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Thread: Defensive Shotgun Patterning Considerations

  1. #1
    Murder Machine, Harmless Fuzzball TCinVA's Avatar
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    Feb 2011

    Defensive Shotgun Patterning Considerations

    Buckshot patterning in the defensive use of shotguns is a poorly understood topic.

    It is often considered desirable to have a large spread of buckshot across an area to help increase one's chances of getting a hit. There are some circumstances where this may indeed be true, such as the extensive use of the shotgun in trench warfare in WWI, the jungles of the Pacific in WWII, or in the jungles of Vietnam. It also proved to be desirable in repelling mass attacks in Somalia. If one is attempting to repel boarders on a ship, a large spread of buckshot fired into a general area where you can hit multiple enemy personnel trying to flood into tight spaces might be extremely useful.

    When we move the discussion to defensive use of the shotgun by police officers and defense minded citizens in the United States large spreads of buckshot are actually a significant liability.

    Buckshot that exhibits the kind of spread that might be desirable when you are fighting in a jungle in south-east Asia to increase your chance of hitting an enemy soldier has a bad habit of sending pellets off into a world filled with innocent people you are not authorized to shoot in the United States. When you press the trigger on a firearm in the US, you are entirely responsible for the final resting place of each projectile you throw into the world.

    The key point to understand in defensive use of any firearm as a defensive weapon in the United States is: Accountability. You are absolutely accountable for what you hit when you fire a gun.

    If what you hit is a person, you had better have a damned compelling reason for hitting them with your projectiles.

    In defensive use of a firearm in the United States we are seeking to, as quickly as possible, stop a violent threat against us.

    When we are at the moment of pressing a trigger it is because we have positively identified that we face death or serious injury due to a criminal assault. Our goal is to stop that person's actions by rendering them physically unable to press their attack any further...and to do so as quickly as possible.

    Of the options commonly available to us, nothing is better able to accomplish that goal than properly selected buckshot:

    Law enforcement 12 ga. shotguns using buckshot of #1 or larger size offer greater close range physiological incapacitation potential than virtually any other commonly used shoulder fired weapon-- this can be a significant advantage during urban entry missions and high risk warrant service in closely confined settings. Should the need arise to stop fast moving targets at close range, like aggressive dogs that could not be deterred through less lethal alternatives, 12 gauge buckshot of #1 shot or larger is the optimal ammunition choice. Keep in mind that buckshot, especially frangible types such as Hevishot, have less ricochet risk than shotgun slugs, as well as handgun and rifle projectiles when fired at objects close to the ground, such as charging dogs. In congested urban settings, buckshot is less likely to pose as high a downrange hazard as slugs in the event a missed shot exits a structure wall. Birdshot offers inadequate penetration and intermediate barrier capability and has no place for LE use.

    The carbine is not equal to a shotgun in close range damage. Many top tier carbine instructors now teach a 5-7 round burst at close quarters to make up for the lackluster effect of 1 ball round on determined targets. It takes longer to fire 5-7 rounds from a carbine than to fire 8-9 pellets of 00 in one shot. If you fire 5-7 rounds from your carbine per target, it effectively holds no more ammo than a 5-6 round shotgun.

    I am personally familiar with 3 shootings in this area where 1 stray pellet of 00 per incident killed a bystander, crippled a police officer, and killed a deputy sheriff in three shootings. That's just in this metro area. That's why we are somewhat concerned about large patterns.

    When we discuss desirable patterns for buckshot, apart from the danger stray pellets pose to innocents, pellets that do not hit the vital structures of a bad guy do not really help us accomplish our goal of stopping a threat. Pellets that end up in a guy's fat roll do not physiologically force him to stop trying to kill us.

    We are not shooting in the hopes that we put a pellet or two into something important and maybe he gets the point. When it comes time to press the trigger, the other guy's decision making is over. We are forcing him to stop. We want all of our projectiles to hit things that matter in making this person stop trying to kill us.

    Given the level of accountability we must work with, big buckshot patterns actually make precise aim with a shotgun much more important.

    One of the features of every shotgun class I teach is having clients pattern their gun with ammunition they would consider using for personal defense. In the process of patterning guns I routinely see errors in aim (especially with bead-sighted guns) or pulling shots off target slightly due to anticipation. When someone makes one of these errors with a tightly patterning load like Federal's Flight Control buckshot, it results in hitting a slightly different vital area than the exact point of aim I specified before beginning the exercise. Instead of a full pattern hitting the aortic arch, the full pattern ends up off the intended point of aim by a couple of inches but still well within the vital area we want to hit. The people using more conventional styles of buckshot in non-modified barrels, however, find that even the slightest aiming error results in pellets that are completely off the human silhouette on the target.

    It is also incorrect to assume that if we need a tight pattern of buckshot that we no longer have any advantage to using a shotgun.

    A tight pattern from a shotgun still provides superior terminal ballistics on a threat and a decreased risk downrange to non-threats. Buckshot pellets travel, on average, half the distance of rifle rounds which is useful in typical urban and suburban environments.

    The significant increase in tissue damage that results from the nearly simultaneous impact of multiple projectiles allows for a slightly greater fudge-factor in accuracy. If one attempts a CNS shot from typical defensive distances with a 9mm pistol and hits above the brow line, there is a significant chance that the bullet will not penetrate through the armor plating of the skull and hit anything important. A load of buckshot delivered to the exact same spot, however, will have a dramatically different result.

    Contrary to popular myth, you most certainly have to aim a shotgun to make a useful hit with buckshot at defensive distances...but our aim does not have to be quite as precise as with a pistol or even a rifle.

    If the average citizen sets up their shotgun correctly and loads it intelligently, they have an extremely powerful defensive weapon with more destructive capability per press of the trigger than anything else available to them. They have a weapon they can use quickly and accurately to deliver immediate fight-stopping power...and they can accomplish that with total accountability for the projectiles that they fire.
    Last edited by TCinVA; 06-06-2019 at 02:24 PM.

  2. #2
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    Dec 2019
    San Diego, CA
    Thatís an excellent post TC...

  3. #3
    Site Supporter
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    Mar 2015
    Central Virginia
    Quote Originally Posted by Flyboytim View Post
    Thatís an excellent post TC...

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