Best Shotgun Ammo For Home Defense

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When law enforcement storms an enclosed area or building, better believe that one of the officers is carrying a shotgun.  Capable of blasting assailants at close range, no weapon is more feared than the shotgun. If you are looking for a weapon to strike fear into the hearts of a home intruder, the shotgun is an ideal choice.  The best shotgun ammo is equally important.

However, you have many different choices when it comes to shotgun ammunition. In the following article, we will look at some of the best choices for shotgun ammo, helping you find the round best suited to your situation.

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Police officer with shotgun

What to Look for in a Shotgun

Shotguns, alongside handguns, are among the best options for home defense.

When considering a shotgun for home defense, keep in mind the limits of the length of the barrel, as well as the kickback. When shooting at close-quarters, you don’t need to be overzealous.

Magazine Fed Shotgun

First, you need to choose the right home defense shotgun. Typically, when people talk about personal defense guns they are referring to a tactical shotgun.

Generally speaking, you are looking for a shotgun that’s easy to maneuver, as you will be using the weapon at close range. The police and the military use many different models designed for such situations.

Remember, you aren’t shooting at a long distance, so you can afford a shorter barrel. Just make sure that the barrel abides within federal and statutory regulations.

What to Look for in The Best Shotgun Ammo

There are three main types of shotgun ammunition. Before discussing them, let’s quickly go over some important shotgun terminology. Shotgun ammunition differs according to the following terms:

What Does Gauge In Shotgun Mean?

Gauge is a unit of measurement used to describe the internal diameter of a shotgun barrel. It is expressed as the number of lead balls of a diameter equal to the width of the barrel that are required to make one pound in weight. For example, a 12-gauge shotgun has an internal diameter of .729 inches, and 12 lead balls of that size would weigh one pound.

The gauge of the shotgun measures the inside diameter of the barrel. For a shotgun shell, you would think that diameter would be a measurement of length, gauge is actually a measurement of weight. It refers to the weight of the shell itself.

This term comes from the way that cannons were measured according to the weight of the cannon ball that would fit into the barrel. A twelve-gauge shotgun will fit a round that weighs one-twelfth of a pound.

What Does Shot Mean in Shotgun Ammo?

Shot refers to the small metal pellets contained within a shotgun shell or cartridge. When fired, the pellets spread out, creating a wider pattern of damage.

These pellets are numbered according to the size of the pellet. Birdshot is the smallest, buckshot the largest. They are measured in terms of their diameter.


When you look at Birdshot it will have smaller pellets that will make a much larger spread.

Different shotgun shells and shot

Birdshot lacks the lethality of buckshot, but will definitely make sure that you hit something. If you are looking to inflict quick damage, birdshot is an ideal choice. However, it lacks the lethality of buckshot. Here’s what birdshot looks like when fired into ballistics gel:

Fired birdshot in ballistic gel

Is Birdshot Shotgun Ammo Good for Home Defense?

Birdshot shotgun ammo is not recommended for home defense. But it is the most recommended for home defense shotgun ammo. Birdshot is designed to be used for hunting birds and small game and is not effective enough to be used for home defense.

It is generally too light and lacks enough stopping power to be effective against human targets but will cause less collateral home damage and less death from being shot. Don’t get me wrong, can still use buckshot or slugs if you are looking for a shotgun round for home defense.

As you can see from the ballistic gel example, birdshot doesn’t penetrate very deep. This means that you will not have the lethality needed to stop an attacker. If you are more concerned with disrupting an intruder or scaring away an ex-boyfriend, you might prefer birdshot. However, this doesn’t mean that birdshot is non-lethal.

It can often mortally wound an attacker. However, birdshot lacks the penetrating power you need to put a stop to an attacker (as evidenced by the ballistic gel), making it an inferior choice for killing power.

Birdshot also has the advantage of being the cheapest shotgun ammo as well. So the next time you hit the range to blow up some pop cans or tannerite, target birdshot loads will be the way to go.

What is BUCKSHOT Ammo?

Buckshot is a type of shotgun ammunition that is made up of several small metal pellets or “shot.” It is typically used for hunting and self-defense, and is available in a variety of sizes, ranging from #4 (the smallest) to #000 (the largest).

Buckshot is generally more powerful than birdshot, which is another type of shotgun ammunition.

Buckshot Shotgun Ammo with View of the Shot

Police often use a 0 or 00 buckshot rounds for close encounters. Buckshot will have significantly more firepower, packing a lethal punch. Notice the significant difference in power when buckshot is fired into ballistics gel:

Buckshot fired into ballistic gel

Is Buckshot Shotgun Ammo for Home Defense?

Buckshot shotgun ammo is not typically recommended for home defense. It is much more likely to cause severe damage and over-penetration of walls than other types of ammunition. Other types of ammunition such as slugs, birdshot, and defensive rounds such as buckshot alternatives are generally preferred.

Most people arming themselves for home defense prefer lethality. If you are looking to kill an intruder immediately, buckshot will deliver the coup de grâce. A 00 buckshot round has eight or nine pellets. Each pellet is about eight and a half millimeters wide.

Any of these pellets will cause significant damage or injury, mortally wounding any intruder in almost every case. Such pellets are custom tailored for self-defense, as well as hunting larger animals, packing your shotgun with the punch it needs to deliver a killing blow.

Although birdshot works well for hunting, it lacks the instant lethality necessary for home defense.

Despite the lack of lethality, the fact that birdshot can often mortally wound an intruder also makes it less ideal for people looking to inflict non-lethal damage, such as officers looking to slow a suspect or those whose moral principles prohibit them from taking a life. Non-lethal damage is best inflicted with rubber pellets.

