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Buckshot vs. Birdshot
by Kyle Wintersteen - Thursday, November 15, 2012
The buckshot versus birdshot debate is practically as old as the first home-defense shotgun, and yet the argument has never really evolved. The pro-buckshot gentleman argues nothing penetrates like 00 buck, while the birdshot proponent argues birdshot minimizes collateral damage because it won't bust through drywall (though some tests indicate that birdshot will indeed penetrate drywall at close-range). Often, the discussion never waivers from these points. However, while penetration is probably the key difference between birdshot and buckshot, there is another important consideration that too often goes unheeded.
Buckshot pellets tend to stick tightly together as they proceed downrange, dumping all of their collective energy into the target. Smaller pellets such as birdshot, on the other hand, have an inherent tendency to spread out more widely. What does this mean for home defense? Let's look at a few photos. All loads were fired from a 12-gauge shotgun with an improved cylinder choke.
Buckshot at 10 yards
First, let's take a look at two photos of buckshot fired from a distance 10 yards—the maximum range at which most self-defense shootings occur, according to law enforcement statistics.
Folks, this is why at inside-the-home distances I'll trust my life to 00 buckshot over anything on the market, handguns and rifles included. Photo No. 1 shows the results of a Hornady Critical Defense load of eight 00 buckshot pellets.
Photo No. 2 is Federal Premium Personal Defense, which contains nine pellets of 00 buckshot. At this distance, both loads dumped the entirety of their energy—essentially the equivalent of four simultaneous .45 ACP handgun rounds—within a 3-inch diameter. Buckshot therefore allows the armed citizen to deliver overwhelming energy to a very specific target. Note also how easy it would be to miss with buckshot. We will save this topic for a future column, but it's worth noting. Those who choose shotguns for home defense because "you can't miss with a scattergun" are misguided. You use a shotgun for home defense because of the energy it harnesses, not as a substitute for range time and practice.
Birdshot at 10 yards
Now let's look at a couple of birdshot loads at 10 yards:
Photo 3 is Remington Lead Game Loads, a 1-ounce load of No. 7 1/2 shot, and photo 4 is B&P MB Classic, a 1 1/8-ounce load of No. 5 shot.
They would likely prove a bad guy's demise at this close proximity (the Remington load packs about 1,400 ft.-lbs. at the muzzle). Note, however, how wide their patterns are already on a 12-inch target. Such patterns are already less likely than buckshot to deliver all of their energy to the bad guy's vitals, and the disparity will only increase with distance. Averaging about 172 ft.-lbs. at the muzzle, an individual 00 buckshot pellet hits harder than a .32 ACP handgun round—just one or two delivered to an intruder would cause him to second-guess his vocation. An average No. 7 1/2 birdshot pellet, however, packs just 4 ft.-lbs. of energy. Therefore, to be effective for home defense, it's imperative for birdshot to impact the target in a highly concentrated pattern. Certainly this can be improved by experimenting with chokes and other loads.
A third birdshot round, Federal Premium Prairie Storm, a 11/4-ounce load of No. 6 shot, displayed a very tight pattern for a game load as seen in photo 5.
It uses the same "FliteControl" wad as Federal's Personal Defense Buckshot load (the VersaTite wad by Hornady Critical Defense is similar). Unlike a conventional wad, the FliteControl design stays with the payload for a longer time and distance, thereby delivering a tighter pattern to the target. It's a great shell for knocking down distant pheasants, and based on this pattern, it would probably stop a home invasion in a hurry. However, it also produced by far the stoutest recoil of any shell tested, buckshot included. Nonetheless, if you insist on using birdshot for home defense, this is perhaps a load worth looking into.
The 25-Yard Test
At 25 yards, birdshot has decreased in effectiveness by a wide margin. A home-defense scenario is less likely to occur at such distance, but these patterns demonstrate a key weakness of birdshot: With every yard, a pattern of birdshot widens incrementally, decreasing its ability to deliver a concentrated blow to burglar-sized vitals.
