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Ammunition Demystified: The Best Shotgun Ammo for Home Defense

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If you’ve chosen a shotgun for your home defense needs, a good grasp on the size and type of available ammunition is essential to your survival plan. Because they are such versatile firearms, the ammo produced for shotguns comes in a wide variety of sizes, power and styles. Here’s a crash course on what your ammunition is trying to tell you, along with a comparison of different types widely available for home defense.



A shotgun’s “gauge” is the term used to refer to the diameter of its bore–the internal diameter of the gun’s barrel. Unlike the term “caliber,” which works similarly for rifles and handguns, the larger the number of the shotgun gauge, the smaller the bore. In other words, a 20-gauge round is going to be smaller than a 12-gauge, which in turn is smaller than a 10 gauge. Whenever shopping for shotgun ammunition, the gauge on the box must match the gauge on your firearm. There are several different gauges of shotguns and shotgun ammo available, but the most often recommended for home defense are probably the 12 gauge and the 20 gauge.



The shell, or outer casing, of shotgun ammunition comes in three basic types. Active shells are created almost entirely of plastic, save for the tiny metal piece that holds the primer at the very center of the case head. Active shells are best for hunters and outdoor shooters, because they are nearly impervious to elemental damage, including rust.

Low and high brass shells, on the other hand, work better for home defense situations. High brass shells have a brass base that extends up the body of the shell by just under an inch, while low brass versions have a much narrower band of metal at the base of the shell. Low brass shells generally pack a less powerful punch than the high brass ones, but either will work well.



Another important factor when it comes to buying ammunition for your shotgun is the length of the shell. Like gauges, not all lengths will fit in all shotguns. Common lengths include 2 ¾ and 3 inches. The longer the shell, the more powder and pellets they contain. Remember, loading a larger shell into a gun designed for shorter shells (even if it physically fits inside the weapon itself) is extremely dangerous.


Another number you’ll find printed on your shotgun ammunition box will be the dram equivalent. This is a reference to the power contained within the ammo itself. The higher the dram equivalent, the more energy and the faster the shot will travel when fired.

Once you know the basic components that make up your shotgun ammunition, you can decide which of the four basic categories you want to use and stock up on for your home defense needs.


Rubber Slugs

Referred to as “less lethal,” rubber slugs are designed to stop an assailant without killing them. This makes them a good option for those who fear they might waver when it comes time to pull the trigger, but users beware. If you’re dealing with an intruder with a high pain tolerance, a serious determination, or who is on a chemical substance that affects their pain perception, then a rubber slug won’t be nearly as effective.



Shotgun slugs are a single, cylindrical projectile. They’re discharged from your gun as an individual solid mass. Because of the massive over-penetration risk, slugs are almost exclusively used for hunting larger game. And since they don’t spread the way bird or buckshot will, slugs must be aimed carefully to be completely effective.



Buckshot ammunition is filled with pellets of at least .24 inches in diameter. Unlike the solid mass that is the slug, buckshot is dispersed in a large quantity every time it’s fired. As a general rule, the larger the individual pellets, the fewer of them you will find inside the casing.



Similar to buckshot, birdshot rounds are filled with pellets. However, the pellets within birdshot (so named because it’s often used to hunt for fowl) are much smaller. The most common size is approximately .15 inches around. Because of the size and spread of the pellets, birdshot leaves very little chance of excessive over-penetration. That, along with the fact that it lessens the margin for user error, makes birdshot your best bet when it comes to loading a shotgun for home defense.

Let me know what is your poison when it comes to shotgun and ammo. There are plenty of people who don’t know what to buy …. let’s help them out. Just write in the comment box below what do you own as shotgun and we will take it from there.

By Abby Six
Contributer for

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    Total 5 comments
    • Joshua24:15

      OO Buckshot, slug,OO Buckshot,slug,OO buckshot. The buckshot wounds, the slug finishes.

      • Cwilly

        Joshua 24, I basically agree with you but I change the count. In my shotgun I rotate two 00 buckshot then one Foster slug. Either way someone needs to reconsider coming in our houses unannounced or unwelcome. When SHTF happens I will back up my shotgun with a tactical SKS. Considering a nice 45 ACP.

      • barebones

        For me, slugs are a bit much to absorb. I prefer 12 GA 5 Bird (170 X 0.12) alternated with 4 Buck (21 X 0.25). Hit ‘em with the Bird and finish ‘em with certainty with the Buck to avoid a disability civil law suit that you’ll pay for the rest of your life.

    • Anonymous

      I ask, why would you attend a venue in a state that keeps reelecting a man that works tirelessly to take your fire arms.

      Why would you buy a frie arm that was introduced at a venue in a state that keeps electing a man that works
      tirelessly to take your fire arms.

      Yes I am talking about the Las Vegas shot show. Maybe it is time to start thinking instead of just following like a sheeple!

      Think about what I just posted. :idea:

      • Cwilly

        Number 1 with your verbiage you seem to be drunk. Number 2 I’ve never been to the Las Vegas shot show. Number 3 it didn’t take much thinking to really wonder if you know what you are talking about.

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