The Best Shotgun Ammo For Home Defense and Target Shooting

Image of a shotgun and ammo

When law enforcement storms an enclosed area or building, better believe that one of the officers is carrying a shotgun.

Capable of blasting assailants at close range, no weapon is more feared than the shotgun. If you are looking for a weapon to strike fear into the hearts of a home intruder, the shotgun is an ideal choice.

However, you have many different choices when it comes to shotgun ammunition. In the following article, we will look at some of the most popular choices for shotgun ammunition, helping you find round best suited to your situation.

Image of officer with shotgun

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What to Look for in a Shotgun

Shotguns, alongside handguns, are among the best options for home defense.

When considering a shotgun for home defense, keep in mind the limits of the length of the barrel, as well as the kickback. When shooting at close-quarters, you don’t need to be overzealous.

Image of a shotgunFirst, you need to choose the right home defense shotgun. Typically, when people talk about personal defense guns they are referring to a tactical shotgun.

Generally speaking, you are looking for a shotgun that’s easy to maneuver, as you will be using the weapon at close range. The police and the military offer many different models designed for such situations.

Remember, you aren’t shooting at a long distance, so you can afford a shorter barrel. Just make sure that the barrel abides within federal and statutory regulations.

What to Look for in Shotgun Ammunition

There are three main types of shotgun ammunition. Before discussing them, let’s quickly go over some important shotgun terminology. Shotgun ammunition differs according to the following terms:

  • Gauge: This metric measures the size of the shotgun. It measures the diameter of the barrel. Although you would think that diameter would be a measurement of length, gauge is actually a measurement of weight. It refers to the weight of the shell itself. This term comes from the way that cannons were measured according to the weight of the cannon ball that would fit into the barrel. A twelve-gauge shotgun will fit a round that weighs one-twelfth of a pound.
  • Shot: the term shot refers to the type of pellet contained within the shell, the pellets that the shotgun fires in a spread. These pellets are numbered according to the size of the pellet. Birdshot is the smallest, buckshot the largest. They are measured in terms of their diameter.


Birdshot will have smaller pellets that will make a much larger spread.

Image of different shotgun shellsBirdshot lacks the lethality of buckshot, but will definitely make sure that you hit something. If you are looking to inflict quick damage, birdshot is an ideal choice. However, it lacks the lethality of buckshot. Here’s what birdshot looks like when fired into ballistics gel:

image of a fired birdshotThis means that you will not have the lethality needed to stop an attacker. If you are more concerned with disrupting an intruder or scaring away an ex-boyfriend, you might prefer birdshot. However, this doesn’t mean that birdshot is non-lethal.

It can often mortally wound an attacker. However, birdshot lacks the penetrating power you need to put a stop to an attacker (as evidenced by the ballistic gel), making it an inferior choice for killing power.

Birdshot also has the advantage of being the cheapest shotgun ammo as well. So the next time you hit the range to blow up some pop cans or tannerite, target birdshot loads will be the way to go.


A buckshot round will deliver much larger pellets. This amplifies the lethality of the round significantly.

Image of a BuckshotPolice often use a 0 or 00 buckshot rounds for close encounters. Buckshot will have significantly more firepower, packing a lethal punch. Notice the significant difference in power when buckshot is fired into ballistics gel:

Image of a Buckshot fired into ballistic gelMost people arming themselves for home defense prefer lethality. If you are looking to kill an intruder immediately, buckshot will deliver the coup de grâce. A 00 buckshot round has eight or nine pellets. Each pellet is about eight and a half millimeters wide.

Any of these pellets will cause significant damage or injury, mortally wounding any intruder in almost every case. Such pellets are customer tailored for self-defense, as well as hunting larger animals, packing your shotgun with the punch it needs to deliver a killing blow.

Although birdshot works well for hunting, it lacks the instant lethality necessary for home defense.

Despite the lack of lethality, the fact that birdshot can often mortally wound an intruder also makes it less ideal for people looking to inflict non-lethal damage, such as officers looking to slow a suspect or those whose moral principles prohibit them from taking a life. Non-lethal damage is best inflicted with rubber pellets.


A shotgun slug carries a large hunk of metal, rather than pellets. Police typically switch to slugs when firing at a further range. Here’s a picture of a slug:

Image of shotgun slugs on tableAs you can see, the round contains a large hunk of metal. The metal is grooved to give you a rifling effect for increased accuracy.

This lets to repurpose your shotgun for distance shooting. While not a bad idea to use as an option, if you are dealing with an intruder, typically you are dealing with him or her at close range. If a person is far enough away that you would need to use a slug, they are far enough away not to pose a threat, so you shouldn’t be shooting at them anyways.


