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Best Shotgun Ammo for Home Defense

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Selecting the best shotgun ammunition for home defense is a critical decision. Shotguns are a popular choice for protecting one’s household due to their versatility and stopping power. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the key factors to consider when choosing home defense shotgun ammo. From tactical rounds to self-defense loads and powerful buckshot shells, this article will provide valuable insights to help you make an informed decision and safeguard your home and loved ones.

Understanding Home Defense Shotgun Ammo

To effectively choose the best shotgun ammo for home defense, it’s essential to understand the key considerations. By evaluating the following factors, you can make an informed decision:

  1. Terminal Ballistics: Select ammunition designed to quickly neutralize threats without excessive penetration, reducing the risk of collateral damage.
  2. Types of Shells: Understanding the differences and use for the three main types of shotgun shells: Buckshot, Birdshot and Slug.
  3. Shell Size: Most popular home defense shotguns are either 12 Gauge or 20 Gauge, however, there are other calibers available.
  4. Shot Size: Choose the appropriate shot size based on the target and the potential for unintended harm to others or property.
  5. Recoil Management: Opt for low recoil ammunition to enhance accuracy and facilitate follow-up shots, particularly for those with limited firearms experience.

Buckshot vs. Slug vs. Birdshot: What Is Better for Home Defense?

When it comes to selecting self defense shotgun ammo, the choice between buckshot, slug or birdshot depends on several factors and personal preferences. Both slug and buckshot have their own advantages and considerations. Let’s take a closer look at each option:


Buckshot consists of multiple lead balls or pellets, typically ranging from eight to 27 in a standard 12-gauge shell. They spread upon leaving the barrel, increasing the chance of hitting a target. Consider the following points regarding buckshot for home defense:


  • Spread and ease of aiming: The spread of buckshot increases the chances of hitting a target, making it easier to aim, particularly in high-stress situations.
  • Stopping power: Multiple projectiles can cause significant tissue damage and increase the likelihood of incapacitating an assailant.


  • Potential collateral damage: Buckshot may have a higher risk of causing collateral damage due to the wider spread, which increases the chance of hitting unintended targets.
  • Limited range: Buckshot loses its effectiveness over longer distances, and the spread increases, potentially decreasing the chances of hitting the intended target.


Slugs are solid projectiles that are typically used for hunting large game. They are essentially large bullets designed to deliver a single, powerful impact. Here are some considerations for slugs in home defense:


  • Accuracy: Slugs offer greater accuracy over longer distances, which can be beneficial in larger homes or situations where engagement distances may be greater.
  • Penetration: Slugs tend to penetrate more deeply than buckshot, potentially providing better stopping power against heavily built barriers or heavily clothed assailants.


  • Over-penetration: Slugs have a higher risk of over-penetration, which means they can pass through walls and potentially pose a danger to unintended targets.
  • Limited spread: Slugs do not spread upon exiting the barrel, so they provide a more focused impact area, requiring precise aiming.


Birdshot consists of smaller pellets compared to buckshot, and is designed for bird hunting. In a home defense scenario, birdshot has different implications:


  • Reduced wall penetration: Due to smaller pellets, birdshot is less likely to penetrate walls, reducing the risk to unintended targets in other rooms or neighboring homes.
  • Wider spread at close range: Birdshot spreads quickly, increasing the chance of hitting an intruder at close range, which is common in home defense scenarios.


  • Less stopping power: The smaller pellets of birdshot may not be as effective in stopping an assailant, especially if they are further away or behind barriers.
  • Limited effective range: Like buckshot, birdshot’s effectiveness decreases with distance, but even more so due to the smaller size of the pellets.

Ultimately, the choice between birdshot, slug and buckshot depends on various factors such as the layout and size of your home, potential barriers, the presence of family members or neighbors, and your comfort level with different firearms and ammunition. It is essential to consider the potential risks and make an informed decision that aligns with your specific situation. Additionally, consult local laws and regulations regarding ammunition for home defense.

RELATED: Buckshot vs. Slug Shotgun Shells

Why Is Birdshot Bad for Home Defense?

Birdshot is generally considered less suitable for home defense compared to other types of ammunition, such as buckshot or slugs.  As its name suggests, bird shot was designed for hunting birds and can be made from lead, steel, tungsten or other materials. Birdshot can also be used for shooting clay pigeons.

The most common birdshot sizes are #7, #7.5, #8 and #9 shot. Here are a few reasons why birdshot may be considered less effective for home defense:

  1. Lack of Penetration: Birdshot typically consists of small pellets with a diameter of around .24 inches (.60 cm) and is primarily designed for hunting birds. Due to their small size and low mass, birdshot pellets do not penetrate deeply into targets. This can be problematic when facing a threat, as the pellets may not reach vital organs or stop an assailant effectively.
  2. Limited Stopping Power: Birdshot is designed to spread out over a wider area to increase the chances of hitting small, agile birds in flight. However, this wide pattern can reduce the concentration and energy delivered to a single target, potentially limiting its stopping power against a determined attacker.
  3. Inconsistent Performance: The performance of birdshot can be inconsistent due to factors such as distance, clothing barriers, and individual variations in shotshell construction. This inconsistency can further diminish its effectiveness for self-defense purposes.
  4. Over-penetration Concerns: While birdshot may not penetrate deeply enough to stop an attacker effectively, it can still pose a risk of over-penetration. Over-penetration occurs when projectiles penetrate through walls or other barriers, potentially endangering innocent bystanders in neighboring rooms or homes.

Considering these factors, many self-defense experts and law enforcement agencies recommend using buckshot or slugs for home defense purposes.

What Size Buckshot Is Best for Home Defense?

