Best Shotgun Ammo [2018]: 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…

Best Buckshot Ammo for Home Defense

  • #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 (93)

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.

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!

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Jim Hovater
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Jim Hovater

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

Michael Norris
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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.

B.
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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… Read more »

Michael Norris
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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.

David, PPT Editor
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Oops, typo there – thanks for finding that!

Michael Norris
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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.

Michael Norris
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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.

James Kuhn
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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… Read more »

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

James kuhn
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James kuhn

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