20 gauge birdshot to face and lives - report


June 29, 2005, 11:56 PM
Some of you may have seen my previous posts like this but I have lots of doctor friends and a couple of them always share with me when they have gunshot wounds come in. Here's another one:

One of my friends was telling me tonight about how they recently had a man come into the ER who had been shot directly in the face at close range with a 20gauge loaded with birdshot. It wasn't point blank but it was very close. The man was alert and walking around almost as if he nothing was wrong except that he had a 20gauge shell worth of birdshot embedded in his face and head. None of the shot penetrated the man's skull or made it to his brain.

This just confirms what I already knew. Studies seem to indicate that the minimum shotgun load that offers deep enough penetration to be consistently terminal is 1 buck. I've heard many people say that they load their shotguns with birdshot to avoid overpenetration. I've never felt like that is a good idea and this further reinforces that for me.

brad cook

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June 30, 2005, 12:11 AM
The skull would probably be the worst place to aim with birdshot considering birdshot consists of many tiny, light pellets. I've taken birdshot to thin sheet metal before (microwave) and it only chips the paint off it. The skull is relatively thick bone and I can't imagine birdshot having enough energy to pierce bone. There was a kid who put a .22(LR?) to his head and pulled the trigger. The bullet got lodged between his skin and his skull. Then again, I remember that case where someone jammed a BFK (big effing knife) through someone's skull and it was sticking out of the victims head :what:

If that man took a shell of birdshot to the neck, the big, shallow, ground beef wound would probably have killed him considering the vitals in the neck are shallow and aren't protected by a bone structure.

June 30, 2005, 12:19 AM
Yep people just don't want to believe it. But bird shot just won't usually get it done. Have seen pictures of police during entry shot with birdshot from 5 feet. Bad looking for the skin. But not enough penetration to do much damage. Painful, though the policeman finished taking part in the entry.

June 30, 2005, 12:19 AM
Birdshot is deadly when it's all together before it spreads. Once it does, it has no penetrating power on human adversaries and is easily defeated by heavy clothing. It's common to find birdshot, 7 1/2's and 6's, under the near skin of gamegirds like chukar and quail.

June 30, 2005, 12:27 AM
Some more evidence (anecdotal here), that birdshot just isn't enough. I vacillated on this with my HD shotgun (I am an apartment dweller). I have gone with buckshot, because of things like this.

June 30, 2005, 12:29 AM
Birdshot is deadly when it's all together before it spreads.
Wouldn't this usually apply when used for home protection indoors?

Standing Wolf
June 30, 2005, 12:51 AM
Bird shot may not be lethal, but I'd guess it's usually enough to stop a criminal from completing his crime.

June 30, 2005, 01:07 AM
Yeah, maybe birdshot will 'usually' stop a criminal.

Buckshot will be more likely to stop a criminal.

June 30, 2005, 01:12 AM
Heh heh, on the U.S.S. Belleau Wood, there was a really annoying kid who wouldn't shut up. He had numerous facial blemishes that made him look like he had been shot in the face with birdshot.

So that's what we called him.


I haven't thought about that for almost 6 years.

cracked butt
June 30, 2005, 01:14 AM
Birdshot is plenty lethal, just depends on its application. Like mentioned, if the pattern is tight, as in a full choked scattergun at short range, there isn't any reason why it won't get the job done. If you step up to premium shot such as remington Hevishot, the penetration is pretty amazing compared to steel or lead shot.

For every story about bird shot not penetrating one's skull at close range, there are probably 10 stories where the shot does.

June 30, 2005, 01:40 AM
Bird shot may not be lethal, but I'd guess it's usually enough to stop a criminal from completing his crime.

I think most of the time it would in the case of a common burglar. However, someone comes into my houes amped up on meth or PCP and has a weapon I want more than birdshot on my side. Especially when the crime your trying to stop is your own murder.

brad cook

Fred Fuller
June 30, 2005, 04:31 AM

Nothing wrong with anecdotal evidence, when all the facts are in place. It sounds to me as if in the case you mention, the range may well have been longer than the 'across the room' distances at which birdshot can be effective in a defensive shotgun. Or the angle of incidence may have been other than straight on. No matter what the patient in question sounds lucky to still have his vision. I have sufficient personal familiarity with 'rathole wounds' after spending six years as an EMT not to dismiss birdshot in a shotgun out of hand. At ranges of a few feet, it can be highly lethal.

