Pros and Cons of Using Birdshot for Self Defense

Published by the Author on May 10, 2008 at 5:00 pm > How-To Guides and Other Info > Pros and Cons of Using Birdshot for Self Defense

I received an email from a reader of this site, telling me about the Taurus Judge, which is a revolver that can fire either the .45 Long Colt, or a .410 shotgun shell (often loaded with birdshot).  By chance I happen to have handled a Taurus Judge right before I read that email.  Below is is the email I received, along with my thoughts on the use of birdshot for home and automotive defense.

The Email from “Walt”
“Taurus has a 5 shot revolver called The Judge that also chambers .410 shot shells.
Seems to be perfect for home defense.”

Birdshot for self defense
Insofar as self defense is concerned, I do not consider birdshot to be effective, and this opinion is shared by many other people.  The reason is simple: To stop an attacker right away, before they can kill or seriously injure you, you must disrupt their vital organ(s).  The small birdshot pellets are unable to penetrate an attacker deeply enough to reach a vital organ.   Birdshot will cause a painful and messy looking wound, but it simply won’t reach the vital organs.  Some people will argue that at close range, birdshot is “like a solid column of lead”, but this is not the case either.  While it is true that the pellets are close together and nearly touching, they will still behave as individual pellets as they penetrate the target, and ballistic gel testing demonstrates this.  The birdshot, even at extremely close range, will only penetrate about 6 inches of ballistic gel, while penetration of 12 inches of ballistic gel is generally considered the minimum effective depth to stop an attacker.  With birdshot, the attacker may well be fatally wounded, but in the many minutes or hours it takes before the attacker succumbs to their wounds, they still can kill you or a loved one.  That is why I generally recommend at least 00 buckshot for self defense, when using a shotgun.
I discuss self defense ammunition for shotguns, as well as rifles and handguns in greater detail here.

ALSO READ:  Ballistic Gel Testing Results

The Exceptions to my No-Birdshot Suggestion
Please note that I said that I “generally” recommend buckshot, but I can envision some scenarios in which birdshot may be acceptable or even preferred over buckshot.
One such scenario would be for vehicular defense.  Since a citizen faced with a car jacking often has a means of escaping from the car jacker, it might be sufficient to simply incapacitate the car jacker for a few seconds in order to allow for an escape.  This differs from the home invasion situation, where the home owner may have a sleeping family to stay with and defend, along with an escape route blocked by the criminal.  In the car jacking scenario, the greater likelihood of a hit that birdshot provides may be beneficial, and the limited stopping power of birdshot may be less of a problem.  Similarly, the limited penetration of birdshot may help protect innocent bystanders who are in nearby cars.  This is the rational for using birdshot advocated by many users of the Taurus Judge.
Another scenario where birdshot may be acceptable is in an apartment building or house with very thin walls and many innocent bystanders on the other side of the walls.  In this scenario, the only benefit of birdshot is that it will be less likely to over penetrate and hit an innocent victim, but is is also less likely to stop the attacker.  I’m less confident that bird shot is the ideal solution in such a scenario (I would rather rely on buckshot and good aim), but some people in this situation will opt for birdshot.

ALSO READ:  Selecting a Defensive Revolver Caliber

P.S.: My thanks to “Walt” for the email discussing the Taurus Judge.

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  • Arturo Mtz

    Yes birdshot from a pistol is a pest load but from an auto 12 or 10 gauge shotgun, using 4 or 3 shot at ranges of about 10 to 20 m (30 to 60 ft)gives you an advantage in hit probability that is wellcome specialy when your target is moving fast and the ligth is poor. Maybee the wound will not be the very best; but he will no escape in good conditions and, if he reached you, will be fighting in desadvantage.

  • Jay B

    I agree with arturo, I see the dismissal of birdshot all over the internet from top to bottom savvy and noobie reviewers alike.

    I am a Judge owner myself and live in an apartment, in a bad neighborhood, with my girlfriend to protect, and neighbors on all sides. I own an arsenal from 30.06 down to .22LR and now the judge due to the closed confines of my present situation. (Thanks Bush and Mobama)

    I personally feel that 1 or 2 shots of birdshot is not only logical but ideal for self defense, everyone seems to assume that you will only hit below the neck, above the groin, and in between the arms with BIRDSHOT coming from a 2 1/2 inch barrell. From my personal tests at the range I have found that saying birdshot keeps a 20" group at 10 feet, or from one side of a small living room to the other, is simply not true, it peppers a very large area after 5 feet and while unpredictable, and inconsistent, is ALWAYS a much larger area than the torso. What am I getting at? If you were a frightened, scared citizen, never thrown a punch in your life, and you found yourself shooting to the left of the torso of the guy that just smashed in your door and is now glaring at you menacingly. By my measurements and 100's of rounds fired the assailant would most definitely catch 5 to 10 pellets at high velocity in A: Both eyes, B: The windpipe C: the mouth/nose and D: the groin and or hand AS WELL AS the torso. This is 1 shot of approx. 70 bb's (roughly half a 12gauge equiv birdshot) so 4 more shots of this and you will most certainly affect to some degree ABCD targets aiming SLIGHTLY OFF THE ENTIRE TARGET so this does not even include marksman/well placed shots isolating most of the shot to the face/neck which to the throat would certainly be lethal by the 5th shot. I personally prefer using alternating rounds but I always lead off with 1 shot of birdshot. Depth of penetration to any parts listed is completely and utterly irrelevant and personally catching 30-50 bb's with my face and throat from the well placed shot of a revolver even on the worst acid trip I would not want to continue my assault, nor could I because I wouldnt be able to see my victim who is by now laughing hysterically at the mess hes made of what used to be my face.

