In our ongoing series on defensive shotguns, the topic of buckshot will likely come up frequently. For centuries, buckshot has been the standard load whenever the shotgun is employed against human targets. It’s one of the primary reasons why, in the words of Tom Givens, “when people get shot with a shotgun, they stay shot.”
While buckshot has the ability to dominate a gun fight, not all loads are created equal. Care must be taken when choosing buckshot for defense, and the best choice might change depending on the specific shotgun used. This is better explained in pictures than words, so watch the video below for details on how to determine which defensive load to use in your shotgun.
Choosing Buckshot – The Shortcut Method
I don’t typically play favorites with defensive ammo choices, but if you watched the video, it’s pretty clear that the Federal FliteControl is an absolute game changer in the world of defensive shotguns. Performance won’t be identical in every shotgun, but inside of 10 yards, you can expect just about any 12 gauge to create a single hole with FliteControl ammo. Previously, this kind of performance could only be achieved by careful barrel selection or custom modifications to the gun.
I’m not suggesting you don’t have to pattern your shotgun if you use this ammo, but if you want to skip over the process of trying out a dozen loads of buckshot to find the right one for your gun, just grab a few boxes of FliteControl and there’s a good chance you’ll be impressed with the results. For #00 buckshot in 2 3/4″ shells, there are two versions available — an 8 pellet load, and a 9 pellet load, both sold in 5 round boxes or 250 round cases. Some boxes are labeled as “Tactical Law Enforcement” and others say “Personal Defense”, but the ammo inside is identical. Federal also makes a few #00 FliteControl loads labeled as “Vital Shok“, but these are intended for hunting, and have more recoil than the self-defense versions.
Now, before this starts to sound like a commercial for Federal, the FliteControl ammo is not flawless. I attended a shotgun class this past weekend with Tom Givens, and every student had a chance to try the Flite Control ammo in their shotgun at 15 yards. Most of the patterns were well within the 8-inch center of the target, but at least two of us experienced fliers. In the photo below, you can see my target showing a single pellet that hit high and to the right of the others.
The FliteControl wad works by holding the pellets together after they exit the barrel, and then fins on the wad cause it to gradually pull away from the shot. This separation typically occurs around 10 yards from the muzzle. After that point, the pellets begin to spread. Usually, this spread is gradual, and the pattern stays tight out to 25 yards or more, but if an individual pellet isn’t perfectly spherical, it can still stray from the group at closer distances.
My best guess for the case of the flier pictured here is that some of the buffer compound melted and stuck to one of the pellets when the shell was crimped at the factory. This gave the stray pellet an irregular shape, and it failed to continue in a straight line after separating from the wad. At 10 yards and under, I haven’t seen a round of FliteControl create anything larger than a fist-sized hole. At further distances, a tight pattern is still very likely, but fliers are possible.