How to Choose the Right Buckshot Load for Home Defense

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posted on April 2, 2020
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While not as prevalent as handgun or rifle offerings, there are still many different 12-gauge rounds geared toward defense of home and hearth.

As the nerdy editor of Shooting Illustrated’s shotgun column, to me it’s odd how plenty of home-defense gurus are keen on picking the perfect handgun load for their anticipated use, but when it comes to shotguns, these same folks often say, “Eh, just gimme some double aught,” as if it’s all the same. 

Well, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is 00 buck, and there is 00 buck. The age-old standard is a 2¾-inch load that holds nine, .33-caliber cylindrical lead pellets (nearly a 1¼-ounce payload) with a muzzle velocity around 1,200 fps.

This generates about 1,690 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy and produces around 25 ft.-lbs. of recoil energy from a 7.5-pound shotgun. Typically, it’ll put all nine pellets on a 10-inch target at 10 yards or closer and about half of that at 30 yards. But, many more loads are available, depending on your desire, intended use and ability to accept recoil.

Some hold 12, 15 or as many as 18 (00) pellets, while others hold up to 54 pellets of No. 4 buck. Some more expensive pellets are copper-plated and buffered for more uniform patterns and added penetration. The payloads of some magnum loads travel at 1,600 fps or better, while others plod at 1,100 for significantly more or less energy—and more or less recoil.

Some have sophisticated wads while others are just cheap, go bang and generally demolish things at close range. The point is, defensive shotgunners have myriad loads to choose from, and so we should choose wisely based on individual, anticipated needs. 

Personally, I don’t skimp when it comes to loads that I may stake my life upon, nor do I worry about recoil so long as it’s reasonable. For this reason, I like a magnum, 3-inch 00-buck load containing 12 pellets fired around 1,300 fps. This gives my shotgun devastating patterns and penetration downrange, while its recoil remains stiff but tolerable in my heavier 8-pound shotgun. But, that’s just me. 

Reference the critical specs below pertaining to loads with which you may not be familiar, so you can compare and choose wisely. While this is far from a comprehensive list, it’s intended to lend an idea of the ballistic performance vs. perceived recoil of various 12-gauge loads, suitable for consideration in self-defense, currently on the market.

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