Best Shotgun Ammo [2019]: Home Defense & Target Shooting

*Ka-CHUNK*

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?

KSG with Shells
KSG with Shells

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.

Here is the quick list of the ammo we like and recommend:

Ammo NameTypeNotePenetrationRecommended Use
Estate #8 2-3/4″ #8 BirdshotCheap!N/ATarget shooting, training.
Federal Power Shok - 12 Gauge - 2-3/4" #4 Buck#4 BuckshotLowest acceptable power load for HD14.5"HD if over-penetration is a prime concern
Winchester - 12 Gauge - 2-3/4" Super-X #1 Buck #1 BuckshotGoldilocks load, best stopping power & penetration16"Home Defense
Federal LE Tactical with FliteControl - 12 Gauge - 2-3/4" 00 Buck 9 Pellets00 BuckshotHigh stopping power20"Home Defense if over-penetration is not a concern.
Fiocchi LE Reduced Recoil - 12 Gauge - 2-3/4" 00 Buck00 BuckshotLow-recoilN/AHome Defense if standard loading is to much power for the shooter.
Winchester Super-X - 12 Gauge - 2-3/4" HP Rifled SlugSlug ShotBest for hunting, not HD27"Hunting/Large Animal Protection

Table of Contents

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Why The Shotgun?

“Oh, just get a shotgun with 00 buck.”

That’s probably what you’ve heard when you ask anyone about the best home defense gun and load.

They’re probably right though…the shotgun is the OG of the three things you want in a defensive gun:

  • Maximum damage
  • Minimal wall penetration
  • Minimal skill to aim and shoot

But you still got to choose the correct round otherwise you’ll end up with a pissed off bad guy.

Don’t have a shotgun yet?  Check out our Top 5 Home Defense Tactical Shotguns first.

Mossberg 500 vs Remington 870
Mossberg 500 vs Remington 870

What Makes a Good Defensive Round?

In our other defensive round reviews (9mm, .45 ACP, .40 S&W, 5.56/.223), we show examples of how the FBI conducts ballistics gel tests to test loads.

Ballistic Gel Testing
Ballistic Gel Testing
  • 10 feet away to simulate average defensive gun use distance
  • Addition of clothing (you can see on the left side there are 4 layers for a “worst case”)
  • 12-18″ 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 due with what we’ve got.

Review of Shotgun Loads

Before we do…let’s do a quick review of the three main types of shotgun loads.  For a more in-depth guide, check out our Shotgun Terms article.

Birdshot

Think lots of little BB’s that spread out a decent amount so you can hit…birds/clays.  The larger the number in front of shot (eg. #9 shot), the smaller but more plentiful the BB’s.

12 ga Birdshot
12 ga Birdshot

Also see 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.

7.5 Birdshot at 10 Yards
7.5 Birdshot at 10 Yards, Shooting Illustrated

Buckshot

Much larger BB’s than birdshot.  The most plentiful buckshot round is 00 buck (“double-aught buck”) which has 8-9 pellets, each roughly 8.4 mm in diameter.  You don’t want to get hit by any of those…let alone 9.

Shot Size Chart, Shotgunworld
Shot Size Chart, Shotgunworld

Again, larger numbers of buckshot (such as #1 or #4) get increasingly smaller pellets.  While more 0’s get bigger.

Made for hunting and self-defense.

00 Buckshot, Paracles Tech
00 Buckshot, Paracles Tech

Buckshot requires pretty good aim.  Check out standard 00 buck at 10 yards.

00 Buck at 10 Yards, Shooting Illustrated
00 Buck at 10 Yards, Shooting Illustrated

Slugs

One big piece of metal (usually around 1 oz).  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.

12ga Slug
12ga Slug

Best Shotgun Birdshot Ammo

Great for hunting and shooting at clays but not the best for home defense.

If you read around more you’ll likely see that some people suggest #4 birdshot if you’re afraid of thin walls and adjacent family/neighbors.

