HOME DEFENSE: Is Birdshot Good Enough?

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I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end. That’s for sure!

We gun folk are exceptionally guilty of repeating hearsay and assuming it’s truth. You know how it works. If some hypothetical scenario gets repeated enough, it becomes the truth.

This week’s Mad Gun Science experiment has to do with the idea of using birdshot for home defense. This one has two “hearsay” truths.

Birdshot is effective at short range because the shot acts like one big projectile before it has a chance to spread out too much.

Birdshot is not effective for home defense because the small and light pellets won’t penetrate enough to stop a determined home invader.

Rather than discuss the theoretical merits of each argument, I decided to go shoot some stuff with birdshot at very short ranges. For ammo, I elected to use a broad range of what might be considered birdshot. This is not any test of specific brands or loads of shot shells, just what I had on hand that represented a cross section of sizes of birdshot pellets. Oh, all of these are 12 gauge loads.

Remington Sportsman Hi-Speed Steel #1, 1 ¼ oz, 3”, 1,400 fps

Remington Premier Hevi-Shot Buffered Waterfowl, #4, 1 ¼ oz, 2 ¾”, 1,325 fps

Federal Target Load, # 7 ½, 1 ⅛ oz, 2 ¾”, 1,145 fps

Winchester Universal, #8, 1 ⅛ oz, 2 ¾”, 1,200 fps

For the gun, I chose to use my Beretta 1301 Tactical Shotgun. It’s a perfect home defense gun and features an 18” cylinder bore barrel. Since the test gun is un-choked, you might assume slightly better results if you use a choke to narrow your pattern even more.


  1. I prefer not to be shot with any of these.
  2. Using birdshot against an attacker will likely make a huge mess.
  3. For this “solid mass of pellets” theory to hold up, you really need to be inside a range of 15 feet, preferably 10. The ability to blow large holes through plywood was far more consistent at 10 feet than 15. At 10 feet, shot size didn’t seem to matter a whole lot.
  4. As to effectiveness for home-defense, you have to make your own call. The short range performance was certainly devastating to plywood, but the gel tests showed nowhere near the level of penetration that a traditional handgun bullet would achieve.
  5. Blowing stuff up with shotguns is fun, even though I get strange looks at the range.

Read more: outdoorhub.com

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