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Defensive Ammunition 101

Discussion in 'Shotguns' started by Dave McCracken, Aug 14, 2011.

  1. Dave McCracken

    Dave McCracken Moderator In Memoriam

    The dog gave enough warning for you to get the kids into your bedroom and the shotgun out. Behind you, your spouse is calling 911 on the cell phone and holding a revolver. You're covering the top of the stairs as heavy boots clump towards the top floor.....

    What your shotgun is loaded with will be of less importance than skills, training, and tactics, but ammo does count. I field a couple queries each week, so this is of great interest to a large number of people.

    Here's my opinions and advice based on fact, not movies or wishful thinking....

    First,some stuff to avoid.

    Less lethal stuff like rubber buckshot or tear gas loads. It's regarded as Use of Deadly Force even when the police do it, and they do it when backed up by cops with real ammo in their firearms. That's in case L/L doesn't work.

    There's a clue there. Use something more likely to STOP someone when that is desperately needed.

    Also, avoid anything with a name like "Ultimate Deathmaster" or skulls on the box.

    Don't laugh,it happens and PT Barnum was right, one IS born every minute.

    Anything exotic like Dragon's Breath, bird bombs, buckshot strung together on a wire,etc.10 thin dimes would also be a bad idea. So would be reloads.

    Any shooting, justified or not, will be scrutinized under a microscope by LE folks who are not necessarily your friends.

    There is a case for and against using birdshot. Sometimes it works well. Usually that's at extremely close range where the wad still contains the shot,acting like a giant Glaser Safety Slug.

    Sometimes it creates ghastly but shallow wounds. Since STOPPING the threat usually involves disrupting the Central Nervous System grossly, these shallow wounds do not suffice.

    Bigger pellets penetrate farther. The common name for big pellets is buckshot, from its use in deer hunting. Common US sizes are 000 ( about .36 caliber), 00 (.33), 1 (.30), and so on.

    4 buck(.24) is the smallest. The largest buckshot that fits in a 20 gauge is 2 buck, but 3 is more available. 1 buck is the biggest for 16 gauge.

    00 is the choice for most police agencies and lots of us civilians. 8 or 9 00 pellets at a reasonable muzzle velocity has plenty of energy to transfer and a lot of frontal surface to help that happen. Even three to five 00 or 000 pellets can make the miniscule 410 into an effective close range tool.

    00 also patterns tighter than the smaller stuff, all else equal. And that brings up another point.

    Some folks like spread, thinking it can make up for bad aim under stressful conditions.

    Others, including me, prefer a small pattern putting ALL that energy into the right place.

    Forensic experts tell me that the most effective load will have all the pellets in 5-8 inches.

    Of course, the biggest pellet is one bore sized chunk of lead, usually called a "Slug".

    These have some use for defense but not inside. If they are designed to penetrate a deer broadside and exit, they can pose a threat of overpenetration inside a building. Few of us are that rural that an errant slug poses no threat to anyone.

    Buckshot will also penetrate drywall and similar materials, but less so. It behooves us to become adept wiith our defensive tools until we can place that load where it needs to be in a very short time frame and do so without endangering innocents.

    Questions, comments, rants?
  2. Maple_City_Woodsman

    Maple_City_Woodsman Well-Known Member

    Please don't take this as an attack Dave...

    But isn't the objective of "stopping the threat" simply to stop aggression?

    If one makes their objective to "disrupt the CNS", then that is defacto killing. IE you are admitting pre-shoot that your default goal is specifically to kill your aggressor regardless of situation.

    If you actually look at the numbers, a huge percentage of attacks are stopped by shooting the attacker with anything at all. Unless the attacker is hopped up on strong drugs, then they usually give up.

    Perhaps this is me being an ignorant 'noob', but shouldn't our goal be to stop aggression, and simply choose the tool that we think best to accomplish that on an individual basis?

