Which Buckshot Load for Home Defense?
Double-Aught, Number 1, Number 4, FliteControl, 8-Pellet, 9-Pellet; what does all this stuff mean, and should I care about it for Home Defense?
Buckshot is and should be the go-to choice for shotgun personal defense as unlike birdshot, it's proven to penetrate far enough in human tissue to destroy internal organs without which an assailant cannot function.
The smallest "Buckshot" size is Number 4 Buck (.24" diameter) while the largest practical size is 00 ("Double-Aught") Buck (.33" diameter). Several birdshot sizes share the same number designation, but are NOT the same size and are proven to be inadequate penetrators in numerous ballistic gelatin tests.
There are many, many offerings for 12 Gauge buckshot of various sizes, most of which are created to solve a specific issue with a specific type of shotgun. Within the context of home defense, however, just about anything will serve the purpose.
I used two shotguns with different choke/barrel setups to represent the left/right boundaries of home-defense shotguns. One is a Remington 870 Police model with an 18.5" Cylinder barrel (no constriction, not cut for interchangeable chokes). The other is a Benelli M2 3-Gun model with a 21" barrel, set up with a Modified choke (rather tight for a shotgun used with buck, constricting the exit of the barrel by .020").
The targets used were USPSA targets, folded in half to simulate the side-profile of a person. Distance was 10 yards, the longest possible shot I would have to take in my home (down a hallway, from inside a bedroom). This represents the outlier of outlier scenarios for a personal-defense shot inside the home - typically the shot would be closer, on a larger target presentation.
Ammunition used ran the spectrum from the tightest-patterning buck I've used, to the widest. While each individual ammunition certainly patterned differently, the aggregate pattern of all ammunition from each shotgun stayed within the side-profile target. That means that as far as pattern or "spread", any of them will work for personal defense, and the deciding factors should be balance between ease of shooting and wound ballistic performance.
Federal "Tactical" 00 - FliteControl Low Recoil 8 Pellet - This ammunition is a low-recoil load, and feels like shooting a mild birdshot load. Federal's FliteControl wad and an 8-Pellet buffered payload makes this load shoot very tight, good for longer range shooting out of shotguns like the 870P. At 10 Yards, it made a pattern very slightly bigger than a slug.
Fiocchi JM 00 Low Recoil
- This ammunition is also a very light low-recoil load, to the point of barely cycling the Benelli autoloader. It uses a conventional wad with a 9-pellet payload.
Rio 9-Pellet 00
- This ammunition is an inexpensive version of a standard 00 Buck load. Recoil is stiff, not recommended for speed shooting, or for new shooters.
Federal Vital Shok 00
- Standard, 9-Pellet 00 Buckshot. stiff-recoiling, higher-quality than the Rio load.
Winchester Military 00
- Military-issued version of the standard 00 9-Pellet load. Again, stiff recoiling but highly reliable, available in 25-round boxes.
Federal Magnum 34 Pellet #4 Buck
- The most pellets you can get in a buckshot cartridge. Wide patterning even at close range, and very hard recoiling.