Sunday, March 13, 2011

Pump Shotgun - Machine gun of the brush

In some ways you can liken your shotgun to a machine gun. One press of the trigger sends out a spray of lead that encompasses the diameter of a dinner plate (depending, of course, upon the range) that the typical rifle cannot compete with - especially at close quarters.

Consider also, a single shotgun blast of nine or more pellets is typically more controlled than sending out nine bullets from submachine gun, which tends to rise as each round exits the barrel – making accuracy difficult.

Which Shotgun Load to Use?

Which shotgun load to use is an age old question that has many answers depending upon the conditions you are traveling through and personal preference.

My choice for tracking in thick forest or brush, as you may have guessed, is something along the lines of the Remington 2-3/4 inch 00 buck with nine .33 caliber pellets. There are many good reasons for this choice for use in thick forest.

2-3/4 inch Shotgun Shell vs 3-inch

Many, but not all, shotguns can use both 2-3/4 and 3-inch shotgun shells. The advantage of the 3-inch shotgun shells is that they can carry a somewhat greater number of pellets. However, in a tracking role the added bulk and weight factors make the shorter shells a better choice. The smaller shotgun shell is still excellent, and you can carry more of them!

In addition, the kick of a 12-gauge shotgun is hard enough as it is. This forceful beating that the shooter takes can affect accuracy. There is little sense in making things more difficult for little if any gain by blasting off more powerful loads.

My choice is to carry more 2-3/4 inch shotgun shells and leave the 3-inch shells for the range at home.

Shotgun Shell Load

Adequate Penetration. For use in the tracking of larger sized game such as men, the type of load in your shotgun shells is extremely important.

To eliminate a large enemy, which includes man sized targets, studies have shown that a minimum of 12-inches of penetration into the body is needed to insure the destruction of vital organs and the ending of the threat. This is known as “adequate penetration”.

This 12-inches for adequate penetration is not necessarily from, say, chest to back. Often your shot will have to penetrate from the left or right side of the body and on through to the opposite side – hence the need for a full 1-foot of penetration.

When in the forest you must also take into account that the lead you let fly must plow its way through leaves and twigs, which diminishes its force along the way. The larger the ball of lead, the more power it has to force its way through to the target.

Leave the Birdshot at Home

Additional studies have shown that the smallest shot size needed to make the required 1-foot of bodily penetration is number 1 buckshot, which in a 2-3/4 inch shell typically has 16 pellets of .30 inches in diameter.

Number 1 buckshot may be a good choice for home defense, since it covers the minimum shot size for 12-inches of bodily penetration but will likely not over penetrate anywhere near as much as larger pellets – potentially going right through the aggressors body, a wall, and into family members.

The fact that #1 buck is less likely to penetrate right through a body also means that more of its energy is expended IN the body – leading to greater wound damage than larger diameter pellets may cause.

An Angry Swarm of Lead

In deep forest and brushy areas there are a couple of important special factors to consider that you do not generally have in home defense:

The need to shoot through dense vegetation in order to reach your target – larger, heavier pellets will have improved penetration.

The deflection of the pellets by leaves, twigs, and branches - in general, the heavier the pellet the less its course will be deflected as it plows through to the target.

With this in mind, you might initially think a big fat shotgun slug would do best. And considering penetration alone you would be right. However shooting a single slug every time you fire your shotgun puts you in nearly the same plight as our AR-15 adversary in the story – that one slug has a single narrow trajectory that has a good chance of entirely missing its target while traveling through thick brush.

The idea is to send out a hail of lead the diameter of a dinner plate with every shot in the hopes that at least a few pellets will get through dense vegetation and hit the target. But there are trade-offs in numbers:

The more pellets put in a shotgun shell:

The smaller each individual pellet must be smaller pellets have reduced penetration through thick brush

Smaller pellets have greater deflection away from the aiming point when striking twigs and leaves.

A smaller pellet will not travel as far, reducing the range of your shotgun somewhat.

A smaller pellet with generally cause less damage to the creature it hits.

BUT, more small-sized pellets can be crammed into each shotgun shell – increasing the numerical swarm of lead sent toward the bad guys and increasing the odds of a hit

The fewer pellets put in a shotgun shell:

The larger each individual pellet can be

Larger pellets have increased penetration through thick brush

Larger pellets undergo less deflection away from the aiming point when striking twigs and leaves

A larger pellet will have a somewhat greater range

A larger pellet will generally cause greater damage to the creature it hits.

BUT, fewer large-sized pellets can be put into each shotgun shell – decreasing the numerical swarm of lead sent the bad guys way and decreasing the odds of a hit.

A Compromise betweet Shot Size and Shot Number

With these factors in mind and after experimentation in thick forest and brush, in my opinion the #00 buckshot with nine .33 caliber pellets is the best compromise in shot size and numbers of shot per shell.

Although #1 buckshot (an excellent home defense load) has:

12 pellets per load, each individual pellet weighs in at about 2.62 grams and is .30 inches in diameter (7.62mm).

#00 buckshot has:

three less pellets (9 pellets), but each pellet is heavier in weight by about 1/3 at 3.49 grams and .33 inches in diameter (8.38mm).

This significant increase in size is like the difference between a 150 pound man and a 200 pound man. All else being equal – which size would have the best strength to bull through obstacles at close range? I’m betting on the larger size.

In my opinion having 3-less pellets in the #00 load is more than made up for by the increased force each individual pellet has.

So there you have my experience and opinions on some of the important advantages shotguns have over rifles in thickly forested and brushy areas. What do you think?


  1. Thanks for the good article. You answered a lot of questions I have about which shells I should use for different types of situations.

  2. Great Article regarding adequate penetrations. I do however use Rem #1 buck for home defense and it has 16 .30 pellets which why I went to #1 - trade off between 9 .33 & 16 .30 seemed attractive.