Let's Look At Pistol-Caliber Shotshells

New shotshell loads for standard handgun calibers provide options for defense against more than just snakes.

by
posted on May 30, 2024
DoubleTap ammo and target

While there have been shotshells for handguns for a long time, the new offerings from DoubleTap add a more defense-oriented variant.

Sadly, there were not a lot of new ammunition products introduced at SHOT Show for 2024. Well, at least not enough to which I could devote a full column. However, what I found interesting was the number of new shotshell loads for handguns that were introduced. Shotshell handgun loads are ideal for dealing with venomous snakes and can even be used on small rodents like barn rats and ever larger critters like opossums and skunks at close range.

I’ll start with a new 10 mm load that CCI has added to its current Pest Control shotshell line. This load is packed with 109 grains of No. 9 shot. It’s a great addition to CCI’s other loads in this line that include 9 mm, .38 Spl., .40 S&W, .44 Spl., .45 ACP and .45 Colt. But, also interesting was a brand- new line of handgun shotshells from CCI. These are loaded with a Catalyst lead-free primer and HEVI-Bismuth pellets. Available in 9 mm, .38 Spl./.357 Mag., .40 S&W, .44 Spl./.44 Mag., .45 ACP and .45 Colt, they’ll have about the same density and downrange energy as its lead-pellet shotshell counterparts, but will adhere to all non-toxic ammunition requirements.

The new shotshell load that really got my attention, and one I’ve actually evaluated, was from DoubleTap called DT SnakeShot. The company took an entirely different approach from CCI: Instead of using a plastic cup to contain the shot, DoubleTap inserts what appears to be a copper gas-check at the mouth of the cartridge and then crimps it in place. But that alone will not work, because for the load to be successful, DoubleTap must separate the No. 9 shot it uses from the powder charge. That’s where things get interesting. After the case is primed and charged with powder, DoubleTap inserts a full wadcutter hardcast bullet of caliber size on top of the powder charge. Then the company adds the No. 9 shot charge, which is capped at the case mouth. What you end up with is a duplex type of load, a combination of a projectile and shot.

Interestingly, I did something similar when I created my own shotshell loads for the .327 Fed. Mag. CCI does not offer plastic shot cups in .32-caliber, so after I charge the .327 Fed. Mag. case with 5.0-grains of Ramshot True Blue powder, I insert a cardboard disk and pour in 60 grains of No. 12 shot. Then, I cap it all off with a 60-grain, .32-caliber bullet. The uniqueness of this concept is that instead of just having a shotshell, you have a bullet, too. In the field, in case you need defense from a critter larger than a snake or a rat, you have that bullet to help you sort things out.

DT SnakeShot loads are available for .327 Fed. Mag., .38 Spl., .41 Mag., .44 Mag., .45 Colt and even .500 S&W. I tested the .38 Spl. load out of a 3-inch Ruger SP101, at 5, 7, 9 and 11 yards to get an idea of the pattern that might be expected, and to see how the wadcutter bullet would shoot to the sights.

At 5 yards, the 50-grain hardcast wadcutter slug impacted dead center in the target, and 110 No. 9 pellets landed inside the surrounding 5-inch circle, with coverage a shotgunner would be proud of. The shot was dispersed throughout the four quadrants of the 5-inch-diameter circle, which works out to almost 20 square inches, at 33, 23, 25, and 29 pellets per quadrant. This is an average of 27.5 pellets each in each. At 7 yards, the hardcast bullet again struck center and 91 pellets impacted inside the 5-inch circle.

At 9 and 11 yards, the hardcast bullet still struck close to the center of the target, but pattern spread became excessive. At 9 yards there were only 14 pellets inside the 5-inch circle, and at 11 yards there were 21. This would suggest that out of a 3-inch barrel, somewhere between 4 and 8 yards is about optimum for snakes because beyond that distance, pellet hits will be questionable. I’d also add that you should test this load in your revolver, especially if it has a shorter or longer barrel. Experience has shown the performance of shotshells vary a great deal with barrel length.

DoubleTap DT SnakeShot chart

As for terminal performance, you can expect the 50-grain hardcast wadcutter projectiles to penetrate between 8 and 9 inches and the No. 9 shot should push to around 2 inches. The load is advertised at 1,000 fps out of a 4-inch barrel, and out of my 3-inch-barreled SP101 it averaged 927 fps. Though I do not think it a premier self-defense load, I do believe its use in that regard is at least arguable. This is a light-recoiling load that is easy to shoot fast and accurately, and it also offers substantial tissue disruption. It would unquestionably inflict substantial pain and possibly incapacitation. You should also expect deeper penetration from the cartridges using heavier bullets, in some cases possibly as much as 12 inches or more.

Where I see these loads as most useful is when loaded in a trail or camp gun, where you might encounter a venomous snake that would need dispatching, or possibly a rabid varmint. Though a long way from what I would consider cougar or bear sufficient, I’d much rather have this load in my revolver if I encountered either of those critters—or a human threat—than I would a plain shotshell load. It would not be a bad idea to keep a couple boxes handy.

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