Buckshot: What You “Aught” to Know

If you have ever considered a home defense firearm, I’m sure someone has mentioned a shotgun or maybe it just popped into your head. For many, it was Joe Biden recommending firing a few shots off the balcony with a shotgun to discourage looters or something like that… You know the deal.

So, if you took Joe’s advice, someone must have mentioned loading it with buckshot. But what exactly is buckshot? Due to its complexity, the answer might surprise you, but I’ll try anyway. To start with, there are several options to choose from when it comes to shotguns and shot sizes especially buckshot. It is critical that we understand the differences and pick the right combination for it to do what we want it to do.

On the left is a 2¾-inch “High Base” shell before being fired and it measures 2¼ inches The photo on the right is a 2¼-inch “Low Base” shell after being fired and it measures just about 2¾ inches.
On the left is a 2¾-inch “High Base” shell before being fired and it measures 2¼ inches The photo on the right is a 2¼-inch “Low Base” shell after being fired and it measures just about 2¾ inches.

Types of Buckshot

First, you need to understand that there are several kinds of buckshot. Each type of buckshot is designed to complete a different task. Many shooters, even those who have been around shotguns for a long time, don’t know much about buckshot. Of course, some shooters have firsthand experience with buckshot, but most have not.

For the purposes of this discussion, I will limit this discussion to 12 gauge only, not that there is anything wrong with other gauges except for my prejudice that bigger is better in a defensive situation. Parenthetically, there is just not the same market support and variety with other gauges as one finds with 12-gauge shells.

Because buckshot varies so much — in terms of the length of the shell, size, number, and velocity of the pellets in the shell — the choices can be bewildering. Add to that, the fact that different manufacturers use different methods to control the spread of their shot patterns and the choices can get really confusing. I suppose the first thing I should cover, to put off some of that confusion, is the shell lengths first followed by the types and sizes of buckshot.

The four common shell sizes found in North America are: 2¾-, 3-, 3½-inch, and the 1¾-inch mini-shells. The 2¾-inch shells are and have been the standard and there is no reason to consider using anything other than a 2¾-inch shell for self-defense against homo sapiens. I suppose there is no reason not to use the 3- and 3½-inch shells, so long as the barrel explicitly states it’s chambered for them.

The downside, of course, would be the additional controllability issues caused by the higher recoil, noise, and flash. The longer shells will give you more velocity — and/or more pellets. Both could be useful for larger animals and extending the range. However, for the average person, that’s not necessary for personal protection in and around the home and could prove to be a disadvantage.

Star crimp on a shot shell
This photo shows what a classic “star” crimp looks like.

I will dismiss the mini-shells out of hand, simply because they will not feed reliably in most shotguns that are commonly used for defensive purposes. As an FYI, for your next Trivial Pursuit match and for those that might not know this, the shell length is determined by measuring the shell before it’s crimped. Consequently, a loaded shell out of the box is a little shorter. When it’s unfired, a 2¾-inch shell will be closer to 2¼ inches — if it sports a star crimp. If it’s roll crimped, it’ll be closer to 2½ inches.

That means, some shotguns won’t be able to accommodate as many shells in the mag tube if the shells are roll crimped. You might only get four shells in a five-shot tube. And that is why most shells designed for self-defense are star crimped to maximize your capacity. To prove it to yourself, pick up a 2¾-inch shell after you have fired it and measure it (or just look at the included photo). It will measure about 2¾ inches.

Now that we have shell sizes out of the way, let’s look at buckshot sizes. I’ll start with the smallest size of buckshot, which is Number 4 buck, not to be confused with Number 4 shot, which is birdshot. BTW the abbreviation used when shot sizes are written is # (for number), which I will use going forward. The largest size of buckshot that I am aware of is #0000 buckshot, but #000 is the largest common size that I have seen on a store’s shelves.

