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Defensive Ammo Choices for Shotgun

Back in the day, folks looking to defend their home would just stuff a few 00 Buckshot loads in a shotgun and call it good. But theories and technology have evolved, and so to choose the best defensive load for your shotgun, home defenders should first consider their needs.

Many years ago, there was one prevailing thought process when it came to the best shotshell load for home defense: Small shot sizes were thought to be only for birds, and 00 Buckshot was for large game animals like deer. As a result, shotgunners used 00 Buckshot for home defense because, after all, a human adversary is much closer in size to a buck than a bird, right? Defensive Ammo Choices for Shotgun

While the theory still holds true in many cases, some scenarios may warrant more specialized loads for home defense. What follows is an overview of self-defense shotgun loads and the situations that may call for them.

Academically, each 00 Buck pellet measures .33-inch in diameter and weighs 53.8 grains. When fired at 1450 fps each individual pellet produces about 275 ft.-lbs. of energy, which is needed to bring down a deer at ranges out to 60 yards or so.

However, a long shot for a home defender is vastly shorter than 60 yards--often less than 10 yards. This leads some home defenders to believe that #7.5 birdshot has plenty of energy to stop an attacker at close range, yet may pose less of risk of passing through walls and endangering others. Then, there are people who advocate compromising by choosing medium-sized pellets like #4 shot.

Just as in most debates, there are pros and cons associated with each load. Consider the following to choose the best load for your particular needs.

00 Buckshot


  • Produces massive energy for stopping threats
  • Ample power to reliably cycle semi-auto guns


  • Relatively few pellets result in thin patterns
  • Massive energy can pass through walls and furniture
  • Recoil may be uncomfortable for some shooters

Winchester Product Suggestion: New Defender 12 Gauge Buckshot (SB1200PD)

Defensive Ammo

#7.5 Birdshot


  • Reduced penetration through walls compared to 00 Buckshot
  • Massive number of small pellets create dense patterns
  • Lower recoil than 00 Buckshot        


  • Decreased penetration compared to 00 Buckshot
  • May not have enough energy to reliably cycle semi-automatic shotguns.

Winchester Product Suggestion: AA® Heavy Target AAM127

Defensive Ammo

#4 Shot


  • Balance of penetration and power vs. safety and recoil
  • Will reliably cycle in most semi-auto shotguns.


  • The home defender may not know whether the load will under-penetrate or over-penetrate walls and obstacles, thus complicating the thought process in a time of high stress.

Winchester Product Suggestion: Super-X® High Brass Game #4 Shot (X124)

Super X ammo

Popular opinion tends to prefer being overpowered than underpowered, and so the majority of home defenders load 00 Buckshot in their shotguns, such as Winchester’s tried-and-true Double X® 9-pellet 00 Buckshot load. However, if the home defender lives in an apartment complex or in a home that contains many bedrooms where family members reside, some may opt for a birdshot such as Winchester’s AA® target loads with #7.5 shot.

Lastly, in some situations where maximum penetration and energy transfer is needed, Winchester offers a Defender® load, featuring a 1-oz rifled slug combined with three 00 Buckshot pellets.

No matter what shotshell load is chosen, it’s highly suggested that the home defender practices with it and tests it in his or her shotgun before using it in an emergency situation.

Winchester Ammunition
Winchester Ammunition
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