There’s a lot of crappy gun advice out there.  One example I hear all the time is, “Load your home defense shotgun with birdshot. It’ll mess up the home invader, but it won’t go through the walls and endanger your children.” 

Let me get this straight. You can put your fist through sheetrock, but try as I have on occasion, I’ve never been able to put my fist through a human opponent. And if what you’re shooting will go deep enough into a large, aggressive human male to stop him, what makes anyone think it won’t go through sheetrock, and in any case what are they doing firing in a direction where their children’s bedrooms are the backstop?

I said as much back in the 1980s when I wrote “StressFire II: Advanced Combat Shotgun,” and I stand by that advice today.

Greg Ellifritz, one of the brightest stars in modern self-defense training today, agrees. Here’s what he had to say on the matter last week in his very useful blog: Please take the time to follow the links Greg encloses therein.

My recommendation is #1 buckshot in the standard “express” load for the 12 gauge semiautomatic defense shotgun: 16 .30 caliber projectiles that seem to give optimum penetration in homicidal humans and in most shotguns I’ve tried it in, optimum pattern density.  I seldom see an autoloading shotgun that is absolutely reliable with the lighter “low recoil” or “tactical” loads, but those work fine in pump guns and of course give softer recoil. The Federal #1 Buck low recoil load is hard to find, but worth looking for.  In a 20 gauge, the most readily available buckshot load is #3, which consists of 20 .25 caliber pellets, and at home defense distances, that’ll do. 

Make sure the home defense plan is for the family to hunker down if there’s a home invasion, and you have pre-planned an interdiction point at which to confront the intruder(s) where you have cover, they don’t, and your loved ones aren’t anywhere in your “shooting background.”


  1. Paul Harrell has an interesting video on YouTube that discusses these kinds of questions. Here is the link to it:

    In the past, I used a 12 gauge shotgun with 00 Buck for home defense. However, after learning more about it (and watching a few videos like the one above from Mr. Harrell), I recently switch guns.

    My current “Home Defense” shotgun is a short-barrel Mossberg 20 Gauge pump loaded with Federal 2 3/4 inch Buckshot shells. As Mas notes above, these carry 20 #3 Buckshot pellets per shell with a Factory-listed muzzle velocity of 1200 FPS. I figure it will do the job just fine without the blast and fury of a full power 12 gauge load. I only use birdshot for fun stuff like busting clay pigeons. I don’t use it for a defense load.

  2. Regarding the dubious advice one finds all over the internet about any subject imaginable, I guess it must be an unfortunate part of human nature to repeat that advice and promote it as expert opinion. More concerning is when it deals with possible life and death decisions, as in this case. Do people expect birds to kick in their door?

  3. At NRAAM I asked at the Federal booth about #1 buck, they said they are redesigning the Flite Control wad for #1. Of course, even when it was in production it was hard to find, most folks want OO, and the #1 mostly went to agency sales. I have an alert set up on Ammo Seek…

    When I took the Defensive Shotgun class at Firearms Academy of Seattle we watched a video Marty Hayes made (back when it was really in Seattle) testing the penetration of various shotgun loads. The “target” he used for this was a wooden box with three layers of .75″ sheetrock, and multiple (eight, I believe) layers of .75″ plywood. This does a decent job of simulating the construction of most houses standing today.
    #8 Dove shot had some penetration through 3 layers of sheetrock; 7 1/2 had full penetration through 2 layers of sheetrock and partial through the third. #6 birdshot had full penetration through 3 layers of sheetrock.
    So if you’re in the bedroom of the standard house built in the last 50 years or so and discharge your 12 gauge, you can expect to have at least some shot go through two layers of sheetrock and into the room the other side of the wall.

    • For in-house defense against bipedal pests, No. 1 buck-shot is a winner. The military stopper “Malaysian Load” can be one or more large steel balls, accompanied by No. 6 bird-shot. Less air space theoretically occurs between such small shot than with buck, giving more mass per round. It is a load that has proven very effective at jungle distances such as 10 meters. Also, bird-shot shells can be cut so as to make the shot hit in a cohesive mass much like a slug, useful in a pinch for defense vs. large predators. Beware, though, of shooting bird-shot at bears to warn them away. At least one grizzly has been fatally wounded from a lung penetration by a No. 8 pellet. Also, Mr. Biden<, firing indiscriminately in the air in Arizona with any firearm is likely to be found felonious.

