a task.

Now I like #1 buck I have used on critters and did see the results. I have used it , recommended it for HD for folks. A little know secret we used to recommend was the Win Magnum load of #2 shot, grex buffer and most often used in the day for Geese...does an nasty job of critter control, tight patterns with them copperplated shot.

I have no problem with buckshot per se' - I have seen it fail in the field, because the user didn't know what his gun would do at said range, couldn't gauge range and shot at extended ranges. Often times the user had "expectations" of being the "ultimate" stopper.

Me - for my intended purpose and needs I use slugs only.

I am staying over somewhere tonight , and a few feet away is a 20 ga, with #3 buck , if things were to get "radical" tonight, the 1300 in 12 next to it is loaded with slugs only - guess which one I will grab first?.

December 10, 2004, 01:04 AM
I think you should stick with #1 buck or larger. Don't usually see #1 buck in the store where I most often buy shells. So I go with 0 buck most often.

#4 might lack adequate penetration if the distance gets out a bit. And all shot is probably iffy beyond 25-35 yards.

The info about knowing your particular firearm is also good advice. As well as knowing the pattern. Practice and familarity with your weapon needs to be second nature to function well under stress. That will take at least a few hundred repititions. According to some martial arts instructors, it takes 300 reps to learn a physical move. At least 1500 to master it or make it second nature, and capable of being done with no thought.

My opinions are based mostly upon testing of different loads in calibrated ballistic gelatin. Also notice that the 0 and #1 buck have more total weight in the shotshell than 00 buck. According to such testing #1 should cause the most substantial wound. The heavier 00 buck does have a bit of an advantage at the longer ranges. But those hopefully aren't needed for personal defense.

Dave McCracken
December 10, 2004, 06:28 AM
Good thread. Too many folks sluff off on the testing, and that's tantamount to suicide under the worst conditions.

Buck's saving grace is that it's employed most of the time well within its range limits. Within those limits, all buck is incredibly effective.

I've a hunch that IF there's an optimum size buck for GP use in 12 gauge, it's either 0 or 1. Haven't done enough patterning and hardly any gel tests to confirm that.

4 buck was and possibly still is used by the FBI. However, they wanted less chance of overpenetration, and each FBI team has rifles backing up their shotgunners if range gets longer than it should be.

December 10, 2004, 06:53 AM
While sm is absolutely correct, I’ve tested dozens of 12ga Rem. 870’s and found that on average, all I just use what patterns best in the particular shotgun. Like sm said shotguns are individuals. For short range (interior) home use, size doesn't matter so much. #2 lead, lead BB's or #4 buck is fine with me. Out in the country, I like to load the house gun with larger (00)buckshot (and/or slugs) as there is more opportunity for the gun to be used outside.


December 10, 2004, 07:16 AM
Peter Capstick did a very interesting series of tests on buckshot back in the 1980's (IIRC) and concluded that #1 buck was the best all-round defensive load, putting out a lot more energy per load than standard #00 and also a significantly larger number of pellets.

December 10, 2004, 09:24 AM
I have two shotguns set up in my house for home defense. My room is in the basement, and leads out into the backyard, with a wooded lot behind my house and the nearest house on the far side of the lot. I also have a fairly thick wooden fence sitting in my yard. This gives me lots of backstops, plus the vulnerability of the outside back door being in my room. I have a huge potential of going from inside gun to outside gun with little notice. Hence I wanted tight patterned buckshot and slugs. The upstairs is where the rest of the familys rooms are. Here, there would be a hallway and more of a bunker defense mentality. All shots would be fired down stairs, or down a hallway. Decent backstops, but wanted something smaller than 00 and slugs. Since my brother is not as much of a shotgunner as me, but still likes the shotguns I wanted a larger pattern with lots of pellets. He doesnt do well with small patterns, and this way its more of a fill the hallway with lead approach.

I purchased many many loads of buckshot ranging from #4 to 000. to pattern and ended up with Hornady Tap 00 working great in both guns. Gave a real tight pattern out to 25 yards, and a even tighter pattern at conversation distances. For the upstairs gun I patterned #1 and #4 looking for the combination of light recoil and decent pattern density. I wasn't as worried about tightness of the pattern, but no flyers were a must. I ended up with Federal Tactical #4 buck. I was hoping one of the #1 would work out, but I kept getting fliers or in one case some evil recoil. The Federal #4 buck recoiled fairly lightly(for a shotgun that is :)) and patterned very nicely at all distances I might find within my house. I may be back to the drawing board as I am getting my sister into shooting, and I may set up a semi 20 for her if I get her into the shotgunning aspects of shooting. Oh well, guess I might have to go shoot some more :evil: darn :D

So theres the long drawn out process of how I picked loads for my guns. Inside the house I wanted penetration more than birdshot, but wasnt too worried about what size buck. Outside the house anything bigger than #1 is fine, and I prefer the tighter patterns the RR buckshot offers.

