12 Gauge Self Defense Ammo – Its a Wide, Wide World

Lets take a look at 12 gauge self defense ammo better known as tactical shotgun ammo.

This Federal Tactical 1 Buckshot 12 gauge self defense ammo
This Federal Tactical 1 Buckshot load uses buffer material and a FliteControl wad to keep incredibly tight patterns in a 12 gauge self defense ammo.

Tom McHale headshot low-res square

USA -(Ammoland.com)- Have you noticed the shift in perceptions over the past few years about defensive ammunition choices? Particularly with regards to tactical shotgun ammo for self defense, but I will get to that in a minute.

Not so long ago, 9mm was considered the minimum caliber for defensive use, and a somewhat sad compromise at that.

Well, if you can’t carry a caliber that starts with a four, then I guess it’s better than nothing,” was an all too common gun store conversation.

More recently, 9mm ammunition has been accepted as a great option for defensive handgun use. The FBI is switching to it, and they test the living snot out of their approved ammunition before even considering making a move like that. Heck, .380 ACP is carried by millions and considered a perfectly viable option too.

Why is this?

I think it’s due to the incredible advances in ammunition technology over the past decade. Something or someone getting shot really doesn’t care what caliber the shooter chose (although in my mind I think 12 gauge sounds worse than 9mm). What matters is whether the projectiles penetrate to a certain depth and expand (if they’re supposed to) on a reliable basis.

If a .40 S&W bullet penetrates 13 inches and a .380 ACP penetrated 13 inches, does it really matter what the original calibers were?

Sure, the diameter of the bullet is a little different. When they started their ballistic journey, the .40 measured exactly that – .400 inches in diameter. The .380 ACP started off with a diameter of .355 inches. That’s just a .045-inch difference between the two. To put that measurement in perspective, that’s less than the width of a dime. I just measured one on my desk at .052-inches. Certainly, that .045 of an inch isn’t going to make the difference between a Hollywood-style crash through a window “I got shot” scene, and a shrugged off irritation. Provided penetration is similar, they’re both going to be effective.

I’m not saying those calibers are identical, I’m just saying that technological advances in ammunition design have elevated the performance of lower caliber rounds to the point where they work pretty darn well. That’s born out by statistics that show relatively little difference among all calibers for important things like one-shot stops and number of hits required to stop an aggressor. All this minutia brings us to 12 gauge self defense ammo.

12 Gauge Self Defense Ammo

Before we get into the details here is my short list of go-to deadly and effective 12 gauge self defense ammo:

  • Winchester PDX1 Defender Segmented Rifle Slug
  • Federal Premium Law Enforcement Buckshot
  • Winchester's PDX1 Rifled Slug & 3 Buck Ammo
  • Hornday 12 GA 00 Buckshot Critical Defense


More recently, I’m starting to see serious ammunition development technology applied to the tactical shotgun ammo and smooth bore world too, and that’s a great thing. With the broad array of shotgun ammunition now available, we’re able to choose the specific performance attributes we want, because each of our circumstances is different.

Be wary of the person who tells you that such and such a shotgun load is the “only best way” without asking you about your circumstances and home environment.

For someone who lives on an isolated ranch, slugs may be the best bet while an apartment dweller may choose game loads with smaller pellet size. The right choice for any individual always depends on many different factors.

The good news is that when it comes to shotgun ammunition, we have more choices than ever before. There’s no “best” option. There are different options, with different performance characteristics, for different situations. Let’s take a look at a few alternatives.

Winchester PDX1 Defender Segmented Rifle Slug 12-Gauge Self Defense Ammo

If you’re deciding between buckshot and slugs for your scattergun, you can have both in a sense. The Winchester PDX1 Defender Segmented Rifle Slug is a Segmented Slug that provides the direct aiming and range capability of a slug with some of the benefits of buckshot. The 12-gauge 2 3/4-inch version of this shot shell zips along at a peppy 1,600 feet per second. The one-ounce slug is pre-cut and designed to break into three more or less equal pieces shortly after impact with an organic target.

Winchester's PDX1 Segmenting Slug
Winchester's PDX1 Segmenting Slug

I shot this 12-gauge self-defense ammo load into a Clear Ballistics Gelatin Block, and boy did it perform as advertised. As you can see by the photo, about three inches into the gel, the segments not only split but veered off in different directions. This action created four wound channels: a short three-inch deep impact area and three separate tracks from each of the segments. I weighed one of the recovered segments at 132.2 grains. That’s heavier than most standard 9mm bullets and you get three of them traveling in different directions. Ouch!!

Note the three different wound tracks in this Clear Ballistics gelatin.
Note the three different wound tracks in this Clear Ballistics Gelatin.