For those new to Buckshot, the correct pronunciation when discussing it is “aught” or the more archaic term “ought.” That said, the most popular size — by far — is “double-aught buck” or #00 buck, especially for self-defense situations. “Double Aught Buck” has been the gold standard for law enforcement for many decades with #1 and #4 buck also well respected choices and fairly common.

00 buckshot compared to a 9mm bullet
Here is a load of “double-aught buck” with a 115-grain 9mm hollow point for size comparison. When someone says, “Getting hit with a load of “double-aught” is like getting hit 9 times with a 9mm,” they are not far off.

Each pellet of #00 is about .33 inches in diameter. #1 is .30 inches, with #4 pellets being .24 inches. At this point you should also be aware that the number of pellets in each shell may vary depending on the size of the shot and the length of the shell. A 2¾-inch #00 buckshot shell will normally contain 8 or 9 pellets. However, on occasion you might run into a 12-pellet load. #1 buck will have 12 to 16 pellets, and #4 will have somewhere between 21 to 28 pellets. These variations depend on the manufacturer and the marketed use of the load.


When it comes to ballistic performance, everyone is interested in the speed or velocity of a given load. It’s no different when it comes to discussing buckshot. It stands to reason, some of the 3- and 3½-inch shells will generate higher velocities, but 2¾-inch shells will have velocity that rivals the large shells — especially with self-defense loads. The amount of velocity needed in self defense loads can vary quite a bit and again depends on the parameters you have set.

Posted velocities run from 1,100 to 1,600 feet per second from the manufacturer’s test barrels, but I think anything around 1,200 fps should serve you well. Remember that slower, as in lighter, loads will be a bit easier to control, but certain semi-automatic shotguns will not cycle reliably with low recoiling loads.

“Double-aught buck” will penetrate 18 to 20 inches into ballistic gel at 1,100 to 1,200 feet per second, which should be more than enough in a defensive situation. Number 1 buckshot also preforms well in the 1,100–1,200 foot per second range and might be a better choice than double-aught buck if you can find it. Number 1 buck gets 15 to 18 inches in gelatin, which means it’s not likely to pass through a human target.


The last, and possibly the most important, thing to know about using shotguns and shot is that they must all be patterned with the load we intend to use. Patterning a shotgun is analogous to sighting in a rifle or pistol. If you want to hit anything, you better do it.

Benelli M1-Super 90 shotgun with a side saddle loaded with buckshot
One of my favorite shotguns for self-defense work is this well-used Benelli M1 Super 90.

In its simplest terms, patterning means that you fire a couple of rounds at various distances at a patterning board to see how that load preforms in your gun. The object is to see how much the pellets disperse at specific distances. It is good to have the minimum and maximum distances you could be expected to fire at man or beast and to pattern from near to far at 5-yard increments.

Once completed, you will know when that shot pattern starts to spread, and how big that pattern is going to be at each distance. The tighter the pattern, the better you will be served. Terminal ballistics are better when all the pellets impact the in same spot.

The other advantage of knowing the pattern size is shot accountability. We are responsible for every projectile we send down range. Ergo, the wider the pattern, the greater the chance that one or two pellets could miss the target and hit the proverbial lady with the baby carriage down range. All of us must do our utmost to avoid unacceptable and tragic, unintended consequences.

Infographic comparing different sizes on buckshot

Some may think that confirming tighter patterns is counter intuitive and against the Raison d’être of the shotgun, and so it is. It is also the reason I do not recommend the shotgun to those who are new to defensive applications — unless they are willing to get plenty of shotgun training and trigger time to prepare them first.

Stay safe, train often, and practice, practice, practice!

Do you prefer a shotgun of home defense? Which loads do you recommend and why? Share your answers in the Comment section.

Source link: https://blog.cheaperthandirt.com/buckshot-what-you-aught-to-know/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=buckshot-what-you-aught-to-know by Ed AKA “The Real Most Interesting Man in The World” LaPorta at blog.cheaperthandirt.com