But let’s take a look at the ballistics gel data I got from TTAG which got it from a now defunct page.  You can see it differs from the FBI protocol so we’ll have to adjust.

  • 3 yards
  • Shot from an 18″ Remington 870 Marine Magnum
  • No cloth in front
#8 Birdshot Gelatin
#8 Birdshot Gelatin

You can see the #8 birdshot does not penetrate the recommended 12-18″ even without clothes in front.

#4 birdshot (which is much bigger) fares only slightly better.

#4 Birdshot
#4 Birdshot

What about #2 birdshot?

#2 Birdshot
#2 Birdshot

Better…but just at the lower cusp of what is deemed acceptable.  And still without clothing.

Looks like it will leave some pretty terrible wounds but not guaranteed to stop the baddie with hits to important parts.

Especially if they are bundled up.

Birdshot for Target Shooting

Best Shotgun Buckshot Ammo

Let’s take a look at #4 buckshot.

#4 Buckshot
#4 Buckshot

It looks pretty good…with what looks like 14.5″ penetration.  What we would deem the minimum acceptable load.  Just nowhere near the ammo selection of 00 buck.

How about if we go with #1 buckshot?

#1 Buckshot
#1 Buckshot

The #1 buck exhibited an average of 16″ penetration and the testers needed another block to catch all of the 16-pellets of .30 caliber lead death.  However, not that many choices when compared to 00.

Now how about the tried and true 00 buckshot?

00 Buckshot Gel
00 Buckshot Gel

This not-that-great picture shows what is an average of 20″ 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 12-18″ penetration sweet spot.  Good stuff!

Now onto our recommendations…

#4 Buckshot

Go with the trusted names of Federal Vital-Shok and Federal Power Shok.  Not the best or much choices, but the minimum of what we would consider as a good shotgun defensive round.  Maybe consider if you have really thin walls in your apartment.

#1 Buckshot

I’d go with the Winchester Super-X.  The next step up and maybe the Goldilocks round (just the right amount of penetration).

00 Buckshot

Lots more choices here that directly cater to self-defense.  I like the Federal Tactical LE with Flight Control if you have the aim or the other Federal brands for a more standard 00.  A personal favorite and what I use is the Winchester Military version.  Lots of oomph though!

Low Recoil Buckshot

Might be a great balance between power and recoil.  I haven’t tried these out but there are great reviews for both Remington and Rio.

What’s your take on buckshot for self-defense loads?

Readers' Ratings

4.96/5 (225)

Your Rating?

Best Buckshot Ammo for Target Practice

Ideally, you’ll practice with what you might have to use at home.  But it does add up.  I like Wolf 00 for everything affordable.

Best Slugs for Home Defense

Definitely, overkill unless you have perfect aim and no neighbors for some distance.

Slug Ballistics Gelatin
Slug Ballistics Gelatin

Yup, you read that right…it’s around 27″ of penetration.  Great for hunting/protection against bigger critters…but not of the two-footed humankind.

Federal – 5 Rounds – 2-3/4″ Rifled Slug

A classic of the ages and ready to stop any threat you put it up against.

Winchester – 5 Rounds – 2-3/4″ Rifled Slug

Normally a cheaper option, but still reliable and accurate.

Fiocchi – 10 Rounds – 2-3/4″ Slug (Low Recoil)

If you need something with a little less shoulder mashing kick, this is for you!

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.

.410 Gauge

Weak caliber…even with slugs.  Avoid for self-defense.

20 Gauge

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.

#3 Buck is recommended.

10 Gauge

Shotgun Shell Comparison, Extraordinary Ammo
Shotgun Shell Comparison, Extraordinary Ammo

Lols, you can probably go with anything for this “canon.”

Conclusion

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 the best in YOUR shotgun.

What did you end up liking the best? Let us know in the comments!