The most commonly recommended size of buckshot for home defense is 00 buckshot (pronounced “double-aught buckshot”). It is named after its diameter, which is approximately 0.33 inches or 8.4mm. Here are some reasons why 00 buckshot is often considered suitable for home defense:

Adequate Stopping Power: 00 buck consists of nine to 15 large lead pellets (depending on the manufacturer), which are approximately 0.32 inches (8.1mm) in diameter. The multiple projectiles increase the chances of hitting the target and can cause significant tissue damage, potentially incapacitating an assailant.

Balanced Spread and Penetration: 00 buckshot strikes a balance between spread and penetration. It spreads out to some degree after leaving the shotgun barrel, increasing the likelihood of hitting the intended target in close-quarters situations. At the same time, it maintains enough penetration to effectively stop a threat without excessively over-penetrating walls or barriers.

Availability: Buckshot loads are widely available and commonly used by law enforcement and civilian shooters for self-defense purposes. This availability means you can find it in various brands and types, including low-recoil options designed to mitigate the recoil impulse of the shotgun.

While 00 buckshot is the most popular choice, it’s worth noting that different shotgun loads and manufacturers may offer variations in pellet count and size. Some individuals may prefer smaller buckshot sizes, such as #1 buckshot or #4 buckshot, which contain more pellets but with slightly smaller individual sizes. These can still be effective for home defense, but they may provide a different balance of spread and penetration compared to 00 buckshot.

Shopping for Shotgun Ammo?

Remington Gun Club 12 Gauge #8 Shot
Remington Gun Club 12 Gauge #8 Shot

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12 Gauge vs. 20 Gauge for Home Defense

The choice between 12 gauge ammo and 20 gauge ammo for home defense depends on several factors, including personal preferences, individual physical abilities, and the specific characteristics of the firearms chambered in these gauges. Here’s a comparison of both:

12 Gauge

  • Power and Stopping Power: Generally, 12 gauge shotguns have more power and stopping power compared to 20 gauge shotguns. The larger size of the 12 gauge shell allows for more powder and a greater number of projectiles (such as buckshot or slugs) to be loaded, resulting in increased potential for tissue damage and stopping an assailant effectively.
  • Wider Variety of Ammunition: 12 gauge shotguns typically have a broader range of ammunition choices available, including various sizes of buckshot, slugs, and specialty loads. This allows for more versatility in adapting to different home defense scenarios.
  • Recoil: One consideration with the 12 gauge is that it generally produces more recoil compared to the 20 gauge. This recoil can affect accuracy and follow-up shots, particularly for individuals who may have difficulty managing the recoil or have physical limitations.

20 Gauge

  • Manageability: The 20 gauge shotgun generally has less recoil compared to the 12 gauge. This can make it more manageable and easier to handle, especially for individuals who may have smaller frames, less upper body strength, or limited experience with firearms.
  • Size and Weight: 20 gauge shotguns are typically lighter and have smaller receivers compared to their 12 gauge counterparts. This can make them more maneuverable in tight spaces like hallways or rooms.
  • Adequate Stopping Power: While the 20 gauge may not have the same raw power as the 12 gauge, it can still provide sufficient stopping power for home defense situations when loaded with appropriate ammunition like buckshot or defensive loads.

Ultimately, the decision between 12 gauge and 20 gauge for home defense depends on your specific needs, preferences, and physical abilities. It’s recommended to try out both gauges, if possible, and consider factors such as recoil management, ease of handling, and ammunition availability in your area. Additionally, seeking advice from a knowledgeable firearms instructor or expert can provide valuable insights based on your individual circumstances.

RELATED: 12 Gauge vs 20 Gauge: Full Comparison

What Is the Best Shotgun for Home Defense?

When it comes to choosing a shotgun for home defense, there are several factors to consider, including reliability, ease of use, and effectiveness in close-quarters situations. Here are some popular shotgun types that are often recommended for home defense:

  1. Pump-Action Shotguns: Pump-action shotguns are widely considered one of the most reliable and effective options for home defense. They are easy to operate, have a good ammunition capacity, and are available in various gauges such as 12-gauge and 20-gauge. Popular models include the Remington 870 and Mossberg 500.
  2. Semi-Automatic Shotguns: Semi-automatic shotguns offer the advantage of faster follow-up shots due to their automatic cycling mechanism. They are generally reliable and have reduced recoil compared to pump-action shotguns. The Mossberg 930 and Benelli M4 are well-regarded semi-automatic options.
  3. Short-Barreled Shotguns: Short-barreled shotguns, often referred to as “riot” or “tactical” shotguns, have barrel lengths typically ranging from 14 to 18 inches. These shotguns are highly maneuverable in tight spaces, making them suitable for home defense scenarios. It’s important to check local laws and regulations regarding the ownership and use of short-barreled shotguns.
  4. Bullpup Shotguns: Bullpup shotguns have their action and magazine located behind the trigger, which allows for a shorter overall length while maintaining a full-length barrel. This design offers improved maneuverability in confined spaces. The Kel-Tec KSG and UTAS UTS-15 are examples of bullpup shotguns.

When selecting a shotgun for home defense, it’s crucial to consider your personal preferences, physical capabilities, and training. It’s recommended to handle and test different models to find the one that fits you best.

RELATED: Best Shotgun Shells for Target Practice


Choosing the best shotgun ammo for home defense requires careful consideration of factors such as terminal ballistics, shot size, and recoil management. By selecting tactical rounds, self-defense loads, or powerful buckshot shells, you can enhance your home defense capabilities. Remember to prioritize safety and adhere to local laws and regulations. Armed with the knowledge provided in this guide, you can confidently choose the right shotgun ammunition to protect your home and loved ones effectively.

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