Best Shotgun Shells For Home Defense: A 2021 Review

| Last Updated: October 18, 2021

Having the appropriate type of firearm is not the only factor in a home defense strategy. The ammo feeding that firearm can be equally as important in a home defense scenario. Choosing home defense ammo isn’t only about stopping power.

It is also about choosing an ammo type appropriate for the specific environment being defended as well as considering the safety of innocent people nearby such as other family members and neighbors. Shotguns are a popular home defense option and have a huge variety of ammo options.

Keep reading to see the best shotgun shells for home defense available today!

Comparison of the Best Shotgun Shells For Home Defense

IMAGEPRODUCT
  • Hard hitting 00 buckshot with high 1310 fps velocity
  • 2.75" size shell with 9 lead pellets delivering a tight pattern
  • Suitable for thin skin big game and home defense
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  • Ubiquitous ammunition for small game and home defense
  • Affordable to procure in bulk due to low price
  • Lesser penetration than 00 buck to protect bystanders
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  • Rifled slug for smooth-bore barrels for long range accuracy
  • Hollow point foster style slug with tough lead-alloy core
  • High muzzle velocity of 1600 fps for range and hitting power
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  • 130 grain rubber slug rounds for optimal damage to hostile
  • 130 ft-lbs of force and 600 fps muzzle velocity
  • Single .73 caliber rubber slug cased in 2.75" shell. Delivers low penetration
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  • Very useful at close range home defense
  • Minimal to no over penetration for background safety
  • 1200 fps muzzle velocity. Also suitable for hunting and practice
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  • Inexpensive and economical 16 gauge shells for home defense
  • #2 shot size delivers ample hitting power with tight spread
  • 1350 fps muzzle velocity and designed for waterfowl hunting
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  • Copper plated extra hard shot available in multiple sizes
  • Triple plus wad column for optimal dispersion
  • High quality shotshells suitable for upland hunting as well
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What to Watch For When Buying Shotgun Shells

Choosing ammo to be used in a defense situation is a little different than buying ammo for a fun day at the range. Different factors become more important such as reliability, stopping power, and safety for innocent bystanders. Ideally, you will never need to test the effectiveness of any shotgun shells for home defense, but if you do, you want it to work without question. Use the following tips and information to help guide you to the best shotgun shells for home defense.

This Section Written By: Brian Belko

Expert Author

Brian Belko: Gunmann Author

Brian is an experienced freelance writer and technical writer who has previously written for publications such as Wide Open Spaces, Bigfoot Gun Belts, Alien Gear Holsters, and Kampgrounds of America. He brings both a passion for writing and a love of the outdoors to his published content.

Aside from writing and the outdoors, Brian enjoys gardening, being a co-host on The Nostalgia Blast Podcast, and learning to code.

A Penetrating Question

Using a shotgun in a home defense scenario can often mean discharging the firearm in an area where you typically would not do so. This means that different considerations must be taken when choosing the right shells for your specific situation. The last thing anyone wants to happen is for an innocent person to be injured by a shot intended to defend them. This creates a balancing act of choosing a shell that will stop an intruder and one that won’t travel far through walls.

This balancing act comes down to a few things including your skill set, type of shotgun and accessories, and your home’s proximity to other dwellings. Take some time to evaluate these things before choosing any shotgun shells for home defense. In some cases, birdshot might do the job and keep collateral damage to an absolute minimum. In others, more robust ammo might be required.

Photo credit: gfycat.com

And…Action!

The type of action on your home defense shotgun is another important consideration. Pump action shotguns will typically feed any shells you load up smoothly and reliably. Some semi-automatic shotguns can be more finicky and care should be taken to select shells that will feed through your specific shotgun without issue. There might not be time to clear a jam in the middle of a home invasion scenario. This is especially important if someone with less firearms experience is home alone when intruders enter the home.

Testing 1, 2, 3

With so many shotgun shells marketed as home defense shells, it can be overwhelming to make a decision. One way to ease that issue is to purchase a single box of several varieties and plan a day at the range to test them out with your own shotgun. This will give you the clearest picture as to what type fits your needs and how it will perform when the time comes. Hopefully, that time will never come, but being prepared never hurts.

