The sound alone of racking your shotgun’s slide should send intruders running, but what if it doesn’t…
What if you actually had to shoot it?
You’d want something that stops the bad guys.
We’ll go over the best shotgun ammo for your home/apartment plus what to use for regular target practice.
Complete with ballistics gel tests and even recommendations for different gauges.
Then end it with some helpful info on why the shotgun and more details of specific types of shotgun ammo.
Summary of Our Top Picks
Table of Contents
Best Shotgun Buckshot Ammo
“Oh, just get a 12ga shotgun with 00 buck.”
That’s probably what you’ve heard when you ask anyone about the best home defense gun and load.
These time-tested nine .38 caliber balls of lead really do their job.
But let’s take a look at the ballistics gel data I got from TTAG (who got it from a now-defunct page.)
This not-that-great picture shows what is an average of 20-inches penetration. Given the lack of clothing in front of the gel, we can guesstimate that it likely will fall towards the upper end of the 12 to 18-inches penetration sweet spot.
Good stuff…now onto some of our favorites.
Winchester 12ga Super-X 00 Buckshot
For range shooting or protection on a budget I like the Winchester Super-X line.
Its 1325 ft/s velocity gives it enough to cycle any modern semi-auto shotgun.
And all the Super-X rounds I’ve shot have gone boom when needed.
Federal 12ga 00 Buckshot Hydra-Shok
Another great round in the line of Federal’s Hydra-Shok series…I’ve been carrying their 9mm variant for years.
When you want some primo defensive rounds…I choose Hydra-Shok.
The special “Triple Plus” wads provide better shot alignment and groupings. Standard 1325 ft/sec muzzle velocity.
What’s your take on the 00 buck Hydra-Shok?
Hornady 12ga 00 Buckshot Critical Defense
Another tried-and-true brand is Hornady’s Critical Defense which ups the muzzle velocity to 1600 ft/s for extra oomph and cycling in semi-autos.
Winchester 12ga 00 Buckshot Military
These mil-spec rounds look great with their OD green hulls and high base black anodized head.
I’ve shot a lot of these with 100% reliability and I swear it’s higher velocity than the stated 1325 ft/s.
Federal 12ga #4 Buckshot Hydra-Shok
If you read around, you’ll likely see some people suggest 12 gauge #4 buckshot if you’re afraid of thin walls and adjacent family/neighbors.
Think 27 pellets of a smaller diameter…
It looks pretty good…with what looks like 14.5-inches penetration — what we would deem the minimum acceptable load.
It’s nowhere near the ammo selection of 00 buck.
Winchester 20ga #3 Buckshot Defense
We’re going down in terms of shotgun barrel diameter with 20 gauge (yup it’s opposite and weird).
Probably the smallest you’ll want to go. And with that smaller gauge the ammo selection drops as well.
For more range and defensive 20ga rounds check out Palmetto State Armory.
Best Shotgun Birdshot Ammo
Great for hunting and shooting at clays but not the best for home defense.
You can see the #8 birdshot does not penetrate the recommended 12 to 18-inches…even without clothes in front.
#4 birdshot (which is much bigger) fares only slightly better.
So let’s focus on range shooting rounds…
Federal 12ga Top Gun Birdshot
One of my go-tos for bulk birdshot shooting…
1200 ft/sec muzzle velocity which works with most higher-quality semis or broken in more budget options.
I usually go for #8 or #7.5 birdshot size.
Nobel Sport 12ga #8 Birdshot
Currently the most affordable and available on the market. 1200 ft/s so it might not work in all semi-autos.
I’ve shot other Nobel branded shotgun rounds and they’ve all been fine.
Best Shotgun Slugs
A slug is a 1 oz piece of solid lead…usually rifled for better spin and accuracy.
Definitely, overkill unless you have perfect aim and no neighbors for some distance.
Yup, you read that right…it’s around 27-inches of penetration. Great for hunting/protection against bigger critters…but not of the two-footed humankind.
Federal Vital-Shok Rifled Slug
A classic of the ages and ready to stop any threat you put it up against.
Winchester 12ga 1 oz Rifled Slug
Normally a cheaper option, but still reliable and accurate.
What Makes a Good Defensive Round?
- 10 feet away to simulate average defensive gun use distance
- Addition of clothing (you can see on the left side there are four layers for a “worst case”)
- 12-18 inches of penetration (ideal to actually hit vital organs and some leeway for bigger people or in case the intruder has limbs in front of their torso)
However, there’s not as much good data for shotgun loads so we will have to make do with what we’ve got.
Review of Shotgun Loads
Before we do…let’s quickly review the three main types of shotgun loads. For a more in-depth guide, check out our Shotgun Terms article.
What’s birdshot, you ask?
Think of it as lots of little BBs spreading out so you can hit birds/clays.
The larger the number in front of the shot (eg. #9 shot), the smaller but more plentiful the BBs.
Also, understand that the shotgun is not a magical death machine where you simply aim into a room and get everyone. Below is the pattern of 7.5 birdshot at 10-yards.
Much larger BBs than birdshot, the most plentiful buckshot round is 00 buck (“double-aught buck”). It has eight to nine pellets, each roughly 8.4mm in diameter.
You don’t want to get hit by any of those…let alone nine.
Again, larger numbers of buckshot (such as #1 or #4) have increasingly smaller pellets. While more 0’s get bigger.
This type is made for hunting and self-defense.
Buckshot requires pretty good aim. Check out standard 00 buck at 10-yards.
This type of shotgun ammo consists of one big piece of metal, usually around 1 ounce.
It’s great for well-aimed shots and has decent distance as well.
I’ve had to ring steel at 120-yards for some competitions and although it’s hard…it’s doable with slugs.
Shotgun Ammo for Other Gauges
Up til now, we’ve focused on the 12-gauge, which is by far the most popular. I’m not super familiar with the other gauges so I’m following the recommendations of Internet Armory.
Weak caliber…even with slugs. Avoid for self-defense.
Great for smaller stature people. The smaller 20 gauge delivers 70% of the lead with a 40-50% reduction in recoil when compared to 12 ga.
Lols, you can probably go with anything for this “canon.”
There you have it…our recommendations for the best shotgun ammo for home defense and target shooting.
So try a bunch of them out and see what shoots and patterns best in YOUR shotgun.
There’s also a lot more types at our favorite stores that have a good selection of shotgun ammo:
What did you end up liking the best? Let us know in the comments! And check out our other shotgun articles: