Does Birdshot Turn Into a Slug at Close Range?

This is a guest post by Andrew Betts birdshot

For some reason, people desperately want birdshot to be suitable for home defense. They will come up with all manner of excuses to make that work.


This is rather odd, considering there is no shortage of buckshot or slugs on the market. One claim that I hear regularly in the forums is that at close range birdshot behaves just like a slug because all the pellets strike in a single mass. So, is that claim true?

It should come as no surprise that birdshot does not behave exactly like a slug because, you know, it’s not a slug. The video above illustrates the fact that it doesn’t behave anything like a slug. Not even close. Not in any way. Penetration is still a fraction of the required 12” for defensive purposes. We have covered in other videos why that 12” standard is so important, but the Cliff’s Notes version is that people don’t hold still in a gunfight. It will be fast, dark, and close and your attacker will be desperately trying to stay alive, just as you are. He will be moving quickly and his arms will be in front of him holding a weapon. Your shots may impact his limbs before hitting his torso and/or may strike his torso at an oblique angle. You may even have to shoot through light obstacles such as furniture or drywall. Birdshot will not penetrate deeply enough to reliably reach vital organs in these less than optimal circumstances.

Now, to be clear, no one has claimed that birdshot is not capable of killing. It is certainly dangerous, but it is not suitable for defense when other options are available. Not on a boat. Not with a goat. Not in a house. Okay, maybe with a mouse. But birdshot is totally unsuitable for defense against human beings under any circumstances. The smallest shot size that can reliably reach vital organs is #4 buck and that is only at close range and without barriers.

As always, training matters a great deal more than ammunition selection. If you have chosen a shotgun for defense, make sure you take a defensive shotgun course from a qualified instructor and maybe even participate in 3-gun or other action shotgun competition. It is critical that you learn to run any weapon under stress and pump action shotguns are particularly prone to user induced malfunctions.


Andrew Betts served with the Arizona National Guard for over 12 years, including a tour to Afghanistan. Visit his YouTube Channel for more great shooting information.

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