    • ??? 3/4-inch dry-wall?
      ??? 8 layers of 3/4-inch plywood ( 6 inches )?
      maybe a different buliding code there

      • The code requirements for fire walls are different in many places than for simple interior walls. The wall between garage and living quarters being a possible example. They make special drywall for that purpose and it’s much thicker/expensive than the stuff generally used on interiors. I had to install a fire wall in my parents house before I could sell it as the garage was in the open basement.

        Seeing that list of materials, I have to guess that they’re creating an extreme example to demonstrate exactly how much stuff shot can penetrate. I’ve no clue where 3/4 inch plywood comes in with respect to home construction with the possible exception of the corner bracing. EXCEPT that at one time, 3/4 inch plywood penetration was considered equivalent to sufficient penetration of tissue to create a serious/fatal wound. Possibly that was the intent.

  4. Hello Mas – Good advice. I’ve always used #4; do you feel that’s inadequate? Granted, placement is foremost; however, I have a feathered flock of parrots that don’t adhere to my “pre-planned” anything – definitely not “hunker down”. I figured a miss would slow down after a couple of layers of drywall. At the likely range, indoors, the pattern would be pretty tight. #4 certainly makes a mess out of ribs?

    I assume the likely hour of an invasion will catch me asleep, waking groggy, unaware or not at my best – orientation … At 70, I don’t spring into action as I once did, relying on my terrier buying me time. The bigger fear is identifying the invader!


    • I have seen ballistic gelatin tests of both the #1 and #4 12-gauge 2 3/4 inch buckshot loads on YouTube.

      For the #1 Buck load, the pellets penetrated about 17 to 18 inches. For the #4 Buck, the penetration was from 11 to 15 inches with most pellets being around the 14 inch depth.

      Given that a penetration of 12 to 18 inches is considered ideal under the FBI test protocol, it would seem that either load would have both the muzzle energy and adequate penetration for home defense against any intruder who was not wearing body armor.

  5. My wife’s…OK…OUR home defense shotgun is a Stevens 320HD pump ( neon green FO ghost ring sights and pistol grip buttstock ), is loaded with (3) #2 buckshot, backed up by (2) W-W Defender segmented slugs.

  6. #1 is my choice as well. IMO #00 is great for police because they often have to use them outside 20 yards and through light cover such as sheet metal and glass. No such feats are asked of home defense shotguns. #1 has the right combination of depth of penetration and wounding potential to positively end a bad situation. Federal Flite-Control #1 is great if you can find it, Winchester 2 3/4″ standard patterns great out of my own gun.

    I think the 20ga is underappreciated for the home defense shotgun though. They can be considerably lighter and handier than their 12ga cousins but at conversational distances the difference in ultimate effect is basically the same.

  7. “Just fire off a couple of shots in the air”, that will scare them away. Problem solved.

    • @ Steve – I see that you remember the sage advice of “Shotgun” Joe Biden! 🙂

      Yes Sir! All anyone needs is that double-barrel 12 gauge with two birdshot shells! Just hand it to the wife and let her set the bad guys to running! 🙂

      “Shotgun” Joe is certainly just as “knowledgeable” about firearms as all of the other knee-jerk gun-grabbers that infest the D.C. swamp. God help us if this old “Swamp Thing” becomes President!

      • Just a follow-up to my comments about “Shotgun” Joe. Old Joe has just released his “Criminal Justice” policy. Here is a link to it if you care to read it for yourself. I advise doing so on an empty stomach.

        For those who don’t want to wade through all this stuff, I can give you a summary of his biggest ideas:

        1) Turn as many criminals loose from prison as possible. Starve the prison system of resources. Seek to use lesser, wrist slap, punishments in the future instead of passing out real prison-time for crimes.

        2) Eliminate the death penalty.

        3) Legalize drug use. Especially pot.

        4) Target and jail people for “Hate Crimes” that offend Left-wing ideology. In other words, use the criminal justice system to target political enemies of the Left instead of using it to target regular criminals.

        5) Destroy the NRA and do everything possible to disarm legal gun-owners and to suppress gun ownership. In other words, push the Firearm-Prohibition agenda to the max.

        As I noted before: God help us if this old “Swamp Thing” becomes President!