December 10, 2004, 09:35 AM
#4 has some problems stopping people. El Paso PD used to use 4 until several guys were shot multiple times in the chest before going down.

I stick with 00 Buck. #1 would be nice as would 000 but try finding any!

December 10, 2004, 09:51 AM
McMurphy - I too have heard the issues with #4 stopping people, but it has always been with distances farther than 10 yards. I can easily believe that the .24 caliber pellet is lacking penetration that far out. I trust it in the house with the 4-7 yard distances. As it said it is probably a moot point as if I go with the more family friendly semi shotgun in 20, my choices are #3, # 3, and oh wait, #3 :rolleyes: . I know there is the 3 inch shell #2 but I am not much for the larger shell sizes, particularly in a defense gun.

December 10, 2004, 10:29 AM
#1 buck is hard to find 'cause I bought it all! :D

Snake Eyes
December 10, 2004, 10:50 AM
You didn't get all of it--I've got a case! Remington #1 buck 3".

24 .30 pellets O' love!

I wish I could follow the advice posted above by sm, but I couldn't even pay attention long enough to finish the post, let alone do all that stuff.

Plus, after shooting 8 or 10 of these 3" loads outta my riot gun, MY SHOULDER HURTS!!! I can't imagine TWO HUNDRED rounds.

I am really pretty confident that these loads are going to perform at the 30' max distance I have in my house. If they pattern funny and catch a cat or two as they shred a goblin.....well, I'm sorry, but I'm gettin' kinda tired of cleanin' that dang box anyway.

December 10, 2004, 11:00 AM
I haven't tested as extensively as some here, I defer to their experience.

I have tested mutliple varietys of buck through my primary defense gun.
It seems to like the Remington 00 loads commonly found just about everywhere. I pick my loads for patterns at 60ft. I see little use for buckshot past that distance for my applications.

My 870 is my go-to gun for home defense. The longest range inside my house is 50ft. Good patterns to 60 ft mean I can hit all pellets on target. I do pattern the loads at further distances, I just don't use those patterns for criteria in picking what I run. So If someone is outside the house and I have reason to shoot at them and for some reason choose the 870, I have an idea whats going to happen with the pattern.

Slugs are good.

Slugs are fun to shoot at long distances. (Long distances for slugs does not equal even moderate rifle distance) Ever lobbed slugs at 200 yards? Further?

I think the point sm makes is the best:

Know your gun, your load and your ability.


December 10, 2004, 11:37 AM
each FBI team has rifles backing up their shotgunners if range gets longer than it should be

It sounds like a substantial number of THR posters do as well. :uhoh: :)

As to the question at hand...

For me, my HD shotgun is an inside the house tool. In my house, that means a maximum of a 15 yard shot (and even that would be HIGHLY unlikely). What is more likely is something in the 5-10 yard range. I've patterned a variety of buck and slugs at ranges up to 25 yards, and have settled on a mix of Federal #4 and 00 reduced recoil 2 3/4" loads.

In my situation (with kids down the hall and neighbor's houses nearby) overpenetration is a significant consideration. So, the first two shells are #4 buck, followed by 00. I figure if things can't be solved in the first couple shots, then I need something else. BTW, at 15 yards, the #4 patterns about the size of a large dinner plate, and the 00 patterns about the size of a saucer right in the center of the #4 pattern.

As has been stated by others, there is no "best". You need to know what your gun will do with the ammo you intend to use, and tailor the specific load to your situation. For example, while on vacation this summer, we were in an area where a large black bear had been roaming (there was a picture taken 3 days before we got there with said bear standing in the exact spot we parked our car all week). In that case, I kept the shotgun loaded entirely with slugs. It was a remote area, the walls of the cabin were thick logs, and the most likely threat wouldn't have been impressed by buckshot.

BTW, if your HD gun is likely to be used by someone other than yourself, you may need to take their size and tolerance for recoil into consideration. My wife is tiny, and while she has shot 3" slugs before, she doesn't like to, and she is very slow to get back on target. However, with a reduced recoil #4 buck load, she can hit effectively and quickly.

December 10, 2004, 12:19 PM
I have mentioned before I had some elders and mentors, I listened. Granted I had to "test" some ideas ,after all being a whippersnapper at the time I knew everything - just ask me. :)

Damned old farts,with their smirky grins. ;) I was fortunate that I when was wrong I admitted it, and these folks shook my hand and smiled. Understanding - because they had done the same darned thing. They did share arguing with a Drill Sargent or a Gunny was still unwise tho' - not recommended I find out for myself. :p

I had time and money. No Internet , no cable TV, didn't much care for TV anyway. I worked, read books, attended plays and when a good action flick hit the movie house - I went.

I'd buy the rest of the inventory of ammo I wanted from Mom & Pop gun stores and bait shops retiring. I reloaded and "experimented" with stuff in shotshell loads. I blew up some guns...err...I tested metallury and actions.

