What Kind of Shotgun Shells Should I Use For Home Defense?

Photo of a traditional style “scatter gun” great for tighter shot patterns

Thanks to their speed, effectiveness, and relatively low learning curve, shotguns are the preferred firearm for many homes in the US. However, having a gun is one thing – knowing what shell to shoot out of it is another. 

With that in mind, let’s break down the best shells for home defense and how to make an informed decision. 

Home Defense Shotgun Gauges

Before buying a shotgun, you should ask yourself, what shells for home defense are the best? Unfortunately, that’s kind of a loaded question (pun intended). The challenge stems from how shotgun ammo is rated and how they affect the size, weight, recoil, and power of your weapon. (1)

But before we look at specific types of shotgun ammunition, let’s break down how these shells are ranked. When looking at different firearm models, you’ll notice they go from 10-gauge to 410. 

If shotgun ammo were like regular rounds, a higher number would indicate a larger shell. However, in this case, the opposite is true. Instead, a 10-gauge shotgun is much larger than a 410, so each round weighs more and has a much more significant kick. 

The number associated with shotgun shells refers to the number of pellets necessary to create one pound of shot. So, if you only need ten pellets, they’ll be much heavier and more destructive than if you need 20 of them. 

The only exception to this rule is the 410 shotgun. In this case, the number refers to the diameter of the bore. If this shotgun ammo was measured by gauge, it would be 67.5. 

Now that we know how shells are measured let’s look at specific gauges to see which ones are best for home defense. 

What Are the Best 12 Gauge Shells?

Typical shells used for hunting larger game or hunting birds

If you were to ask most gun owners which gauge is the best for home or self-defense purposes, they would recommend the 12-gauge. While a 10-gauge is a bit too heavy and unwieldy, a 12-gauge shotgun gets the job done quickly and efficiently. 

Now, there is some debate about whether a 20 gauge is better or more accommodating than a 12, but unless the 12 is just too big for you, it’s what we would suggest as an excellent all-around tool for pest control, hunting, and home defense. 

Here are three of the best 12-gauge defensive shotgun shells available: 

Federal LE Flite #00 Buckshot

As a rule, buckshot pellets are ideal for home defense because they’re accurate and have substantial stopping power. Federal Premium shotgun ammo is also renowned for its quality and accuracy, especially at longer distances. In fact, these shells have a sophisticated wad that keeps the pellets in a tighter grouping. 

Overall, whether you’re fending off an attacker inside or outside the home, Federal Premium #00 Buckshot is some of the best ammo for home defense. 

Hornady American Gunner Rifled Slug

We’ll be diving into the different shotgun ammunition you can buy later, including buckshot, slugs, and birdshot. But before that, we have to say that shotgun slugs are fantastic for home defense because they’re deadly. However, they often pack a wallop when firing. Rifled slugs are also recommended because they have grooves along the side for precision aiming.

So, Hornady American designed this slug specifically for self-defense. It has a much lower recoil, so you can reload and fire again faster without damaging your shoulder. Plus, since you’re shooting a slug, you can do some serious damage to vital organs with a single shot.

Fiocchi Defense Dynamics #00 Buckshot

Unfortunately, if you’re looking for the best shotgun ammo, you have to pay higher prices for better-quality materials. Thankfully, this buckshot shell from Fiocchi Defense Dynamics only costs about a buck a round, so you don’t need to break the bank. 

As a defensive shotgun shell, it has a reduced recoil, and the buckshot pellets are made of hardened lead that doesn’t deform when fired. Overall, since you’re not looking for precision or extra power, these shells are ideal for self-defense. 

What Are the Best 20 Gauge Shells?

Image of various ammunition design models being showcased including a buckshot round and various segmented slugs

These days, 20-gauge shotguns are becoming more popular for home protection because they’re lighter than 12-gauge and have less recoil. However, because 12-gauge shotgun ammunition is more plentiful, they are cheaper, so you have to weigh the pros and cons of both guns before making a final decision. 

That said, if you’re interested in buying home defense shotgun ammo for a 20-gauge firearm, here are three of our top picks. 

Remington Ultimate Defense

Although 20-gauges are starting to be used for self-defense, most shotgun ammunition manufacturers don’t make specific defensive shells. However, this buckshot from Remington is one of the few options available, and it has some pretty intense stopping power while maintaining excellent accuracy. 

