We gun folk are exceptionally guilty of repeating hearsay and assuming it’s truth. You know how it works. If some hypothetical scenario gets repeated enough, it becomes the truth.
This week’s Mad Gun Science experiment has to do with the idea of using birdshot for home defense. This one has two “hearsay” truths.
Birdshot is effective at short range because the shot acts like one big projectile before it has a chance to spread out too much.
Birdshot is not effective for home defense because the small and light pellets won’t penetrate enough to stop a determined home invader.
Rather than discuss the theoretical merits of each argument, I decided to go shoot some stuff with birdshot at very short ranges. For ammo, I elected to use a broad range of what might be considered birdshot. This is not any test of specific brands or loads of shot shells, just what I had on hand that represented a cross section of sizes of birdshot pellets. Oh, all of these are 12 gauge loads.
Remington Sportsman Hi-Speed Steel #1, 1 ¼ oz, 3”, 1,400 fps
Remington Premier Hevi-Shot Buffered Waterfowl, #4, 1 ¼ oz, 2 ¾”, 1,325 fps
Federal Target Load, # 7 ½, 1 ⅛ oz, 2 ¾”, 1,145 fps
Winchester Universal, #8, 1 ⅛ oz, 2 ¾”, 1,200 fps
For the gun, I chose to use my Beretta 1301 Tactical Shotgun. It’s a perfect home defense gun and features an 18” cylinder bore barrel. Since the test gun is un-choked, you might assume slightly better results if you use a choke to narrow your pattern even more.
Since the theory is kinda based on the concept of the shot acting more like a solid projectile at short range, I figured it was a good idea to measure pattern sizes before I started blowing things to pieces.
Here’s what I found.
Shooting hard objects
Since I couldn’t find anyone willing to get blasted with birdshot, I found some substitute materials in my garage. While it’s obvious that buckshot will go through just about anything, especially at short range, I wasn’t really sure at what distance small birdshot would start to lose effectiveness in terms of the “mass of shot” theory.
I had a good bit of ⅞” and ½” plywood collecting dust, so I nailed some to a target stand and shot it with all four shot sizes from both 10 and 15 foot ranges.