29 Leave a Reply

  • poderoso

    I have pistols, rifles and shotguns but if I find an intruder in my house I'd get more satisfaction using my baseball bat to his gizzards so I have someone to insult and make a believer out of while I'm waiting for the cops to arrive. Also the thought of looking at someone with either bird shot or buck shot all in their face and getting blood on my rug grosses me out. *I can drop and disarm anyone with my bat. I'll save the howitzers for taking down big game or in defense against possible attacks from a crazed group of radicals or whatever else pops up. Yes I keep them safely locked and loaded.

    1 second ago
  • Tyler

    I gotta say, dismissing 410 bore as too weak is almost like saying that a 38 special is non-lethal. Is it the best? That depends on the shooter and what THEY shoot best. I assure you any home defense shotgun in 410 loaded with 000 buck is more than adequate to stop a threat. Those five pellets at 15 feet are devastating, so don't kid yourself and don't dissuade people who are recoil averse from using this very effective equipment. Very misleading comment.

    3 weeks ago
  • Dave

    #6 shot from a 12G to the face or body at 10-20 feet will take out a person... give me a break keyboard worriers

    4 months ago
  • Greg

    Good stuff. I load plain Federal #1 Buck in my 12 gauge and sleep well at night.

    4 months ago
  • Edwin Harris

    32 years in law enforcement, 20 as a firearms and defensive tactics instructor. In the field #1 buck is just as effective as 00 and you get more chances to hit something. Like all weapons it's not what you're shooting but where. You need just as much aiming and control with the scatter gun as you do with your pistol. Just like there is no magic bullet there are no magic guns.

    5 months ago
  • Jim

    I was mildly disappointed to not see Ddupleks represented, neither here, nor in the article at https://www.pewpewtactical.com/exotic-shotgun-ammo/ In my opinion, these rounds should certainly be in one of these articles, if not both. I'll include a link here in case you've not run across them previously. ;-) https://www.ddupleks.com/hexolit-32

    5 months ago
    • james boland

      dduplex been collecting for long time.any of the slugs my choice ,just my opinion.loce all the comments.

      4 months ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      Thanks for the suggestion - I've never heard of it before but looking through their website...I would have some issues with it. First would be the fact that they/their marketing team believe that gut shots are humane. One video has them literally shooting the CGI deer in the gut and then bragging about how because of the fragmentation of the round, it will still create a wound channel that barely reaches the tip of a vital organ. That is kind of horrifying to find on a companies website.

      5 months ago
      • Jim

        Hi David. Thanks for the quick response. I had not seen that demonstration, although I do know that bad hits do happen in real life so I guess I could understand the experiment if treated as such. I have no personal experience with these rounds in living tissue, but do keep 7 of them in my Benelli for home defense. I discovered them several years ago, found them fascinating, bought 30 boxes or so and that's about it. All that aside, I believe this was the first article I've read from your site and judging by the content, tone and attitude, I can assure you I'll be back regularly. Thanks again for the followup and for creating great content! :-)

        5 months ago
  • Jim Hovater

    In the photo lineup, the 16ga and 20ga shells are out of order.

    9 months ago
  • Michael Norris

    I should have mentioned this earlier. Racking a shotgun gives the intruder your location and what you are armed with. I have no children or other humans living with me, so my weapons are always fully loaded and chambered.

    11 months ago
  • B.

    IDK id this can help anyone, but i find breneke k.o, black magic, and S.F. short magnums to be very accurate in my 20" mossberg. and pack a punch too. want to try DDupleks broadheads and hexolit 32's next. for buckshot i go number 1 or 00. I like the federal premiums with copper plated pellets. they have a tight pattern and i do not want to clean up bad guy splatter residue plus do expensive home repairs too. I only do buckshot for HD. not slugs, but keep some in my sidesaddle in case the fight goes beyond the walls of my castle.

    1 year ago
  • Michael Norris

    Nice article, but some misinformation. 20 ga. does not come in 00 buck. It comes in #1, #2, #3, and #4. My 20 is loaded with Federal 3" magnum #2 shells. 18 copper plated .27 caliber pellets per shell. I wouldn't use anything smaller than #3 for home defense.