    Yes, there will always be situations where the attacker will continue until dead, as well as cases where weaker weapons will not suffice ... but I have a hard time believing that we should all make the killing of a potential attacker the defacto reaction.
  3. Fred Fuller

    Fred Fuller Moderator Emeritus


    The aim is to stop the attack, period. Nothing else matters. Some people insist that this distinction is mere semantics, but it certainly is not. We cannot appoint ourselves as judge, jury and executioner, nor should we seek to do so. We shoot only when fully justified in doing so, and then only in order to stop the attack, not to deliberately kill the attacker. Unfortunately stopping an attack forthwith may well lead to the death of the attacker, especially where a shotgun is concerned. Suppose we wanted to be merciful to the attacker and use, say, a tranquilizer gun. Even in that case, a dose of tranquilizer sufficient to quickly shut down a person would almost certainly be lethal.

    Why is it necessary to stop an attack quickly? Because failing to do so could well result in the death or injury of innocents at the hands of the attacker. Are you familiar with the Tueller Drill? See http://www.theppsc.org/Staff_Views/Tueller/How.Close.htm if you aren't. Suppose the attacker is armed with a gun and not a knife? How long does it take to pull a trigger?

    Gunfighting is not a nice subject, and that's what were talking about here. The reluctance of a normal human being to consider taking the life of another human being is understandable and natural. But there are times when the choice really is to take an action that might well result in the death of an attacker, or be killed. Anyone who is a genuine pacifist might well choose to allow themselves to be killed rather than risk taking a life by defending themselves or their loved ones with a deadly weapon, and that's their choice. But there are those of us out here who, while we are genuinely peace-loving individuals, are not pure pacifists to the degree that we would allow ourselves or our families to be abused, injured or killed rather than risk the life of an attacker.

    Thus, if pushed to that extreme in order to defend ourselves and our loved ones, we will shoot to stop.





  4. lemaymiami

    lemaymiami Well-Known Member

    I've always considered a pistol as what you use when you can't find anything better. The basic 12ga. shotgun with an 18" barrel, simple bead sight, is that far better tool when everything (you and your family) are on the line. Load it with ordinary 2 3/4" OO Buck rounds and you're in business. Simple, brutal, and utterly reliable - it's what I was taught to use in police work and I relied on it for some years. Just remember to aim a bit low...

    I had occasion to point a loaded pistol at many, many folks in 22 years on the job. I can't remember what percentage of those weren't impressed at all by that, but more than a few simply ignored it.... I never found anyone who didn't pay attention to the business end of an old Wingmaster when it was pointed their way. Over all those years I rarely ever had the safety off, but those downrange didn't know that.... At ranges under 25 yards, nothing beats a defensive shotgun with the proper ammo.
  5. Bill_Shelton

    Bill_Shelton member


    This "What if" scenario sounds like you are dealing with Drug Gangsters who are exceptionally hellbent on killing you, or Cops. I mean, who the hell storms up stairs with "Boots" in an all-out rampage?

    I mean...can't you avoid the Drug Gangsters while giving the Cops no reason to make a suicide run against you? This sounds like Waco!

  6. Fred_G

    Fred_G Well-Known Member

    Shotgun ammo for HD in my house is 00 Buckshot. No more, no less. Cause it will work if you hit the target.
  7. 2zulu1

    2zulu1 Well-Known Member

    OO Buck for me, well, and of course Desert Dawg is primary. :)

    No place to run and no place to hide at in home distances.


  8. Dave McCracken

    Dave McCracken Moderator In Memoriam

    Thanks for the responses.

    Like Lee said,Woodsman.

    Lemay, you're correct. Nothing is as effective as a shotgun in trained hands loaded with proper ammo.

    Bill, I was setting the stage with one possible scenario. There are MANY more.

    Fred and 2z, Amen. 00 works very well.

    This thread will be stickied at the top of the forum for reference, should save us all some typing...
  9. Al Thompson

    Al Thompson Moderator Staff Member

    I know two ladies that the sound of footsteps on the stairs was their clue that bad guys were coming.

