The Proper Ammunition for Home Defense

Published by the Author on April 21, 2008 at 8:28 pm > How-To Guides and Other Info > The Proper Ammunition for Home Defense

Selecting the right ammunition for home defense use is vital to effectively stopping an attacker and reducing the risk of injury to innocent bystanders. This article addresses recommendations for shotgun, handgun, and rifle ammunition. If you’re unsure as to what type of gun to get for home defense, see this article..

Shotgun Ammunition for Home Defense:
Owners of shotguns have three basic choices when it comes to ammunition: Buckshot, Birdshot, and Slugs. Of these three, I would recommend buckshot; in particular 00 buckshot.
Buckshot refers to large diameter metal spheres, loaded into a shotgun shell. Buckshot is generally the best choice for home defense, in particular 00 (“double ought”) buckshot. In a standard 2.75″ 12 gauge shell, there are nine .33 caliber pellets, meaning that firing one 00 buckshot shell is roughly equivalent to firing nine rounds from a .32 caliber handgun. Buckshot is less likely to over penetrate and injure innocent bystanders than shotgun slugs, handgun bullets, or rifle bullets, but is recognized as an effective means of stopping a home invader.
Birdshot refers to small diameter metal spheres, loaded into a shotgun shell. Birdshot is generally not recommended for home defense, due to its inability to penetrate deeply enough to stop an attacker. On the other hand, it does have the benefit of not penetrating walls as deeply as buckshot.
Slugs are large, single, bullet like projectiles loaded into a shotgun shell. Slugs tend to over penetrate and are therefore not generally recommended for home defense. Another disadvantage of slugs is that they take away a main benefits of the shotgun, which is that shot will spread out and make a hit more likely (this doesn’t mean the shooter won’t miss, of course, since the shot only spreads to about 6″ when fired from across the room). Slugs also tend to produce more recoil, which can make follow-up shots less accurate for those unaccustomed to heavier recoil.

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Handgun Ammunition for Home Defense
Handgun users can choose between hollow point and other expanding bullets, and non expanding full metal jacket bullets. Hollow point bullets are recommended because they are more likely to stop an attacker, and less likely to over penetrate and injure an innocent bystander.
Hollow point bullets have a hollow cavity in the nose of the bullet, which cause the nose to flatten or “mushroom” upon impact. This causes the bullet to be more effective, and also less able to overpenetrate and strike an innocent bystander.
Full metal jacket bullets, and other bullets that do not expand well (such as soft nose) or at all (such as wadcutters) are less effective than hollow point bullets. They are also more likely to overpenetrate their target and strike an innocent bystander.

Rifle Ammunition for Home Defense
Rifle users can choose between hollow point and other expanding bullets, and non expanding full metal jacket bullets. Hollow point bullets are recommended for medium and large caliber rifles, because they are more likely to stop an attacker, and less likely to over penetrate and injure an innocent bystander.
Hollow point bullets have a hollow cavity in the nose of the bullet, which cause the nose to flatten or “mushroom” upon impact. This causes the bullet to be more effective, and also less able to overpenetrate and strike an innocent bystander. In smaller calibers, however, hollow point bullets may be less effective than full metal jacket bullets, because they do not penetrate deeply enough to reliably stop an attacker. An example would be .22 caliber hollow points, which often won’t penetrate deeply enough to stop an attacker quickly enough (and .22 is not a great self defense caliber to begin with).
Full metal jacket bullets, and other bullets that do not expand well (such as soft nose) or at all are less effective than hollow point bullets, at least in medium and larger caliber rifles. They are also more likely to overpenetrate their target and strike an innocent bystander.

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A Note about Recoil
It is important that the user is able to handle his or her gun’s recoil, so that they can quickly stop an attacker before it is too late, and so that they can do so without losing control of the gun and hitting an innocent bystander. Recoil that is excessive for a user can interfere with accurate follow-up shot, or cause the user to flinch in anticipation of the recoil. For this reason, a user should select a gun and ammunition that deliver tolerable levels of recoil. That means that the right home defense gun for some people will be a 12 gauge shotgun loaded with 3″ magnum shells of 00 buckshot (which will recoil substantially but is incredibly effective), and for other people a .32 caliber pistol loaded with hollow points (which will have very light recoil but is less effective) will be the right choice. Select a home defense gun you can comfortably handle.