    1 year ago
    • David

      Oops, typo there - thanks for finding that!

      1 year ago
      • Michael Norris

        You are quite welcome.. I try to keep up with articles about 20 ga. shells. Some of my age (64) and increasing senility are going to the 20 as a more controllable and less painful alternative.

        1 year ago
        • Michael Norris

          That should read "increasing disability" but the spellchecker substituted "senility". I have all my mental faculties intact. It is the physical faculties that are wearing out.

          1 year ago
  • James Kuhn

    Thanks, Eric! Great Article and extremely timely. My home defense (HD) has been handled quite well over the years with pistols and rifles. Now, I'm getting a little older (64) and my eyes are getting worse with every passing year. I felt a shotgun was a better HD option for me. After a great deal of consideration I've decided my new Mossberg 590A1 will be stoked with #4 Buck for my HD load. I live in a Townhouse with neighbors on each side. My 'firing lane' is east and west. Only! Should #4 Buck prove inadequate, I still have my Browning HP and my PWS Mk 1 Mod 1 AR. Sadly, I left my LAR back in the Navy. For you young guys, it's kind of like an AT-4. Smiles. I haven't had a shotgun since I was a kid. Duck and Upland Bird hunting kind of went by the wayside once I discovered 'girls' and center-fire rifles. Big Smiles! JLK

    1 year ago
    • David

      Great choice! Sights on that shotgun, ghost ring? 3 dot? Red Dot?

      1 year ago
      • James kuhn

        Ghost Ring.. I'm trying to find a Big Dot Tritium Dovetail front sight.

        1 year ago
  • Marc

    I bought Winchester super speed. 23/4 1350 volocity. 8 shot. Not the best or is it worst for home defense. I need to know what is best.

    1 year ago
    • Stan Robertson

      I use #3 buck in my 20 gauge with an 18 1/2 barrel. I use 00 buck reduced power loads in my 12 gauge Mossberg 88. Either will get the job done at self-defense distance.

      11 months ago
    • David

      What you have is birdshot, strongly NOT recommended for HD. We recommend, and I personally load in my HD shotgun, Winchester Super-X #1 Buck, 12ga, 2-3/4". #1 Buck is the Goldilocks loading providing around 16" of penetration with shot that is still heavy enough and large enough to cause massive soft tissue damage. If you live in a small home, such as a condo or apartment, or have family members/pets in other rooms you might want to use a slightly less powerful loading such as Federal Power Shok #4 Buck, 12ga, 2-3/4".

      1 year ago
  • epickett

    I might end up choosing #4 buckshot for my 12ga at home, but I can't PRACTICE with it. My local ranges only let you shoot shotguns using slugs...

    1 year ago
  • mick

    Okay i use no 6 bird shot for home defense which is plenty of power at 10 ft to obliterate a human target, cloths or not. A gel test is only going to tell you a penatration on something that flexes on contact. A human stomach or ribs don't flex but shatter and ripped into shreds. Watch https:// www. Youtube. Com/watch?=zarlevybugc. Using actual matiral that simulates the human body is the true test of shot damage.

    1 year ago
  • Roland

    From experience. 60 years ago my grandfather used a 12 ga shotgun with a shotgun shell which had the shot taken out. He was going to use it to discourage a stray dog. At 30 ft the wad alone blew the top of the dog's head off.

    1 year ago
  • hd_sporty

    I been researching for the best type of shells for my new mossberg 590, and trying to get a bit of information on the different brands of ammo, for home defense and you have mention a few that was in my sights with good scores. Thank you for your reviews on this subject.

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      You're so welcome!

      1 year ago
  • Bob

    I like this article. Thank you Eric Hung. I don't shoot much at all but the way the winds are blowing in our country I do want to be perpared for anything. I want to be safe and quick to control any bad situation on my property. I'll be heading to a range soon to practice.. I do hope I'll only use my shotgun for target practice. Peace .

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      You're welcome Bob!

      1 year ago
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