That said, I prefer to load my own defensive shotgun with low-recoil 00 or standard loads of #1 buck depending on which gun is at hand, and back up the buckshot with slugs just in case. No matter what, nothing beats testing and patterning with a specific gun under predictable conditions at known range in order to determine what a given load will or will not do. It is not a good idea to make too many assumptions where shotguns are concerned.

Stay safe,


June 30, 2005, 05:26 AM
I agree that if its in a solid clump that birdshot is adequate. I will also point out that the range at which birdshot opens up out of a short open-choked shotgun is LESS than the longest distance in my college dorm-room.

June 30, 2005, 05:44 AM
Birdshot this, birdshot that! :cuss:

"Birdshot" can be #7.5 or 8 OR is can be lead BB's or #2.
I think that the larger "birdshot" should be considered seperately from the 6, 7.5 8 crowd.


June 30, 2005, 07:10 AM
Wow in my own experience(sp?) birdshot would put a dent about 8" wide and 2" deep in the old fridge I used as a target for years, this was at about 8 - 10 yards. Is there that big of a diferance between a 12 gauge and a 20?

1911 guy
June 30, 2005, 07:33 AM
I'm not sure it's anectdotal rather than incomplete or biased. What was the range, shot size, weight of total load, etc.? While I wouldn't want 3/4 oz. of #8's to rely on, at room distance I don't want to tangle with any of it, esp. 5's or larger. If we're going to talk single cases of failure, I personally saw a Somali take 3 9mm's to the torso and stay mobile. Down with the 9, eh?

El Tejon
June 30, 2005, 08:33 AM
You mean to tell me that placement is not everything??? But, but he was shot in the HEAD! :rolleyes:

June 30, 2005, 08:35 AM
Okay, guys - I've actually tested some stuff. Between 5-7 yards.

Up through #6, you had _all_ rifle/handgun bullets penetrate both sides of a drywall wall.

From #6 through #9, it'd blow through one side, and be stuck under the paper on the other side. LARGE hole on the business side. I'm guessing 5-6" or so. I'd guess the pattern was the size of my fist going in...

At that distance, I would NOT want to be shot with a Winchester AA Superlight Featherweight Whateverthehecktheycallit #9 Target load (the wimpiest 12 gauge factory load I know of...). Everything's still close enough together that you're going to get hamburger as a result. At that range, there wouldn't be enough of the anectdotal fellow's face to recognize as human, he'd be blind, and more than likely twitching on the floor.

Think of this... 1 ounce of shot moving at over 800 fps - that's gonna leave a mark if it is still close to together. And if someone's further than 21 feet from me, it's behind a door, lock it, and grab a buckshot shotgun, a rifle or handgun.

June 30, 2005, 08:56 AM
I was rather impressed with what #4 birdshot did to a guy who came through the ER one night. It most definately was able to "get the job done" more than adaquately.

June 30, 2005, 08:57 AM
Hey guys I'm not saying that birdshot CAN'T be lethal. I'm saying that it's not consistent enough. I did not form that opinion based on this incident but rather through lots of reading and through my own usage of birdshot. This to me just illustrates that inconsistency. Here we have a guy who was shot in the head, the "sweet spot" of incapacitation, if you will, and took the brunt of the BBs to the face and he's fine. Not to say that it could not have killed him if shot just right in just the right place at just the right distance, but who has time for all that when you're facing, for example, three guys kicking your door in about to rush you?!

However, I think Fackler, Roberts et al are right. For CONSISTENT incapacitation (which doesn't mean it incapacitates 100% of the time either) I'll take buckshot.

brad cook

June 30, 2005, 09:12 AM
I don't know if this relates or not but five years ago a young man attempted suicide by shooting himself in the mouth with a 20 guage shotgun loaded with a #6 shot field load.
The blast removed his face from the upper mandible to the top of the cranium.
The blast also removed the forward portion of his frontal lobes.
The young man survived for 18 hours in a vegetative state before infection set in and shut his system down.
This manner of suicide and the failure of the individual to inflict a fatal wound is more common than most people might think.
The suicidal individuals angle the muzzle too far forward and remove the facial platform rather than directing the blast back into the cranial cavity and the brain proper.
Heck of a way to pass on.

The skull is an extremely hard surface area to penetrate with a projectile.
Mass with velocity is the recipe needed to successfully induce penetration.

However the brain itself is relatively easy to degrade and injure.
While penetration of the skull may not occur, the impact force itself can be enough to incure long term and permanent brain injury and disfunction.

