This Federal Tactical 1 buckshot load uses buffer material and a FliteControl wad to keep incredibly tight patterns.

This Federal Tactical 1 buckshot load uses buffer material and a FliteControl wad to keep incredibly tight patterns.

Have you noticed the shift in perceptions over the past few years about defensive ammunition choices? Not so long ago, 9mm was considered the minimum caliber for defensive use, and a somewhat sad compromise at that. “Well, if you can’t carry a caliber that starts with a four, then I guess it’s better than nothing,” was an all too common gun store conversation. More recently, 9mm has been accepted as a great option for defensive handgun use. The FBI is switching to it, and they test the living snot out of their approved ammunition before even considering making a move like that. Heck, .380 ACP ammunition is carried by millions and considered a perfectly viable option too.

Why is this? I think it’s due to the incredible advances in ammunition technology over the past decade. Something or someone getting shot really doesn’t care what caliber the shooter chose. What matters is whether the projectiles penetrate to a certain depth and expand (if they’re supposed to) on a reliable basis. If a .40 S&W bullet penetrates 13 inches and a .380 ACP penetrated 13 inches, does it really matter what the original calibers were? Sure, the diameter of the bullet is a little different. When they started their ballistic journey, the .40 measured exactly that – .400 inches in diameter. The .380 ACP started off with a diameter of .355 inches. That’s just a .045-inch difference between the two. To put that measurement in perspective, that’s less than the width of a dime. I just measured one on my desk at .052-inches. Certainly that .045 of an inch isn’t going to make the difference between a Hollywood-style crash through a window “I got shot” scene, and a shrugged off irritation. Provided penetration is similar, they’re both going to be effective. I’m not saying those calibers are identical, I’m just saying that technological advances in ammunition design have elevated the performance of lower caliber rounds to the point where they work pretty darn well. That’s born out by statistics that show relatively little difference among all calibers for important things like one-shot stops and number of hits required to stop an aggressor.

More recently, I’m starting to see serious ammunition development technology applied to the smooth bore world too, and that’s a great thing. With the broad array of shotgun ammunition now available, we’re able to choose the specific performance attributes we want, because each of our circumstances is different. Be wary of the person who tells you that such and such a shotgun load is the “only best way” without asking you about your circumstances and home environment. For someone who lives on an isolated ranch, slugs may be the best bet while an apartment dweller may choose game loads with smaller pellet size. The right choice for any individual always depends on many different factors.

The good news is that when it comes to shotgun ammunition, we have more choices than ever before. There’s no “best” option. There are different options, with different performance characteristics, for different situations. Let’s take a look at a few alternatives.

Winchester PDX1 Defender Segmented Rifle Slug

If you’re deciding between buckshot and slugs for your scattergun, you can have both in a sense. Winchester makes a Segmented Slug that provides the direct aiming and range capability of a slug with some of the benefits of buckshot. The 12-gauge 2 3/4-inch version of this shot shell zips along at a peppy 1,600 feet pre second. The one-ounce slug is pre-cut and designed to break into three more or less equal pieces shortly after impact with an organic target.

Winchester's PDX1 Segmenting Slug

Winchester’s PDX1 Segmenting Slug

I shot this load into a Clear Ballistics gelatin block, and boy did it perform as advertised. As you can see by the photo, about three inches into the gel, the segments not only split, but veered off in different directions.

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