    Back on topic, IMHO, the further the bad guy, the larger your shot size needs to be. I've loaded #2 birdshot for a house gun before as my max engagement range from that part of my house would be 18 feet. From the other end of the house, buckshot gets the nod as I would have a possible shot of 15 yards.

    Yes, I have two HD shotguns.

    I see no use for any shot size less than #2 birdshot and now that Remington has BB (.20 caliber) Tungsten-Bronze-Iron Home Defense loads available, I've switch to that in my short range applications.
  10. Bartholomew Roberts

    Bartholomew Roberts Moderator Emeritus

    To elaborate on what Lee already said, there are two ways to stop a threat:

    1. Psychological - The attacker changes their mind and flees/surrenders. This type of response is totally dependent on the attacker's state of mind - so it can vary widely even in the same person and while it is something we can influence, there isn't much we can do to dictate someone else's state of mind.

    2. Physiological - the body is physically unable to continue the assault regardless of what the attacker wants to do. Assuming our training is good, this is a factor we can control.

    When it comes to forcing the body to physically shut down with a firearm, you do it by:

    A. Causing such a significant drop in blood pressure that the brain shuts down and the attacker becomes unconscious

    B. Directly damaging the central nervous system to shut it down.

    The problem with A) is that even if you totally destroy the heart, a human being is still capable of physically acting for as long as 10-15 seconds. That can be a really long time in a gunfight at close range inside your own house.

    Either A or B is likely to result in serious injury or death to your attacker, this is one of the reasons that the use of lethal force is highly regulated by law and usually limited to specific circumstances where you are seeking to prevent your own immediate serious injury or death. However, the intent is still to stop the threat as quickly as possible, not to kill the attacker. If the attacker flees/surrenders before you are forced to that level, all the better.
  11. Creature

    Creature Well-Known Member

    For general home/self-defense, what is everyone's thoughts on "Tactical" aka "SWAT" aka "Home Defense" (reduced recoil) slugs? How about reduced recoil 00 buck? Are these two effective or not effective?
  12. Maple_City_Woodsman

    Maple_City_Woodsman Well-Known Member

    Lee Lapin / Dave / Bart:

    Don't make the mistake of thinking that I care one bit about the feelings of violent criminals, nor that I wish to be "merciful" to them. I don't - I would like to believe those who work evil deeds will one day be served their just deserts. If that means a burglar / home invader meets a terrible death, then justice has likely been served IMO.

    Never the less, I still have many qualms with the common rote advice to stoke a shotgun with 000 Buck and aim for the brain/spine/CNS/whatever as the default method for dealing with an attacker.

    This is one of those times I wish we could have a collective conversation in person. I have several things I wish to say, but feel that I can not adequately represent my thoughts on this subject in print.

    Instead, let me ask an open question: Do you believe a legal justification for deadly force necessitate its use?
  13. Walkalong

    Walkalong Moderator

    I fail to see where killing was mentioned or suggested. Stopping the attack, and what it takes, was discussed.

    The idea is always to stop the threat. Sometimes times this involves killing. If one is not comfortable with the idea of possibly killing somebody in the act of defending themselves or loved ones, they should not have a gun for protection.

    We are not playing hopscotch here. :)
  14. Maple_City_Woodsman

    Maple_City_Woodsman Well-Known Member

    Uhg. Did you read any of the above? :(

    I wish we were playing hopscotch. It would be easier to communicate the subject matter.

    I am not hugging trees here. I am not concerned with the criminals feelings. I am not gun shy. I have no qualms with shooting an attacker.

    This is what I said in post #2:

    This is my logic walkalong: IF the default reaction to a threat is to aim 000 buckshot at the CNS, then defacto, you are saying your default reaction to a threat should be to kill regardless of stop.

    I am simply questioning the logic of using the heaviest possible load to target the CNS, and then trying to fit that in with a civilians goal to stop threatening behavior.