    Forget the laws of "stopping power" for a moment and consider the benefits of disabling the targets arsenal: His hand will not function with fingers full of shot, he will not breath with concussive force of multiple foreign objects slamming into the throat, he will not see with compromised eyeballs. Now: Assuming he is Buuba the Silverback Gorilla and hes here to rape and plunder all the everything high on glass and decides he will continue to attack, or if its a guy wearing a motorcycle helmet I guess for some stupid reason, or if he blocks the headshot with both arms because he is chuck norris, My home defense setup consists of 1 #6 shot, 2 000 buck (3 pellets each) and 2 hollow-point silver tipped .45 LC. I have full confidence in the Judge's ability to protect my family combined with my weekly practice. In an apartment I would personally not use anything else as far as firearms are concerned. I feel comfortable with the buckshot in my particular situation, the LC's are only if something goes horribly wrong, and the guy decides hes going to fight me with 10's of bb's lodged in him and 6 large balls of metal floating around in various bodyparts.

    My point is this, if any assailant somehow survives all 5 shots even of just birdshot and still has the energy to engage you in combat I cannot imagine he would put up much of a fight even for an amateur lawyer type shmuck. Maybe some gurgling and absurd flailing about, he wont care about your possessions or your wife anymore I promise you that.

    Bottom line: Certainly not "Only good for snakes and trails" as I keep hearing. People are people, not superman or genetically engineered cyborgs that you need 14 inches of penetration or your bullets will magically bounce off. BTW Mythbusters proved no bullet even .50cal FMJ rifle round will travel through more than 14 inches of water. Period. Ill leave you to your own conclusions about the "box-o-truth" b.c it sounds and looks more like the "box-o-crap" to me.

    It seems to me the same theory as the boxer vs the MMA guy. The boxer says well my way is the best because my punches can kill my opponent with one well placed hit, the MMA guy says if I disable my opponent, it wont matter how hard he can punch, and maybe I wont have to kill him.

    • hicusdicus

      Jay B, You are so right on you need to receive an award for excellence. Bucket of crap is exactly what it is. I have fired my 4 judges close to 2000 times from standing, laying down as in bed to under my armpit behind me and have always filled the 12 x 12 target with enough holes to stop any human. I just sold my Glock 27 and plan to replace it with light weight public defender. Close in personal defense is the name of the game, not battle field combat.

    • Jamie Clemons

      Judge has rifled barrel. Shot fired from a rifled barrel is scattered more.

  • Rodd Snyder

    Great post. I've got kids in the house… I prefer birdshot in my pistolgrip for HD.

  • Outdoorsman

    The Taurus (5 shot) has the ability to load and fire both .45 cal. and the 410 shotgun shell. I usually load mine with a little of both. I would start with 2 or 3 / 410 shells and follow up with a couple of the 45's…That way, if the 410 does not do the trick, then the 45's will finish the job…


  • Security

    You have made a wise choice. Load er up with 45 +P 230 and you will be set.

    • hicus

      The 45 long is not a good choice at all. It can easily miss and cause collateral damage. XPD is a much better choice. If you want to shoot .45s buy a .45. I have shot hundreds of rds at 12×12 targets using #6 and #4 you will always get 20 to 30n rds or more in the target. If you fire 3 to 4 times it is devastating.

      • security

        The idea is: what ever gun you use, put the best bullet in it. The bullet is the object that does the damage. The gun is only the tool that launches the bullet. The better the bullet the better the success in stopping the threat. The better the gun the better the reliability to cycle the bullet.

  • Jamie Clemons

    6 inches of penetration is more than enough to penetrate the heart and kill someone. If they are hiding behind something then you are going to have a serious problem trying to explain self defense. At self defense range bird shot is adequate to kill. Buckshot will over penetrate and possibly kill your kids or the neighbors. Birdshot at 20 to 30 feet self defense range is going to leave a softball sized hole in you deep enough to incapacitate even a person on drugs.

  • reallY

    I stayed up half the night once watching every video I could find on home invasions, break ins, robberies. Here is what I learned; once the first shot is fired, the bad guys scatter like cockroaches under a spotlight, they flee as fast as they can, any way they can because they are already on edge. My father is in his 80’s and has a S&W 357 revolver at home. I don’t want him shooting through the walls to the outside or even into another room to damage his stuff. Bird shot gives him a better chance of hitting something and again I believe that a startled or wounded invader will flee. So for this application I feel there is no better round than bird shot. Again, a .38 blast, regardless of ammo will intimidate all but the craziest of humans, hit or miss. Consider the situation is the best answer IMHO.

  • LestWeForget

    There are no pros to using bird-shot for home defense.

    Don’t believe everything you read, especially in blogs and forums, research to seek the truth.


    A shotgun striking her in the chest at close range contained bird shot in this article.

    “The female victim suffered serious injuries and was taken to hospital,where she remains in serious condition.

    “Serious” is not life threatening… this was bird shot (and at close range)

    I question the size of the steel shot and the penetration some arbitrarily throw around going into soft gelatin but one thing is for certain, buckshot would have surely been fatal. Bird-shot is for birds, tiny critters, not larger mammals.

    Need the right tool to do the job right – a garden hose just can’t do the work of a heavy duty power-washer.

    Pros- the loud bang might scare the bad guy or kill him by uncontrollable laughter

    Cons- requires heavy lubrication of the firearm thoroughly so it doesn’t hurt as much when the bad guy shoves it where the sun don’t shine.