Shot Patterns of Different 12 Gauge Loads

One of the big advantages to the shotgun is the ability to use different ammunition depending upon the application. Slugs can reach out and bird shot can cover a wide area at closer ranges. In an effort to gain a bit more knowledge over a few different 12 gauge shells – I decided to do a small test.

Up front – let me go ahead and state for the record I have always used #8 bird shot for inside the house, and 00-Buck for outside security.

Remington 870 Express Tactical
Remington 870 Express Tactical

OK – lets look at what I found…

Ammo Selection

First -the ammunition selection:

I obtained samples of standard 2 3/4″ shells of #8 shot, #6 shot, 00-Buck, and a specialty defensive load made by Winchester  – the PDX1 Defender.

Here are some pictures of the actual boxes. Yes – that Federal 12 gauge #8 box is old and still works great.

Remington 2 3/4" #6 12 gauge/box
Remington 2 3/4″ #6 12 gauge/box
Federal 2 3/4" #8 shot 12 gauge/box
Federal 2 3/4″ #8 shot 12 gauge/box

Remington 2 3/4" 00-Buck 12 gauge/box
Remington 2 3/4″ 00-Buck 12 gauge/box
Winchester 2 3/4″ PDX1 12 gauge Defender/box

Next – I wanted to see specifically what is inside each load:

What is inside a 00-Buck 12 gauge shell?

The 00-Buck (generally pronounced double-ought buck) in a 2 3/4″ inch shell holds 9 lead balls which travel in excess of 1300 fps. Each ball is .33 caliber. Think about it… that is 9 .33 caliber lead balls traveling at over 1300 fps. Devastating.

What is inside a #6 load 12 gauge shell?

The #6 shot load is typically used for taking small game such as rabbits, squirrels, and a variety of birds. The 2 3/4″ #6 12 gauge shell sends a load of .11″ mini-balls downrange at almost 1300 fps.

I did not get a picture of a #8 shot shell opened up. The #8 shells contains 1 ounce of .09″ lead shot and travels out the barrel at around 1290 fps. This shot is small – I mean very tiny. It would take more than 10 individual balls lined up next to each other to equal just 1 inch.

What is inside a 12 gauge PDX1 Defender load?

The Winchester PDX1 Defender is a unique shell in that it contains 3 00-Buck pellets along with a 1 ounce slug. This payload exits the barrel at 1150 fps. Here is a sales promo sheet for more information.

Mossberg 500 and my new Remington 870 Tactical

One of the main tasks that was planned was to document the shot pattern of these different loads at different ranges.

I ran several trials – 7 yards, 15 yards, and 25 yards. I took several pictures for each trial. Putting together this post I ran into a problem – many of the pictures just do not show the shot pattern unless the picture is HUGE.

With above in mind – I will summarize my findings and show some pictures that turned out good.

42″ inches cardboard target

All shots were taken at a piece of cardboard that measures approx 42″ inches across.

#8 12 gauge shot –  I shot from 3 distances……..7, 15 and 25 yards.

7 yards – At 7 yards the group was approx 16 inches and heavily peppered.

#8 – 7 yards

15 yards – At 15 yards the group expanded greatly through the Remington’s cylinder bore barrel to close to 38 inches.

25 yards – I needed a bigger piece of cardboard  – many pellets impacted the cardboard however they were spread pretty thin.

#6 12 gauge shot – I shot from 3 distances……..7, 15 and 25 yards. Results very similar to the #8 shot.

7 yards – At 7 yards the group was approx 16 inches and heavily peppered – just a few rounds less than the #8 but larger holes.

15 yards – At 15 yards the group expanded to close to 36 inches or so.

25 yards – I needed a bigger piece of cardboard  – many pellets impacted the cardboard however they were spread pretty thin.

00-Buck – I shot from 3 distances……..7, 15 and 25 yards.

7 yards – At 7 yards the group was approx 7-8 inches.

00-Buck @ 7 yards

15 yards – At 15 yards the group expanded to close to 14 inches or so.

00-Buck @ 15 yards
00-Buck @ 15 yards

25 yards – Approx an 18″ inch spread. 

00-Buck @ 25 yards

PXD1 Defender

7 yards – At 7 yards the group was approx 10 inches. There are clear signs of parts of the wadding impacting the cardboard as well.

Winchester PXD1 Defense @ 7 yards

15 yards – At 15 yards the group expanded to close to 14″-15″  inches or so.

The PDX1 Defender load @ 15 yards                         Click to Enlarge

25 yards – The group opened up a lot. Spread was approx 28″ inches with the 3 00-buck pellets dispersed out and around the slug.

Winchester PDX1 Defender @ 25 yards

Thoughts on Results

First – I was wanting to include 000 and 0000-Buck in the trial but was unable to locate any.

Second – 00-Buck continues to impress me with its power and shot pattern. As long as the shooter does their part – the shotgun filled with 00-Buck will do its part. I honestly expected the group size of the pellets to be much larger at 25 yards.

Third – The Winchester PDX1 Defender is an interesting concept – but overpriced in my book. I would rather load up with 00-Buck.

Lastly – I still like #8 or #6 birdshot for in-home use. Over-penetration is a concern of mine and these two loads certainly helps control that. I am planning on some penetration tests upcoming.


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10 thoughts on “Shot Patterns of Different 12 Gauge Loads”

  1. I agree, the heavier 00 and defender loads are great in thier marketing, but push come to shove, when an intruder is comming down my hallway, nothing says hello like pumping 3 to 5 loads of #6 at them. The spread patern will definitly clear the hallway and the cost won’t kill the shooter.