So it was not uncommon for me to spend the day and shoot 100 slugs to bust up a rock "out yonder". I wanted the stamina for other stuff, I was the idiot that shot 300 slugs in one day, made some headway on that rock too.

Run through a case of 10 boxes of buckshot - because I wanted to. Six rounds of skeet was no big deal as far as stamina and recoil - I was conditioned.

Old farm houses and barns that were scheduled to be razed - I used as testing areas. A 55 gal drum of frozen water is a neat target to shoot slugs / buckshot at - I was making a burn barrel and shooting it seemed a whole lot less work that hammering a screwdriver into the darn thing. Work Smarter- not harder I say. :D

I shot at old wrecked cars, with permission, I wanted to know. A .38spl for instance most likely will richochet off the sloping back glass, buckshot will depending on distance, a 30-30, '06 and a slug won't .

I'd get a call about rabid critters and I was there. I wanted to know what worked and what didn't. I also wanted the experience on moving targets - this might come in handy for some serious situation later on in life.

Ruark was right by golly when he wrote use enough gun and to shoot twice. Have 100+ pound rabid dog of some mix, but the Doberman gene is obvious -come at you full bore, buckshot did NOT stop him with 2 good hit, didn't even turn him. I turned tail and ran to the bed of a truck - to gain distance, two rounds of hardball stopped him .

The next time I was faced with a situation like this, there were two dogs, each went down with the first slug, I shot each again- Figured Ruark was right about the "enough gun" part, he must know something about the "shoot twice part.

I learned first hand about reliabilty with a pack of rabid dogs. I was carrying someone else's 1911, one that had been "customized" and shooting some "new loadings. Well the load sucked, it didn't go where aimed,and damn sure didn't stop. Forget "Tap, Rack, Bang" , I dropped that gun and used my Combat Commander with 230 grain hardball. I tripped over brush and went down and mags do NOT drop up, forget the fancy stuff you hear, snatch that mag out , slap another one in and shoot...I don't like the view of a 80 # snarling rabid mutt about to pounce on my head when I am on my back and I see this about to happen coming from behind.

I made a vow to never carry a gun for defence again I didn't know the loads or reliability of - I haven't since.

Shot placement requires the firearm runs and hits where aimed. I made another vow to myself. Reliablitly of firearm and loads in that gun coupled with POA/ POI was my priority - otherwise the shot placement part was NOT going to happen.

I keep it simple because I learned from experiences . I put in my "time" be it for play or curiousity. Beat the hell out of watching TV. :)

December 10, 2004, 12:49 PM

"Number 1 buckshot has the potential to produce more effective wound trauma than either #00 or #000 buck, without the accompanying risk of over-penetration. The IWBA believes, with very good reason, that number 1 buckshot is the shotshell load of choice for quickly stopping deadly criminal violence."

December 10, 2004, 12:52 PM
00 Buck or Slugs, Birdshot makes also some nasty Holes in close distance like home defense.

December 10, 2004, 03:11 PM
I live in a city environment and load Speer Lawman #4.

December 10, 2004, 10:03 PM
I use winchester #1 buck.

December 11, 2004, 08:03 PM
When I was in Vietnam we used 12 ga.shotguns with shells that I can't for the life of me recall what they were called. But I'll try to explain them. They were loaded with short nails with some kind of powder in them so we could see where they hit. Very, very effective! I once shot a guy at close range(20') and he literally stuck to the wall.

December 11, 2004, 10:59 PM
Nam...flechetts and malasian loads Arc-Lite

December 12, 2004, 12:11 AM
Winchester #4 Buck

December 12, 2004, 06:49 PM
00 buck for the 12 gauge. In the 20 gauge I have had good results with Federals 3" #2 buck load.

If some one wanted to give me a case of Federal 000 8 pellet loads, I would not object. However, if you actually measure them, they are not .36 caliber. Still, they are slightly larger than 00 buck.

December 12, 2004, 07:09 PM
00 Buck is ok for rural areas, but for folks who live in urban areas, #1 through #4 Buck works best. Save the slugs for Deer hunting. Over penetration is a major factor when considering what type of loads to use. Personally I want something that's not going to rip through my neighbors walls. Just my 2 cents.

Texian Pistolero
December 12, 2004, 07:47 PM
Obviously, there are folks with better experience than me who have already opined.

But my opinion is in two parts.

One, if I need a single projo, I'll transition to a rifle.

Two, I shoot Federal 9 pellet standard ammo. I've tried 12 pellet magnum load, but they are too hot for me, they are out of my comfort zone.

That is my story, and I'm sticking to it.

If I DID have an inquiring mind, I'd experiment with a buck 'n ball load. (Used by some Union militia outfits in Civil War.)

(Round ball with three buckshot/heavy duckshot or other mixed fruit pudding formulation. Concept is, the round ball will give you COM torso hit up to 50 yards, while the rest of the load spreads the love if you are working in close. But I am too old to digress from what works.)

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