Federal Premium Law Enforcement Buckshot with FliteControl Wads 12-Gauge Self Defense Ammo

The Federal Premium buckshot loads that use FliteControl wads are a freak of ballistic nature. If you want precise and predictable patterns for whatever reason, these could be your best option. I’ve shot them at silhouette targets from 50 yards and all pellets stayed on the target. At closer ranges, the pellets make one giant hole. You still gain the benefits of multiple simultaneous projectile impacts but maintain control over where exactly those pellets will go. You can literally make consistent head shots within 25 yards with this 12-gauge self defense ammo.

Shooting 12 gauge Self Defense Ammo
Federal Premium Law Enforcement Buckshot: If you want a predictable and tight pattern, this is hard to beat this 12-gauge self-defense ammo.

If you look for these, be sure you’re getting the versions marked with a “FliteControl Wad” logo as Federal makes buckshot loads with and without these wads. The 00 buckshot pellets are amazing but don’t forget the #1 buckshot version. It’s hard to find but offers 15-pellets of .30 caliber shot in a standard 2 3/4inch shot shell. It also comes in a FliteControl wad version so those pellets will go exactly where you intend.

Federal Premium Tactical with FliteControl wad 12-gauge self defense ammo.
Federal Premium Tactical with FliteControl wad 12-gauge self-defense ammo.

Winchester PDX1 Rifled Slug / 3 Buck Pellet 12-Gauge Self Defense Ammo

Winchester's PDX1 Rifled Slug & 3 Buck Ammo is a different approach to the segmented slug idea where you use both a slug and 00 buckshot pellets to create multiple impacts and wound channels.

This shell (12-gauge version) is loaded with three 00 buckshot pellets underneath a one-ounce rifled slug. Yes, you will know when you torch one of these off. On the other hand, unlike the segmented slugs, this creates four unique impact points and four separate wound channels.

The combination of a one-ounce slug and three 00 buck pellets makes a formidable payload.
The combination of a one-ounce slug and three 00 buck pellets make a formidable payload.

I tested this 12-gauge self-defense ammo on the range at a distance of 15 yards and found a wide dispersion pattern. The three pellets spread out in equidistant fashion and impacted near the edges of a 20-inch target. That’s pretty aggressive in terms of pattern spread. Depending on your requirements, this can be a great thing. For indoor distances, you will, in fact, get a good size spread of projectiles.

At longer distances, you better be darned sure where those three pellets are going, as each is basically a .32 caliber bullet.

This load is a great example of why you need to consider your environment before choosing your ammo. This 12-gauge self-defense ammo can be fantastic for situations where the range will always be measured in feet, but dangerous at longer distances because you don’t know where your shots will end up.

The Winchester PDX1 Rifled slug and pellet combination will spread into a wide pattern quickly, so use this 12-Gauge Self Defense Ammo appropriately.
The Winchester PDX1 Rifled slug and pellet combination will spread into a wide pattern quickly, so use this 12-Gauge Self Defense Ammo appropriately.

Hornday 12 GA 00 Buckshot Critical Defense

Hornday 12 GA 00 Buckshot Critical Defense
Hornday 12 GA 00 Buckshot Critical Defense

“Available in a convenient 10-piece box, these Hornady Critical Defense Shotgun rounds are a premium-quality example of home or self-defense ammunition from Hornady. Each 12-gauge slug measures 2 3/4 inches long and delivers a muzzle velocity up to 1,600 feet per second.

These Hornady Critical Defense Shotgun slugs deliver the perfect combination of reliable functionality and consistent performance in 12 gauge self defense ammo – just what you need in a defensive situation. These slugs are perfectly loaded for both pump and semiautomatic shotguns, and they incorporate Hornady's innovative Versatile wad technology to ensure a tight shot pattern and knock-down power.”


We’ve barely scratched the surface with some of the more interesting 12 gauge self defense ammo choices.

When you get into calibers like .410 for shotguns or shot-handguns, there is plenty of innovation too. We’ll take a look at some of those in a future article.

About Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon. You can also find him on Google+, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

AmmoLand Editor Comments:  This article was updated to reflect changes in product improvements / availability of 12 gauge self defense ammo 10/31/2017.

  • 27 thoughts on “12 Gauge Self Defense Ammo – Its a Wide, Wide World

    1. I would ask this question: How many home intrusions result in the use of deadly force by the resident each year in the US compared with the number of accidental shootings in homes? I own multiple guns for home defense and have a concealed carry permit for very valid reasons. So my question is not a disguised anti gun one but rather one of how reasonable arming the home is given the demonstrated likelihood of invasion versus the very real risk to innocents. A securely stored and locked up gun is safe but of little practical use for any immediate threat and a loaded one readily at hand is unquestionably dangerous if tampered with by untrained hands. This poses a tough problem. The cost of 100% fail safe owner selectivity and reliability makes that option difficult for many but is clearly worth it for the safety it provides children, household members, and snoopy guests.

