A critical, but often overlooked aspect of being prepared to use your home defense shotgun is determining the pattern that your shotgun produces with a particular buckshot load. In shotgun circles, this process is called patterning your shotgun.
Without patterning you will not know the size and shape of your shotgun’s pattern with a given load at a given distance. You must do this with the ammunition you intend to use in your home defense shotgun. The way manufacturers produce shotgun barrels means that no two guns will pattern exactly alike--even with the exact same ammunition. Your gun may pattern very poorly with one brand or size of buckshot, yet do very well with another. The only way to know is to shoot the buckshot loads at varying distances.
Pattern Size: A rough estimate is that your pattern size will grow about one inch per yard of travel in a typical home defense shotgun with standard buckshot loads. Federal LE133 and the equivalent Speer loads are the exception and usually shoot a much tighter pattern. You should experiment with different loads and different brands to find the load that works the best in your particular gun.
Pattern Concentricity and Consistency: The pattern needs to be roughly round in shape with pellets evenly distributed throughout the covered area.
Effective Range: With buckshot, your maximum defensive range is the distance that all of your pellets impact within 4-inches of your point of aim (i.e. within an 8-inch circle). This may be 10, 15, 20, or even 25 yards or more depending upon the load/gun combination you select. The distance where your gun with the particular load you are using throws even one pellet outside of the 8-inch circle is the maximum defensive range for your shotgun with that load. Once you reach a distance where your pellets impact farther than 4-inches from your point of aim, the odds are very high that you will miss with one or more of the pellets and potentially endanger others in addition to your target.
A Pattern Experiment: In December of 2023 I experimented with the Federal LE-133 8-pellet buckshot load in two different shotguns—one was a Remington 870 pump shotgun and one was a Beretta 1301. Both shotguns had cylinder bores. I fired five rounds from each gun at 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 yards.The pattern from both guns at five and ten yards was essentially one hole (the lower right hole at ten yards with the 1301 was shooter error.
At fifteen yards, the Remington 870 and the Beretta 1301 patterns remained acceptable. At twenty yards, the Remington 870 threw one pellet out of the acceptable pattern circumference (small circle). The Beretta 1301’s pattern remained within tolerance.
At twenty five yards, the Remington 870’s pattern was over fifteen inches in diameter while the 1301 remained (barely) within an eight inch circle. I need to check the zero of the Beretta 1301's optic and laser at twenty five yards. For a YouTube video of the patterning process click here.
Unless your house is very large, the maximum home defense engagement distance is likely to be less than twenty yards and for most of us, less than fifteen yards. That said, both of these shotguns patterned acceptably at five - fifteen yards with the Federal LE-133 buckshot lot that I used in this experiment.
If your target is beyond the maximum defensive buckshot range for your gun, you would either need to transition to a slug load or maneuver to get closer. Never forget that a single buckshot pellet can kill and you are accountable for every pellet that leaves your gun.
As we saw in this experiment, at shorter ranges your buckshot charge will not have opened and you are essentially shooting a very large single projectile that must be precisely aimed just like any bullet.
In an earlier experiment, a Fiocchi 9-pellet standard buckshot load in my Beretta 1301 shotgun at a distance of twelve yards generally put all nine pellets within a ten inch circle. I say generally because occasionally this load throws one wild pellet off the target at that distance.
With the wild 9th pellet flyer potential, I consider the Fiocchi 9-pellet buckshot load to have a ten yard effective range in that particular gun. In contrast, the Federal 8-pellet 00 LE133 Buckshot load put all 8 pellets through a hole 2-inches in diameter at the same distance.
My Remington 870 and my Beretta 1301 have occasionally patterned acceptably out to 35 yards with some lots of Federal LE133 in the past. That said, I have noticed erratic behavior from Federal 8-pellet LE133 lots at times so I will stick to 25 yards or less for the Beretta and fifteen yards or less with the Remington 870 which exceeds the maximum potential defensive engagement distances in my home.
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