Shooting Myths Explained

Fact or Fiction?  You Don’t have to aim a shotgun!

Not many people know this, but shotguns were invented by actor Val Kilmer for use in the movie Tombstone. Kilmer needed a weapon capable of taking out a whole posse of Clantons and McLaurys – without much aiming. Hence the invention of a weapon capable of being fired from the hip, while giving the camera a sexy look.

A lot of people believe shotguns are great home defense guns, and easy to use, because you don’t really have to aim. If you just point one in the general direction and fire, it will clean house so to speak. Right?

Well, in The Terminator movie franchise, that’s how they work. In the real world, shotguns need a little more skill in order to be effective.

Just because a shotgun fires multiple projectiles – or whatever you want to call them – that doesn’t mean that the shot spreads out like a giant cloud of locust intent on devouring a field of ripe Okinawan Purple Sweet Potatoes. It’s important to remember that the shot leaves the barrel of your shotgun in a “cloud” exactly the diameter of your barrel. That’s a pretty small cloud. To put it in absolute terms, the shot “cloud” leaving a 12 gauge shotgun measures just about ¾ of an inch in diameter.

While it’s true that spread out more the farther they travel from the barrel, they typically stay in a pretty tight pattern at realistic distances. That’s what that shotgun barrel does after all – keep the shot all together while it launches towards the target. If we’re talking self defense, a realistic distance is some fraction of the interior of your house – like across a room or down the hall.

Let’s take a quick look at a couple of range tests to see exactly how much the shot spreads out at realistic “inside your home” distances.

First, we’ll try loads contain a small number of very large pellets. In the first example, we’re using , which have 9 pellets that measure just about ⅓ inch in diameter. Typically, buckshot loads like this one will only create a “cloud” a few inches in diameter at short distances.

RIO Royal Buck buckshot pattern

This 12 gauge buckshot load (9 pellets) was fired at the target from an “inside the home” distance of 18 feet.

If you choose to use shotshells with a smaller pellet size, the cloud of short will typically spread out a little bit faster. Even still, at short distances, we’re still talking a few inches.

Let’s take a look at are about .16” in diameter, or about half the size of the 00 buckshot we tested. The we tested contain about 125 of the Number 1 pellets per shell.

Remington number 1 Shot pattern

This Number 1 shot stayed in a pattern about 6″ in diameter at a distance of 18 feet.

Finally, we tried . These shells have pellets that are only 0.095” in diameter and these particular 7/8 ounce shells have about 306 pellets. As you can see, this very small shot spreads out even more, but still, at a distance of 18 feet, the pattern still falls within 8 inches with most of the density within a 3 inch circle.

Federal Target shotgun Load

The Number 7 1/2 shot spread out to 6 inches, but most of the pellets fit in a 3 inch circle.

The shotgun we used for these simple tests was a Mossberg JM Pro. It has a butt stock that’s just about 12” long. So if you held it like a club and tried to whack someone with it, you’d have to aim less than if you fired it.

The bottom line?

You still have to aim a shotgun.