Testing Home Defense Shotgun Ammo

Home defense is one of the first priorities for almost every new gun owner. Our home is our castle, and the thought of a violent intruder forcefully entering our homes can literally keep us awake at night. A shotgun brings a lot of firepower to any home defense scenario. No matter if it’s the latest tactical semi-automatic scattergun or a classic side by side coach gun, a shotgun sends a lot of lead downrange all at once, which can make it an excellent choice for home defense. However, even the best of guns can be crippled by poor ammunition. This is why choosing the right home defense shotgun ammo is as important as choosing your home defense shotgun itself.   

Home Defense Firearms For Beginners

In the next few articles, we’re going to take a look at home defense ammunition. What we’ll be looking at is not the standard tests of penetration and expansion of a bullet when it hits a testing medium such as ballistics gel. Rather, we’re going to be looking at what happens if you miss, and send a round careening through the interior walls of your home. 

Let’s begin by talking about how a typical interior wall is constructed. The vast majority of interior walls in modern homes are made of two layers of drywall, also known as gypsum board, plasterboard, sheetrock or wallboard. Drywall is from one-half inch or so of compressed, powdered gypsum surrounded by two sheets of heavy paper. The structural component of an interior wall is usually made of 2x4s placed 16 inches apart, and then one sheet of drywall is screwed into each side of the wall. 

What’s Inside The Walls Of Your Home

This is important because there are many other interior wall penetration tests out there which shoot at a lineup of a dozen or more sheets of drywall, proving that one half inch of what is in essence just blackboard chalk does a lousy job of stopping bullets. On top of this, we need to look at what a missed shot really does, A missed shot that penetrates a wall is a problem. A missed shot that penetrates an interior wall and hits an innocent person? That’s a much bigger problem.

Many people have attempted to show what happens when a bullet is fired indoors and goes through an interior wall, but those tests all show that is that a bullet, just about any bullet, can go through many layers of drywall. What no one has tested  is what happens when a bullet goes through an interior wall and hits someone on the other side. 

Until now, that is. 

We know that shotguns can be a devastating self-defense tool. We know that shotgun pellets can fly right through an interior wall. What we don’t know is what happens when shotgun pellets hit something after they’ve gone through a wall. We want our home defense shotgun ammo to stop the threat, but what happens if our aim is off? What happens when we miss a shot, and the pellets from our shotgun go through an interior wall in our home? 

Testing Defensive Shotgun

To test what a round of home defense shotgun ammo might do to someone after it has passed through a wall, we’re going to start by building a few walls. The test rounds will first pass through two 16 inch by 16 inch sheets of ½ inch drywall that are separated by two sections of 2×4 lumber. We’ll place a 16 inch long section of clear ballistic gel one foot behind that wall, and there will be a larger, 4 food square section of wall that will be placed 12 feet away from the first wall, which is about the same size as a typical kid’s bedroom

We’re using Clear Ballistics gel because it is a standard testing medium for measuring the effects of a bullet’s wounding capability. The FBI recommends that 12 inches into gel is the minimum for a potentially lethal round. Therefore, if a round passes through both the drywall sheets in the first wall and 12 inches (or more) into the gel behind the wall, we can assume there’s a good chance that errant round has caused some poor unfortunate soul a whole world of trouble.

We’ll also measure the velocity of each round at the muzzle, and then document both the effect that each shotshell has on the first wall it passes through, the effect on the gel and then any effect the shot has on the rear wall. 

Testing Home Defense Shotgun Ammo

We’ll be testing the following rounds to see how they work as home defense shotgun ammo:

12 Gauge 
Federal #7.5 Birdshot
Federal #4 Buckshot
Fiocchi Low Recoil 00 8 Pellet Buckshot
Federal 8 Pellet FliteControl 00 Buckshot

20 Gauge
Winchester Super-X #7 Birdshot
Winchester Super-X #3 Buckshot

The guns we’ll be using for this test are a Mossberg 500 12 gauge and a Remington 870 20 gauge pump action shotgun, both with cylinder bore barrels. Also, we’ll measure velocity using a Competition Electronics ProChrono chronograph. As we said before, the purpose of this test isn’t to see how an individual round would affect its intended target. Rather, we’re investigating what happens if you miss, and what the effects of that miss might be on an innocent person on the other side of an interior wall. 

Home Defense Shotgun Ammo Test Results 

12 Gauge

12 gauge flitecontrol shotgun shell

Federal 12 Gauge #7.5 Birdshot 
Average Muzzle Velocity: 1099 fps
Minimum Gel Penetration: 1.5 inches
Maximum Gel Penetration: 6.75 inches
Struck Rear Wall: N
Penetrated Rear Wall: N

The birdshot blew large holes in both the front and rear portions of our test wall. The gel block stopped all the pellets from the round, and did so at a distance that is less than the distance the FBI recommended distance of 12 inches. However, extensive testing has shown that #7 birdshot doesn’t penetrate 12 inches into gel under any circumstances. If you’re using birdshot as a home defense shotgun ammo, you’ll hurt your attacker, but you won’t cause a wound that will reduce or eliminate them as a threat to you or a loved one. Leave birdshot to the birds, and find another home defense shotgun ammo instead. 

