Home Defense Shotgun Ammo

Home Defense Shotgun Ammo

Last week, I sang the praises of the Ithaca Model 37 as my all-time personal favorite defense shotgun.  But space limitations prevented me from discussing various loads to use in it, or other home defense tactical pump-guns.

While a pump shotgun will generally function well with any load appropriate for it, the same is not true of the various semi-automatic shotguns available.  Here I am only considering loads for the pump. While these loads may function in your auto-loading shotgun, they shouldn’t be used in an autoloader without thorough testing for cycling reliability.

The shotgun is perhaps the most destructive close range conventional weapon available to civilians.  While the ability to cause damage to two or four-legged predators is critical to surviving an assault from them, this ability is something to be considered in terms of what damage unintentionally missed shots or stray pellets can cause.

The defensive shotgun, loaded with modern ammo, is actually a close to intermediate range PRECISION firearm, and not an “alley sweeper.”  Even when equipped with Cylinder Bore or Improved Cylinder bore shotguns and 18-inch barrels, most shot spreads from the barrel of the gun at a rate of about one inch for each yard of distance traveled.  Many loads pattern more tightly, others less tightly, which is why it is important to test prospective defensive loads. It is important to use loads that keep shot patterns as tight as possible to avoid having stray pellets strike innocent persons, family members, or even important property.

Proper ammo selection is critical from a number of aspects for effective and safe use.  Unless you are going to use your shotgun for large animal defense, do not use 3 or 3.5-inch Magnum shells.  The recoil is downright unpleasant due to larger amount of shot being thrown, compared to 2 ¾ inch shells.

For home defense, there are several specific loads that I recommend.  For interior defensive use, loads like Winchester’s AA Trap and Skeet™ are an excellent choice. Loaded with approximately an ounce of #7 ½, #8 or #9 shot, patterns are tight with less potential for serious damage from missed shots.  When I wrote the book Tactical Shotguns, I used fresh, whole ten-pound chickens as a ballistic test medium for select defensive loads.  The damage from AA Trap and Skeet ammo was significant and convincing.

If your shotgun will be used for defense both inside your home and on your property, you can consider the use of 00 buckshot.  The buckshot load I prefer is Remington’s Managed Recoil™ 8 pellet 00 load.  This is, bar none, the tightest patterning buckshot load I have ever used, spreading at no more than a half inch per yard.  It does this because of the even count of pellets (most 00 loads use 9 pellets), and the slightly reduced velocity, which makes it very easy on the shoulder.  Recoil is similar to AA trap and skeet rounds.  This load blew its test chicken in half!  Recoil levels and accuracy for the Remington Managed Recoil rifled slugs make these an excellent choice for exterior defensive use at extended ranges out to 100 yards, or for larger animal defense or control.

Some manufacturers offer specialized shotgun loads for home defense.  Among them is Remington’s HD Ultimate Home Defense™ line. Two HD versions in 12-gauge are available. One is a duplex load with a 1 ¼ ounce mixed payload of #4 and #2 shot ¾ similar to loads used for hunting turkey.  I found this load to be unacceptable for defensive use, even at distances as close as seven yards because it spreads WAY too much.  You can hit your target square on and still have pellets off target ¾ pellets that could strike the family member you are trying to defend.  Remington’s other load is a 1¼-ounce load of tungsten-bronze-iron BB size shot.  This load patterns much more acceptably, but not as tight as Remington’s 8-pellet 00 buck. It is fine for interior and short-range exterior defense.  It also makes a great load for dispatching smaller nuisance animals, and won’t carry as far as 00 buck.

There are many other loads out there that are excellent for defensive use in a shotgun. Whichever load you decide to use, make sure you test the patterning in the shotgun you will use it in, and always, always be aware of your backstop and what is beyond it when you deploy it.

Winchester Ammunition: www.winchester.com

Remington Ammunition: www.remington.com

83 Comments (Add Yours)

  1. I am a member of USCCA and find the articles so important that I get nervous when I think I have missed an issue. I just purchased Remington 870 Tactic. and I keep #8 ready to go if ever needed. My concern is that I take very good care of my guns and rifles, but I have a question. How do I take off the Blackhawk pistol grip to clean the trigger mech. guess I should have asked them at the store, but forgot.


    1. Hi Gene,

      Did you happen to get an owner’s manual with your BH grip? If not, you can always contact Blackhawk here:

      Stay safe!

  2. I have just acquired Mossberg 500 Flex pump 12 ga. I have installed light and laser to bottom and a Aimpoint cqc on top with sling. I have not shot it yet. I plan to shot 15/20 feet in mfg. home. I am looking for a 18″ spread. Plan to use slug to figure point, then use .00, #4′ #6, #7 and #8 to arrive to spread. Question? Am I approching this in the proper frame of mind? The barrel is 18″ Any info will be appreciated. Note some of the aiming devices will either be removed or changed to help me figure this out. I shoot LH, head up at target and load same way for good practice.

    1. Hi Lhstr,

      Here’s some feedback from Concealed Carry Magazine Executive Editor Kevin Michalowski:

      Holy accessories, Batman! That is a lot of stuff on a short, little shotgun. But I see where you are coming from. The light will illuminate the target and possibly distract your attacker. The laser will allow you to fire accurately from a compromised shooting position. The Aimpoint will give you better accuracy at longer distances. But do you need that Aimpoint on a gun you plan to use at only 10 yards or less? Personally, I would spend that money on more ammo, or put the Aimpoint on your AR-platform rifle. Now, as to sighting-in this crime stopper. First up, abandon the #6, #7 and #8 shot. It’s not really effective as a fight-stopper. Yes, it will bloody your opponent. And no, it will not overpenetrate in your house, but bigger shot is better. If you want to use birdshot, I would look at #2 shot. It carries enough power to drop a goose at 30 yards. I also really like #4 Buckshot as a defensive load. More pellets than #00 Buck and solid penetration at room distances. Slugs will go through pretty much anything in your house; maybe into the neighbor’s house. Shoot your chosen defensive load at a 30-inch sheet of paper at 20 feet. Sight in your laser to match the center of the spread. Call it good. One thing to remember when using any multi-projectile round for defense: You are responsible for EVERY projectile that comes out of the muzzle. If you get a “flyer” that hits an innocent, you will be held accountable for that.

      Hope this provides some food for thought. Stay safe!

  3. I read your article and found it very informative. I have an 870 Tactical with an 18″ barrel at home and I have Winchester AA Steel Shells (Model# AASCL12S8). Is this a good Home Defense shell?

    1. Carla - USCCA

      Hi there,

      I checked with Concealed Carry Magazine Executive Editor Kevin Michalowski and he told me that this is a very light load. You can expect it to make a mess at room distances (10-12 feet), but beyond that, you may not get the penetration that you would want when trying to effectively stop a threat.

      You could try bigger shot, like BB or T shot. These are very effective goose-hunting loads and would work well for home defense.


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