      1. Let’s address the underlying message in your post:

        Why have a “private” citizen armed. China. 80 million murdered. Did you know that “kung fu”, “karate”, whatever was the result of forbidding the citizens to have weapons? What is the better bet, some of the people will accidentally shoot themselves or someone else- or that a tyrannical group of sociopaths will gain power and start murdering people that don’t want to go along with their plans to use the apparatus of the state to make themselves “kings”?

        The real answer is to read historical accounts. I bet you have. Your questions reveal what you really are.

    2. I find it rather hard to believe that the old masters could have been so wrong about large calibre being the answer to stopping power in light of the number of men they actually killed. Yes bullet technology has improved but there is a reason that their are specific minimum calibres for dangerous game. One only has to remember our experience with the Moros Black Jack Pershing encountered to understand the difference between a 38 and a 45.

      1. I’m glad you put the Pershing reference in because the rest of your comment was off the mark. We have ‘dangerous game’ labeled calibers and loads because of the difference in tissue, hide, and bone structure of large game versus two legged varmints. Humans, by and large, just aren’t that difficult to put holes in. Cape Buffalo on the other hand have a thick hide that is difficult to penetrate.

        Pershing most likely was running solids in both his .38 S&W and his 45 ACP 1911. The bare difference in solids performance by caliber change are what proved to be the correct answer in that situation. Given the bullets of today, however, with their catastrophic expansion and barrier resistance, that encounter could have gone a lot differently. An advanced defense or duty load with hyper-expansion HPs works in many calibers, from 32 Auto to 45LC. Side by side, caliber for caliber, todays bullets are more capable than yesteryear’s. That’s the author’s point.

        1. And a lot of the hyper-expansion ammo is also just “hype”. I used some of Hornady’s Critical Defense hollow point ammo in .380 ACP (9mm Kurtz, for you Europeans) to put down an adult ewe (female sheep) who had broken her leg. Two shots, point blank, directly down into her skull seemed to kill her, but it only stunned her. When we hung her up to skin and butcher, she started thrashing around. A third shot finally stilled her, but I was unimpressed with this ammo.

          Remember that real-world results differ from shooting into gelatin, and don’t believe everything you hear about “hyper-expansion” hollow points producing “catastrophic” results. The absolute bottom line is sufficient penetration, which the FBI learned the hard way in Miami, many years ago. “Catastrophic expansion” also means reduced penetration. Some ammo will still penetrate far enough to stop (and maybe kill) quickly, but some ammo won’t.

    3. What is the advantage of having shot that does not disperse? If that is what is needed, why not use a 12 ga. slug? I load 2 3/4″ shells with #4 buckshot. That is a lot of .25 caliber balls. I’m sure if only a couple of them find their target they will disable the target.

      1. I’m with you, Jimbo. I have a 3″ “T” shot magnum round in the chamber and several 2 3/4″ #4 buck to follow, with a few slugs in last. The T shot is not that hard to find, but not as common as the more popular bird and buck shot. I found the T shot and #4 buck will put anything down within 100′. I stay away from typical bird shot due to its inability to penetrate soft cover that one may have to shoot through when engaging threats within a typical home environment (i.e. furniture, interior doors, etc.). However the T and the #4 buck have a better spread than 00, still penetrate enough obstacles, and yet will have lost most of their energy before encountering any neighbors or innocent passerby after leaving the house/property.

      2. Once it hits the target the shot mimics a small grenade
        with the shot going in all directions leaving 15 different 30 caliber wound channels increasing the odds of hitting vital organs.

    4. I like my Winchester Defender 12 Gauge with a Side Saddle, Tactical Pistol Grips, Laser with finger switch at the top of the front grip. I shoot Sabot Slugs, Road Blockers (3/4″ hole thru 5/16″ steel), Flechettes, Dragon’s Breath (Magnum Powder Flame Thrower), and 00 Buck. There are different situations that would require different ammo types. I have it set up for a slug followed by a 00 Buck then another Slug and 00 Buck and so on leaving the tube short one round so I can load a first round of choice. At night with a group I would load a Dragon’s Breath, close my eyes and shoot, the burning Magnum Powder would dilate pupils and burn anyone close enough. This would allow me to select the most dangerous weapon for a slug shoot. In the house I use Flechettes so nothing goes through the walls.

    5. From Paisley, Oregon (Lake County), to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Portugal, and to Poland the
      12 gauge has historically been the No. 1 shotgun gauge in common use worldwide. Perhaps only
      the .22 rimfire would rival it for civilian use on a global scale.