The individual who survived the shotgun blast to the face may have survived the incident but I'm betting he will never recover total control of himself again.

June 30, 2005, 09:37 AM
However the brain itself is relatively easy to degrade and injure.
While penetration of the skull may not occur, the impact force itself can be enough to incure long term and permanent brain injury and disfunction.

Yep, as a matter of fact here is a snippet of a story I just read that was posted by 4v50 Gary in "A collection of bedtime stories - or sharpshooter tales" of such an incident, but in this case the subject incurred long term death. ;)

"A moment later a minnie ball well spent in its force struck a soldier in the forehead, but did not penetrate the skin. He jestingly remarked that they came near getting him that time, and while thus joking, he fell and expired, concussion caused death."

Henry Bowman
June 30, 2005, 09:44 AM
As some others have stated above, I have opted for #1 shot for interior home defense SD rounds. It is a compromise between ineffective birdshot (#6 or #7) and buckshot that will easily overpenetrate interior walls.

June 30, 2005, 10:52 AM
Here is an idea!

7 rounds in your HD shotgun, incrementally increasing from small to 00 then a couple slugs to top it off. If BG keeps coming, he gets hurt worse. :evil:

June 30, 2005, 10:59 AM
Am just about to swap out my HD load in the 870. I will be switching to 'birdshot (#6-8)' for all but the last 1-2 rnds and those will be 00 buck. I have several small kids and NEED to limit possible penetration through walls. The last round or two will be the 'last ditch defense' ones, in case the zombie hordes survive the first 5-6 shots & the 1911 rounds following.

June 30, 2005, 11:02 AM
One question, was this guy blind after being shot in the face? I would think the shot would have penetrated the eyelid/eyeball. Just curious?


June 30, 2005, 11:03 AM
He took a full load of birdshot directly to the face at close range (albiet not point blank) and he could still see and hear?

Regardless of whether or not birdshot can penetrate the skull, I suspect it could *still* penetrate eyelids, impairing or ruining his vision. He could still walk around, he'd just bump into things. Maybe all the birdshot was in the side of his face, or mouth and jaw. I don't care how well my skull holds up, I don't want dozens of metal pellets to infiltrate my peepers.

Sounds like he's just one lucky @$!@#.


June 30, 2005, 11:46 AM
I'll guess that he was at a bit of a distance from the shooter. Gave the load time to spread. Plus it was a 20 gauge... Also, it could have been a ricochet? Wasn't there, don't know.

How many #6 (for instance...) pellets are in a 20 gauge shell? I'll bet he didn't have 'em all...

June 30, 2005, 11:57 AM
Onmilo, I had a friend from grade school that attempted suicide after high school graduation. He used a 12 ga. with a 7 1/2 trap load, and had the same result. Blew his face off, but he lived an agonizing two weeks after! :what: I have shot many different objects, some living some not, (i.e. snapping turtles, old refrigerators, computers :evil: , etc.) and found that close range and straight on are the most effective uses for birdshot for HD. I have switched to 0 buck ( got a closeout deal on it at Sportsman' Guide) for HD. Devastating far past any range I will use it at. :evil:

June 30, 2005, 12:21 PM
Hey Guys! Im glad to be on THR! I am a Paramedic in southern **********, and have seen a handfull of shotgun wounds. I am of the opinion that birdshot (size<#5 or so) incapacitates best at only the shortest of ranges; and even then it is NOT consistant enough to use.
Once I had a patient who shot himmself point blank in thigh with wolfs 12g #7 1/2 field load not only was there no exit would, but the shot didn't even fracture the femur! His thigh was very swollen, but the surgeon was fairly sure he would recover.
Conversley, I've also run on a few suicide victims that used remchester field loads not larger than #7 shot, both of which left a massive exit wound to the skull, easily penetrating several layers of bone, and even lodging into the wall/ceiling afterwards. Neither were fun to look at/be around.
Im sure that someone somewhere has died from #9 shot, but somewhere a .22 has killed a bear as well. For the safest bet, use buck or the larger size birdshot if overpenetration is a concern.


happy old sailor
June 30, 2005, 03:19 PM
all that said and done, im gonna stick with the small shot in my 20 gg housegun. why?? i dont want to kill them. the hassel of death to a human goes on and on for months and your lawyer has a couple payments to make on something expensive. so, if the invader takes the first round of shot, he will not want another six behind it. first shot to the pelvic arera, then as many as necessary to deter further intent. if he/they keep coming the next thing to face is 18 rounds of SXT from the G17. makes a better case to the DA and less gambling on an anti gun jury. that type jury gives me shivers.