Review of the  Best Shotgun Shells For Home Defense 

Now let’s take a look at the comprehensive list of different shotgun shell ammunition suitable for home defense. These include shells of different gauges and shot sizes, with explanations about why they are the best in their class.

Best Overall

Winchester Super-X Buckshot 12 GA 2-3/4″ #00 SHOT

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What Recent Buyers Report

There are a ton of different customer reviews for this shotgun ammo. Since it is the most used and best-selling ammo for almost every 12 gauge application. The ammo shoots clean and projects a very tight pattern. The penetration is perfect and the high velocity makes things easier for home defense. However, the recoil does require getting adhered to. 

Why it Stands Out to Us

The 00 buckshot is a very popular and most used ammunition type of home defense and hunting. These specific shells are 2 ¾ inches in length and carry 9 pellets to deliver maximum effect on the target. The buffered shot ensures tight patterns and makes sure the shooter hits the target. 

While this ammo has a higher price tag, it is well worth it. The velocity is constant and the shells will go bang every time you pull the trigger. The ammo does kick hard, but it is perfect for average and seasoned shooters. 

Bottom Line

The Winchester Super-X is a powerful shotgun shell used for bringing down deer. These are high-quality shells with hard-hitting power. However, you must practice adhering to the recoil before you employ them for home defense. 

Pros

Multi-purpose 12 gauge ammo

Limited spread to protect bystanders 

High velocity for better energy transfer

Readily available, inexpensive and multipurpose

Hard-hitting power to bring down almost anything

Cons

Be careful about the backdrop

Lead composition is restricted in some states

Runner-up

Sellier & Bellot #4 Buckshot

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What Recent Buyers Report

A lot of buyers keep this round for home defense and small game hunting. The shells cycle very well and don’t leave grime behind. Thus requiring lesser overall maintenance of the weapon. The spread of pellets is very good and the hitting power is just perfect.

Why it Stands Out to Us

#4 buckshot offers the perfect balance between hard-hitting power and apt penetration. While the shot is itself powerful enough to penetrate through drywall. It is more suited for houses with more sturdy construction like cement, brick or concrete. The 27 steel pellets included in these shells deliver a good amount of force and coverage on the target. Ensuring that the attacker is licking the ground with a single hit. Sure not to rise again. Procuring these shells is very affordable, which also ensures that you can practice as much as you want.

Bottom Line

These shells can be kept as a common load for hunting and home defense. With an utterly reliable performance and low price tag. These high quality 12 gauge shells from Sellier & Bellot offer an amazing value for money. 

Pros

Very inexpensive and affordable

Very good pattern up to 25 yards

Includes 27 pellets for wider damage

Powerful buckshot but with low penetration

Cons

Limited application and short-range

Not suitable for low strength walls(drywalls or mdf boards)

Best for the Money

Hornady 12ga 1oz Rifled Slug

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What Recent Buyers Report

These slugs offer great value for money and run perfectly right out of the box. The muzzle velocity is similar to the advertised value when shot from long or short barrels. Plus the muzzle energy(2,484ft-lbs) is enough to bring down a charging two-legged or four-legged threat instantly.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Why did we include a slug on our list? Isn’t that insane? Everybody knows that a slug can penetrate through two-panel walls and then hit a man sitting behind a car door. Yes, that’s true and perhaps it is uncommon to include a slug in a list. But remember, a home defense scenario doesn’t always refer to a 10-15 feet hallway.

People live on farms, ranches, and can possibly encounter a hostile person sitting 20 feet away in a car. That’s where the range and penetration of a slug can come in handy. While it is not recommended to load your entire mag tube with slugs. Keeping a couple of them at hand is not going to hurt. These high powershells have an amazingly low recoil and break up on impact. Depicting a penetration of 18 inches in ballistic gel.

Bottom Line

Great for facing heavily clad hostiles hiding behind tough cover. The high power and long-range slugs are suitable for uncommon encounters. However, make sure to practice and improve your accuracy since it is a single projectile and doesn’t spray like pellets.

