I have previously covered this topic in TF&G magazine, but this being the computer age, I figured it would be a wise thing to cover it here in cyberland also.
Since the invention of the shotgun buckshot has been used for both hunting and personal protection. There are, I suspect, very few people who do not know that the term “double-aught” refers to a load of buckshot, even those who wouldn’t know a shotgun from a violin.
Over the years, especially since the invention of the motion picture, buckshot has become famous as a devastating self-defense load. It is thought to be so deadly that when hit with it the victim is literally thrown bodily through the air. The last time I saw this was on the TV the other night on the made-for-television movie, Open Range, staring Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall.
Duvall’s character shoots a bad guy with a shotgun. He has to shoot through the wooden wall of a building to get at the baddy, but that doesn’t matter. The shotgun, a double-barrel, tears a large hole in the wall and then knocks the evil-doer about 10 feet through the air, across the alley, where he lands against the wall of the next building.
This makes for highly exciting entertainment, but it is anything but factual. Buckshot is a super-effective close-range combat tool, but it is nowhere near as powerful as it is portrayed it the movies.
At ranges of up to about 20 or 25 yards, depending on the load and the shotgun, it is incredibly effective at stopping a man in his tracks, causing him to cease whatever it is he is doing that endangers you or your loved ones. As the range increases the effectiveness decreases, until at something like 50 yards, it becomes quite ineffective.
Since most gunfights happen at less than 30 feet, the shotgun loaded with buckshot is the best possible choice. In a 12-gauge shotgun the most common choices of buckshot are #00, #1, and #4. Double-aught (00) is .33 caliber, #1 is .30 caliber, and #4 is .24 caliber. In a standard 2 3/4” shell there are 9 #00 pellets, 16 #1 pellets, and 27 #4 pellets.
Mathematically speaking, the impact area, or frontal area, of the loads are: .77” for #00, 1.13” for #1, and 1.22” for #4.
Now what can we deduce from this? The first thing we can deduce is that all things being equal, the larger the pellets are, an assailant shot with each of these loads will be hit with a lower number of pellets and less impact area. Double-aught is the largest pellet, has the fewest pellets in a shell, and provides the fewest pellets and smallest impact area of any of the three. Strictly speaking, #4 buckshot is mathematically superior to the larger pellets, but each individual pellet is smaller and has less energy.
It is my personal opinion, backed up by actual testing, that the best load is #1 buckshot. It provides almost the same total frontal area as #4 buckshot, and has greater individual pellet energy. It also has more than a fourth greater total frontal area than 00, has nearly as much individual pellet energy, and 7 more pellets in each load.
A young friend and I just finished doing some testing on my range. He did the shooting and I did the watching. We (he) shot #4 and #1 buckshot with both a cylinder bore and a modified choke at ranges from 15 to 40 yards. The #4 buckshot was from 3” magnums holding 41 pellets, and the #1 from standard 2 3/4” shells holding 16 pellets.
At 15 yards both guns and both loads put 100% of the pellets on the target (target was a reduced size silhouette). At 20 yards the modified choke put 27 #4s and 16 #1s, while the open choke put 20 #4s and 14 #1s. At 25 yards the total with modified was 14 #4s and 15 #1s, and the open was 12 #4s and 6 #1s.
At 40 yards the modified managed 7 #4s and 6 #1s, and the open got 6 #4s and 3 #1s.
You can draw your own conclusions from this, but what I see here is that for distances beyond 20 yards the modified choke is superior and the #1 buckshot better than the #4. Up to 20 yards it makes little difference which choke you use, and at 40 yards and beyond you should be using a rifle.
My personal preference for self-defense is #1 buckshot. I think it is the best choice. I do not like 00 for the simple reason that it has fewer pellets, less frontal area, and generally patterns less well than the smaller pellets. I prefer a denser pattern of medium-sized pellets. You make you own choice.