A Note about “Exotic” Ammunition
Some ammunition manufactures offer specialty ammunition that is designed to stop a home invader, but to not over penetrate. Some are frangible bullets (which will shatter on impact), others have hollow projectiles that are filled with small metal pellets, and others are very light bullets traveling at extremely high speeds. While many of these products look great on paper, they are often newer products that lack the known effectiveness and reliability of standard ammunition. Further aggravating the problem is the fact that these products are usually more expensive than standard ammunition, making it more costly for a gun owner to fire many rounds in their gun in order to test the recoil and reliability of the exotic ammunition.

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A final note on self defense:
The decision to fire a gun at a human being, even when the human being is a home invader, is not a decision to be made lightly. From a moral, and likely from a legal standpoint, it is only justifiable to shoot at a human in order to prevent them from inflicting death or grievous bodily harm upon upon you or another innocent person. Firing a gun is the last resort, not the first resort.

Join the NRA today and do your part to help preserve our gun rights (and save $10).

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  • AH

    Why not .410 birdshot? This can kill a large bird from tens of meters away. If you shot a guy inside your dwelling, even if he's wearing motorcycle leathers, you'd probably do very serious damage. Most likely a hit at close range would be fatal. Birdshot is least likely to overpenetrate. If you shot off 12 gauge .00 buck, the ricochet might get you, not to mention the overpenetration risk to family in the next room or your neighbors. Secondarily, the damage to your dwelling would be worse.

    A .22 rifle is lethal. Isn't .410 birdshot like having a machine gun full of .22 shells?

    • hicusdicus

      AH I agree with you. The face is full of nerve ending and a load of bird shot t will highly irritate hundreds of them. Also a blind person in great pain is not a threat.



    As discussed above, birdshot does not penetrate deeply enough to reliably stop an attacker.

    Also, a .22 can certainly kill, but is too small to reliably stop an attacker before they can harm their victim. A .22 bullet may kill that attacker minutes or hours later, while the goal of self defense is to stop the attacker right away – before they can inflict harm.

    Finally, birdshot pellets tend to be lighter weight and slower moving than .22 bullets, making them even less effective than a .22 bullet would be. Having lots of pellets doesn't really help all that much if none of the pellets are penetrating deeply enough to stop the attacker. It really isn't possible to have a projectile that will penetrate through inches of an attacker's bone and muscle, while not penetrating through the relatively flimsily materials that make up the interior walls of a home. That is why shot placement, and knowing what is behind the target, are so important.

    More information about the inappropriateness of birdshot for self defense, and ballistic gel tests showing this fact, can be seen here:
    Another test showing that birdshot is for hunting small birds, not stopping human attackers, can be seen here:

    • hicusdicus

      You really need to get some first hand experience and quit reading stuff written by people who don't understand real life. This forum is called learn about guns, when are you going to start learning.

  • AH

    That ballistic gel didn't look very happy even with the birdshot.

    I would think that indoors, at close range, .410 birdshot would be sufficient in essentially all cases and would offer advantages in terms of recoil, ricochet, and overpenetration. If I were a combat soldier, maybe I'd be more worried about stopping power. But as a homeowner, is this really an issue? Anyone hit at close range with even one shot would be seriously impaired. Am I just missing the boat?

    Poking around, at least one other site suggests that .410 is OK. See

    • hicusdicus

      you are correct, the rest of these people are just not right in the head.



    Actually, the site you mentioned in your last reply expressly recommends against birdshot, and the .410. That page said "Never use birdshot. . . Lose the .410 and buy a 20 gauge pump shotgun."

    Those websites that I mentioned, including the one with the ballistic gel tests, also strongly suggest against the use of birdshot. Birdshot just doen't penetrate deeply enough to reliably reach an attacker's vital organs.

    Birdshot will certainly wound, but injuring an attacker is not sufficient to reliably stop them, especially when their adrenaline is going, or when they are on drugs. More on that in the first paragraph here:

    If you really are intent on trusting your life to birdshot, it is certainly your choice. However I would urge you and others reading this to not make that choice. Birdshot just isn't sufficient to stop an attacker, for the reasons I discussed in my last reply.

    • hicusdicus

      There is not a human that walks on two legs that I can not put down with bird shot. Where do you get this misguided information?

