The 12 gauge shotgun is considered by many as one of the most versatile firearms for both big game hunting and self-defense. A shotgun’s stopping power is unmatched, and it offers homeowners, hunters, and law enforcement an incredibly potent platform for both long and close-range engagements.
However, many shooters question what type of shotgun shells to load into their home defense shotgun? Buckshot or slugs?
A load of buckshot is devastating at close range while a shotgun slug allows for target engagement at longer ranges. Both types of shotgun loads are incredibly effective at harvesting big game and for self-defense. However, selecting the right type of load is critical to success.
In this article, we will explain the differences between the slug vs buckshot ammo question, so that you know exactly which shells to get for your shotgun shooting needs.
The Difference Between Buckshot and a Slug Explained
The difference between buckshot and a shotgun slug is the projectiles that each shotshell fires. Buckshot fires multiple, smaller individual pellets at the intended target to maximize damage at close range while a slug fires a large, single projectile designed for engaging at longer ranges.
Buckshot, like its name suggests, was designed for hunting medium to larger game. As a “buck” is a term for a male deer, buckshot was primarily designed for deer hunting.
Buckshot fires larger pellets but fewer of them when compared to birdshot that looks to fire a lot of smaller pellets. Furthermore, buckshot is often loaded with more powder than your average birdshot load, giving them higher recoil but increased penetration and range. When you pull the trigger on that Remington 870 12-gauge shotgun, the pellets exit the barrel and begin to separate. Buckshot typically has a tight pattern as you want all that stopping power put into a smaller area to effectively harvest big game.
Buckshot gauge is measured on an inverse scale. This means that No. 4 Buck will be smaller than No. 1 Buck.
The most common load of buckshot is 00 Buck. Pronounced “double-aught buck”, 2.75” shotgun shells carry around 8 pellets while 3” magnum shells can hold around 12 pellets. 00 Buck pellets measure 0.33” in diameter, almost the same size as a 9mm Luger handgun bullet.
Buckshot is typically not used on birds or small game due to the amount of kinetic energy it carries. Using buckshot on a bird is considered, by many, unethical and typically renders the majority of the meat inedible. Buckshot is, however, extremely effective on big game and for deer hunting.
Although buckshot might not be the best choice for bird hunting, it’s widespread use by law enforcement has led many homeowners rely on a home defense shotgun loaded with 00 buckshot shells for protection.
Understanding a Shotgun Slug
In stark contrast to buckshot, a slug is a singular, large diameter projectile designed to be fired from a shotgun. There are numerous varieties of shotgun slugs available on the market, such as rifled slugs, sabot slugs, hollow points, and more.
The major advantage of using a slug over buckshot is that a slug extends the effective range of a shotgun significantly. Even with only a bead site, a slug can accurately be fired out to 50-75 yards, and with a scope it can reach even further.
A slug will not shoot long range like a centerfire rifle round, but a slug does increase a shotgun’s effective range approximately 2-3x further than buckshot loads.
A 1 ounce 12 gauge slug weighs around 437 grains and has a diameter of approximately 0.729”. That’s going to leave a big hole in whatever it hits! Additionally, a slug will penetrate deeper into a target as it retains its kinetic energy more effectively than buckshot.
The way a shotgun shell disperses its shot on a target is referred to as its pattern or spread. The type of pattern a shell has is typically tailored to its intended purpose.
However, there are other factors that will affect pattern as well. Certain shotgun barrels are designed to constrict near the muzzle, thereby tightening the pattern of the shot as it exits the barrel. This is known as a choke.
Some shotgun barrels can use screw-in chokes inserted from the muzzle while others have a choke integral to the barrel itself.
There are three types of chokes, a full choke, modified choke, and improved cylinder, and each type has a differing level of constriction. A full choke is the most aggressive while an improved cylinder has the least level of constriction.
It is not advisable to fire shotgun slugs from a barrel with a choke.
Compared to birdshot, buckshot has a considerably tighter pattern. This is due to the intended purpose of each shotshell, as buckshot is designed to deliver multiple buckshot pellets into a small area for maximum damage.
A slug, on the other hand, is a singular projectile and does not have a spread or pattern.
