Home Defense Shotguns – What kind of ammunition should you buy for your home defense shotgun?

It’s commonly asked what kinds of ammunition go best with home defense shotguns and make the best home defense shotgun shells. Your choice has important implications for the outcome of any home invasion attempt you may encounter.

Shotgun shells incapacitate their target by crushing the material the target is made of. Think for a moment of a wrecking ball. When demolishing a building, a crane swings a wrecking ball out and then into the building — the wrecking ball smashes the surface that it hits and penetrates into the building, destroying any inner surfaces or columns it comes into contact with until its momentum and energy have been fully dissipated into the target.


A shotgun shell is typically loaded with small, circular pellets. When the shotgun’s trigger is pulled, the firing pin is released and swings into the metallic base of the shotgun shell. This ignites the gunpowder stored inside the base, creating an explosive force that propels the pellets inside the shell outward and down the shotgun’s barrel.

There are three primary kinds of shotgun rounds:

1)      Birdshot

2)      Buckshot

3)      Slugs

Bird-shot rounds are used, obviously, for types of bird hunting. The pellets are optimized to reach a target that’s far away (approximately 30 yards away, or 90 feet) but that still will maintain enough force to kill it without utterly destroying it. Birdshot is commonly called just “shot” or “number-nine shot”. “Nine” refers to the size of the pellet — we’ll return to that shortly.

Buckshot is used for hunting big-game prey, such as deer. It’s also commonly used for defense and assault by police and the military. It’s a favorite for home defense shotguns. Buckshot pellets are larger than birdshot pellets. Some of the most-used shells are the 00 buckshot (pronounced “double-aught buckshot”). This also refers to the size of the pellet. Smaller numbers refer to bigger pellets. For example, 0 buckshot pellets are smaller than 00 buckshot pellets, and 000 buckshot pellets are larger than 00 buckshot pellets.

Buckshot is typically favored over birdshot for use in home defense shotguns. To understand why, it’s helpful to illustrate the differences in pellet size. Number Nine birdshot contains 585 pellets per ounce; 00 buckshot contains just 8 pellets per ounce. Think back to the analogy above, of the wrecking ball. The difference can be visualized by imagining that same building, first with 8 cranes swinging 8 large wrecking balls, contrasted with 585 people carrying a ball-and-chain mace, all swinging at the building together.


Is it so hard to imagine that just the 8 wrecking-ball cranes could exert more destructive force by utilizing their heavy machinery in a shorter amount of time than the 585 people swinging their maces?

Buckshot shells utilize more powder and generate greater explosive force than birdshot. That means more force concentrated into fewer, larger pellets compared to the birdshot which generates less explosive force distributed over multitudes of smaller pellets.

Slugs are shotgun shells that, instead of being loaded with many small pellets, are loaded with a single large bullet — a slug. Slugs are used as ammunition for hunting big game when rifles aren’t allowed due to concern over their extreme range.  Slugs also allow a shotgun to produce the same kind of accuracy as a rifle over longer distances than shot-filled rounds will but over shorter distances than a rifle.

Slugs aren’t recommended for use in home defense shotguns. A slug fired in a house is likely to penetrate through multiple layers of wall and may strike adjacent houses. This can create a serious safety hazard for neighbors and bystanders. Buckshot pellets will discharge their force into the housing structure but are unlikely to penetrate through walls.


Buckshot provides an ideal combination of stopping power, coverage, and safety from collateral damage and are the best shotgun shells for home defense. Remember: Dick Cheney shot a 78-year old attorney with birdshot, and the attorney survived. Reports suggest that two were closer together than the 90 feet claimed in the official story. Surgeons removed over 200 pellets from the attorney’s body.

If an intruder enters your house, you’ll want the stopping power of the 00 buckshot fired at him. You want to force the encounter to a close as soon as possible while keeping your family and yourself safe.

One last word of caution: when buying ammunition for your home defense shotguns, be careful about picking up “magnum” rounds. Magnum rounds contain more shot than a regular round of the same size, and as a result they generate much greater kick. While useful in hunting, the additional firepower provided can be considered negligible in the home defense environment. The stronger kick can also reduce your accuracy when firing subsequent rounds, and the kick can really fatigue your shoulder and increase your reluctance to fire additional rounds.

Make sure you buy shotgun shells of the length that your shotgun will allow. Typical lengths for 12-gauge shotguns are 2.75 inches and 3 inches. You can fit more rounds into your stock if you use the shorter shells.

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