Perhaps you saw the “John Wick Part 56” (I think it was actually 4, but who can keep track?) movie where Keanu Reeves’ character acquires a shotgun and proceeds to literally bark fire for the next several minutes, neutralizing and setting ablaze countless bad guys simultaneously with each shot. Turns out, just about everything in this scene is laughably fiction—except the fire-spitting 12 gauge.
As Director Chad Stahelski reported on “The Joe Rogan Experience,” the shotgun was loaded with Dragon’s Breath shotshells from a specialty-ammo company called Firequest. Dragon’s Breath rounds are incendiary shotshells stuffed with powdered magnesium. There are numerous YouTube videos that show the round dramatically living up to its name as each round delivers a wicked column of fire nearly 100 feet downrange. The molten magnesium is purported to burn at nearly 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit and can even stick to its target. Ouchie.
But, this article isn’t all about Dragon’s Breath or even ridiculous Hollywood gun movies. It’s to call attention to the numerous exotic rounds that are available for shotguns, and then to question their value as actual defensive rounds. What follows is a brief roundup of a few of the more common oddball shotshells.
Dragon’s Breath: These are incendiary rounds that use magnesium to produce a wall of flames; it is banned in all or parts of eight states plus Washington D.C. It’s an extreme fire hazard, which is bad if you’re near housing or national forest, but if you are, say, conducting controlled burns on your property or burning witches, they might work like magic. But using magic would make you a witch and then we get stuck in a maze of circular logic, so don’t burn witches.
Bolo: Large lead balls connected by a wire; In theory the two balls rotate around each other while in flight and the wire would slice through anything it hit. In practical terms, bolo rounds are wildly inaccurate, although at close range they do cause mass devastation as one would expect. That said, standard buckshot outperforms it in all respects.
Flechette: These shells contain around 15 or more tiny metal darts, or flechettes. It was thought that they might be used in jungle areas, because the flechettes might penetrate brush better. However, the tiny spears don’t pattern well at all, and their individual, lightweight nature doesn’t create great terminal energy, therefore their penetration is dismal. Birdshot is better in every way, which should tell you everything you need to know.
DuckShot: This novelty round created by Firequest contains 10 plastic Airsoft pellets and three tiny rubber duckies. I’m not sure what this less-lethal round’s purpose is, other than to get a laugh while separating consumers from their money. I do give Firequest proper credit, however, for its sense of humor.
Flashbang: This 12-gauge shotshell is loaded with a concussive/high-flash payload that is designed to mimic the effects of a flashbang grenade. Although I’ve never used it, reports I’ve read said it does indeed flash and bang, but it’s not nearly as bright or as loud as a true flashbang grenade.
Rubber Buckshot: These rounds have been used with some success by law enforcement as a less-lethal means to disperse and quell rioters. However, at close range, these high-velocity rounds can seriously injure and even kill. They do have their place in law- enforcement’s arsenal, however, but are dubious for the home defender.
Beanbag: This specialty round was made to provide another less-lethal round, one less dangerous than rubber buckshot because the bag keeps either No. 9 shot, actual beans or rubber pellets together so that individual pellets’ penetration is greatly lessened. New variations are low-velocity as well to further decrease the likelihood of serious injury or worse. While they are wildly inaccurate, this round can be an effective close-range, less-lethal load.
Breaching: Traditionally, military and LE breachers have used common slug loads for breaching doors. Now, however, several companies make large, cylinder-shaped slugs from powdered metal that will destroy locks and hinges at point-blank range, but will resist penetration across multiple walls. Pretty good idea if you ask me, but of questionable utility to the home defender.
Bore Cleaning: My favorite unconventional load is a round called Cleanshot that contains a series of cloth discs and pads that clean your shotgun’s bore. I’ve tried them. They work exactly as advertised.
There are countless other exotic/specialized loads available, mainly because loading shotgun shells is easy and only limited by the loader’s imagination. However, most are merely novelty items meant to shoot a few times on special occasions at practice targets to evoke laughs from your freedom-loving buddies. Apart from some types of less-lethal loads for bear/animal defense (there are some instances where legally protected bears could use a warning shot, rather than a lethal shot), home defenders would be wise, both from a physical and legal standpoint, to choose a quality buckshot or slug round, depending on their specific needs. After all, in cases where you are legally justified in using lethal force, you should probably use lethal force. And in cases where lethal force is not warranted, you should not fire your shotgun (or any firearm) with any load.
But, that doesn’t mean some of these exotic loads aren’t a whole lot of fun. In fact, after watching the latest installment of “John Wick,” I ordered a few Dragon’s Breath and DuckShot rounds specifically for blasting over my pond on Independence Day while screaming, “’Murrica!” Just make sure Rule 4 is obeyed—don’t pepper anyone with little ducks, and don’t light any fields (or witches) on fire.