Rifled Slug vs Sabot Slug – Understanding Your Shotgun Barrel
There is always a lot of confusion surrounding the use of rifled slugs and sabot slugs and what type of shotgun barrel you need to use with each.
The simple answer is that rifled slugs should be used with a smooth bore while sabot slugs should be fired through a rifled barrel.
One of the beautiful things about a shotgun is its versatility. Capable of hunting small game to bears, the shotgun has a lot to offer any hunter. However, different barrels are needed for different shotgun loads and applications. You don’t need rifle sights when hunting ducks as they are too slow to use effectively, conversely, you don’t want only a bead sight when lining up a 150-yard shot on a whitetail.
This is the reason many manufacturers like Remington, Winchester, and Mossberg are offering a bird barrel as well as a slug barrel with their most popular hunting shotguns as a combo package. This allows a hunter to truly have a one-gun solution for all their shotgun hunting needs.
The type of slug barrel impacts what ammo works best, so paying attention when purchasing your new hunting shotgun is important if you already have a stockpile of shotgun ammunition ready to go.
A smooth bore is the classic slug barrel design as it is simple to manufacture. These barrels have no rifling to induce spin and to stabilize a slug in flight. For these barrels, a rifled slug is the correct choice. These slugs have rifling on the slug instead of on the barrel. Although traditionally rifling is in the barrel, the result is the same as the rifling on the slug will induce projectile rotation in the barrel.
A rifled barrel on a shotgun is a more recent development and came about when sabot slugs were introduced.
A sabot slug is essentially a large projectile resembling a rifle bullet that sits in a plastic cup. The plastic cup engages the rifling in a rifled barrel and creates a rotation. When the sabot exits the barrel, air resistance strips off the cup, and the projectile heads towards the target. Sabots extend the effective range of a shotgun as a traditional bullet design will be more aerodynamic than a rifled slug and retains its energy and muzzle velocity more effectively.
A sabot requires a rifled barrel to impart spin on the projectile, without it the bullet will destabilize in flight and begin to tumble. Likewise, if a rifled slug is fired through a rifled barrel, the two different spin rates will impart erratic motion on the slug and negatively impact accuracy and downrange performance.
The bottom line is know what slug barrel you have to buy the right ammo for your shotgun barrel.
Shotguns are typically considered close range firearms, and buckshot is not intended for long range shooting. Generally speaking, buckshot has an effective range of around 40 yards compared to 150-200 yards for slugs.
Buckshot pellets are not particularly aerodynamic, and they will quickly lose velocity and kinetic energy as they travel downrange.
Effective range is highly dependent upon the pattern a shotgun load has in your firearm, as a tighter pattern will travel farther before spreading apart too much. Although there are some brands of shotgun shells specifically designed for longer range shooting, the general effective range for buckshot is around 40 yards.
On the other hand, rifled slugs have an effective range of around 100-150 yards depending on the load while a sabot slug can reach out to 200 yards. A shotgun slug will retain its kinetic energy more effectively than buckshot, extending its effective range nearly 3-fold or more depending on the slug type.
Furthermore, slugs typically have higher muzzle velocity than buckshot.
For example, a 1 oz. rifled slug fired from Remington Slugger 2.75 inch shells have a muzzle velocity of around 1,600 fps compared to 1,300 fps for Winchester Active Duty 00 Buckshot rounds. Higher muzzle velocity means that a slug will reach its target faster, giving gravity less time to impact the trajectory of the round.
Both of these factors give shotgun slugs the edge in terms of effective range.
A 12-gauge shotgun is highly regarded by military, law enforcement, and civilian shooters for being an incredibly powerful firearm for close range defensive situations or hunting.
Buckshot is incredibly effective at closer distances while slugs will be more effective at longer ranges.
As buckshot fires multiple projectiles at once, it offers shooters multiple opportunities to strike internal organs with each individual pellet. As most 00 buckshot 2.75 inch shells have 8 or 9 pellets, firing one buckshot round is akin to firing 8-9 9mm Luger rounds into a target all at once.
However, buckshot continues to spread and lose muzzle velocity the further downrange it travels. Once it reaches its maximum range, most buckshot loads will be considerably less effective at stopping a threat than they were at closer ranges.
This is where a slug really shines, as it fires a single projectile that is more precise at longer distances than firing multiple smaller pellets.