i have no qualms about doing a dude in and would not worry about it later. its just the aftermath dealing with the judiciary system. no one would welcome that.

scenario: you do him in, call 911 and here comes fourteen cop cars with bull horns yelling to put down your gun and come out with your hands up. then a football team of cops tackle you to the ground and cuff you behind the back. and there you lay while they search your house, ransacking everything while the coroner takes his time to show up. then they talk on and on, you still on the ground while they take pictures and measurements. then there is a front page picture of a disheveled handcuffed individual who was captured by the authorities after killing this poor man who was just trying to get to his own house in the dark. his mama is sniveling on TV, he was a good boy. story on page three. later a two line retraction on page nineteen. i can really do without this. rather be telling the cops that yes, i shot him and he ran away at a furious pace so he couldnt have been injured too badly and besides, i was using non lethal birdshot.

now if i lived in Detroit i would want a 3" 12 with 000 buck. reckon it all just depends, huh?

June 30, 2005, 03:49 PM
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. #7-1/2 and #8 loads are too light for rabbits and even squirrels, let alone humans. There's a reason they call it "birdshot".

I've seen rabbits, squirrels, and a porcupine shot at close range with these loads. The results were not impressive. I'm curious if the people that rely on these light loads for self-defense have ever done any small game hunting with birdshot? I think it would change your mind, and real quick.

Also, take a look at this thread:


June 30, 2005, 04:13 PM
Back in mid 90's bird shot destroyed my 90 Buick Regal , Windows interior fenders radiator ect. 4000+ parts and labor. He did a full walk around 360 degrees with a 12 guage. He also with these charges and others I had pending did almost 10 years in big Hotel Two times we went in front of parole board and stopped parole, he served all his sentance except time they took off for being good.... Needles to say Iam not on his xmas list.

June 30, 2005, 07:47 PM
I have some 3 inch #2's laying around I would hesitate to use. The fact is most people don't practice with buckshot and they are a little scared of the recoil. But at 30 feet or so with any kind of choke you can SEE #8 shot hit a steel plate en-mass.

June 30, 2005, 07:58 PM
I load mine with #4 turkey loads and I have 5 shots. If the first one don't "deter" a person I say give 'em a couple more. Maybe the abdomen or groin area would be a better target than the head as well.

cracked butt
June 30, 2005, 09:15 PM
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. #7-1/2 and #8 loads are too light for rabbits and even squirrels, let alone humans. There's a reason they call it "birdshot".


I've killed countless squirrels with 7 1/2 field loads. The object is to kill the animal, not completely obliterate it! I usually try not to center a squirrel in a pattern either but aim 5 or 6 inches off to the side of its head- I want it to catch 3 or 4 pellets in the head/neck, not 20 in the shoulder/ hams ruining all of the meat. As far as #8 goes, you might be right, I have no experience with ever using #8 for anything.

July 1, 2005, 09:33 AM
I stopped using shot smaller than size 6 for upland game hunting and specifically stopped using Federal shotshells of any sort after I watched my buddy nail a squirrel three times with 1 1/4 ounce, 3 1/4 dram 6 shot Federals and do nothing more than push that tree rat further up the trunk.
I'm sure it crawled into a den and died but that doesn't do us any good.
I have lost game that i thought to be solidly hit using Federal Game loads before this incident and this was the final straw.

I have been using Wnchester 1 1/4 ounce, 3 3/4 dram equivelant number 5 shot Super X loads on upland game for several years now with nary a complaint.
Upland game includes squirrel, rabbit, pheasant, stuff I can and will eat.
They kill quickly and consistantly and I rarely have to use a second shot.
This isn't a recommendation for Winchester, I'm just telling the readers what works well for me.

I use a 1 1/8 ounce # 7 1/2 field load for doves but it doesn't really matter for me what load I use, I still can't hit the doves!
Sure is fun to go out and shoot at them though.

July 1, 2005, 04:03 PM
Well, all I can add is more anecdote but here's a few cases I've seen before. I'm a residency trained ER doc so I've seen a few people shot before.

In residency when I was on the trauma team we had a fellow come in who had been shot with birdshot at point blank range in the chest. He'd been trying to break into a house during the day and thought nobody was home. Turns out a 15 year old who lived there had broken his leg the day before and was home from school with his new cast. He heard the noise, grabbed the 12 gauge, and hobbled into the kitchen where the perp was forcing the window open. Caught him with one leg slung over the window sill, half in and half out the window.

