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Shotgun Ammunition in a Nutshell

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One Christmas morning around 3:30 a.m., Nathanael Blair of Santa Ana, California, heard a noise coming from his garage and went to investigate.

Upon entering his garage, Blair was hit in the face with a metal wrench. He retreated inside his home, grabbed his shotgun that was loaded with birdshot rounds and ran to confront the intruder.

Blair fired his shotgun at the suspect, later identified as Jeremy William Bell, hitting him in the back. Bell fled the scene. When the police arrived, they found him hiding in a nearby garage.

Bell pleaded guilty to felony burglary, aggravated assault and robbery charges.

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office did not file any charges against Blair after determining he was acting in self-defense when he shot Bell.

Lock and Load

The fact is a shotgun is a great home-defense weapon. However, it isn’t a one-size-fits-all firearm.

There is a variety of shotgun ammunition — each type works best in different situations. Have you ever considered which types of ammo you should buy and when to use them?

To help you decide what you need, here are four kinds of shotgun ammo plus when to use them for maximum effectiveness:

  • Birdshot — This is the smallest type of shotgun pellets available. As the name implies, birdshot is typically used by hunters to shoot birds or other small game.Birdshot is ideal for this scenario because the large number of small pellets increases the chances of hitting the target. However, it’s not great for shooting large animals or self-defense since it may not penetrate larger targets.Personally, I would never use birdshot for home defense.
  • Buckshot — The biggest difference between birdshot and buckshot rounds is that buckshot uses larger pellets. Buckshot can be used to hunt larger animals because the bigger pellets cause more damage compared with birdshot.Buckshot is a common round used by law enforcement as well as people who use a shotgun for home defense. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “double-aught buck,” which is a .33-caliber buckshot round that usually contains about eight pellets. This is the home defense ammo I prefer to use in my Remington 870.
  • Slugs — One of the most powerful and damaging types of rounds for a shotgun is a slug. A slug is a single projectile, as opposed to birdshot or buckshot, which shoot multiple smaller projectiles.One of the advantages to a slug is that it can extend the accurate range of your shotgun up to about 75–100 yards.Birdshot and buckshot are accurate at much shorter ranges — about 25 yards. Unless you live in a mansion, you don’t need to use slugs for home defense.With slugs, there is a risk of over-penetration. The round could go right through the wall into another room — or even into your neighbor’s house.
  • Dragon’s breath — When you were a kid, I’m sure you were taught never to play with fire. Well, Dragon’s breath gives you the chance to do just that. Dragon’s breath is a shotgun shell that fires a pyrotechnic payload up to about 40 yards.This type of round doesn’t really have any hunting purpose. It is also dangerous to use for self-defense, unless you are outside in a completely open area with nothing nearby that could catch fire. Similar to Dragon’s breath, there are also rounds called flash bangs, which emit a bright flash and an incredibly loud sound.These rounds are designed for recreational shooting — I would be cautious using them for anything else.A shotgun is one of the most popular firearms for home defense. If you have one (or are looking into getting one), it’s important to know the differences between ammo types so you can be sure you have the right rounds for the job.

As I mentioned, I use 00 (double-aught) buck for home defense, but I still have plenty of birdshot and slugs for other situations.

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