A slug will generally penetrate deeper into a target than buckshot as it focuses all its energy into a smaller area. This can be a good or bad thing as shotgun slugs are known to over penetrate.
For close range shots, buckshot is a better choice while slugs are more effective at longer distance shots.
Buckshot rounds are generally less expensive than slugs.
In general, shotgun ammunition is very affordable to the point that only extremely high-volume competitive shooters even consider reloading shotshells.
Most 00 Buck defense rounds, like Hornady Critical Defense, will generally cost around $1/round or more. On the other hand, rifled slugs often cost about $1.75/round on the low end, and sabot slugs will punch holes in your wallet to the tune of $2.60/round and up.
The difference in price is often attributed to the difference in materials cost between the two types of shotgun ammo. Buckshot pellets and rifled slugs are typically made from solid lead, however it is considerably simpler and requires less quality control to cast a round ball as opposed to a rifled slug. Furthermore, shotgun slugs are often loaded with more gunpowder to achieve the desired muzzle velocities and pressures, which further increases the cost of production.
For high-volume shooting or stocking up on ammo, buckshot is more cost-effective per round.
The best shotgun ammo for hunting primarily depends on state and local regulations as well as the expected range a hunter expects to take shots.
Buckshot and slugs are excellent for harvesting big game like hogs, coyotes, and deer or other larger game animals.
However, neither shotgun ammo is appropriate for small game as the damage buckshot and slugs would inflict would destroy the majority of the meat. For small game, birdshot is the better option.
Most hunters will opt for slugs when hog or deer hunting as shotgun slugs increase the effective range where a deer can be taken. If you only expect to see deer within 30-40 yards or less, then 12 gauge buckshot makes a great choice. That being said, most hunting shots occur at longer distances, which is why slugs are usually favored for deer hunting.
Also endure you follow all of local laws regarding hunting deer with buckshot, as some states and territories prohibit their use and only allow the use of shotgun slugs for deer.
The 12 gauge shotgun is highly respected as an incredibly effective home defense tool. Many homeowners rely on the stopping power that 12 gauge shells offer, however there is quite the debate raging over the choice of loading slug vs buckshot in your home defense shotgun.
There’s no doubt that a slug to center mass would be extremely effective at stopping a bad guy in their tracks. However, the problem with slugs is not their effectiveness on 2-legged varmints, but rather over penetration being the main concern.
It’s important to remember that as a gun owner, we are responsible for every round we fire even those in self-defense. Sadly, drywall is a poor barrier in terms of ballistic protection and a slug will have no problem blasting through multiple layers with little resistance.
A 12 gauge slug is an incredibly devastating round as it packs a large amount of kinetic energy that leaves a rather big hole in its intended target. However, it conserves its energy extremely well and at close range (like during a home defense situation) it is likely that a slug would travel through a bad guy, punch through drywall, and potentially strike a family member or innocent bystander.
Unless you live in the country without any neighbors within 400 yards or more, slugs are not recommended for home defense. The danger of over penetration is simply too high to use a slug indoors.
Therefore, buckshot is recommended for home defense as the potential for over-penetration is considerably less. Note that we said less, not zero. There is always the risk when taking close range shots with buckshot that the individual pellets will over penetrate. However, buckshot pellets lose their kinetic energy considerably faster than slugs, making it the better overall choice for self-defense.
Many shotgun ammo manufacturers like Remington, Hornady, and Winchester currently offer buckshot defense loads specifically tailored for home defense. These loads maximize the penetration capability of buckshot while minimizing the potential for over-penetration making them ideal for protecting your loved ones from harm.
Conclusion: Slug vs Buckshot
No matter whether you inherited your grandfather’s Remington 870 or adore the Mossberg 590A1, shotgun shooting is a fun activity and part of the American tradition.
Choosing between shooting a slug vs buckshot primarily comes down to identifying your engagement distance and your intended target.
For big game hunting at longer distances, a 12 gauge slug is hard to beat and makes for potent whitetail and bear medicine. For self-defense or short-range hunting, some tried and true double-aught buckshot will be more than enough to handle anything that crosses your path.
Regardless of what type of shotgun shooting you plan on engaging in, make sure you stock up on all of your buckshot and slugs here at Ammo.com!