A 12-guage shotgun is one of the most commonly recommended guns for home-defense, and one is in fact part of my personal plan. The scenario in which it would likely be employed is simple- crouch behind the bed pointing it at the bedroom door while calling the police. Sorry, if I seriously think there is someone dangerous in my house I am not going hunting them. I’ll leave that for the professionals, thanks. Of course with two large dogs at liberty in the house the chance of ever needing to execute this plan is vanishingly slim.
So, some thoughts on the 12 gauge shotgun as a home-defense gun, starting with ammunition. I now have a reloading press and will shortly start reloading shotgun rounds. The vast bulk of these rounds will be low-pressure loads of #7 or #7-1/2 shot; 1-1/8 ounce of shot at around 1150 fps. These mild loads will be kind to my beloved antique shotguns, and have proven effective on the range or for some small game birds. But there will be a few that are a bit different…
At indoor home defense ranges a 12 gauge shotgun is effectively a very powerful rifle; they simply don’t spread very much at short range. That being the case it requires fairly precise aim to insure that you will incapacitate a bad guy fast enough to do you any good. You have to hit vital structures and penetrate deeply enough to affect them.
A lot of people advocate the use of birdshot– #7 or #8– for home defense because it is less likely to penetrate interior walls with lethal force. This is true as far as it goes. The problem is that it may not have guaranteed lethal force even before it goes through a wall. In testing typical birdshot loads do not reliably penetrate deeply enough to interrupt vital structures even at point-blank range. Yes, they will produce a devastating wound– but they will not reliably produce a physiological stop with a center-mass hit.
Most shotgun loads for self defense use buckshot loaded from 1350-1550 fps. At household defense ranges (7 yards or less) these offer good penetration and usually don’t over-penetrate a human body. But they will blow through an interior house wall with lethal force if they don’t hit a stud or other serious structural member. They can be too much of a good thing with a few bad things thrown in– they have a significant muzzle blast and severe recoil, which can slow follow-up shots or second-target shots. Especially in the hands of someone that doesn’t train much.
So what is the answer? Buckshot rounds for self-defense are idealized for outdoor use at ranges up to 50 yards, which is not what we are talking about. Birdshot rounds have unreliable penetration. Maybe the ideal would be something in-between, like #4 shot. But since I am going to be reloading anyway why not load a round designed for indoor SD ranges?
There are buckshot .410 loads designed for handguns that offer adequate penetration even when fired from a 2 inch barrel at velocities well below 900 fps. It is quite possible to make hand-loaded 12 gauge shells using buckshot at these low velocities. They should still be effective at household defense ranges and would have markedly lower recoil and muzzle-blast. They would also have a reduced chance of over-penetrating interior walls with lethal force. Faster follow-up shots, less danger of over penetration. Seems like a great idea.
So, some of my hand-loaded low-pressure loads will be buckshot. I hope to test them out and see what’s what. It’s possible I’m over-thinking this of course. I mean, a specific load idealized for a situation that will almost certainly never happen? Kind of pointless, but hey, why not? A guy needs a hobby, right?