    It is illogical to say that ALL cases where shooting is justified should have the express goal of killing the individual. There are libraries of first hand accounts right here on THR that make such clear.
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2011
  15. lobo9er

    lobo9er Well-Known Member

    Is that tongue in cheek? This thread is similar to alot of threads about shotguns and 00 and being trained. Entertaining and informative but not ground breaking.
  16. Bartholomew Roberts

    Bartholomew Roberts Moderator Emeritus

    No, I do not. In life, there will often be cases where something can be legal; but not necessarily the right thing to do or even a good, practical idea. On the flip side, our society is very restrictive on the use of lethal force. If you are in a situation where lethal force is legal, that is a very big clue about the potential danger that would be foolish to ignore.

    In a lethal force situation in your own home, you are facing an immediate threat of death or serious injury at close range. It may take less than 3 seconds to charge from 21' and plunge a knife into you. It takes less than a second to pull a trigger and every pull means that you or someone else in your household may get shot. The quickest way to end that threat is to directly damage the CNS. Is it likely to kill? Yes. That is why it is called lethal force; but the goal is not to kill. It is still to stop the threat. Nobody is saying you should kill your attacker, they are just pointing out the reality that the best way to limit damage is to stop the fight as quickly as possible.
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2011
  17. Bigphil54

    Bigphil54 Member

    Look at it this way.
    Someone is breaking into your house at night when they know you are mostlikely home. Why couldn't they wait till the day when the house is empty? They're desperate or have a set mission that not much is going to stop them from compleating. Either way they aren't going to back down easy. Its not a pleasant thought but when it comes down to it you have two choices, the possible harm of your loved ones or the probable harm of the intuder. Less lethal may take him down but he will still be able to retaliate, and chances are he won't have less lethal ammo is his gun. So I'm going to do all I can to remove my family from immediate harm and if the tool best suited for the job poses a high risk of death then that's life. I won't degrade my defence to suit his offence and save him. As stated earlier if the use of lethal force is legal then its probably one of the only things that will save you.
  18. Bigphil54

    Bigphil54 Member

    Oh n in IMHO some form of buck is best. Decent spread with adequate stopping power and penatration with not to much over penatration. I like the concept of winchesters PDX in the 410 but in the 12gauge I don't like the slug n just three buck shot pellets. I think they could have used more buck or swapped out the slug for say smaller buck/large bird shot for a mixed pattern at all ranges?
  19. Maple_City_Woodsman

    Maple_City_Woodsman Well-Known Member

    Again, I am not posting in regard to some moral dilemma, nor am I confused about generic defense scenarios.

    Let me try asking this way: Why not use something like #4 Buck, and aim for center mass?

    Wouldn't that result in:
    A) More hits on target
    B) Easier hits under stress
    C) More wounds of sufficient depth
    D) Greater total wound volume
    E) Show less premeditation

    And thus a greater chance that shooting would actually stop the attack?

    I am questioning the logic of choosing to fire at a smaller target using a load with less pellets, and creating a situation that can OBVIOUSLY be construed as intent to kill rather than stop.

    I am not wrestling with the morality of defensive shooting. I am questioning the ammo/target selection being proffered as rote solution.
  20. Bartholomew Roberts

    Bartholomew Roberts Moderator Emeritus

    The central nervous system consists of the upper spine as well as the head area. If you'll note Dave McCracken's original point, it wasn't to target the head - it was that small shot doesn't penetrate deeply enough to reach/disrupt the CNS and you should use shot that does.

    Assuming #4 buck will penetrate deeply enough in the scenario you actually face (and I think that could be iffy in some scenarios given that 4 buck is already on the low end of acceptable penetration), I think that is a perfectly valid strategy. A cloud of pellets in a 5"-8" pattern centered on the upper torso (assuming a facing shot) is still likely to disrupt the CNS if it penetrates deeply enough and even if it doesn't penetrate deeply enough to reach trhe CNS, it will certainly start the timer running on the end of the fight.

    I'm having trouble thinking of a legal scenario where a load of #4 buck to the upper torso at close range is going to be OK; but a load of #4 buck to the head at close range is going to get you in trouble. Maybe you could elaborate on why you feel this is a distinction that helps you?

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