Buck Shot vs Bird Shot For Self Defense

Buck Shot vs Bird Shot For Self Defense
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Buck Shot vs Bird Shot For Self Defense

Both are viable options under the right circumstances

If there’s one topic in the discussion of home defense that is argued about as much as the 9mm vs the 45, it’s whether birdshot or 00 Buck should be used in a shotgun. I’ve heard experienced law enforcement officers and tactical trainers argue for both. So, what’s the truth? Can birdshot be effective in a home defense shotgun, or will it only make your attacker mad? Well, I’m going to give you the facts and you can make up your own mind.

Shot Size and Amount

The first thing you need to understand is shot size. With 00 Buck each pellet has a diameter of 0.33 inch. For #7 ½ shot, each pellet has a diameter of about 0.10 inch. For the shot sizes between 00 Buck and #7 ½ shot, pellet size decreases by about 0.01 inch, from 0.33 inch to 0.10 inch, for each step in shot size. So, as the size of the pellet decreases so too does the size of the hole it makes. As for the amount of shot in each shell, most 00 Buck shells will contain only 9 pellets, while a #7.5 shotshell will contain as many as 400 pellets.

Shot Weight

The weight of each pellet is determined by its diameter and what it is made of. Lead shot weighs more than steel shot, and tungsten shot weighs more than lead shot, so, it gets complicated. For our purposes here we will just compare lead shot. Pellet weight decreases by as much as 7 grains – with the larger shot – to as little as 1 grain – with the smaller shot – from 55 grains with 00 Buck down to 1 grain for #7 ½ shot.

Shot Velocity & Energy

With 2 ¾ inch 12 gauge shotshells, shot velocity at the muzzle is reasonably consistent, regardless of shot size. It will range from around 1100 fps to a bit more than 1300 fps. However, the kinetic energy of each individual pellet will vary because kinetic energy is influenced by weight. At the muzzle, a single 00 Buck pellet would have about 176 foot-pounds of energy and a single #7 ½ pellet would have about 3 foot-pounds of energy. Also – and this is important – since the total payload of 2 ¾ inch shotshells is consistent by weight at 1 1/8th ounce, the kinetic energy for all the shot – regardless of shot size – will be about the same at around 1570 foot-pounds.


The penetration of round shot pellets is determined by impact velocity, weight, and diameter. A single 00 Buck pellet fired from a 2 ¾ inch shot shell will penetrate about 20 inches from a distance of 10 yards. A single pellet of #7 ½ shot will penetrate about 3 inches from the same distance. The penetration depths for other pellet sizes will decrease from 20 inches by about 0.5 to 1 inch for each step down in the size of the pellet. For example, #4 Buck will penetrate about 14 inches and #4 shot will penetrate about 6 inches.

The Shotgun Difference

This would all seem to suggest that bird shot would be ineffective at stopping bad guys. However, at very close range the terminal performance of shot shells – buckshot or birdshot – is not the same as with a single projectile fired from a handgun or a rifle. Depending on the choke in your shotgun, from about 15 feet and in, the shot from a shotshell has not had time to spread extensively. This means that at close range, comparing the wounding of individual pellets is not an accurate assessment of terminal performance.

At the close quarters distances you can expect a shotgun to make a very large hole that will in most cases, regardless of shot size, immediately incapacitate an assailant. The nine pellets from a 00 Buck shot shell will still penetrate deeper, but a shotshell with smaller shot will damage a tremendous amount of tissue at a shallower depth. Also, at this distance the target will absorb the full force of each shell into a very small area. At close quarters engagement distances, shotguns are very nasty weapons regardless of what they’re loaded with. If you have ever seen their close range effect on a human body, you will not forget it.

The Range is the Thing

When it comes to selecting either 00 Buck or bird shot for home defense, the expected distance to the target matters. If you live in a small apartment, where 20 feet would be the farthest shot you could attempt on an intruder, buck or bird shot should work equally well, especially if paired with a full choke shotgun. If you live in a larger house or maybe out in the country where you might need to use the shotgun outside to fight off either a two or four legged intruder, buckshot – with even the possible option of a slug – would be a better choice.


Many express concerns of using buckshot inside a home due to the potential of overpenetration. It’s true that 00 Buck might very well shoot through an attacker, but the remaining energy of the pellets will not be enough to offer extreme overpenetration concerns. What is a concern with any type of shotshell is not so much overpenetration if you hit the bad guy, but the potential for penetrating walls and injuring others if you miss. In that case, the smaller the size of the shot, the less the worry of it passing through walls and injuring innocents.

The Compromise

So, what you have with the 00 Buck and birdshot argument is a case of maybe too much or not enough, depending on whether you are very close or further away. Some feel that the best answer to the question is a compromise and they go with No. 4 Buck because, it has 21 pellets compared to the 9 in 00 Buck, because it offers less concern for collateral damage if you miss, and because at ultra-close distances it gives you good penetration while at the same time destroying a lot of tissue from a shallow to a moderate depth. Another, and maybe the best compromise/option is Federal’s Force X2 00 Buck load. The nine pellets in this shotshell break in half after impact. This not only limits excessive penetration concerns, but it also increases wounding.

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Timothy Petrick
Due to various reasons I am unable to use a 12 gauge but a 20 with 20 inch double barrels is very manageable for me. Do the same facts apply?
Ammunition Depot
Timothy, a 20 gauge will have some specific and notable differences here compared to a 12 gauge. The propellant and capacity of a 20 gauge shotshell will be less than a 12. So, fewer projectiles downrange. As for the downrange effects, you can still use the same logic. If you live in a small apartment, where 20 feet would be the farthest shot you could attempt on an intruder, buck or bird shot should work equally well. For further distances, buck or even a slug would be the go-to.
Bob Fusco
The 20 Ga will be fie for personal defense in a residence where distances are probably not more than 20-25 feet. My personal choice is #4 magnum (duck) loads, plenty of energy but limitd penetration through walls etc.
Thoughts on use Rubber, bird shot, buck & slug in that order in the mag