Buckshot is a popular choice for home defense and, as the name might suggest, deer hunting.

Buckshot loads have been around for a very long time. While this ammo can be made of a single large ball, it’s not very effective without any sort of rifling in its bore. The 18th century blunderbuss is good evidence of that. It was arguably far more effective when loaded with several smaller balls. Witness these loads in action — great spread, and the terrific damage it inflicts — and you’ll imagine that it’s going to be around for as long as firearms themselves.

Buckshot Sizes

When shot pellets are so large that loading them into a shotshell’s hull requires conscious effort rather than just pouring them in, manufacturers classify it as buckshot. This ammo comes in a number of lines. In all of them, the pellets are greater than .20” in diameter and include the following sizes:

Size Diameter
#4 .24″
#3 .25″
#2 .27″
#1 .30″
#0 .32″
#00 .33″
#000 .36″
#0000 .375″

Buckshot is by no means the only thing you could find in a shell. A variety of slugs that effectively transform a shotgun into a rifle are available, as are smaller pellets that are ideal for ensnaring more delicate birds without mangling their trophies. (Try shooting a quail with 00 buck — even if you hit it, you’ll have a hard time proving as much.) Specialty shells that shoot tacks, bolos, pepper spray, less lethal projectiles, and even fire are available, some of which only to law enforcement professionals.

Why Use It?

A comparison of the size of No. 4 buckshot vs. 00 buckshot

A #4 pellet (left) side by side with a 00 buckshot pellet (right)

When you load a buckshot shell into your shotgun, you are turning it into a devastating weapon at short range. As the name suggests, it is primarily considered an ammunition for deer. But, buckshot is extremely effective for self-defense. That’s why you’ll find it in every police station throughout the country. This ammo also makes for a tremendous way to spend an afternoon, especially if you are in possession of several watermelons that you don’t intend to eat — or at least serve presentably.

Like birdshot, buckshot spreads out more and more the farther it flies away from the muzzle. This provides an advantage at close range, as it creates a certain margin of error while you are aiming. The same flight characteristics also preclude it from long range shooting; You are unlikely to strike a target farther than 30 yards out with it.

The larger the pellets are, the fewer of them you can fit in a hull. Compare the 21 pellets of #4 buckshot you can fit in a 2-3/4” 12 Gauge hull to the nine pellets of 00 buckshot. Smaller pellets will give you a denser spread downrange, while larger ones will give you greater impact energy and penetration.

Buckshot for Hunting

In general, smaller buckshot is optimal for hunting less substantial game including varmints and some deer at very close range. It is also suitable for home defense where you wouldn’t want to accidentally penetrate several sheets of wall board and jeopardize your family or even your neighbors. Larger loads will take down bigger creatures, as they can penetrate to the depths where vital organs lie. If you are confident that a few stray pellets won’t threaten bystanders, larger buckshot will also serve you very well during a home invasion. Place all nine pellets of a 00 load in a threat and the only thing they’ll be able to continue threatening is your home’s carpeting.

(Range is generally not a great issue for home defense, unless there are rooms in your home that are several dozen yards long. If that is the case, you can probably afford a team of former enlisted Marines to come and neutralize a threat with their bare hands.)

How Is It Made?

Buckshot is most commonly made of lead. In that case, a single pellet of 00 buck weighs approximately 50 grains. Denser, less malleable metals can be used to make the ammo as well, including copper and tungsten alloy. One great advantage of these loads is that it may be fired where lead projectiles are banned, such as near sensitive wetlands or the state of California.

In contrast to most other types of ammunition, boxes of shells loaded with buckshot are available with relatively small quantities, often as few as five. That means it is affordable to experience the entire gamut of what various sizes of buckshot have to offer. Do your own testing at the range, or at home with whatever produce you can part with, and judge for yourself which type of buckshot is best suited to your hunting or home defense needs!