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Anyone that has ever ventured into the shotgun section of an internet gun forum has likely witness a heated argument over various defensive loads. Most folks are of the school of thought that will accept nothing less than 00 buckshot and/or slugs. A few others feel that #1-#4 buck better suits their needs, perhaps for liability/safety reasons, living in an apartment or for some other over-penetration concerns. Then there is another small group of passionate individuals that insist on the use of game loads such as birdshot for defensive use.

Well, we all know that any information acquired on the internet should be taken with a pretty hefty pinch of salt. Better yet, we can find out for ourselves what works and what does not.

Today I tested 3 loads.
1) Sellier & Bellot 2.75” 00 Buckshot 9-pellet
2) Sellier & Bellot 2.75” #4 Buckshot 21-pellet
3) Winchester Universal 2.75” #8 Birdshot

The test gun is a Remington 870 Express with an 18.5” cylinder bore (no choke) barrel. The test medium was a single, water-soaked phonebook (see the page “Phone Book Ballistics”). We fired all shots at 7 yards.
First, lets look at the 00 buck… on the entry…

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… and on the exit, it looks like all of the pellets fully penetrated the book without hesitation. They sure made a mess of mister ambulance chaser.

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Next, lets look at the #4 buckshot… on entry…

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… and on the exit, it looks like only a couple of pellets made it all of the way through. Most of them were stopped in the far back of the phone book. Not the best penetration, but I still consider this adequate considering that there are 21 of the darn things making 7”-9” puncture wounds in your enemy all at the same time. Many of these will still reach the vital areas needed to stop the attack.

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And now, lets see what the #8 birdshot did to it… on entry…

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… notice how I didn’t post an image of the exit side? Though the birdshot made a really ugly entry wound, not one single pellet made it through the book. Actually, the deepest pellets were found less than half way through… equating to maybe 4”-5” of total penetration. And, this is at only 7 yards. What do you think will happen at 15 yards? Unless your goal is to merely disfigure your attacker, make them mad at you for injuring them, or the attacker is just a rabid squirrel, this is not useful defensive ammo in my humble opinion.

When choosing your defensive shotgun ammo, remember that you can’t rely on pain infliction or intimidation alone to stop an attack. In many cases, the attacker has lost the capacity for rational thought. They may be juiced up on drugs, adrenaline, psychotic delusions, or all of the above. In my limited knowledge of trauma medicine, only two things stop attackers reliably.

1) Blood loss, which can take anywhere from seconds to minutes to hours, and
2) Disrupting the central nervous system, which entails brain/spinal trauma.

These are the only things that guarantee the attacker will stop. Other factors in so-called “stopping power” such as energy transfer, shock, pain, fear, broken bones, severed limbs, etc… may also stop an attacker. However, they do not do so with any level of consistency. So please, try to choose ammo that is designed for the animal you are using it on… and save the birdshot for the birds.

In Review: 12ga 00 Buck vs. #4 Buck vs. Birdshot
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7 thoughts on “In Review: 12ga 00 Buck vs. #4 Buck vs. Birdshot

  • October 20, 2020 at 09:54

    Antifa wears body armor and so do most home invaders. Shotguns are for birds only now. 2020 election of apeasing Bidn will encourage antifa projectionists to kill home owners. Hit them with thr most powerfull rifle rounds you have

  • October 17, 2020 at 19:02

    I think this is a misreading of the results, and also a simplification of the utility of any defensive load. Let me explain.

    No doubt that #00 Buck will penetrate more than the other two selections, but if penetration is what you’re after, use slugs. At any range that you can hit a slug will be more effective than any buckshot load.

    The advantage of #4 Buck is that on unarmored two-legged varmints within 20 yards you are going to do a LOT more damage. The difference between #00 Buck and #4 Buck is the difference between being shot 9 times with a 9mm and 24 times with a .22 LR… or 10 square inches of surface area versus 18 square inches of surface area. At longer ranges, the heavier #00 pellet will penetrate more, but within 20 yards both rounds will fully penetrate a human torso. Both will hurt, but just as with birdshot the smaller #4 buck will put more pellets on target and cause more simultaneous damage. LE uses #00 Buck because they shoot at more than just bad guys… they shoot at door hinges, or at car tires, or at cars with bad guys in them. For their mission, #00 is more versatile. For the average home defender, overpenetration is undesired, larger patterns are desired, and the bad guys won’t be wearing body armor.

    Finally, most people discount the effect of pain as a fight stopper. I have a friend who was a street cop for almost three decades. He ran into a crew of car thieves who ended up wrecking their car but came out of the vehicle with guns drawn prepared to fight. One round of #4 Buck each ended the fight, with one bad guy getting killed immediately and the other having all of the skin, flesh, muscles, etc., removed from the bones of both forearms (he was pointing a sawn-off shotgun at the officer when he was shot, and the officer was looking at the muzzles pointing at him and let fly… we shoot where we look). After a long stint in the hospital for torso wounds and his forearms, he went to prison. In short, it worked. When people get shot they stop thinking about attacking and start thinking about running away. This is true of even experienced fighters… look at how many MMA fighters who are used to the ordinary pain of getting hit in the face have the fight taken out of them with enough leg kicks or a broken nose.

  • May 24, 2020 at 07:34

    Years ago I was in Louisville KY visiting a friend. An armed robber was pursued by a police officer who was fired upon. The officer returned fire with 12 GA # 4 buck. The bad guy went down hard and succored to his injuries then and there.
    My father had a small iron working business in an area having crime issues. A Captain in the Cleveland PD gave my Dad a box of No 4 buck> He advised him that they preferred No 4 over OO
    as they got better results. of course that was over 40 years ago…………

  • January 9, 2014 at 01:05

    Actually shotguns work differently than rifles and pistols. They don’t have to penetrate to be effective. They deliver a shock to the nervous system by many simultaneous hits. So bird shots will be just as effective as buck shots. They just work differently.

    Reply from Admin: It sounds pretty good in theory, but the data indicates otherwise. In numerous encounters involving shotgun exchanges, birdshot has been deemed ineffective as an instant stopper, unless used at extremely close range. Only two things can guarantee a quick stop; central nervous system disruption and blood loss. Shock and pain only works on sober, sane people. If birdshot worked well on humans, the police and the military would have likely picked it up by now. They haven’t.

  • December 28, 2012 at 13:05

    Thanks, just the info i was looking for!

  • January 4, 2010 at 19:17

    From what I’ve seen, reduced recoil loads pattern extremely tight… like one big giant ball.

  • December 22, 2009 at 16:23

    Nice review. Its hard to beat good old 00 buckshot for 2-legged predators.


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