Shotgun Shell Options


Birdshot works better for target shooting than home defense. Birdshot is probably only viable for when you want to avoid damaging your walls or neighbors when firing in your apartment. Let’s look at some of the different options:


These rounds penetrate less than five inches into ballistics gel.

image of a fired birdshotThe recommended amount for lethality is twelve to eighteen inches. This makes it much too weak.


These rounds tend to make it up to about seven inches into the gel, making it much less than ideal.

Image of #4 birdshot fired in ballistic gel#2 BIRDSHOT:

These make it slightly past ten inches, giving it a much better improvement over #8, but still not quite the punch necessary.
Image of #2 Birdshot fired in ballistic gelThese will definitely stop an intruder, but not enough to prevent him or her from squeezing off a few additional rounds.



Buckshot delivers the blow you need to stop an intruder. Just remember never to point your gun at someone unless you intend to pull the trigger. Buckshot is extremely lethal, and not to be used lightly.


A round of #4 buckshot delivers over fourteen inches of penetration into the ballistics gel.

Image of buckshot #4 fired into ballistic gelThis is definitely within an acceptable range, but not as powerful as a 00 round. Consider using #4 buckshot for apartment complexes or if you are worried about damaging furniture. This is the minimum you want to use for a tactical situation.


A number one buckshot round will deliver a much bigger punch, sending pellets as far as sixteen inches into a ballistics gel pack:

Image of #1 Buckshot fired into ballistic gelThis makes the number one a decent choice as well, giving you the lethality you need for a tactical situation.

Best shotgun ammo brands to consider for target shooting:

Fiocchi – 25 Rounds – #8 2-3/4″

Estate – 25 Rounds – #8 2-3/4″


The 00 buckshot is used by most law enforcement agencies. It gives you what you need for guaranteed lethality, making it highly recommended for home use. On average, 00 buckshot will penetrate twenty inches of ballistics gel.

Image of a buckshot 00 fired into ballistic gelAs can be seen in the image, a 00 buckshot round will exceed the 18 inch minimum, giving you an extra punch of lethality. It’s going to be the standard choice for a law enforcement tactical situation, and you should definitely consider it as an option.

Buckshot ammo options to consider:

  • #4 Buckshot: Federal Vital-Shok and Federal Power Shok are two great options to consider for shooting around thin walls.
  • #1 Buckshot: The Winchester Super-X is a great ammunition option for #1 Buckshot, as well as the military version.
  • 00 Buckshot: There are many viable options here for self-defense, including the Federal Tactical LE with flight control, as well as other military and federal brands.


A slug will give you twenty-seven degrees of penetration.

Image of a Slug fired into ballistic gelNevertheless, we don’t recommend it for shooting at close range.

Some slugs to consider:




We hope that we have helped you understand the basics of shotgun ammunition, helping you learn to make the right choice for home defense.

To quickly recapitulate the results, we looked at the different kinds of birdshot, buckshot, and slugs.

We suggested that buckshot is the superior choice for a tactical situation, as slugs are designed for close range while birdshot is designed for less lethality.

That’s why we recommend using buckshot, especially in the 00 range, for a tactical situation.

Did we miss any important ammo types for shotguns? Drop a note in the comments and let us know! 


Chris Browning

Hey everyone I'm Chris. Founder and editor at Gun News Daily. This site was originally started by my father who passed it on to me. Gun News Daily has been reporting on gun news and conservative politics since 2001. We are the original gun news source. Life-long Second Amendment Supporter.

4 thoughts on “The Best Shotgun Ammo For Home Defense and Target Shooting

  1. buckshot produces tight patterns at close range (10 yards and in)

    it acts much like a pre-fragmented slug and must be aimed

    foster type slugs at close range tend to fragment and and typically fail to perforate a target (over penetrate)

    the slug allows for controlled placement (advantage)

    buckshot can produce flyers that fail to make contact with the intended target, creating risk downrange ( there is a price tag for everything you throw downrange)

    slugs are almost a perfect close range stopper, extremely affective

    buckshot might work better on moving targets, but throw unaccounted for shot downrange

    no free lunch…..

  2. I am considering a new shotgun for home defense and hunting. I am wondering what good reduced recoil loads exist for 12 guage?

  3. Wow! I just recently obtained a Mossberg 12 guage for home defense. Asked for advice from my father in law about ammo and he suggested reading up on the different types of shells. This article is exactly what I needed. You broke this down and I now know what to buy. Excellent article.

  4. Picked up a brick(4 boxes) of bb 3” federal speed Shok at the local Walmart.1450fps and put all 60-70 pellets inside the black(8inches)@ 25 yards.stuff was only $40.wish I could find more.good all around is steel but all the better,waterfowl legal.dont have ballistic gel but there wasn’t much left of that 3/4 plywood.shot it out of my black aces bullpup with the full choke cycled well in that gun and my trusty old mossberg 500 with full choke.mossberg pattern was even tighter

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