Shotgun SLUGS

A shotgun slug carries a large hunk of metal, rather than pellets. Police typically switch to slugs when firing at a further range. Here’s a picture of a slug:

Shotgun Slugs

As you can see, the round contains a large hunk of metal. The metal is grooved to give you a rifling effect for increased accuracy.

This is the best shotgun ammo for distance shooting. While not a bad idea to use as an option, if you are dealing with an intruder, typically you are dealing with him or her at close range. If a person is far enough away that you would need to use a slug, they are far enough away not to pose a threat, so you shouldn’t be shooting at them anyways.

Shotgun Ammo Shell and Shot Options

Birdshot works better for target shooting than home defense. Birdshot is probably only viable for when you want to avoid damaging your walls or neighbors when firing in your apartment. Let’s look at some of the different options:


These rounds penetrate less than five inches into ballistics gel.

Fired #8 BIRDSHOT into ballistic gel

The recommended amount for lethality is twelve to eighteen inches. This makes it much too weak.


These rounds tend to make it up to about seven inches into the gel, making it much less than ideal.

#4 birdshot fired in ballistic gel#2 BIRDSHOT:

These make it slightly past ten inches, giving it a much better improvement over #8, but still not quite the punch necessary.

#2 Birdshot fired into ballistic gel

These will definitely stop an intruder, but not enough to prevent him or her from squeezing off a few additional rounds.

Best Shotgun Ammo Brands – BirdShot:

Here are few of our favorites when it comes to the best birdshot shotgun ammo.

Fiocchi – #8 2-3/4″

12 gauge #8 - Fiocchi

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Winchester Fast Dove – 12 Gauge – #8 Shot

Winchester Fast Dove - 12 Gauge - #8 Shot

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Buckshot delivers the blow you need to stop an intruder. Just remember never to point your gun at someone unless you intend to pull the trigger. Buckshot is extremely lethal, and not to be used lightly.


A round of #4 buckshot delivers over fourteen inches of penetration into the ballistics gel.

Buckshot #4 fired into ballistic gel

This is definitely within an acceptable range, but not as powerful as a 00 round. Consider using #4 buckshot for apartment complexes or if you are worried about damaging furniture. This is the minimum you want to use for a tactical situation.


A number one buckshot round will deliver a much bigger punch, sending pellets as far as sixteen inches into a ballistics gel pack:

#1 Buckshot fired into ballistic gel

This makes the number one a decent choice as well, giving you the lethality you need for a tactical situation.


The 00 buckshot is used by most law enforcement agencies. It gives you what you need for guaranteed lethality, making it highly recommended for home use. On average, 00 buckshot will penetrate twenty inches of ballistics gel.

Buckshot 00 fired into ballistic gel

As can be seen in the image, a 00 buckshot round will exceed the 18 inch minimum, giving you an extra punch of lethality. It’s going to be the standard choice for a law enforcement tactical situation, and you should definitely consider it as an option.

Best Shotgun Ammo Brands – Buckshot

Federal Vital-Shok and Federal Power Shok are two great options to consider for shooting around thin walls.

Federal Vital-Shok – 12 ga – 2-3/4″ 00 Buck

Federal Vital-Shok - 12 ga - 2-3:4 00 Buck

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When looking at the two Federal options, it’s all about recoil.  If you want a little less recoil go with the Power Shok.

Federal Power Shok – 12GA – 00Buck

Federal Power Shok - 12GA - 00Buck

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Our favorite when it comes to the best shotgun ammo buckshot #1

Sellier & Bellot – #1 Buckshot

Sellier & Bellot - #1 Buckshot

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Shotgun Ammo OPTIONS – SLUGS

A slug will give you twenty-seven degrees of penetration.

Shotgun slug fired into ballistic gel

What is a Shotgun Slug?

A shotgun slug is a heavy, typically lead, projectile that is usually fired from a shotgun. Unlike traditional shotgun shells, which contain multiple small pellets, shotgun slugs are one solid piece of lead or other material. They are generally more accurate than traditional pellets and are primarily used for hunting larger game and for self-defense.

Nevertheless, we don’t recommend slugs for shooting at close range. Especially indoors to keep from penetrating walls.

Are Shotgun Slugs good for Home Defense?

No, shotgun slugs are not generally recommended for home defense. The size and power of the slug means that it can travel through walls and potentially injure or kill people in other rooms of the house. Additionally, the recoil from the shotgun can be difficult for some people to manage. Instead, it’s usually recommended to use buckshot or birdshot for home defense.

Best Shotgun Ammo Brands – Slugs

Here are few of our favorite Shotgun Ammo Slugs

Federal Power-Shok 12 Gauge – HP Rifled Slug

Federal Power-Shok 12 Gauge - HP Rifled Slug

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Winchester Super-X – 12 Gauge 1 oz. Rifled Slug

Winchester Super-X - 12 Gauge 1 oz. Rifled Slug

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Fiocchi Exacta Aero 12 Gauge – Low Recoil Rifled Slug 

Fiocchi Exacta Aero 12 Gauge - Low Recoil Rifled Slug 

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Best Shotgun Ammo for Self Defense – Conclusion

We hope that we have helped you understand the basics of shotgun ammunition, helping you learn to make the right choice for home defense.

To quickly recapitulate the results, we looked at the different kinds of birdshot, buckshot, and slugs.

We suggested that buckshot is the superior choice for a tactical situation, as slugs are designed for close range while birdshot is designed for less lethality.

That’s why we recommend using buckshot, especially in the 00 range, for a tactical situation.

Did we miss any important ammo types for shotguns? Drop a note in the comments and let us know! 

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Chris Browning

Hey everyone I’m Chris. Founder and editor at Gun News Daily. This site was originally started by my father who passed it on to me. Gun News Daily has been reporting on gun news and conservative politics since 2001. We are the original gun news source. Life-long Second Amendment Supporter.

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