Best Shotgun Ammo [2020]: 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…

Popular 12ga Shotgun Ammo
Popular 12ga Shotgun Ammo

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.

12ga Shotgun Shells, Opened (L to R: Bird, Buck, Slug)
12ga Shotgun Shells, Opened (L to R: Bird, Buck, Slug)

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.

12ga 00 Buckshot, Opened
12ga 00 Buckshot, Opened

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.

Remington 870 (17)
Some Remington 870s

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.

12ga Birdshot, Opened
12ga Birdshot, Opened

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.

12ga 00 Buckshot, Opened
12ga 00 Buckshot, Opened

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, Opened
12ga Slug, Opened

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!

We go even more in-depth with over-penetration in our drywall study.

Overpenetration Test Setup
Overpenetration Test Setup

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.

Winchester 12ga 00 Buckshot
Winchester 12ga 00 Buckshot

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

4.91/5 (507)

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

12ga Slug, Opened
12ga Slug, Opened

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! And check out our other shotgun articles:

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50 Leave a Reply

  • Silence DoGood

    "The sound alone of racking your shotgun’s slide should send intruders running, …" I can't think of anything said about guns that's that stupid but still gets recited so often. First of all, you're deliberately walking into what might turn out to be a gunfight with an empty slot in your magazine tube. Second, you're alerting the bad guy that you're on your way and telling him which way you'll be coming from. So if he also has a gun and/or intends fighting it out, you've just given him all the information he needs to lay an ambush you. And lastly, eventually everything mechanical breaks. There's even an engineering term for it, "MTBF." If I walk into a fight with a round already chambered, there's a better chance I'll get off at least that one shot -- which might be enough to end the fight -- than if I had to rely on the pump action cycling correctly once more. It's not worth risking your life by saddling yourself with all those disadvantages just so you can score "cool points" by causing your shotgun to make an intimidating (but harmless) sound.

    3 months ago
  • Robert Mitchell jr

    Looking for an AR 410,upper receiver. Can you point me to the right direction?

    3 months ago
  • Christian

    Good luck in court if you use buckshot for home defense since it overpenetrates like crazy

    5 months ago
  • Byron Loyd

    Concerned with slug over penetration for home defense? Look at the Brenneke Tactical Home Defense Slug (low recoil). Also check out the Winchester Segmented Slug. Both are great for home defense and limit the concern for over penetration.

    5 months ago
    • Dale Carter

      Oops, replied to the wrong post. Sorry about that.

      4 months ago
    • Dale Carter

      I agree. The funny thing is that the article I read immediately before this one explained that racking the slide only gives away your presence and position, eliminating a significant advantage over an intruder... aka "I'm awake, know you are here and am located at the sound of the racking slide". Ideally, the only intruder that will ever hear a slide rack is the OTHER intruder. Also, unless you are highly trained to be effective in high-stress situations, such as a home invasion, get a semi-auto. I would rather take the chances on a quality semi-auto having a FTF than rely on my ability to cycle a pump without delay or a short-stroke. By "highly trained", I mean military special operators/combat vets or police SWAT. Civilians are not trained for these kind of encounters.

      4 months ago
  • Michael

    I will usually agree with the different writers at Pew Pew, occasionally enjoying and even learning a thing or two from their articles. But WHY do these people who think of themselves as "gun experts" keep telling their readers that the sound of a pump shotgun will scare off the bad guys ? Should you be facing amateurs, that "sound" might work in your favor. But should I be a "really bad guy" intent on robbing or doing you harm, that "sound" just told me where to aim and shoot. That shotgun that is being used for home defense MUST have a round chambered at all times [and the 'safety' on.] Otherwise that home defense shotgun is worthless. Not convinced ? Then ask yourself why you would want to reveal your position in the home to the bad guy(s)? Why would you want to confront the bad guy(s) with an unloaded weapon ? Any assault, armed or unarmed, against you and your loved ones must be met with an action that guarantees you will be the victor. Still not convinced? Which will stop the bad guy's attack ? Sound waves or a load of double aught (00) buckshot ?

    5 months ago
    • Dale Carter

      I agree. The funny thing is that the article I read immediately before this one explained that racking the slide only gives away your presence and position, eliminating a significant advantage over an intruder... aka "I'm awake, know you are here and am located at the sound of the racking slide". Ideally, the only intruder that will ever hear a slide rack is the OTHER intruder. Also, unless you are highly trained to be effective in high-stress situations, such as a home invasion, get a semi-auto. I would rather take the chances on a quality semi-auto having a FTF than rely on my ability to cycle a pump without delay or a short-stroke. By "highly trained", I mean military special operators/combat vets or police SWAT. Civilians are not trained for these kind of encounters.