Pros

Can penetrate hard objects

Rifled foster style slug for better accuracy

Also suitable for hunting big game over medium range

Lead projectile causes irreparable damage to the target

Cons

Limited application for home defense

Too much over-penetration. Requires suitable surroundings

Best Rubber Shotgun Shells for Home Defense

Lightfield Home Defender

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What Recent Buyers Report

Buyers report it to be a good home defense round. Especially for people who are concerned about over-penetration or don’t want to use lethal force. The slugs are powerful, accurate and have good range. The discharge is very quiet and most buyers have been using them to fend off pesky animals. 

Why it Stands Out to Us

Rubber shotgun shells are a great way to avoid legal complications that may arise after a home defense situation, regarding the use of ‘excessive force’. These shells pack a 130-grain slug which leaves with a velocity of 600 fps and exerts 130 ft-lbs of force. The fact that it is a slug makes the hit more focused and effective. Causing enough damage to stop an intruder. 

These non-lethal slugs are a great way to tackle animals. Plus they eliminate the concern of over-penetration or lethal damage to the intruder or a bystander in a home defense situation. 

Bottom Line

The Lightfield home defense rubber slugs are very accurate and can be used over the maximum range allowed by a shotgun. It is a very effective non-lethal deterrent for invaders. Whether it be humans or animals. 

Pros

Great for warning shots

Powerful enough to break bones

Very accurate and effective on long or short-range

Also useful for scaring off animals without lethal damage

Great for avoiding legal complications after home defense

Cons

Requires deliberate aiming due to single projectile

Does not cycle. Semi-autos will need manual feeding

Best Low Recoil Shotgun Shells for Home Defense

FIOCCHI Ultra Low Recoil

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What Recent Buyers Report

The recoil with these shells is almost negligent. However, the impressive factor was the enormous amount of power these shells can spew at a range under 10 feet. You can refer to the detailed video below to compare its hitting power with a #00 buckshot.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Great for building with thin walls and people living in close vicinity. At a range of 10 feet, a #7 1/2 birdshot can penetrate 2.5 inch thick pieces of plywood. Which explains its power. However, a #7.5 is least likely to cross through even the thinnest walls. Especially when it has hit the intruder. It is common myth that birdshot doesn’t qualify as a good or even viable tool for home defense. But if you live in an apartment or places where you and your neighbor are separated just by a thin drywall, the right birdshot can ensure that it’s only the attacker that gets hit. While your neighbor or a loved one sitting in the next room is absolutely safe.

Bottom Line

The #7.5 birdshot is a great choice for recoil sensitive shooters or places where over-penetration of bystanding objects is a serious and imperative concern. These shells are super inexpensive and very effective in the normal home defense range. 

Pros

Super low recoil and better control 

Very inexpensive to buy and practice

Also useful for hunting birds and vermin

Almost eliminates the chances of over-penetration

Very effective at close range. Similar to heavy loads

Cons

Too much spread beyond 10 yards

Limited effect against armor or obstacles

Best 16 Gauge Shotgun Shells for Home Defense

Federal Speed-Shok 16 GA

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What Recent Buyers Report

Almost all buyers use it for hunting waterfowl like ducks and geese, and none of them complained about its performance. This is hard-hitting ammo and is very premium in quality and performance. The shots pattern perfectly and the ammo itself is very inexpensive and aptly priced.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Hmm… So you’re still using a 16 gauge shotgun. A somewhat good bargain between the 12 gauge and 20 gauge. 16 gauge shotguns are a rarity these days, but if you still have one, this is the best ammo to shoot. This speed-shok from Federal was exclusively designed to hunt waterfowl.

Which it has achieved remarkably, to the extent that it is the only suitable ammunition for many 16 gauge shotgun users. 16 gauge shells offer a good balance between hitting power and recoil. The #2 shot size packs enough punch to bring down an attacker in a single shot. The pellets are made from steel and the pack is very affordable to let you practice extensively.