    • hicusdicus

      Do you really think your attacker is going to be the incredible hulk? I am 6' 3" and weight 230 lbs and if some one shot me in the face with a load of bird shot I would say uncle faster than they could pull the trigger. In most cases the sound of gun fire will route most attackers. Bird shot may keep you from attending a loved ones funeral that you caused. All these emotional gun fanatics save my family scenario's are akin to the battle of Stalingrad you might want to give a little bit more thought to who else might be in the line of fire. I don't think there will be much fight left in some one with a bloody face full of holes.

  • BasinBictory

    ^ I'll have to look it up, but I know I've read somewhere that if you've got a pump-action shotgun with a multiple-round capacity, something that might be a good idea would be to load your magazine with different rounds, which increase in lethality. For instance, your first shot (or even second) could be the less-lethal birdshot, then the remainder of the magazine could be buckshot.

    I think the idea behind this article I read was that having your shotgun loaded in such a manner could potentially help you in a lawsuit if you were forced to shoot and kill an invader with your shotgun. Instead of racking your magazine full of "cop-killer/ultra-lethal/death-ray-like (or insert your liberal hyperbolic description of choice here) ammunition, one could point to the fact that the attacker had been warned and shot (twice) with the less-than-lethal load of birdshot, yet still came on, necessitating getting a lethal load of buckshot.

    Also: from the chuckhawks article:

    "Shotgun ammunition falls into three general categories:

    BUCKSHOT – shell loaded with large-diameter lead balls (.24" and up) used for big game hunting and self-defense. The number of pellets in 12 gauge buck-shot varies from eight .36" balls in "000 buck" to 27 .24" pellets in "#4 buck". Buckshot ratings are archaic and hard to understand (as are shotgun specifications and ammunition in general), but thankfully there isn't much you need to learn. Simply write down the recommended loads, walk into your local gunshop and announce your desired ammunition (note that "00" is pronounced "double ought" and "000" is pronounced "triple ought." Don't say "zero zero" or "oh-oh-oh buckshot" in front of gunshop employees. Then practice with both your selected defense load and low-cost birdshot to fully familiarize yourself with the operation of your gun and its terminal performance (e.g. patterns at various distances, the startling effects of buckshot on ballistic melons).

    BIRDSHOT- small-diameter pellets used for bird hunting. Its stopping power is poor, except when used at very close range – out to 20-30 feet. For that reason it is not generally recommended, except for home defense use.

    SLUGS are solid lead bullets for shotgun use. These are big, heavy, fat hunks of soft lead that have enormous stopping power (e.g. a typical 12 gauge slug is .73" caliber and weighs 438 grains – a 9mm bullet is .355" and 115 grains). Slugs must be carefully aimed to be effective. It is important to remember, however, that shotguns must be aimed with shot, too. Do not for a minute think that you can simply point your shot-loaded shotgun at the foe and let loose. Shotguns must be skillfully aimed and fired just like hand-guns and rifles."



    I would urge against shooting to wound under any conditions, as discussed here:

    • hicusdicus

      You do not shoot to wound or kill you shoot to deter any other reason could end up with felony charges. You are a lawyer aren't you?

      • .45 ACP

        I shoot to reduce the threat to its lowest level.

  • AH

    Seems to me that there are multiple competing factors. One is whether the bad guy is disabled, and to what extent. Others include the risks of unintended injury to self or others via overpenetration, ricochet, or decibel level, and property damage, and the ability to maneuver and handle the shotgun under duress, probably indoors and at night, possibly by a woman.

    If bigger is better, why not get a 10 gauge and use only slugs? As an apartment dweller contemplating a first shotgun, it strikes me that .410 with smaller shot, is a good compromise. Has as much power as a .357 and at 20 feet will be good enough. LAG, aware of any news stories where larger gun or shot would have made a difference?

    • hicusdicus

      Its usually just blind luck but a load of bird shot in the face will give you better odds and it is easier to be successful than using a bullet.



    I've heard of several real life examples of where too small of a gun was used in self defense. I don't have any good examples to link to at the moment, but I think I'll find a particularly good example and write a post about it sometime soon.

    Regarding a .410 being similar in performance to a .357, I would just say that I would rather not trust my life to a .357, when much more effective calibers are available. Inside a home, where concealment of the self defense gun doesn't matter, I would much rather have a 12 ga shotgun in a life and death situation.