Rio Royal Game Load

Realistically, if you’re using a 20-gauge as a defensive shotgun, you’ll have to use hunting shells to stop an intruder. This shell from RIO uses #1 buckshot, which isn’t as good as #00 but will still take down an attacker in a single round. 

Federal Premium #3 Buckshot

As we mentioned, Federal Premium is an excellent brand that makes some of the best shotgun ammo you can find. This buckshot is designed for precision out in the field, but it will work perfectly for home defense in a pinch. Although the pellets are relatively small, they’re still plenty deadly against an attacker. 

Are Varmint Rounds Good for Home Defense?

Technically, shotgun ammunition doesn’t come with specific “varmint rounds,” so it’s hard to say. However, as a general rule, varmint ammunition is designed to kill small creatures, so it likely won’t have the same stopping power as buckshot or shotgun slugs. 

For that reason, we don’t really recommend using “varmint” rounds for home defense unless your goal is to just wound an intruder and not kill them. Since these pellets may not penetrate enough to reach vital organs, an attacker might still come at you even after getting hit. 

Are Mini Shotgun Slugs Good for Home Defense?

Broken glass and spent shells, typical of stray pellets in over penetration situations

In recent years, mini shotgun shells have become more popular and widespread. The reason shooters have taken a liking is because of its reduced felt recoil, plus you can fire more shells in less time. However, when it comes to personal protection or home defense, mini shells leave a lot to be desired. 

First, they have a pretty wide spread if you’re shooting from a distance, so they lose a lot of their stopping power unless you’re in close range of an attacker. Second, since the pellets are smaller and lighter, they don’t have the same penetration as regular shotgun loads. 

Overall, as with varmint rounds, it’s often better to switch to regular buckshot loads or slugs for self-defense shooting. However, if you’re only trying to wound an intruder, mini shells could work for that purpose. (2)

Are 410 Shells Good for Home Defense?

Since the 410 shotgun is the smallest option available, it has some of the smallest shotgun ammunition. That said, if you want something light, agile, and easy to use, a 410 could work. 

Realistically, though, the only reason to use a 410 shotgun for home defense is if a 20 gauge or 12 gauge is too heavy and cumbersome. Otherwise, you won’t get the same stopping power or versatility that you would with a larger gauge. 

Best Shotgun Ammo For Home Defense: Things to Consider

Diagram of different shells including the winchester super, and nine pellets standard slug

Because each shotgun is designed to shoot its own gauge, you have to consider both the weapon and the shell when comparing models. For example, you can’t fire a 20-gauge round out of a 12-gauge shotgun (and vice versa).

So, along with these factors for choosing the best shotgun ammo for home defense, you also have to consider which firearm is ideal for your situation. 

Patterns

Shotgun shell patterns refer to the spread of the pellets when you fire a round from different distances and with different chokes. Patterning your shotgun means determining which shell works best for your specific needs. 

In this case, we’re talking about critical defense patterning, so you want your shells to be tight and deadly, even if you’re shooting from more than 10 yards away. As a rule, heavier gauges won’t spread as much as lighter ones, but it also depends on the shell manufacturer. 

Unfortunately, it’s typically not feasible to pattern defensive shotguns unless you’re willing to buy different ammunition and test it at the range. While this sounds like a lot of fun, it can get expensive fast. Instead, it’s better to do some research to see which rounds deliver the tightest pattern possible for home defense. 

Types of Shot

Red copper plated pellets are excellent for stopping the bad guys without barrier penetration

As you might’ve figured by now, shotgun shells can be loaded with different types of bullets and wads to control how much the pellets spread. So, here’s a quick overview of the various shot options you can find:

  • Buckshot – As the name suggests, buckshot is meant for deer hunting, so it’s heavy and doesn’t have a wide spread pattern. Buckshot loads also often have protective layers on the pellets so they don’t deform and can penetrate internal organs more efficiently. 
  • Slugs – Shotgun slugs are powerful and can either be rifled or not. Rifled slugs are more accurate because of the grooves on the side. The disadvantage of using a shotgun slug is that it usually has a bigger kick, so you can’t fire very fast, particularly at close range. 
  • Birdshot – As a rule, you should never use birdshot for home defense. These shells are designed to spread quickly to clip a fast-moving target, so they don’t have the same penetration capabilities as buckshot loads or slugs. 