    • no – my fav is “I’ll rack an empty shotgun a few times and scare him off” – Hollyweird can’t make a decent pic without the man of the house wearing pink bunny slippers >>> and you’re taking home defensive advice from them …

  8. Being curious, several years ago I built an exemplar interior wall: 2 x 4 frame and sheet rock/drywall on both sides. The only thing I found that didn’t pass on through was a .177 pellet at about 300 f/s from a Daisy air pistol. Everything else sailed on through with sufficient energy to cause serious bodily injury. Trying angled shots showed no significant deflection.

    FWIW, my personal 11-87 Police is actually flawless with the Federal Tactical Buck. However, I make sure it gets cleaned regularly. I have noticed that the more recent Flite-Control loads don’t eject as enthusiastically as the older stuff. I expect there’s a difference in the choice of powder used. As I’ve aged I find myself much less fond of the shotgun regardless of ammo choice.

    • Realized should have added that the 11-87 has been through several shotgun classes plus Mas’s LTM. One should never trust a brand new firearm until it’s been exercised sufficiently to ensure it’s reliable. A friend recently had issues with a major brand pup gun. All it really needed was proper lubrication and shot-repeatedly.

      The duckbill was an idea that came-and went. Look around to see how many you see in actual use today.

  9. Your opinion: home defence:
    #1: 1 1/2 oz #4 buck at about 1000fps? – high impact on human target – minimal collateral damage due to lower velocity?
    #2 your opinion of the Mossberg “ShockWave” ?
    #3: the Taurus “Judge” revolver loaded w .410 loads of #2 buck?
    #4: the “in”famous Duckbill shot spreader muzzle? Testing has proven that it produces a pattern about 3 times as wide as it is high. I think the test was conducted at 20yds & 40yes.

  10. Mas, you know Bonnie is no slouch with a shotgun. Her home defense shotgun is loaded with Federal low-recoil slugs, 12 ga. The gas ports have been tweaked to 100% function in her old 1100 with this load. Yes, the slug will probably go through, but we live in a rural enough area that it’s not likely to be a problem. Interestingly enough, this is the same gun that she is using in the photo in Stressfire II, though it now wears a 21″ barrel. See page 100. Please call before you drop in!

    Sam Young

  11. I think most people over think this subject Rule #1 have a gun #2 know how to use it, I agree small shot is most ineffective, But still better than nothing. OOO buck down to 4 should take care of most problems. And like Mass said make sure of what’s behind the target (IE training)

    • Frank C. McClelland,

      Don’t miss. Didn’t Wyatt Earp say something like, “Learn how to take your time in a hurry.”? He meant you can’t shoot so fast that you miss. He said the winner of a gunfight was not the man who shot first, but the one who made the first accurate shot and hit his opponent. Louis Awerbuck said, “Only hits count.”

  12. Altho’ unnecessary…so far…I’ve got my Serbu “Super Shorty” loaded with three 3″ 12-ga #4’s. Nice spread and satisfactory FBI-suggested penetration.

  13. My Mossberg 590A1 is currently loaded with 0 Buck. It likes #1 Buck when I can find it. Remington makes an awesome #4 Buck load, 3 inch with 41 .24 caliber pellets. That’s a lot of hits….

  14. All three of my Remington 870 defense shotguns are 12 gauge with extended magazines and they are stored empty chambered with six rounds of 2 3/4″ #1 magnum containing 20 pellets of .30 caliber diameter in the magazine and six rounds of Brenneke slugs in their Side Saddle carriers. Two of these 870s have ghost ring sights and the third has a large silver front bead. I have recently gotten one of the short barreled Remington 870s with the bird’s head grip which I plan to mount a green laser on it’s receiver as it cannot be aimed like a conventional shotgun. I did install a one round magazine extension to give it a 5+1 capacity, but will forgo the Side Saddle to keep it lighter and more compact and it’s loaded with 00 buck in 2 3/4″ length. For defensive purposes, I don’t plan on using these shotguns past 30 feet with buckshot and if distances are greater, the slugs or my Kel-Tec Sub 2000 in .40 S&W with Speer 180 grain Gold Dot ammo will be employed. Of course these loads will not stop home invaders wearing body armor so rifles with soft point ammo should be available if needed.

    However, before they can reach my house, the bad guys/gals will have to navigate through the concertina wire and minefield in my lawn, and cross the piranha filled moat to my front door, then confront my vicious, attack trained Chihuahua to get to me.

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