    6. Hey Niel,
      I like packing my 9 shot .44 cal Lemat revolver with a 20 Ga under barrel loaded with Buck-N-Ball.
      Goes good with that side hammered Side by side 12 ga. Coach Gun you’re totin..
      References for the Lemat include General JEB Stuart and General P.T. G. Beauragard

      It is good to see the commercial 12 Ga shells loaded with Slug and Ball.

    7. Please do not make the mistake of assuming the “nominal” diameter/weight of buckshot pellets are what is contained in the shotshell! Your stated Federal Flite-Control #1B are .30 caliber pellets, (40 grains each), this is not so. Each “#1B” pellet in that load measure .286″ and weigh 33 grains. This reduction in pellet size has been virtually a defacto industry standard since plastic wads were introduced for buckshot loads in the early 1960’s. The Federal #1B Flite-Control load is barely over 1 1/8th ounces – not the 1 3/8th ounce load implied by the nominal standard. That said, the Flite-Control wad has indeed doubled the effective range of defensive buckshot ammunition!

      Ref: http://www.theboxotruth.com/the-box-o-truth-56-federal-flight-control-1-buckshot/

      1. The ones in the photo measure an average of .285 caliber and weigh an average of 37.5 grains. Too small a difference for me to quibble too much about it. It’s still 15 pellets of approximately 30 caliber hitting all at once.

    8. .380 = 95 grains, 150 ft/lbs energy
      40= 165 grains, 470 ft/lbs energy
      Hmmmmm, you call that SIMILAR? Nope. Not today or tomorrow either! Who are you trying to convince, us or yourself?

      1. Energy? Are you seriously considering pistol energy differences as determinants of “stoping power”? There is not nearly enough kinetic energy produced by common pistol rounds to cause tearing of tissue and organs that contributes to incapacitation. Read up on it and get educated on the current thinking based on analysis of thousands of actual shootings. Central nervous system hits, major heart disruption and maximum loss of blood pressure are overwhelmingly the keys to incapacitating a threat. That said, I also don’t believe that there is little difference between wound channels of the newest-production 9mm vs .45 ACP Ranger T-series ammunition. The 9mm Ranger T expands to approximately .70 caliber in calibrated gelatin, while .45 ACP Ranger T expands to 1.00 inch and slightly better. In calibrated gelatin testing they both penetrate within the FBI’s recommended range of 12-18 inches and about the same depth, so the .45 ACP Ranger T’s 43% greater expansion of the tissue cutting “talons” results in significantly more wounding effect. The FBI’s analysis of 9mm vs. .40 shootings was based on results of all types of shootings, of which the Ranger T was a minuscule percentage. At the end of the day, shot placement trumps ALL, but when my family’s life is on the line, I will take the clear advantage that Ranger T, especially in .45 ACP, gives for use in defensive handguns.

      2. Sheesh… Read what I said.

        “I’m not saying those calibers are identical, I’m just saying that technological advances in ammunition design have elevated the performance of lower caliber rounds to the point where they work pretty darn well.”

    9. I use a Keltec KSG with slugs (one intruder) in one tube and 00 buck (multiple intruders) in the other. In my humble opinion, I have the best of both worlds. Oh… and I’ve heard all the horror stories about using 00 buck inside a home. No worries. I built this house and can easily rebuild a couple of walls if need be.

      1. Can you ‘rebuild’ one of your family members if one of the buckshot pellets sails through a wall(s) and hits them?

        1. birdshot within 20.ft , will do the trick without all the penetration
          lees worried about shooting your wife and kids in the next room.
          or even your next door neighbor

          1. Heres my plan, my Mossberg A1 holes around 7 to 9 rounds. I try to keep a good idea of who and how many armed intruders are approaching my doors, there is 1 flight of stairs that has to be climbed to then turn to get to my door. I load 1 2/3 #8 bird shot for a 5 to 10′ shot to unprotected body parts to get them on the run. Then 2 or 3 Federal 3″ 00 buck, then for good measure a couple of #4 buckshot. If that doesn’t do the trick I grab my Colt M4 Carbine with a 30 rd mag with green tip which I have built a green lazer with a very nice day or night red dot. I don’t think they will come back, even if they could.

    10. Hi, I use a Cimarron 12 Guage side by side coach gun for personal in home protection.with 000 shot it fires either one or both barrels at the same time.That`s enough to cut an intruder in half at 50 feet.What more does one need inside the home?If you know any better let me know.

      1. “What more does one need inside the home?”

        I’d say, the ability to engage more than one attacker without having to reload.

      1. I guess I’m not quite sure what your point is. I just read it, and besides both articles mentioning two very popular and well known 12 gauge loads, I don’t see any similarities.

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