Typically, buckshot works best for home defense, but if you’re handy with a shotgun and want to take down an attacker faster, slugs can also work wonders. But remember that they have more felt recoil, so you have to plan accordingly. 

Sizing Shotgun Ammo

As with shotgun gauges, the smaller the number, the bigger the pellet. So, #00 buckshot is more powerful than #3 pellets. However, for home defense, you can use #2 or #1 shells and still get excellent stopping power. 

That said, what matters more is the gauge of the shell. For example, a #00 shell for a 410 won’t be as effective as a #3 for a 12 gauge. 

How Many Rounds Do You Need?

There’s a saying that “shotgun fights don’t last very long.” Since you’re firing multiple pellets in a single round (using buckshot), you don’t have to be as accurate or fire as often to take down an attacker. 

Realistically, you’ll only have to fire a few rounds in a self-defense situation. From there, an intruder will likely leave or be lying on the ground. 

Recoil

Older shotguns like these have a tighter pattern with a longer effective range as seen here

Felt recoil is kind of hard to measure because it’s affected by multiple factors. For example, you would assume a 10-gauge shell would have a much bigger kick than a 20-gauge. However, because the gun is much heavier, it absorbs more recoil so you don’t feel it as much. 

For this reason, 20-gauge and 12-gauge shotguns often have similar recoil, even if you’re using the same type of buckshot. As we’ve mentioned, slugs pack more of a punch, but you can buy ammunition with reduced recoil to mitigate this problem. 

Overall, lowering the amount of felt recoil helps you fire faster and more accurately. So, if you’re not an experienced shooter or you want shells that your spouse or children can fire, you want something with as little recoil as possible. 

Penetration

Image of an ax about to bust through the interior walls of an apartment with a scared man on the other side

Slugs typically have the best penetration because it’s a single piece. However, #00 buckshot can also have pretty good penetration, especially when coming out of a 12-gauge shotgun. 

When talking about penetration for home defense shells, you have to consider whether you want to kill or wound an intruder. If you prefer the latter option, you want smaller pellets and a lighter weapon. However, if you’re shooting to kill, you want a 12-gauge with either rifled slugs or heavy buckshot rounds. 

Best Home Defense Shotguns On the Market

Now that we’ve discuses the right shells for home defense, next step it to take a look at our article on the best home defense shotguns on the market. We cover everything you need to know to find the perfect gun for you.

FAQs

What gauge shotgun shell is best for home defense?

The best shotgun shell for home defense is the one you can handle the best. However, in terms of value, we highly recommend 12-gauge shotgun shells for home defense because they’re powerful and affordable. 

Why is large buckshot not good for home defense?

Large buckshot (i.e., 3.5 inches) is not ideal for home defense because it has a bigger recoil (so you can’t shoot as quickly), and it could cause more collateral damage during a shootout. 

What size buckshot is best for home defense?

Typically, size #1 buckshot in a 2.75-inch shell is ideal for home defense, regardless of the gauge you use. 

What is the best shot size for a home defense shotgun?

The best shot size for a home defense shotgun is either #00 or #1 at 2.75 inches. If you go larger than that, you could risk having too much recoil. 

Is 12-gauge buckshot good for home defense?

Yes, 12-gauge buckshot is good for home defense because it has excellent stopping power and can penetrate enough to hit internal organs. 

Do police use buckshot or slugs?

When police use shotguns, they use buckshot instead of slugs because of the reduced recoil. 

Is a buckshot or slug more powerful? 

If you’re trying to kill an intruder, a slug is more powerful than buckshot. 

What rounds should I use for self-defense?

Buckshot rounds are ideal for self-defense because you don’t have to be super accurate to get immense power and efficiency with each round. 

What gauge shotgun shell is best for home defense?

Most gun owners would recommend a 12-gauge shotgun shell for home defense because it’s more common, more affordable, and more powerful than a 20-gauge. 

What is the most lethal 12-gauge ammo?

Technically, the G2 12-gauge slug is the deadliest round you can fire from this shotgun. 

References

  1. SOFREP, Which Are the Best Guns for Home Defense, retrieved from https://sofrep.com/gear/which-are-the-best-guns-for-home-defense/
  2. Lucky Gunner, Are Mini Shotgun Shells Viable for Self-Defense, retrieved from https://www.luckygunner.com/lounge/are-mini-shotgun-shells-viable-for-self-defense/

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