According to the police who followed the ambulance to the hospital the following conversation took place.
"Stop. If you come in this house I'll shoot you."
"F--k you MotherF--ker."

Fellow landed in the yard and ran three houses down before collapsing. When he got to us he was awake and bitching up a storm. He'd taken the shot center chest with either #7.5 or #8 shot. He had partially collapsed both lungs and required bilateral chest tubes. We also intubated him of course. The cat scan showed he had about 40 pellets in his chest and a about a dozen in his leg. No pellets in his heart or major vessels, though some had penetrated past them all the way to his back.

No surgery was ever done. He spent over a month in ICU but eventually walked out of the hospital. No charges filed. Dude was a minor, barely, and his mother wanted to sue the kid who shot her "poor innocent baby".

I still have a copy of his scan downstairs. Come by sometime and we'll have a beer and I'll show it to you.

Moral? Birdshot can penetrate but is inconsistant. Yes, dude was luck as hell but part of his luck was the size of the shot used. Small holes seal themselves off faster than big holes. Would this kid have died? Hell yes. Would he have died quick? Obviously not. He lived long enough for the ambulance to come and get him to us. Easily enough time to retaliate if he had the means. Was this an exception and not the rule? Probably.

Bottom line? I don't personally trust small shot in a home defense or antipersonel application. If I'm shooting someone I want them to stop right now, not later after they finally bleed out or get septic in the ICU. Thats just my opinion. YMMV.

brian roberts
July 1, 2005, 04:39 PM
yes, well, try some high brass(or, for th' little lady) LOW brass 4s, or 2s!!! i guarantee you double-tap some idiot that way, you'll make a believer out of the ER personnel, besides, its easier.... :cool:

July 1, 2005, 05:20 PM
epijunkie67, a coupla things...

1) Do you know the distance that the fellow was shot at? Had the shot already started to spread?

2) Are you hooked on EPI speakers?

July 1, 2005, 08:28 PM
I know two people who have been head shot with bird shot loads at point blank range -both lived.

July 2, 2005, 03:23 AM

1) Do you know the distance that the fellow was shot at? Had the shot already started to spread?

2) Are you hooked on EPI speakers?

1. The shot had spread enough to cover an area at least 6 inches across but not much more than that. The shooting occured in a kitchen, which tends to be smaller than something like a living room. So obviously not contact range but certainly well withing "typical" home defense ranges. I'd guess 6-12 feet. I also don't know what kind of choke, if any was in use.

2. Nope. Hooked on epi. Slang for epinepherine. Medical term for adrenaline.

For those of you who insist on using birdshot for HD I'd recommend aiming for high body shots. Avoid the head or stomach area. The skull is too difficult to get through and the abdomen has too few vital structures to hit reliably. With a high body shot you stand a better chance of hitting the heart, a major neck vessle, or puncturing the lungs.

July 2, 2005, 05:10 AM
The thing that i dont understand about this argument is this: Buckshot is and always has been, regarded as one of the best man-stoppers at close range. In fact it is considered by most to be hands-down the single deadliest thing one can be shot with under 20 or so yards. SO my question is this; If you have a weapon that can fire this absurdly effective load, why would you use anything else?

July 2, 2005, 06:13 AM
Well I may just be blind, but back when I used a shotgun the only places that I knew of that sold ammo sold either slugs or birdshot. :banghead: Considering I'm talking about myself I'd say blindness. :D Havn't checked sinse I sold the shotgun.

July 2, 2005, 07:22 AM
If you have a weapon that can fire this absurdly effective load, why would you use anything else?

Overpenetration-I have kids in the house, if some of those pellets miss I want them to stop ASAP and not find their way into the kid's room.

If you train with your handgun it's always 2 to the body and 1 to the head. What makes a shotgun any different? As I stated earlier, I use #4 in a high brass shell for home defense. The pellets still pass cleanly through a normal IDPA cardboard target at 50 yds. I guarantee you, as long as I'm not totally surprised by a perp he/she will get more than one round and if that doesn't "deter" them from their planned activities I'll empty the gun into them if I have the chance. If I pump a couple into your gut or Mr Happy, you'll stop, you may not die right away, but you'll stop. Let's talk perforated bladder. :eek: That'll slow you right down.

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