An editor and friend at a former publication continues to recommend birdshot as an effective home-defense shotgun load. I disagree, preferring something heavier, whether in lead or steel.

My friend argues that birdshot has so many more pellets than a heavier load of buckshot, for example, that the chance of actually hitting an intruder during a crisis —especially at night — is much greater. After all, he says, you want to drive an intruder away, not kill him. After you pull the trigger with birdshot, you may be able to relax and let the law enforcement community deal with the intruder. Your chances of being dragged eternally into a legal tangle are thus far less than if you drop him stone dead inside your home.

Birdshot Versus Buckshot: By the Numbers

More small pellets will fit into a shell than large pellets. Consider the 2.75-inch 12-gauge quail round (12-gauge being the most common shotgun bore size): Fiocchi steel #7 with a muzzle velocity of 1,200 feet per second. The Fiocchi load holds about 525 pellets. A similar load of lead shot may have about 280. Fired from a standard barrel with improved cylinder choke, the spread will be about 18 inches at 25 feet, enough to blanket the center of a standard home hallway.

Two hunters, one male and one female, follow a white and black hunting dog through brown, waist-high reeds. The pair are wearing camoflauge clothing, orange hunting vests and each is carrying a pump-action shotgun.

Consider the variety and size of shot available for home defense. Do you believe that the birdshot you use for grouse or pheasant might be sufficient to stop an intruder? (Photo courtesy O.F. Mossberg & Sons)

Now, compare that to a load of buckshot, also in 2.75-inch Fiocchi 12-gauge. This time, we have loaded our shotshell with #00 (double-ought) lead buckshot rated at 1,325-feet-per-second muzzle velocity. The nine pellets in this load with a similar barrel and choke give us a spread of approximately 6 inches at 25 feet — wide enough to easily miss a target during a moment of crisis.

So what’ll it be? No one argues that a load of birdshot is a “stopper” (unless you’re a bird or unless you take the load directly in the face, hence into both eyes, in which case you would be permanently blinded).

Your Call Now…

My friend suggests that few criminals are hardened convicts or former military operatives who could take a hit from a flock of #7s and still want to fight. He argues that if even a few of the 525 steel pellets hit home, the usual neighborhood punk will run home to momma. Momma will take him to the hospital (despite what you see on television, few veterinarians treat gunshot wounds, even for a bag of cash), and the hospital will inform the sheriff. Your story will coincide with theirs, an arrest will be made, and the punk will be back home with “a record,” a few scars and a grudge but no real consequences before you even finish your paperwork.

On the other hand, a load of 00 buck full to the face or legs within “at-home” range could kill and will almost certainly stop a perp. (This load — or certainly a gun loaded with slugs — inside the house is problematic because, as videos on YouTube demonstrate, the shot will penetrate three to four walls of the house.) A load to the chest, depending on range and heavy clothing, will certainly give a punk pause, and you still have three to four additional shotshells in the magazine. Just be sure that when he falls to the floor screaming, you don’t shoot again. He’s out of the fight.

Whatever You Choose…

Remember too that whichever one of these techniques you decide to embrace — birdshot or buck —what my friend or your friend says is just that: what he or she says. Neither I nor my friend can make decisions for you; we can only offer opinions backed up by demonstrations and examples. Nothing will be more important than whether you have a firearm accessible and ready to use should you ever need one, and neither birds nor bucks would argue that point.

About Rick Sapp

Rick Sapp earned his Ph.D. in social anthropology after his time in the U.S. Army working for the 66th Military Intelligence Group, USAREUR, during the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Following his time in Paris, France, he worked for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service before turning to journalism and freelance writing. Along with being published in several newspapers and magazines, Rick has authored more than 50 books for a variety of publishers.