Bottom Line

The 16 gauge Federal speed-shok is the best 16 gauge shotgun ammunition on the market for hunting waterfowl. The #2 size pellets are perfect for disabling even the biggest attacker in maximum two shots. 

Pros

Lighter recoil and better handling

Also perfect for hunting waterfowls

Patterns very well up and beyond 30 yards

Good balanced option between 12 and 20 gauge

High velocity and good hitting power at close range

Cons

Rare gauge with limited aftermarket options

Best 20 Gauge Shotgun Shells for Home Defense

Federal Pheasants Forever #4

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What Recent Buyers Report

As the name suggests, these shells have been designed to hunt upland birds. Some users have reported to bring down the toughest and fastest moving birds like chukars in a single shot. The recoil is very light and very easy to control. However, the powder may run dirty and the gun will require cleaning. 

Why it Stands Out to Us

Although this is a #4 shot and not buckshot (which is generally more preferred for home defense). The reason we chose this is because a person using a 20 gauge for home defense is most likely to be recoil sensitive. Which can be a bigger problem with comparatively heavy recoil and penetration of buckshot. 

The #4 shot keeps the recoil to a minimum while not compromising much on penetration. These shells won’t cause harm to bystanders if the target is missed. Plus, they’ll definitely bring down an intruder within the normal home defense range. 

Bottom Line

The Federal Pheasants Forever is a bird hunting round with high velocity and low recoil. But the hitting power and control delivered by these shells is amazing and ensures optimal performance in a stressful home defense scenario. 

Pros

High velocity and hitting power

Also useful for killing the toughest upland birds

Perfect penetration. Will not leave the target’s body

Copper plated extra hard shot with triple plus wad column

Best for women, youth shooters, and recoil-sensitive users

Cons

Not very effective against heavily clad clothing

What Makes a Shotgun Shell Great For Home Defense

Shotguns can simply be pointed rather than being aimed. This is what makes shotguns a perfect tool for home defense. It shoots a volley of pellets upon firing, which greatly increases the chances of hitting the target. Especially during abysmal situations like a home defense encounter. Where pumping adrenaline and anxiety can cause muscles and attention to flicker. 

What makes a shotgun such effective and powerful is the shell being used as ammunition. The two most commonly used shotguns fire 12 gauge or 20 gauge ammunition. The individual type of ammunition can be further classified based on different design and content factors. Shotgun shells pack a lot of power and are super effective at close range. Plus, the limited levels of penetration and the spread of pellets ensure that if hit from the right range and at the right point – the hostile is not going to get up again. 

Shotgun shells are also very inexpensive compared to other kinds of ammunition suitable for home defense. Additionally, since shotguns are very commonly used for hunting and other applications, shotgun shells are readily available on the market. 

Winchester Super-X Buckshot 12 GA 2-3/4″ #00 SHOT

Are All Shotgun Shells The Same

Nope. Shotgun shells differ in their gauge and contents. Just like a bullet of a specific caliber can have variants differ in terms of bullet weight, pressure, type, and amount of powder used. 

The basic differentiation among shotgun shells is their gauge. The most commonly used and suitable gauges for home defense are 12 and 20. These can further be classified based upon the size and number of pellets included in them.

For example, a standard 12 gauge #4 buck shotshell contains 24 pellets of 20.7 grains each, whereas a #00 buck contains 9 pellets of 53.8 grains each. Hence #00 buck has heavier pellets and more hitting power and penetration than a #4 buck. However, the pattern/spread will differ due to the number of pellets. 

How Do I Choose a Shotgun Shell For Home Defense

Gauge

The first thing to look for is the type of gauge which will be suitable for your home defense shotgun. 12 gauge shells are more powerful compared to 20 gauge, but have a nasty recoil and can be difficult to handle. Especially by recoil sensitive shooters. The best way is to shoot both and find the best for yourself. 

Load

As explained before with an example, different shotgun ammunition can feature different loads. Such as buckshot, birdshot, slugs, and further classified into #0, #1, #2, and so on depending upon the number and size of pellets included in them. #0 to #4 buckshot are the most preferred and commonly used loads for home defense. Slugs can also be a good option in the right conditions. 