12 gauge #4 buckshot shotgun shell
Federal #4 Buckshot
Average Muzzle Velocity: 899 fps
Minimum Gel Penetration: 3.5 inches
Maximum Gel Penetration: 9 inches
Struck Rear Wall: N
Penetrated Rear Wall: N

#4 Buckshot is often recommended as the best compromise between the man-stopping thump of a full-power buckshot round and the need for reduced penetration if you miss. Based on our testing, those recommendations might just be correct. 12 gauge #4 buckshot blew through our test wall, but only penetrated 9 inches into the gel behind the wall. That amount of penetration would cause grievous injuries and be potentially lethal. However, it is less than 12 inches that the FBI says is ideal.  

12 gauge home defense shotgun ammo

Fiocchi Low Recoil 00 Buckshot
Average Muzzle Velocity: 1148 fps
Minimum Gel Penetration: 15 inches
Maximum Gel Penetration: 16+ inches
Struck Rear Wall: Y
Penetrated Rear Wall: N

00 Buckshot is considered to be the “go to” round for home defense shotgun ammo, and with good reason. A single pellet of 00 buckshot is about the same size and weight as a .32 ACP bullet and also hits with about the same amount of force. Nine of those pellets hitting the target at the same time can be devastating. However, all that power means that 00 buckshot also punched right through the gel behind our test wall, striking the rear wall in our testing site. 00 buck can cause devastating effects on your target, but an innocent life can be devastated if you miss. 

12 gauge flitecontrol home defense shotgun ammo

Federal 8 Pellet FliteControl 00 8 Pellet Buckshot
Average Muzzle Velocity: 1160 fps
Minimum Gel Penetration: 16+ inches
Maximum Gel Penetration: 16+ inches
Struck Rear Wall: Y
Penetrated Rear Wall: Y

Federal Flitecontrol buckshot uses a special design to minimize the spread of the shot one the shell leaves the barrel. This makes it an excellent choice for your home defense or tactical shotgun, but it also means it causes more devastation than regular 00 buckshot. Flite control is an excellent choice for stopping a life-ending threat with one shot. However, it was the only shotgun round we tested with pellets that went completely through the first wall, the gel block and then exited the rear wall of our testing setup. 

20 Gauge

20 gauge #3 buckshot shotgun shell

Winchester 20 Gauge SuperX #7 Birdshot 
Average Muzzle Velocity: 1274 fps
Minimum Gel Penetration: 0.75 inches
Maximum Gel Penetration: 3.75 inches
Struck Rear Wall: N
Penetrated Rear Wall: N

A 20 gauge shotgun is less powerful than its 12 gauge cousin, which means it has less recoil. However, it also means the pellets from a round of 20 gauge will penetrate less than the pellets from a 12 gauge shotshell will. As a result, the #7 birdshot did even worse than 12 gauge #7 did. This proves once again that birdshot is good for hunting birds. It is not very good as a home defense shotgun ammo. 

20 gauge #7 birdshot shotgun shell

Winchester SuperX #3 Buckshot
Average Muzzle Velocity: 1193 fps
Minimum Gel Penetration: 9.75 inches
Maximum Gel Penetration: 15 inches
Struck Rear Wall: N
Penetrated Rear Wall: N

Yes, they make buckshot in 20 gauge. No, it does not have the same power that a round of 12 gauge 00 buckshot has. That being said, the 20 gauge buckshot we tested penetrated well into the gel set up behind the first wall. A little too well for safety’s sake, to be honest. 16 inches of penetration is considered potentially lethal. Therefore, if you’re considering a 20 gauge for your home because you think the results of a missed shot might not be as catastrophic as a 12 gauge would be, you might want to think again.  

Home Defense Shotgun Ammo Rankings

#1 Federal 12 Gauge Flitecontrol 00 8 Pellet Buckshot 

The first job for a good home defense shotgun ammunition is stopping the threat, and Federal Flitecontrol does that job very well. Flitecontrol’s shot pattern is much tighter than the other 00 buckshot we tested. This means that more of the pellets are going to hit the target at any given distance, increasing the effectiveness of the round. Yes, there is a greater potential for overpenetration with Flitecontrol than the lower-powered 00 buck we tested, but any ammunition has to stop the threat before any other factors come into play, and that’s where Flitecontrol just shines.

#2 Fiocchi Low Recoil 12 gauge 00 Buckshot 

Even though it’s a “low recoil” round and therefore is less powerful than full-strength 00 buckshot, it’s still more than enough to do the job. The pellets inside the Fiocchi spread out more than the pellets of the other 12 gauge 00-buck round in the test. Combine this with the fact that all the pellets sailed through our block of ballistics gel, and I’d look to the FliteControl round first for a home defense shotgun ammo.   

#3 Winchester 20 Gauge #3 Buckshot

Color me surprised about this choice. #3 buckshot from the 20 gauge definitely has the energy to stop the threat. If you’re smaller in stature and don’t have the training to handle a 12 gauge, 20 gauge buckshot will do the job. Like that other choices in this test, it’s absolutely imperative to pattern your home defense shotgun so you know where your rounds are landing at any given distance. 


Whichever type of home defense shotgun ammo you choose, please remember that a shotgun, like any other gun, is only as effective as the person who uses it. Training and mindset are much more important than which home defense shotgun ammo you chose. Plan accordingly.