  2. Suprised you didn’t include another defensive favorite, the #4 Buck. Everyone like the big pellets and I guess the manliness of 00 Buck, but #4 can be as (or more) effective.

    I live with the closest neighbor about 150 yds away so I have three rds of #4 buck and a slug in the tube, followed with 4 rds of 00 and a slug on the side saddle. My thinking is that three shotgun blasts should remove zombies from the yard, and a slug will make a big enough mark in/on the zombie transportation device that LEOs should be able see it easily if BOLO’d for it.

    Try some #4 Buck in the next test, you might be impressed.

    • BePrepared –

      As I mentioned in the post – I looked for some #3 and #4 at the time – just couldn’t find any.

      Will be testing those as well soon.

      Take care – Rourke

  3. Awesome test. I don’t have a lot of experience with shotguns (yet…hope to fix that soon) and it’s hugely informative to be able to see shot patterns of various loads at various distances. Not sure what I was expecting to see, but this surprised me anyway. Thanks.

  4. In Alaska, fishing in bear country I carried a 7 round shotgun on a sling over my shoulder. The gun hung against my back upside down, my right hand could reach the muzzle and pull it up to a shooting position right side up. loaded with two OO buckshot first and five slugs next. A .357 on a hip holster (yeah I know it is less then adequate but a 44 was pretty expensive back then). I ran into many bear and thankfully I never had to shoot one but a few were close and it was comforting to rack a round in the 870. Oddly (or not) the bear seemed to recognize that sound too. It was usually the single event that made them turn and leave. I never talked to them, like some people advise and I never wore bells on my shoes but I did keep my eyes and ears open.

  5. Having hunted small game quite a bit, one must realize that the penetration of bird shot (especially #8 & #9) is particularly poor at anything over 15ft. While it may sting quite a bit past that, any blood loss would be superficial….scary, but superficial. Even at under 15ft, with a perp wearing any clothing of any substance whatsoever (especially leather or heavy denim or thick padded/winter type clothing) the clothing penetration and resulting energy suffers even more.

    Many say, “Fine. I don’t expect to shoot them any further than 15 ft inside a house anyway!”

    Wrong answer.

    Back up and think about it for a second.

    First, apply the standard “21 foot rule” in regards to a perp with a knife being able to dash in and stab you with a knife before you are likely able to shoot them (Don’t believe it? Try it some time with a buddy and a squirt gun).

    Then add in the factor that ANY long gun (ESPECIALLY inside) is going to swing slower than a handgun and be harder to use in close quarters for 99% of the people.

    Then add in that (semi-auto shotguns and double barrels aside) again, 99% of the people who are able to get off that shot, will only be able to get off a single shot (stronger recoil and requiring a second hand to pump for the reload).

    Then add in that 99% of the people will hesitate before firing (either through fear, shock, not wanting to kill, disbelief that it is happening, or even for just making sure that the target IS a bad guy and not a friend/family member playing a joke,etc) and the fact that the target is too DANG close for comfort.

    Add in the possibility of another perp.

    Add in the inability (in most cases) to hold a flashlight for identification.

    Add in the inability (in most cases) to hold a phone and/or call 911 for assistance.

    Then finally add in that a determined individual has decided to come into your home, apparently even aware that a person is at home and is fearless/stupid/high enough to not care and continue coming……..

    I for one want that perp DOWN and IMMEDIATELY! With the fewest shots possible.

    While this may almost seem like an argument for a handgun, it isn’t……. IF you are aware of the above limitations (and others) and are prepared for them.

    Many select 00 Buck for the stopping power. While a proven load, I agree that it may be best reserved in many cases for outside/jungle-type work and building clearing by trained professionals.

    Another well known load with excellent stopping power and slightly less penetration is #4 Buck.

    Lastly, if you just believe that any Buck type round is just going to penetrate too much (those who live in apartments or manufactured homes with thinner walls), you might try the larger bird loads like #2 or #4 or #6 shot in the turkey loads. One of my favorite Home defense loads for my 12 ga when I lived in an apartment was Remington’s Duplex load that contained a mix of #2 & #6 shot. However, the next shot in the tube was a #4buck, because if the duplex load didn’t work, then he had to GO DOWN NOW!!

    As an aside, I would avoid magnum loads unless hunting for high flying geese or MZB’s. The excessive recoil slows followup shots and there is generally not enough trade off in stopping power for the increase in recoil.

    • Watch Paul Harrells demo on birdshot on denim over pork ribs over beef hearts Then you can stop wondering and start knowing I did and i switched my home defense shotguns from 00 buck to #8 that day Highest hit potential for the surprised victim Lowest over penetration risk indoors I own or have owned every popular type of gun and my home defense gun is a 12 gauge semiauto with #8 shot

  6. Hi Rourke, nice to see the results of your experiment. I am curious as to what choke was on the shotgun. Your results are similar to mine. The comment on the magnum loads was also right on. I have shot 1000’s of shotgun loads and still cringe when the recoil of a heavy load magnum is absorbed by my shoulder. A 12 gauge is all fine and good for a person used to recoil, however it may be prudent to have a 16 or 20 gauge if your wife, daughter or little fella needs some help keeping an intruder at bay. Thanks for sending your Survival CD way up north, good info.

    • Agree 100% In fact if you arent into hunting big stuff, a 20 gauge is probably the best choice for all people I own 12s because I simply have so much 12G ammo My friend has a 20 and his hogs are just as dead as mine but his gun is way easier on the operator Hell I guess I better go get a Mossberg SA20


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