The Great Equalizer: Shotguns & 00 Buckshot

posted on June 28, 2019
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The old timers called it “The Great Equalizer.” No, they weren’t talking about the Winchester rifle. Nor were they referring to Colt’s popular Peacemaker revolver. They were showing their esteem for the big-bore shotgun, loaded to the hilt with 00 buckshot. 

In the 1880s, El Paso City Marshal Jim Gillette walked into a saloon where Dallas Stoudenmire and one of the Clements brothers–two exceptional fighting men–were about to shoot it out. Cocking the hammers on his sawed-off shotgun, Gillette said, “Now you boys behave yourselves or I’ll cut you half in two.” They behaved.

This was not an unusual response to the fighting shotgun. I have personally been involved in a half-dozen situation where the presence of a shotgun–pointed in the appropriate direction–caused a matter to be resolved without a shot being fired. People who don’t know much at all about guns know that a shotgun will hurt you–and hurt you bad.

Handguns, any handgun, does not have enough power for us to expect them to drop an attacker with a single shot. That’s the reason that we teach defensive students to deliver multiple shots to the intended target. Consider this:  The 230-grain .45 ACP cartridge develops about 355 foot pounds of energy, while the 00 buckshot load in a 12-gauge shotgun will give you something in excess of 1,500 foot-pounds of energy. More than four times more powerful? Yes, I think so.

You’ve probably figured out by now that I think the shotgun is a dandy defensive tool. But I sure don’t buy into this business of scaring an attacker by just racking the slide on the pump shotgun. Sure, it might happen, but I think it's unwise to expect it.

I like to keep pump-action shotguns in a condition that law enforcement calls cruiser-ready. That is, you have a full magazine but an empty chamber with the hammer (or striker) down and the safety off. At the first indication that the situation might call for gunplay, the action is cycled and a round is chambered. If this causes a cessation to the problem, all is good. If it doesn’t, then you are ready to deal with the threat. In this manner, you are deadly serious and no time is wasted on what might be a useless exhibition.

I have yet to see a documented account of a gunfight that involved more than 3-4 shots from a shotgun. However, I do have a butt-cuff on my gun that holds extra ammunition. That butt-cuff is loaded with slugs, in case the encounter stretches beyond 25-30 yards. Slugs are a nice option for the defensive shotgun and the deadest man I’ve ever seen was hit in the upper face with a 12-gauge slug.

I like rifles, and I like pistols. But, faced with a potentially deadly, close-range encounter, especially against multiple attackers, I’ll take a 12-gauge shotgun loaded to the hilt with 00 buckshot. The old timers were right. It is a great equalizer.


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