Hornady 12ga 1oz Rifled Slug

Versatility

Some shotgun loads, such as the 00 buckshot are considered very versatile due to their power and penetration characteristics. A good home defense shotgun shell must be useful for other applications as well. So you don’t have to find and purchase different loads for different uses. 

Penetration

This is one of the most important prerequisite factors for choosing home defense shells. High power shells with deep penetration can break through thin wooden or board walls and can even reach your neighbor’s house. So a missed shot can be fatal for people other than the intruder. Take note of your home surroundings and interiors and choose a gauge/load with the right penetration. 

Cautious Considerations to Keep in Mind Regarding Shotgun Shells

Capacity

Shotguns are not spray and pray weapons since you only have a small number of rounds to fire. So make sure to put in some time at the range with the shotgun and ammunition you plan on using for home defense. 

Availability

Ammunition can quickly go out of stock if the supply isn’t enough. This can be a problem with uncommon shotshells brands and variants. So rather than scouring ammo shelves with no effect, try to choose more common and readily available ammunition. 

Surroundings

Be careful about the surroundings and backdrop when you plan on using a shotgun for home defense. As already explained before. Different shell types will have individual levels of penetration. 

Conclusion 

Shotguns are very useful tools for home defense. But factors like the shell size shot size, power, home interiors, and surroundings must be considered before choosing the right kind of ammunition. 12, 16 and 20 gauge shells are almost equally effective in a 4-5 yard range. But eventually, it comes down to your personal choice. 

Photo credit: gunpros.com

People Also Ask

Find answers to some common questions associated with using a shotgun in a home defense scenario. Find out why bird shots are effective, the difference between normal and buckshot, and other in’s and out’s of shotgun ammo. 

What is Better For Home Defense Buckshot or Slugs?

Each of them has its own importance depending upon the situation. Buckshot is the more preferred and widely used ammunition for home defense and hunting. Whereas slugs are just a single projectile and can shoot farther with more accuracy. Overall, buckshot is more favored. 

Is Birdshot Effective For Home Defense?

Birdshot pellets are smaller in size and are less likely to kill or even seriously damage an intruder if not hit on the right spot. Bird Shots are designed to kill birds and have very low penetration. So stopping a determined intruder(especially one on drugs) can be difficult.

What Shotgun Shells Do Police Use?

Police officers generally use 12 gauge 9 pellets 00 buckshot (a.k.a ‘double-ought’) ammo. These shells are the most common 12 ga shotgun ammo and are widely used for hunting. Police and SWAT teams can also employ 12 gauge 1 oz. shells for special needs like shooting armored enemies. 

What is the Difference Between #4 Shot and #4 Buckshot?

The term shot or buckshot simply classifies the size (diameter) of the pellets and the intended purpose of the ammunition. Buckshot pellets are larger in size and weight than plain shot and are used for hunting comparatively bigger games. #4 buckshot is suitable for deer, whereas #4 shot is suitable for birds.

Is 00 Buckshot Good Home Defense?

Indeed. It is the most commonly used load for home defense 12 gauge shotguns. It has an amazing stopping power and ensures to bring down a hostile, mostly with a single shot. It is also commonly used for hunting medium and big sized game, which testifies its efficacy. However, consider your surroundings given the deep penetration of 00 buckshot. 

How Long Do Shotgun Shells Last?

People have been recorded shooting shotgun shells that were about five decades old. If stored in the right conditions (cool and dry), ammunition can last almost forever. However, if the conditions are not ideal, the powder loses its potency over time. As a general rule of thumb, shotgun shells are good for at least 10 years.

Ankit Kumar is an engineer turned writer who specializes in topics related to firearms, gun safety and weapon tech. His passion towards enrolling in the Army drifted his interest towards light and heavy firearms. He’s a qualified competitive air rifle shooter and an avid nature lover. His other areas of expertise include survival, prepping and firearms/ammo storage. When he’s not writing, he’s either learning a new skill, trekking or enjoying a long drive.

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