      4 months ago
  • Mark

    You have to get in the habit of immediately racking the slide after you pull the trigger. It should not be like the video. Shot (pause) rack. It is instant. shotrack.

    5 months ago
  • guest

    I'm not so sure 12 gauge slugs are always inappropriate for self defense or home defense against human attackers. That 27" figure was probably from Brenneke slugs, which are cast of a hard lead alloy to resist deformation and are always outliers. The common one-ounce "Foster" style 12 gauge slugs are normally swaged from dead-soft pure lead. They typically pancake out to 1" or more diameter and often penetrate less than 15" of ballistic gelatin--less than #00 buckshot does. A blunt .70-caliber one-ounce hunk of lead traveling at Mach 1.5 seems to take the starch out of whitetail deer that might run half a mile with their heart and lungs blasted to shreds by a shot from a high-powered rifle. I think it might put a hurting on bad guys too.

    5 months ago
    • Byron

      I can't disagree with you, however Brenneke does make a Tactical Home Defense Slug (low recoil) for less penetration concerns. Winchester also has a Segmenting Slug that does not over penetrate.

      5 months ago
  • M Jones

    Disappointed not to see any reference to Brenneke Tactical Home Defense (slug) and Federal Premium Personal Defense product (buckshot). Both available in 12 gauge and 20 gauge. These are two reputable, well known manufacturers offering product specific to this article. Omitted because they might not fit your opinions?

    8 months ago
    • Byron

      Agree with you about the Brenneke THD slug. Also, Hornady Critical Defense 00 Buck is good too.

      5 months ago
  • Sarge

    Hornady Critical Defense

    11 months ago
  • Damon Newcomb

    After years of research and consideration, I'll go with a magnum load of number 1 Buckshot any day!

    11 months ago
  • Charles Cullens

    Very informative, but I have decided on #4 buckshot for home defense.

    1 year ago
  • 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 year ago
    • Fouler

      I agree. I don't want things ruined in my house or continuous answers to the police.

      6 months 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.

    1 year ago
    • CD

      Several revolvers have, in recent years, allowed .410 shotgun shells to be fired from them (Taurus Judge and others I can't remember). Although I hear terrible things about most of those revolvers, few dispute the effectiveness of a .410 shell being fired from those revolvers for defensive purposes, particularly relative to smaller pistol calibers. But when it comes to firing the same thing from an actual shotgun with a much longer barrel and with likely greater accuracy due to being fired from the shoulder, suddenly .410 becomes something to avoid? I couldn't agree with you more that, for a smaller, lighter, or more frail person, being confident with their .410 would be better than them being afraid of their own 12 gauge.

      1 month 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

    1 year ago
    • Mark

      Getting hit by any load would suck but the article is about the most effective loads. #6 could work if that is all you have. If you have a plan for home defense, why not use what is going to stack the odds in your favor? Buck shot will be a better load. No debate.

      5 months ago
  • Greg

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

    1 year 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.

    1 year 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

    1 year ago
    • james boland

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

      1 year 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.

      1 year 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! :-)

        1 year ago
  • Jim Hovater

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

    2 years 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.

    2 years ago
    • Mark

      I agree racking the shotgun is over rated. However, Shotguns are not designed to have a chamber in the round when not in use. If they are knocked over, they can fire. A safer alternative is keep the shotgun in “cruiser mode”. Rack and then pull the trigger. Put the shotgun on safe. Load the magazine. Store locked up.

      5 months ago
      • Dale Carter

        If the shotgun is stored locked up, how can it be accidentally knocked over? I am guessing you mean locked in a safe or other container. Unless locked in my safe, All of my guns are loaded with a round chambered, but they are secured in a way to prevent accidental drops or contact, usually in a drawer or a holster.

        4 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.

    2 years 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.

    2 years ago
    • David

      Oops, typo there - thanks for finding that!

      2 years 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.

        2 years 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.

          2 years 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

    2 years ago
    • David

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

      2 years ago
      • James kuhn

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

        2 years 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.

    2 years 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.

      2 years 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".

      2 years 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...

    2 years 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.

    2 years 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.

    3 years 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.

    3 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      You're so welcome!

      3 years 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 .

    3 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      You're welcome Bob!

      3 years ago
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