Friday, March 07, 2008

Defensive Shotgun 101

Do you own a shotgun? Is it your primary defensive weapon for protecting your home and family. If not, it should be. In the realm of defending one's home, there is no better choice than a shotgun. If things have gotten bad enough that you must use a firearm inside your home, understand, you are in a desperate situation. Your first shot must be accurate and decisive. It must count. It must incapacitate your intruder. It must end your confrontation. Experts, overwhelmingly agree that no other weapon can provide the assurance of instantaneous incapacitation like a shotgun can.

Various shot sizes provide the user a wide range of choices in power and caliber of projectiles. When listening to people about what size shot they use in their home, I've heard it all. From #12 birdshot to four-ought Buckshot and one ounce slugs. It can be quite confusing. Your choice may prove to be lethal not only to your intruder but also to your family, or your neighbors. At a velocity of over 1200 feet per second for heavy buckshot loads, over penetration is an issue that must be considered.

00 (pronounced "double ought") buckshot is a very common load for Law Enforcement, Military, and home defense. In fact it is the most popular. But is it the best choice? Here comes my "opinion" backed up with a few facts. It is my belief that 00 Buck is best suited for "offensive" situations, such as those which would commonly be encountered by Law Enforcement and Military. There are tactical situations where it is conceivable that they would need a great deal of penetration. If their target is behind soft to medium cover, lighter loads just won't cut it. 00 Buck provides adequate penetration and an excellent transfer of energy into the target. But what is right for a police officer or soldier in the field is not necessarily right for the home owner in a defensive situation. My choice is #1 Buck and I'll try to explain why.

It is first important to understand what exactly is the "stopping force" behind a shotgun, or any firearm for that matter. In stark contrast to what Hollywood would have you believe, men are not knocked off their feet from the blast of a firearm, shotguns included. Though the sheer pain and shock of being shot by any firearm over 30 caliber is usually enough to halt most attackers, if they are juiced up on some type of drug such as PCP, methamphetamine or cocaine, it is very likely that they won't feel it at all. So then what? A defender's shot must be accurately placed center mass (torso) and must reliably penetrate deep enough to intersect a major cardiovascular structure or organ causing the rapid hemorrhaging and loss of oxygenated blood to the brain needed to remain conscious. This must happen very quickly. The large vascular structures in the abdomen and upper torso including the heart are the primary targets for such a rapid incapacitation to take place. This may seem like a gruesome subject. It is. But understanding it is necessary to taking proper action should the unfortunate situation of having to defend your own life or that of your loved ones befall you. Be crystal clear on this point, you are not shooting to kill. You are shooting to stop, and the quickest way to stop someone is to cause the rapid loss of consciousness and the most reliable way to cause the rapid loss of consciousness is to deny oxygenated blood to the brain. Dying is merely a side affect to being quickly incapacitated and one with which one ought not have to concern themselves should a defensive situation arise where they must use their firearm.

The FBI has determined that to effectively stop a human, a projectile must penetrate at least 12 inches. While the heavier buckshot loads have no problem penetrating this deep, they sacrifice mass and surface area in order to project a larger caliber pellet and they have the real possibility of over penetrating the target and harming or killing an innocent person behind. Remember, you are responsible for the projectile from the time it exits the barrel to its terminal resting place. If that terminal resting place is inside your neighbor or your family member, not only will you have a heavy weight to live with but you'll very likely live with it in prison. #1 buckshot is the smallest load that reliably penetrates 12-14 inches of ballistic gelatin. A typical 2-3/4 inch tactical 00 buckshot load will have a total of nine .33 caliber pellets providing a combined cross-sectional surface area of .77 inches. However, a typical 2-3/4 inch #1 buckshot load has sixteen .30 caliber pellets providing a combined cross-sectional surface area of 1.3 inches. Thus #1 Buckshot has the capacity to produce 30% more wound trauma. The added comfort of the pellets having a minimal likelihood of over penetrating makes #1 buckshot ideally suited for home defense.

So don't get overzealous by loading slugs or heavy buckshot for home defense. It is a personal choice but one that should be made by an informed homeowner. Keep your family safe. Don't accept more risk than necessary when choosing a defensive shotgun load for the home. Remember too that shotguns do not produce a hallway sized spread of pellets at typical combat range. You must aim the gun. Though it is more forgiving than a centerfire cartridge in terms of accuracy, merely pointing it in the general direction of your assailant is not sufficient, you can and will miss if you don't shoulder and aim the gun.