Additionally, all those pretty holes in the paper in photo 6 may be a bit misleading. Birdshot has slowed quite a bit by the 25-yard mark, so it could take more than a few pellet strikes to get the job done.
The heavier buckshot pellets, on the other hand, still pack plenty of punch at this yardage, and both loads tested dumped 50-75 percent of their pellets into the 12-inch target as seen in photo 7.
Chokes and loads can be tweaked, but as a general rule, the pellets—and therefore the energy—of birdshot widens and disperses over a shorter distance than buckshot. So, if you prefer to use birdshot, proper patterning is absolutely essential to ensure lethality. But, as evidenced by these patterns, delivering energy to the target is generally achieved more easily and effectively with buckshot, which is one of the reasons it remains the most popular choice for defensive purposes.
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Buckshot vs. Birdshot for Home Defense
by Sheriff Jim Wilson - Wednesday, April 12, 2017
The home-defense load for shotguns has traditionally been 00 buckshot. In a 12-gauge shotgun, this is generally a load of nine .33-caliber balls traveling at nearly 1,250 fps when they leave the muzzle.
Of course, some magnum shotshells increase both the number of pellets and the velocity. The downside of this increased performance is an increase in recoil and recovery time. A person is just not going to shoot his best with a load that really smacks him every time he presses the trigger. There is much justification for going the other way when considering buckshot vs. birdshot for home defense.
A real problem for the homeowner who is defending his home and family is over-penetration. Rounds fired inside a house may break through walls and into other rooms that could be occupied by family members. Furthermore, it is quite possible for heavy defensive bullets to completely exit the house, placing neighbors in danger. One thing is for sure: The legal system is going to hold a person responsible for each and every shot he fires, regardless of his good intentions.
A while ago, I participated in an interesting buckshot vs. birdshot experiment. Ed Head, operations manager at Gunsite Academy, had his staff build targets from construction materials. They were made of two pieces of sheetrock with insulation between, but one had an additional layer of outdoor siding. These three targets were placed about 20 feet apart to simulate three walls of a house.
We began by firing standard 9 mm and .45 ACP defensive loads. These sailed right through all three walls. A 55-grain bullet from a .223 Rem. round showed improvement because it stopped in the second wall. Then it was time to try the shotgun loads.
First to be launched was a standard 12-gauge police buckshot load, driving nine pellets at approximately 1,250 fps. I thought the buckshot would be contained in the third wall. I was wrong. It penetrated all three walls with ease and sailed into the protective backstop. In an actual home, people in the other rooms would have been in grave danger. A 1-ounce, 12-gauge slug load gave the exact same results.
Our final test was a 12-gauge field load of No. 7 1/2 shot, a 1 1/8-ounce load running at 1,250 fps. This load entered the first layer of sheetrock, making one hole that was about 3 inches in diameter. It exited that wall completely, but merely splattered on the surface of the second wall. People in that second room would likely have been hit with birdshot, but it would probably not have been life threatening.
These simple tests convinced me that, between buckshot vs. birdshot, a standard birdshot load is usually best for a homeowner’s defensive 12-gauge shotgun. In close-range encounters, as found in most home-defense situations, birdshot can be deadly. But, it loses power so fast, over-penetration is much less of a problem. In a home full of children, it would certainly be my first choice.
The advantage of the shotgun is the variety of ammunition available. Choices range from birdshot to duck and goose loads to buckshot, and finally slugs. But remember, you will probably have to fight with what’s in the gun. There likely won’t be time to do a bunch of changing.
In my case, I have two shotguns. One stays in my vehicle and is loaded with 00 buckshot. My house gun is loaded with birdshot field loads, No. 6, No. 7 1/2, or whatever is available.
The shotgun is not as glamorous as a tricked-out AR or a custom-tuned fighting handgun, but it’s a great fight stopper nonetheless. Make the wide variety of shotgun loads work for you by selecting those that will do the job without needlessly endangering those who don’t deserve to be hurt.
Added in 8 minutes :
Of course in the Indian scenario this is a purely academic discussion, as the Indian government has banned buckshot decades ago!