    • hicusdicus

      Why don't you just wait until you have a real life or death situation before you decide to write about it. That way it might have some credibility.

  • booker

    In defending my life or the lives of loved ones, I choose ammo with a good mix of “stopping power” and lethality. While I value human life, if you come into my home with malicious intent, my response is with overmatching force.

    My 12ga shotgun comes ready with 4 rounds of 00 Buck backed up by deer slugs. When lives are in the balance, I’m not concerned with damage to my house. I am familiar with the spread pattern on my shotgun and therefore am confident that I can control the shot. Overpenetration with the slugs is possible, but again, if I’m on round 5, it’s a dire situation.

    Handgun (Glock 20 10mm), I keep two 15rd mags loaded with 180gr bonded defense JHP, the other two with 135gr Nosler. They’re stored in such a way that I can identify which is which in the dark. It’s nice to have options.

    • hicusdicus

      So your scenario is to have time for options? I certainly hope for your sake that your attacker has allowed for this. A wagon load of weapons and a flashlight might come in handy.

  • Crash

    .410 bird shot might stop the 2-bit thug or DAPC (Dumb *ss Petty Criminal) at close range and make them high tail it out of your store or house, but (you knew it was coming) when it comes to stopping a determined thief or just plain demented attacker close range combat would be my last choice. I would prefer dealing a lethal stopping force at medium short range and ending the altercation quickly. So, I would suggest a larger caliber bullet or shot vice the smaller projectiles.

    • Rozyredtoes

      I am not sure what the difference is in dumb ass criminals and determined criminal. As far as I know they all bleed and feel pain. A .45 cal right between the eyes would be my choice any day. But if you are caught unaware and are not a star athlete and a crack shot and don't happen to have your glasses on and are losing control of your anal outlet and their are more than one and they are high on drugs my choice would be a hand held .410 shot gun. Preferably one in each hand. Nobody and I mean nobody is going to screw with you after you have turned their face or faces into a big Mack. The 000 buck should be reserved for their nut sack. You know the nut sack thing might be kinda interesting to observe. If they don't bleed out because you were unwise and called 911 in a timely fashion at least they won't be able to procreate and pass on their moronic evil attitude.

  • Lloyd Booth

    The hollow point bullet having +P rating in the 380 ACP, 9mm C9, 40 ACP, or 45 ACP will do just fine for all my personal security needs.

    • hicusdicus

      What if you miss????????????

      • Lloyd

        If I miss it's lights out for me. If I hit it's lights out for them. But, so far its been a good life, and I have not missed yet.

        • hicusdicus

          What if you miss and hit the 6 year old 20 ft behind him? It won't be lights out for you but you might wish it had been.

  • Vince

    While the author has done a decent job mentioning throughout this website the benefits of shotguns and buckshot in self defense, he consistently fails to notice the primary problem with shotguns… especially in the home, not everything is the target. While there is a fair amount of accuracy when using buckshot at close range, the risk is significant of collateral damage with a poor shot is significant (although better than with bird shot). This is especially worrisome if you are concerned about nearby family members being killed or injured by ricocheting shot. Slugs may over-penetrate, but you have better control over what you hit. While i am a proponent of shotguns being used for home defense, the full risks need to be considered. On a different note, many types of exotic ammunition are and have been well established, to include hallow-points. Fragmenting, incendiary, exploding etc… bullets have been used for more than 50 years. Fragmenting rounds are particularly of note for being both well established and very practical. Finding good reliable manufacturers is the greater problem then the rounds themselves.

    • hicusdicus

      The author started Learn about Guns because he apparently did not know much about them and still seems to have a long way to go. If I am not mistaken exploding bullets come under the legal definition of you are going to prison no matter what your excuse is for using them. Fragmenting rounds! On a different note What do you think a load of buckshot is? Bullets have been used for a whole lot longer than 50 years. What has that got to do with civilian self defense that won't land the defender in prison. I wonder what your thoughts would be after you mistakenly killed a stranger or by accident a loved one.

  • taurusman

    The .410 is the weakest of shotgun rounds there is, I still would not want to stand in front of one. I have a Mossburg 500 12ga loaded with 00 buckshot. Hell, just the noise from racking one in,is usually enough to stop a determined home-invader. As been determined,a 12 gauge pump shotgun is the best home protection weapon in the world. If that noise don't stop them;what follows sure as hell will.